Golden Fruitcake

October 5, 2020 - Leave a Response
  • 2 pounds (1 qt.) dried, fresh, and/or glaceed fruit, diced: any combination of pitted dates, apricots, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, mango (dried only), papaya (dried only), figs, prunes
  • 1 cup seedless raisins, any color
  • 8 ounces unsalted nuts, roughly chopped (any combination of walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios)
  • The juice of one orange, or 1/2 cup bottled orange or apple juice or apple cider
  • The finely grated peel (no white pith) of one orange (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cups granulated sugar with 1/4 cup molasses OR
  • 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (actually, I prefer Wilton clear vanilla in this recipe)
  • large eggs
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Red and/or green glaceed cherries, optional
  • Unbroken pecan, walnut or cashew halves, or skinned whole almonds or hazelnuts, optional)
  1. The day before you plan to bake, place the dried fruits and raisins in a colander or large strainer and rinse well under hot running tap water to remove any preservatives from the fruit. Shake off as much water as possible, and place the fruits in a very large bowl. Add the nuts, the juice and the orange zest to the fruit mixture. Stir until very well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line three 8″ x 4″ loaf pans with parchment.
  3. Place butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the granulated sugar, molasses (or the dark brown sugar) and vanilla until the mixture becomes fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Add it to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and stir well by hand. Remove the fruit-nut mixture from the refrigerator, add it to the batter and blend thoroughly, being careful not to overmix.
  5. Divide batter evenly into pans. Arrange red and green cherries and/or nuts decoratively on top of batter, if desired. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 2 hours, checking for doneness after 1 hour and 30 minutes. The cakes should have shrunk away from the sides of the pans, will show cracks, and will have risen slightly; a skewer inserted through a crack should come out fairly clean, with no wet dough clinging to it. Let cakes cool about 20 minutes in pans, then remove from pans and allow to cool completely before removing parchment and wrapping cakes very tightly in plastic. Store at a cool room temperature.

I’m one of the few people in the world who actually likes fruitcake. I remember being in 6th grade (the year The Beatles invaded America) and having a family gift of a Christmas fruitcake all to myself because, in our household of seven, no one else would touch it, even my German dad, who’d eat raw hamburger and onion sandwiches but not fruitcake!

Decades ago, in an effort to make fruitcake more inviting to the non-believers around me, I started tinkering with Julia Child’s recipe. I found that what most people objected to is the combination of bitter-ish fruit and the taste of raw alcohol. After tweaking the recipe for a few more holidays, I found a combination that my sons and their kids actually like. Maybe it helped that I let the kids snack on a couple of the cool neon-colored cherries while I prepared the rest of the fruit.

Fruitcake connoisseurs should feel free to add grated fresh, candied or dried ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mace and/or allspice to the batter, and/or macerate the fruit in a cup of dark rum or bourbon in place of the juice.

The cakes can be served as is warm from the oven, but I like them better when the flavors have mellowed somewhat, a day or two after baking. I’ve never had a fruitcake last longer than a week, so I’m not sure how much longer than that these cakes can be stored, but I bet they won’t be around long enough to be used as door stops. In 2019, I gave out 14 copies of this recipe. Just sayin’.

Pumpkin Bread (or Snacking Cake)

November 23, 2019 - Leave a Response



Pumpkin Spice Cake


This recipe came to me via the lovely and perky Ms. Kriz (now Kim Kriz Atwater),  son John’s fourth grade teacher, which dates it to 1987.  The recipe was tucked into a glazed ceramic baking pot that was  a thank-you gift for being a classroom volunteer.

It’s a recipe for pumpkin bread, but it also makes wonderful muffins or a nice snack cake.  For that, I bake the batter on a 10″ x 14″ baking sheet.

Feel free to substitute 1 1/2 to 2 cups of applesauce or mashed sweet potatoes for the pumpkin.  Bake (or microwave) a fresh pumpkin or winter squash (butternut, Hubbard, acorn with the guts and seeds removed) in a pan at 350 degrees until it’s tender, then peel and mash it.  If you use applesauce or fresh pumpkin or squash, cut the eggs down to two.   I add raisins and nuts to the applesauce version. Something I’ve thought of but haven’t yet made is a pumpkin-mini chocolate chip bar.  Yum, don’t you think?


