Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pecan pie with Maple-Brown Sugar Filling

I researched various pecan pie recipes and worried a bit over what I should put in mine. It seems that there were tales of doom for so many different pecan pie recipes…and I have tasted bad ones before and it is just sad!! 

 I could not decide if I should just use sugar, or use maple syrup or go with corn syrup, even with its bad reputation. I did not want it to be too bland (corn syrup alone) or too maple-y as much as I love maple, I wanted the pecans to be the stars. 
Since I could not seem to come to a decision, I just decided to use a bit of them all!!

I know that some of you will not want to use the light corn syrup but there is only a bit in here.  I believe it helps keep the sugar from crystallizing.  If you want to skip it try adding an extra TBSP of syrup and 2 TBSP of brown sugar.

You could use a pie crust purchased frozen or refrigerated but I will give you the recipe for super easy pie crust which you can make ahead!

Pecan pie with Maple-Brown Sugar Filling

      3 eggs, beaten
1 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
¼  cup light corn syrup
1/4-1/2  teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves or mixture of halves and pieces

      Prepared pie crust, you own* or  store bought variety ( recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350°

 In a large mixing  bowl or bowl to a mixer, combine melted butter, and brown sugar and blend well. Add beaten eggs, maple syrup, corn syrup, and vanilla. Blend well.

Stir in 3/4 of the pecans, reserving some nice looking pieces to place on top after the filling has been poured into pan.

If desired, keep pie crust from getting soggy by brushing with egg wash or egg and milk wash.
Place on a foil covered baking sheet and pour filling into pie shell. Top with reserved pecans in a circular pattern. 

Carefully put into oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until set, using a pie shield to protect crust edge if it gets too brown.  (You could prebake pie shell for 8 minutes if you desire but it is not really necessary with the egg white wash)

Let pie cool a bit before serving or serve at room temperature. It pairs nicely with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.  

No Fail Pie Crust*

3 1/3 cup unbleached  flour or pastry flour
1 1/2 c. butter flavor shortening, no transfat (Crisco)
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. very cold water
1 egg
1 tbsp. vinegar
Combine flour, shortening and salt. Mix well with pastry blender. Mix together water, vinegar and egg. Combine 2 mixtures and mix lightly with fork and/ or a wooden spoon. Separate into four pieces and roll into 4 balls. Place the dough you want to use right away in air tight covered container. Wrap the dough you will want to save for later in plastic wrap and store in a ziplock bag or airtight container.
 Refrigerate dough for at least 20-30 minutes then place on lightly floured surface or between two pieces of wax paper, plastic wrap or parchment paper.  Roll it out to the right size for you pan. You can use extra from another ball of dough if you pan is larger. Put into pie pan and trim. You max use an egg or egg and milk wash to give the crust a next exterior.
Note: This can be rolled out more than once or patched together and still comes out tender and flaky. Stores well in refrigerator for a couple weeks or freeze for a couple months .  Makes 2 smaller double crusts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stuffing with Onions, Celery and Sage

Thanksgiving Stuffing

One of my favorite thanksgiving dishes is the stuffing or dressing. But stuffing is one of those dishes that can be very different from one family’s table to the next.  While I love the way I make my stuffing I really dislike some of the stuffing that is served elsewhere. It is not that my recipe is better it is just that there is a big difference in personal preference in what people look for in stuffing. Turkey is more straightforward. Most other thanksgiving dishes can be very different and people sometimes cling to their cherished favorites with a vengeance. Stuffing can cause kitchen wars when various families come together to make thanksgiving dinner!!
The great debate—Do you like your stuffing moist and fluffy with a bit of a crisp on top OR very very  ?  I like the lighter stuffing that is never gummy or gray looking. But others think this kind of stuffing is “dry”. The key is the ratio of fat to liquid as well as how much liquid one adds. It can also be affected by ( gulp*_*) adding in giblets or other ingredients . Now as I said, this is all about personal preference, I am not trying to diss your family favorite. So I will share how to adjust this or any recipe to match your thanksgiving ideals.
In the following recipe, I use a good amount of butter and go easy on the broth until I see how much it will need. For lighter less gummy stuffing I look to butter to add moisture and just enough broth to hold it together.  This is the key to good stuffing around our table. 
But the amount of butter and broth must be adjusted to how you like your stuffing as well as how dry your bread crumbs are and other factors so taste and adjust as you cook! . Try making stuffing before Thanksgiving to see how you prefer it.

There is also a little test to help you determine what the finished product will be like.  Test it by taking a small spoonful of stuffing, just after adding broth and put it in your hand. Squeeze it lightly. For my favorite stuffing, it will stick together but just barely! So for fluffy and moist with a slightly crispy top ,the stuffing should hold together lightly yet still have noticeable texture and bread bits and not cling solidly together in a heavy ball.  If you like very moist stuffing, the spoon/ squeeze test results in a ball that really sticks together well like a dough. You may also be one who likes it drier, in which case you do not want it to just lightly stick together.

As I said, this is not my personal preference but if you like your stuffing super moist, you may add up to 2 ½ -2 ¾ cups or more broth but note that Too much broth makes stuffing gummy and heavy- beware! I believe adding more butter or even an egg is a better option for added moisture unless you are worried about the fat and calories, which is not as necessary for one holiday meal in my book!. However, some people like higher liquid content
I always bake my dressing /stuffing in a dish while the turkey rests after roasting. I never put this in the turkey, it is risky and I don’t even like it as much. Plus, I put aromatics like lemon, onion, celery and herbs inside the turkey while it is cooking. So this is technically called dressing I believe but most Americans still call it stuffingJ  

What kind of bread crumbs?