4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (or melted butter)
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Position a rack in the middle of the oven.  Use shortening to grease an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan or a 10″ x 14″ baking sheet, or line a cupcake tin with 12 paper liners.
Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin until light and fluffy.

In a large measuring cup, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.

Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into prepared pan. Bake until center springs back when touched lightly or until a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs sticking to it, about 17 minutes for cupcakes, 30 minutes for bars and 50-60 minutes for a loaf. Let cool completely before frosting.

Whipped Cream-Cream Cheese Icing

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened                        1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar                                                    2 cups heavy cream                          1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)                                               

Whip the cream cheese in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until it is lump-free and very light and fluffy.  Add the brown sugar and mix at low speed until very well combined.  With the mixer on high speed, add the vanilla, then the cream 1/4 cup at a time, and whip until light and pillow-y.  Sprinkle with chopped walnuts, if desired.


M & M Pretzel Cookies

November 13, 2019 - Leave a Response

I made these with mini bags of plain M&Ms and Utz pretzels that were left over from Halloween. Opening all those little bags was the hardest part of the recipe!

Thanks for this recipe.

M&M Pretzel Cookies

An Old-Fashioned Apple Spice Cake

September 6, 2019 - Leave a Response


I asked for this recipe in the very early 60s from one of my mother’s friends when we lived on an air force base in Okinawa. I had just begun to bake, but the recipe is so easy that it was a success on my first try. With a few tweaks, I’ve been baking it ever since. Try to use a nice, fat, flavorful apple like Granny Smith, Jonathan, Macintosh, Rome or Paula Red.

The batter is topped with a seven-minute type of brown sugar meringue that crisps  as the cake bakes.

For the Meringue

large egg whites

1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons water

For the Cake

large egg yolks

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

large, meaty unpeeled apples, cored, then grated on the large holes of a box grater

1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

2 cups spooned and leveled all-purpose flour

To make the meringue, place the egg whites, brown sugar and water in the top of a double boiler. Put enough water in the bottom of the double boiler to touch the bottom of the top pot. Over high heat, beat the mixture with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, 3-5 minutes. Remove the top pot from the boiling water and set it aside.

For the cake, beat together butter and brown sugar until fluffy; add egg yolks and blend well. By hand, stir in baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, grated apples, walnuts and raisins. Fold in the flour, blending well, but be careful to not overmix.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Spread meringue evenly over the batter. Bake until top is crisp, about 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving. If you serve it while warm, the meringue will crack when you cut it.  If you want nice, neat uniform slices, serve the cake the next day; the meringue will be soft, and you should use a knife dipped in hot water for a clean cut.

Variations: Add 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries along with the shredded apple.


Muffins, Muffins and More Muffins

August 24, 2019 - One Response
I make some type of muffin at least three times a month, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes to accompany dinner, sometimes for an after-school snack for grandkids. They’re so easy!  And in some cases, very quick:  The banana muffins can be done in 30 minutes, start to finish.Outside of blueberries or peaches, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator right now. (In the case of ripe bananas, you just might have some in your freezer.)

Clean-up is minimal–one bowl, no mixer, and you won’t have a pan to wash if you use paper liners, as long as you don’t overfill them.

To me, the most appealing plus of muffin-making is that the batter lends itself to infinite variations, from sweet to savory.  The basic batter is adjustable and forgiving. You can make it less sweet if you’re one of those kinds of people.  Once, when I was low on eggs, I cut them from 3 to 2 and added a quarter-cup more milk.  Speaking of milk, I substituted evaporated milk once.  (You should always have a can of evaporated milk in your pantry, just in case.  I like it better than any other kind of milk in chowders, potato or broccoli soup, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese.)

Add muffins to your menus.  You have no excuse not to.

Blueberry Muffins (NYT recipe)

Buttery Blueberry Muffins  (Makes 24 standard size or 12 jumbo muffins)

3/4 cup salted butter (1 stick plus 1/2 stick)

1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk, preferably whole milk

3 cups all-purpose flour (for whole wheat flour or oatmeal, see variations below)

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 cups frozen or 1 pint fresh blueberries, washed and drained 

1 Tablespoon coarse sugar (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375.  Place one of the oven racks in the top third position.   Line two 12-cup standard cupcake pans or two 6-cup jumbo muffin pans with paper liners.  (Alternatively, grease the pans with shortening or non-stick baking spray, such as PAM or Baker’s Secret.)Melt the butter in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Using a wooden spoon or sturdy silicone spatula, stir in the sugar.  If your fruit is sweet, use the smaller amount of sugar; if your fruit is tart, use the full amount.

Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing until no streaks of egg remain.  It is important to do this now, before the flour is added, otherwise you’ll end up with tough muffins.  Stir in the milk.

In a medium bowl or on a piece of wax paper, whisk or sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Gently stir the dry ingredients into the liquid mixture–a few streaks of flour are fine.  Fold in the blueberries.  Be careful not to over-mix–again, a few streaks of flour and some lumps are perfectly fine.

Use a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop to portion the batter evenly into the prepared pans.  If desired, sprinkle a fat pinch of coarse sugar in the center of each muffin; The sugar will spread as the batter rises.

Place pans in oven and bake for about 20 minutes (25-30 minutes for jumbo muffins) or until muffins tops are light gold and no longer look wet.  If you poke it with a finger, it should spring back and not leave an indentation.  If you use a thermometer, the temperature should reach 200 degrees.

Carefully place muffins on a rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.  Store uncovered the first day; if you have any left on the second day, cover the muffins lightly, such as with a piece of waxed paper,  or place them in a paper bag one its side and leave in open.  The muffins will spoil quicker if they are placed in an airtight plastic bag, so don’t do this unless you plan to freeze them.

For Blueberry Peach Muffins, my favorite version,  add one large peach which has been pitted and diced.  No one will notice if you don’t peel the peach. Omit the vanilla (or not) and add 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

For Peaches and Cream Muffins,  omit the blueberries and milk. Add 3/4 cup heavy cream or 2 single-serve containers of peach yogurt (regular or Greek) and two pitted large peaches (unpeeled is fine) that have been chopped in 1/4″ dice.

For Orange-Cranberry Muffins,  omit the milk and blueberries.  Zest an orange; add the zest and the juice from the orange to the batter along with a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries that have been rinsed and drained.  Add chopped walnuts or pecans if desired, 3/4 to 1 cup. Bake as directed.   Once cool, store in an airtight container, or freeze them. 

For Lemon Blueberry Muffins, omit the cinnamon and add the zest and juice of one lemon.  Make sure to use the full amount of sugar.

For Orange or Lemon Muffins,  replace the blueberries with the zest and juice from 1 lemon or 1 orange.  Omit the milk.  If using lemons, use the full amount of sugar. The yield will be 16-18 muffins.

For Applesauce Muffins,  omit the blueberries and the milk.  Add two cups of prepared applesauce. Add a cup or two of raisins and/or chopped walnuts if desired.

For Chunky Apple Muffins,  replace the blueberries with peeled (or not) and diced  Golden Delicious apples, either 3 medium or 2 large ones.  Add 1 teaspoon of  cinnamon in place of (or in addition to) the vanilla.  If you prefer smaller pieces, shred the apples on the large holes of a box grater.  Add a cup of raisins, currants, and/or chopped walnuts if desired.

For Oatmeal Apple Raisin Muffins,  Omit the blueberries. Use just 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1-1/2 cups regular or old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant or steel-cut).  Add 1 cup of applesauce or 2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, grated on the large holes of a box grater,  along with a cup of raisins (any color) or currants and/or chopped walnuts.

For Pumpkin Spice Muffins,  omit the blueberries.  Decrease the sugar to 1 cup.  Add 1 can (15 oz.) solid packed pumpkin (not ready-to-bake pumpkin pie mix).  Add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and a pinch of cloves and increase cinnamon to 1-1/2 teaspoons.  Yes, you can add raisins, currants or walnuts for texture.  You could also top them with cream cheese frosting and call them cupcakes.