I have made this with various kinds of bread. I have used all store bought stuffing, not the cubed variety but the crumbed. I have used the cornbread varieties. You may like the cubed variety, especially if you are using extra broth. 
 I have made it with French or Italian bread or with corn bread, day old and then dried.  Most often, I mix it up with any variety of  these. 

Honestly, they are all good options and I think you should use whatever feels best to you. If you are making the whole meal for a bunch of people, store bought is your friend—it can be great! I used to cook a thanksgiving dinner for 300 so it was always store bought herb season classic stuffing all the way and they raved over it. Don’t make more work for yourself on a stressful day.

Still if you have time and want to use your own bread or corn bread that is an excellent option too. You can use a loaf or two of day old French bread or corn bread instead of store bought stuffing mix. Day old bread is better than fresh. Or use 1/2  store-bought mix and 1/2 freshly dried . . You would need about 7-9 cups of dried bread cubes. To dry fresh or day old bread cut 1/2 lb. loaf of French bread in 1/2" slices then cube into 1/2 " or smaller cubes. Dry in 250' oven for a couple hours, turning occasionally until brittle but not brown. Or toast dry, stale bread in 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes.

I think the classic onion, celery and sage stuffing with some toasty nuts is delicious but there are other wonderful things to add-in.
I love the apple, sausage variation. You may add things like peeled, chopped apple, dried cranberries, sausage, chopped fennel,  fresh herbs- I usually add parsley.   Some people prefer to add a beaten egg to dressing. If you would like to add egg, you may reduce broth or even butter a bit.

Stuffing with Onions, Celery and Sage

Recipe by Denise Birdsall
Serves about 10  
  14 oz. store bought dressing or stuffing mix-not stove-top* or cubed bread or corn bread or any mixture (about 7-9 cups)
2/3 -   ¾  cup Butter (may use more or less as desired, see above note)
1 -1½  cup Onion, Chopped
1 -1½  cup Celery, Chopped
1/2 -¾ cup fresh parsley, flat leaf preferred , optional
2 tsp sage ( use less sage and more other  herbs if you don’t like sage)
1 tsp, Salt Free Herb Seasoning (such as poultry, or herbs d’provence)
  ½ +     Tsp. each Marjoram, Thyme -- Optional
   Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup chopped Pecans or Walnuts -- Optional
   2   cups  Reduced Sodium Chicken(or veggie ) Broth,  low-fat or homemade -- more if desired but beware too much broth makes a gummy paste stuffing!!! You can always add more broth after everything is mixed or even while baking but you cannot take it out! See the notes above.

    Heat butter in large pot and add onions. Cook 5 minutes. Add celery and spices. Cook 4 minutes. Add nuts. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Add broth and heat well. Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs and parsley. Mix well.
Taste and adjust seasonings. If stuffing is very dry add more butter or more broth.
Put into buttered pan and cover. Bake in 350 oven for 25-35,  until soft and fragrant. 375 degrees can work too, but only bake about 20-30 minutes.    May be uncovered for last 5- 10 minutes to get crisp on top.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cream Scones

This week I wanted to bake up scones that were light and simple with a delicate crisp exterior and a tender crumb.  I had a nice little jar of pumpkin butter and another of raspberry preserves so I wanted a make up a good vehicle to enjoy them. I am not such a big fan of the heavy, dry scone I sometimes encounter. These are light and moist because of the cream and the egg helps them to stay that way for a day or two. I have tried making scones with milk and with buttermilk but I think cream makes the best texture. There are many cream scone recipes on the web with slight variations. I think I will have to keep experimenting!!

Cream Scones 

2 cups (9 ounces) All Purpose Flour*
1 TBSP. baking powder
4 TBSP. sugar (may add an extra TBSP)
1/2 tsp. salt
4-5 TBSP cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup heavy cream (may add an extra 1-2 TBSP)
1 egg slightly beaten
1 tsp. of vanilla
2 TBSP of sugar for sprinkling ( may use raw, Turbinado sugar, spices like cardamom or grated lemon peel)
Cream to brush on tops

* Unbleached Gold Meadow flour is a good choice as it is slightly lower in protein which keeps the scones tender. It is best to weigh the flour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In the large bowl of a food processor add flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and very cold butter cut into pieces.  
Pulse several times for about 3-5 second intervals until everything resembles coarse meal. Or by hand, use a pastry cutter or two butter knives to cut butter into flour mixture until the butter is finely cut in and the mixture resembles a course meal.

In a large bowl blend in heavy cream, beaten egg, and vanilla. Add in flour mixture and gently mix by hand using wooden spoon until it forms a mass of mostly moistened dough then turn a few times with hands in the bowl until it is a uniformly mixed ball of dough.  

Flour a board and make 4 balls of dough.  Pat and flatten each ball to about  ¾ “ high in the center and slightly thinner towards edges. 
Brush with cream and sprinkle with a bit of raw or turbinado sugar ( or regular white sugar) and cardamom or other spice.
Cut each circle in quarters. You should have enough dough to make 4 circles and 16 scones.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a slipat. Bake for 12- 15 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove scones from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 16 small scones