For Cheese Muffins,  omit the vanilla and blueberries, and cut the sugar down to 1 Tablespoon.  Add 2 cups of cheese: I’ve used shredded mild, medium,  or sharp cheddar; Swiss;  Monterey jack; pepperjack; mozzarella; provolone; good old American; or a combination of any of them.   (This is a great way to use up all the cheesy odds and ends taking up space in the deli drawer of your fridge.) For cheeses such as grated Parmesan, Asiago or Romano, use just 1/2 cup.  For Sausage and Cheese Muffins,  add 1 pound of cooked, drained, and cooled breakfast or Italian sausage.  For Garlic-Herb Cheese Muffins, add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 fat clove of  minced or pressed garlic with 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil.  If you like rosemary, add 1 teaspoon of it, very finely chopped. Make Cheese-Sausage-Garlic-Herb muffin, scramble some eggs with spinach and chives, then call it breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Make these in mini muffin pans and serve as snacks with cocktails or beer.  Especially beer.

Once cool, serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.  Reheat in a wet paper lunch bag in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.

For Corn Muffins, omit the blueberries, vanilla and milk; decrease the sugar to 1/4 cup; add a 15-oz. can of undrained corn or a can of creamed corn.  You can make this with frozen corn that’s been thawed by leaving in the 3/4 cup of milk.  (Also:  deep fry them by the spoonful, drain on a rack, then sprinkle them with powdered sugar, for Sweet Corn Fritters or Gems.) For Cornbread Muffins, reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup; cut the flour down to 1-1/2 cups; add 1-1/2 cups of cornmeal.  You could also add a cup or two of frozen corn that’s been thawed, with or without some fresh or pickled jalapenos and cheddar or jack cheese for Jalapeno Jack Muffins.  You could also make Blueberry Corn Muffins.  Just sayin’.

If you want to lend the muffins a semblance of healthiness,  reduce the all-purpose flour to 2 cups and add 1 cup of whole wheat flour or 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour plus 1/2 cup of wheat germ, or 1 cup of oatmeal (regular or old-fashioned, not instant or steel-cut).  Too much whole wheat flour or oatmeal results in dense, heavy muffins, but if that’s your thing, go for it.



Easiest Tastiest Banana Muffins   (Makes 12 standard size or 6 jumbo muffins)

One bowl, one fork,  no muss, no fuss, 30 minutes, done.

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

3 large or 4 medium very ripe bananas

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

Set your oven to 350 degrees.  Place a rack in the middle position of the oven.  Line a 12-cup standard cupcake pan with paper liners, or grease it well or spray it with non-stick baking spray.

Melt the butter in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Using a fork, stir in the sugar.  Add the bananas and mash them into the butter and sugar until only small chunks of banana remain. (The mixture should not be perfectly smooth.)  Add the eggs and mix well until no streaks of egg remain.  Stir in the baking soda and salt; blend well. Stir in the flour and mix gently until just combined;  Do not over-mix or else the muffins will be tough–a few streaks of flour and some smallish lumps are fine.

Use a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop or measuring cup to portion the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and no longer look wet.  I know it’s hard, but the flavor of the muffins develops as they cool, so try not to eat them until they cool down for at least 15 minutes.

For Banana-Blueberry Muffins, stir in a pint of rinsed and drained blueberries with the flour.


Raisin Bran Muffins  (Makes 48 standard-sized muffins)

I first heard about these muffins from The Frugal Gourmet,  a 1980s-1990s cooking program on public TV.  Part of the recipe calls for All-Bran cereal, which is sometimes hard to find, so I use extra raisin bran.  This is my adaptation of his recipe.

In a very large bowl that has a tight-fitting lid (think Tupperware):

Stir together 2 cups almost-boiling water and 2 Tablespoons baking soda.

Let cool slightly and stir in 1 cup shortening (or butter), 2 cups granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt; blend well.

Add 4 eggs and 1 quart buttermilk; stir.

Add 3 cups all-purpose flour and 8 cups of any raisin bran breakfast cereal.  Mix well.

You can make a few muffins right away and refrigerate the rest of the batter to bake as needed; the batter keeps in the refrigerator for 4 weeks.

To bake the muffins, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or spray muffin tins or line them with cupcake papers and fill 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes in middle level of oven until tops no longer look wet and spring back when pressed lightly in the center.



Buttered Rhubarb Pie

August 7, 2019 - Leave a Response

Rhubarb Pie
I live in Sumner, WA, which is billed as the “Rhubarb Pie Capital of the World.” The Washington Rhubarb Growers Association was established in 1937 in Sumner; it is the largest shipper of fresh and frozen rhubarb in the country, and, according to Wikipedia, half of all US production is right here in Pierce County.

Botanically speaking, rhubarb is a vegetable, not a fruit, and what makes vegetables taste better? Butter and salt, of course.

Your favorite recipe for a double-crust pie 

1/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons butter

4 stalks (6 if the stalks are very thin) red or green rhubarb, sliced 1/2″ thick (about 4-6 cups)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

2 tablespoons heavy cream, half-and-half, or milk

Prepare the pastry.  Divide the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, flatten the balls and wrap them separately in plastic.  Refrigerate.

Melt 1/4 c. butter in a large skillet, add half the rhubarb and saute briefly,  just until the rhubarb is softened but not mushy. Remove from heat.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon, if using; stir in the remaining rhubarb. Pour this mixture into the skillet mixture and stir gently to combine.  Allow to cool to room temperature while preparing the crust.

Remove dough from refrigerator.  On a floured surface, roll out the larger disc into a 12” circle and fit it into a 9” pie plate, preferably a glass one.  Spoon cooled rhubarb filling into crust.  Dot top of filling with remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 10” circle and center it over the rhubarb filling. Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust  Use a pair of kitchen shears to trim the overhanging edges to 1/2″ beyond the edge of the pie plate,  then crimp the edges together.  Cover a large baking sheet with a silicon liner or a sheet of aluminum foil and place pie in the center.

Brush with cream. Cut 4 slits into top crust to allow steam to escape during baking. Place the baking sheet in the oven on a rack that’s positioned at its lowest level. 

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the bottom crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Allow to cool to room temperature before slicing.

Notes:  Sometimes I use Julia Child’s recipe for Pate Brisee Sucree, sometimes I use Krusteaz mix.  Of course, you can use commercially prepared fresh or frozen pie crusts.

Frozen rhubarb can be used in place of fresh.

I never use cinnamon in this pie because I think it overwhelms the rhubarb.

If you want a sweeter pie, add 1/4 cup additional sugar.  Most people like their rhubarb pies on the tart side.

If you cannot wait for the pie to cool before eating it, you need to realize that instead of nice neat slices, it will be a goopy mess that you’ll have to scoop with a spoon.

Buttered Strawberry Rhubarb Pie: Increase cornstarch to 4 Tablespoons. Stem and quarter one pound of fresh strawberries.  Add to the filling with the second addition of rhubarb.  Proceed as directed.

The filling that overflowed?  That can be a good thing if it’s not burnt.  The finger swipe is from my taste test.

Go here for ideas for decorating pies:

Feeling Like a Pro

August 7, 2019 - Leave a Response


I grew up with this knife.  No matter where we lived–The Philippines (Clark Air Force Base, where I was born), California (Aunt Cheryl in San Francisco), Japan (Uncle Don, Nagoya Air Base), Illinois (Aunt Denise and Aunt Felecia, Chanute AFB, Rantoul), Okinawa before it was returned to Japan, K.I. Sawyer AFB in Upper Michigan, Novato, CA, back to the Philippines, finally in Bolingbrook, IL–this knife was always in one of my mom’s kitchen drawers.

In the 1980s (long before the meme that goes something along the lines of “There’s an unwritten rule that if you need something and you see it at your mom’s house, it’s yours.”), I snatched this from her.  I don’t think she ever noticed it was missing.

At the time, I was baking a lot of bread, especially raisin bread.  My mom wasn’t.  In fact, I don’t remember her baking bread at all.  Cookies, yes, when we were very young, such as kolaches and pineapple-walnut drop cookies, but not much of anything else,  especially when I began baking.  Having grown up with maids, she was perfectly happy to let anyone else take over her kitchen.

It’s a minimum of 60 years old.  I use it at least twice a week, and it never gets put in the dishwasher; In fact, it rarely gets washed–it just gets wiped off and put back in the knife drawer.  I saw one for sale on Ebay for $9.99.  You should buy it.

Anyway, I took the bread knife, which was the gateway to me stealing this from the dish cabinet to the left of my mom’s stove:


I’m not sure where she got it or what it’s supposed to be used for–my first thought was that it was meant for serving blackberry jelly and orange marmalade on a proper British breakfast table.  If it came with spoons, they had long since disappeared, but I found  demitasse spoons that fit at Linens ‘n Things just before it went out of business.

I keep it on the counter next to the stove.  Every time I do the pinch of salt thing or add a sprinkle of pepper, I feel like a pro.

Here are some other basic kitchen tools and pieces of equipment that will help you cook like a pro:

A set of Pyrex mixing bowls in small, medium, and large sizes.  Bear in mind that most health departments ban the use of glass in restaurant kitchens; Even light bulbs must have guards or shields to prevent pieces of glass from falling into food.  But for a home kitchen, Pyrex is terrific.

Michigan Peach Pies

August 4, 2019 - Leave a Response

The best peach pies I ever made were the first peach pies I ever made. I’d made all kinds of other fruit or cream pies over the decades, but never a pie from fresh peaches.

These were, without a doubt, the Best Peach Pies In The World, and have become my Holy Grail. It has nothing to do with my ability as a baker and everything to do with heavenly Michigan peaches.

In the late 80s when we lived in Hinsdale/Willow Springs suburb of Chicago, our back-yard neighbor Joann Tiedt owned a huge 5-bedroom “cottage” on one of the Sister Lakes in Dowagiac, MI. She invited us, the Ryans, the Farmers, the Danahers and the McNails to spend 3 days there. We had a blast, ate well, and all you 16 kids got along. You did, really!

On our last day, Joann and I took an out-of-the-way side trip to a produce stand in Berrien County. I bought a bushel of peaches that were–I am not exaggerating here–the size of fast-pitch softballs. I planned to freeze half a bushel, then use the other half to make 7 pies, one for each of the other families and two for us.

We were about overcome by peach fumes on the ride back home in that dark blue Chevy Malibu station wagon. I wish I had had the presence of mind when I bought them to ask what variety of peach they were.

I used Julia Child’s recipe for Pate Brisee Sucree for the crust, and the Better Homes and Gardens recipe for the filling. Simple recipes both, but I cannot begin to describe how incredibly deliciously complex those pies smelled and tasted. I still remember the OMG look on Joann’s face when the aroma smacked her in the face as she came through the back door.

Joann sold the cottage over the winter, but for a few years we made day trips over the seasons to buy Berrien County apples, blueberries, strawberries, pears, cabbage, cucumbers, more peaches. All the peach pies I’ve made since were very good, but none have come close to being as ambrosial as those first peach pies.

Ten years ago, I found giant juicy peaches at a farmer’s market in Tacoma, WA, close to where I now live. David ate one, standing over the kitchen sink, as soon as I brought them in. They were very, very good, but not as excellently peachy as those Michigan peaches were. The goddesses of nature and Michigan’s terroir must have been perfectly aligned for those peaches in the summer of ’88–the winter, spring, and early summer rainfall and temperatures and sunlight worked together to make those perfect peaches, something that never happened again while I was there.

Now, I sniff all colors and shapes and sizes of peaches everywhere I find them in Washington, hoping that one day my sense memory kicks in and I find peaches with a similar Michigan magic. It’s been a 30-year mission so far, but, as incredible as Washington produce can be, I don’t see this mission being accomplished any time soon.

Pate Brisee Sucree

This recipe has been doubled in order to make a double-crust pie. The original is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One (Knopf, 1961) by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoons table salt

16 (2 sticks) tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

6 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening

8 tablespoons ice water

Stir flour, sugar and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, a fork, or two butter knives, work butter and shortening into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
Add as much as 8 tablespoons ice water and blend quickly (I use a rubber scraper) pressing the dough firmly into a ball that just holds together and is pliable but not sticky. Flatten the dough into a patty, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate while you prepare the peaches.
Peach Filling and Pie Assembly

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 very large or 6 large peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced into eighths (about 6 cups)

2 tablespoons cream, half-and-half, or whole milk

In a large bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Gently stir in peaches. Set aside at room temperature while you roll out the pie crust.
Divide the pie dough into two portions, one a little larger than the other. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger portion into a 12″ circle. Fit it snugly into a 9″ pie plate, preferably one made from tempered glass. Roll the remaining dough into a 10″ circle.
Place a rack in the bottom position of oven. Set temperature to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Spoon the peach filling onto the bottom crust. Ease the top crust over the filling. Trim edges of crust to 1/2″ beyond the pie plate. Fold top crust under bottom crust and crimp edges. Brush cream over the surface of the pie, then cut 1/2 ” slits through the top crust to allow steam to escape during baking.
Place pie on prepared baking sheet and set on bottom rack of oven. Bake for about 40 minutes or until bottom of pie is nicely browned and the top crust is golden. For neat slices, allow the pie to cool to room temperature before serving.
Notes: You can substitute 6 cups of frozen peaches for the fresh.

I like using glass pie plates because they allow me to see the bottom crust; Its brown-ness is the best way to see if the pie is cooked through.

I always line a baking sheet with foil or parchment to catch drips because it makes clean-up a breeze, especially if that clean-up involves burnt sugar on the oven floor.

If you can’t wait for the pie to cool down, you need to realize that you will be serving a runny mess that needs to be scooped out of the pan with a spoon. Just sayin’.

PS: There’s no way in the world that I could ever repay Joann for this vacation. Her kindness and hospitality, along with John McNail’s patience when fishing with you, I firmly believe, were perfect examples to live up to, and you have!

Fresh Strawberry Pie

July 29, 2013 - Leave a Response

This is not a cheap pie, even if you make it when fresh local strawberries are in season and comparatively cheaper than fresh strawberries in December. First, you need at least four pints of strawberries. Second, you shouldn’t use Cool-Whip (not because I’m a snob–it has its place in my kitchen, just not here), so you’ll need a pint of whipping cream/heavy cream, the kind with just two ingredients on the label (milk and cream). Done right, this pie should set you back at least $10, which is why you don’t see these for sale at your local chain grocer.

If you want to serve more people for less money, adjust the amount of pastry to make the pie in a 13″ x 9″ pan or on a baking sheet; spread the strawberries in a single layer; finally, dollop a spoonful of whipped cream on each serving instead of spreading it over the entire pie.

Don’t use a cookie crust for this pie. If you have no desire to make your own crust, either purchase a frozen crust (deep-dish size) or use Krusteaz mix. I’ve tried blind-baking pie crusts using rice, dried beans, pie weights and the one-pie-pan-inside-the-other-with-aluminum-foil-between method. For one reason or another, I dislike all those methods. I prefer to peek at the crust after it’s been in the oven for seven minutes, using the tip of a paring knife to deflate any puffy spots. If you’ve allowed the dough to relax for a few minutes after rolling it out and if you’ve eased the raw dough without stretching it into the pie pan and if you’ve rolled it out wide enough to allow for easy crimping to cover the edge of the pan, you shouldn’t have a problem with a slumping crust. But if using pie weights makes you feel more like a chef than a home cook, by all means, use them.

Fresh Strawberry Pie

In a medium saucepan, simmer 2 pints strawberries (hulled and quartered) with 1 cup water for five minutes. Strain through a sieve into a measuring cup and discard pulp. If the liquid measures between 1 1/2 and 2 cups, it’s fine; add water if necessary to bring the liquid to the 1 1/2 cup mark, or simmer longer to reduce the amount if you have too much.

Return the liquid to saucepan. Stir in 1 tablespoon strawberry Jello powder or 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin; allow to rest for 5 minutes until gelatin softens. Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the berries) and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Remove pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, blind bake a piecrust in a 9” pie pan. After baking allow it to cool to room temperature.

Rinse, hull and quarter 2 or 3 pints of strawberries. Place into a large bowl. Pour the strawberry gel mixture over the berries and stir gently until berries are evenly coated. Scoop mixture into pie shell.

At serving time, top with whipped cream: Chill a medium bowl and a whisk or your beaters in the freezer for at least 10 minutes. Pour in a pint (two cups) of heavy cream and whip until soft peaks form. Gently stir in two to four tablespoons (depending on your taste) powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Pudding Cream Pies

July 29, 2013 - Leave a Response

These are cream pies for cheaters who have no time for separating yolks from whites and tempering and such but who still want something rich and sweet that tastes like you spent the afternoon baking. It’s for cooks who don’t like involved recipes that call for three bowls, two pots, myriad utensils and a flour-crusted counter. It’s also for cooks who abhor recipes that call for four egg yolks but don’t include the whites, which means you’re forced to toss them, find a different recipe that includes them, or store them in the fridge or freezer, where–three months later–you’ll toss them, which you should have done in the first place anyway, right? I’ve never heard anyone say anything along the lines of. “You know, this would have been richer if you had tempered four yolks instead of using two whole eggs. . .” A couple of times, in fact, the only thing I’ve heard after serving these pies has been deep, rapturous silence.

I use a pastry crust for these pies, either Julia Child’s pate brisee sucre or Krusteaz mix. A graham cracker or other cookie crust would be an acceptable alternative, although I think such crusts compete with, instead of complement, the flavor of the pudding. If you roll the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap, clean-up is minimal.

I’ve specified Smith Brothers Farms dairy products because that’s what I use. You might argue that milk is milk, and I suppose that one brand of rBGH-free milk could taste the same as another. But I’ll tell you what. . .I’ll pay a little extra for delivered milk with a two-week lifespan that came from a cow just a couple of days before over milk with a one-month (!) shelf-life from the grocery store. Besides that, the whipping cream from Smith Brothers has only two ingredients: milk and cream. At chain grocers, it’s nearly impossible to find heavy cream without carrageenan, mono- and di-glycerides, polysorbate 80 or sodium citrate added to enhance shelf-life. Yes, it’s true that whipped cream without additives is just a wee bit healthier than cream with chemicals, but it’s also true that chemical-free heavy cream won’t get all weepy and wet in the refrigerator the next day, so go for it.

Banana Cream Pie

1 Pre-baked 9” pie crust (I make pie crusts using Krusteaz mix; if using a frozen pie crust, purchase the
deep-dish size)
3 cups Smith Brothers Farms milk (I use whole milk, but low-fat milk may be substituted, as can
half-and-half if you‘re naughty)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Smith Brothers Farms butter
2 ripe bananas (or 3 bananas if you wish)
1 cup Smith Brothers Farms whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Vanilla wafers and/or dried banana chips for garnish (optional)

1. Allow pie crust to cool completely.

2. Pour milk into a 2-quart or larger saucepan. With a wire whisk, beat in eggs until well combined with no streaks of egg floating on top. Stir in sugar and cornstarch. Place pan over medium-high heat and cook, whisking or stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a full boil. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute longer. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla and butter until blended. Partially fill a clean sink with a tray of ice cubes and a few inches of cold water; place saucepan in sink and allow pudding to cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the temperature of a nice warm bath. The pudding can be warm, but it shouldn’t be warm enough to cook the banana slices.

3. Slice bananas into cooled pie crust. Pour warm (not hot) pudding over bananas and seal them in by making sure none of the slices are poking through. Immediately lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pie, covering the pudding completely so that a skin doesn’t form. Refrigerate for two hours or until very cold.

4. Place a medium mixing bowl in the freezer along with a whisk or the beaters from an electric mixer. After the pie has chilled through, pour the heavy cream into the cold mixing bowl; add the powdered sugar and beat slowly until powdered sugar is absorbed. Increase speed and beat until stiff peaks are formed, being careful to not over-beat the cream lest it turn into butter. Remove plastic film from pie filling; swirl whipped cream artfully over the top of the pie. Garnish with vanilla wafers and/or banana chips. Serve or refrigerate immediately. Serves 6-8. Store leftovers (as if) covered in refrigerator for up to two days.

Variations (For these, you can skip the cool-down step and pour hot filling directly into cooled crust.):
1. For Vanilla Cream Pie, omit bananas and increase vanilla to 2 teaspoons. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla to heavy cream before whipping.
2. For Chocolate Cream Pie, omit bananas and add 1/4 cup cocoa powder (plain or Dutch-processeither is fine) with the cornstarch; if desired, stir in a handful of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or a chopped milk chocolate bar with the butter and vanilla. Garnish with chocolate curls or shaved chocolate.
3. For Coconut Cream Pie, omit banana. While pie crust is baking, toast 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut on a baking sheet for about five minutes, stirring after three minutes, until light golden brown; cool. Add 1 cup of sweetened flaked coconut to the pudding with the butter and vanilla. Garnish pie with the cooled toasted coconut.
4. For Butterscotch Cream Pie, omit banana; substitute 3/4 packed brown sugar for the granulated sugar.
5. For Peanut Butter Cream Pie, omit banana and butter. Add 1 cup peanut butter with the vanilla.