I’m feeling particularly impatient with the cold. Not just because it’s mid-January, but also because our heat has not been working properly for the past few days. It’s hard enough to get out of bed in the morning on a dark mid-winter morning, and when it’s 41 degrees in the living room, that doesn’t help matters.
While it’s still cold enough that the prospect of double digit temperatures is exciting, our heat is fortunately working (unless I just jinxed us).
I’ll still have to be patient for warmer temperatures but we can do some things to brighten our dark days. Like making a cherry pie that brings a bit of July to January.
And don’t worry–I’m not going to tell you about making sour cherry pie from fresh cherries in mid-winter. That would just be annoying. Tart cherries are hard enough to find when they are in season, much less this time of year (hence I’ve had to “make do” with sweet even in the height of summer). But fortunately they can be found jarred. My local whole foods sells 24 ounce jars imported from Hungary, billed either as “compote” or simply “sour cherries in sugar.” They are simply packed in their juice, which is only lightly sweetened–no viscous, cloying pie filling here. You could happily spoon this compote into your morning yogurt, or even just eat a few straight from the jar. Or, of course, make pie!
A few tweaks are in order, though. Most fresh pie recipes require you to macerate the cherries in sugar to draw out their juice–obviously that step is not necessary, but you should save some of the juice when you drain the cherries to compensate for this–I found a half cup worked well. I also added just a touch of sugar, as jarred cherries usually come pre-sweetened.
I’ve recently been experimenting with the Chez Pim pie crust method–a very pliable, easy-to-work with dough, which is particularly nice to use when making a lattice crust pie. You can always just fit your top crust with a rolled out disk, however–it will be just as delicious.
Prepare crust in advance and divide into two disks. Make sure the dough has time to rest before assembling the pie.
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425°F.
Drain the cherries and reserve 1/2 cup of the juice.
Stir together the cornstarch, salt, cherries, sugar, lemon juice, reserved cherry juice, and vanilla extract.
Roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. If using egg white, paint the crust with the egg white to “seal” it.
Roll out second dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Using large knife or pastry wheel with fluted edge, cut ten 3/4-inch-wide strips from dough round. (You can also just roll into a round and use this to top the pie if you don’t want to make a lattice crust).
Transfer filling to dough-lined dish, mounding slightly in center.
Arrange dough strips over filling, forming lattice; trim dough strip overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold bottom crust up over ends of strips and crimp edges to seal. Brush lattice crust (not edges) with milk. (If not using a lattice crust, slash the top decoratively to allow steam to escape while baking). Sprinkle the top crust with sugar.
Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Bake pie until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, covering edges with foil collar if browning too quickly, about 1 hour longer.
Sad to say, this blog has a regrettable dearth of Christmas cookies. (Or cookies in general). I hope this post can help make amends. With marmalade (if like me you have too much), brown sugar, molasses, a riot of spices, plenty of eggs, and of course candied ginger, these cookies are full of flavor and well worthy of the holiday season.
I’ve loved this slightly chewy, soft gingerbread cookie (in contrast to the crisp, snappy variety) since enjoying is as often as I could in the Czech Republic. Besides beautifully decorated showpieces, every grocery store stocked multiple varieties single serving cakes filled with your selection of jam and glazed in a thin veneer of chocolate. Years later, I even imposed upon my friend Jennifer to bring me back some from her annual trip to Austria, along with marzipan and plum paste. (That’s sort of a lot, isn’t it?)
These cookies are so easy to make–it’s whirred up in the food processor and frozen for at least four hours to stiffen it up a little. I left mine in the freezer a full twenty four hours, and you can see how soft and viscous it is even after that–so don’t skip that step or you may turn an easy cookie making venture into a frustrating one.
Scooping out with a cookie scoop is definitely helpful (see that part about being sticky and viscous above), but the good news is even as imperfect as my scoops started looking, they all baked up into lovely rounds. Even my younger son enjoyed helping–that’s his cute little hand.
The frosting is as simple as can be–sugar held together by milk and a bit of butter. It’s nothing but pure saccharine, which actually is the perfect icing for such complex and rich cookies. Everyone I shared these cookies with gave them rave reviews, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we all did!
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or toast, stirring frequently in a hot dry skillet for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove to a plate to stop the cooking, and let cool completely.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, allspice, salt and nutmeg.
In a food processor, pulse the cooled almonds until coarsely chopped. Add the brown sugar and pulse until incorporated. Add the marmalade, candied ginger and molasses and pulse until the mixture is well blended and the nuts are finely chopped. Add the eggs all at once and pulse until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and pulse until incorporated and the batter is uniform in color.
Scrape the soft batter into a bowl, cover and freeze until very firm, at least 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a 2-tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop 8 level mounds onto each baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. Freeze the remaining batter between batches.
Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and slightly firm; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Transfer the sheets to racks and let the cookies and pans cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.
In a bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the milk and butter. The butter will eventually incorporate. Spread the cookies with icing (it’s easiest to pick each cookie up and frost it rather than frost them on a plate) and let dry completely before serving or wrapping.
The cookies can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
And so I plug along, nearing the end of the bread baking alphabet in the BBA Challenge. V is for Vienna, the source of the next bread on the roster. This is a simple enriched dough, (i.e., enhanced with egg and butter to provide fat and tenderness to the bread). And these loaves are indeed puffy and pillowy, rather than the crusty and chewy breads we’ve seen lately. It would seem appropriate–if you consider that the croissant can be traced to Vienna (a fact acknowledged in the French word for croissants and other such morning pastries, viennoiserie)–that Peter Reinhart’s rendition of this bread would be a tender, faintly sweet creation.
I did make some modifications–a long time ago I obtained some diastatic barley malt powder–it’s supposed to help the loaves achieve a burnished color in the oven by adding additional sugars that caramelize the crust as it bakes, as explained here–but due to my delinquency in pursuing the BBA Challenge it expired. (It is probably still good, and I believe is somewhere in the bottom of the freezer, but I’m afraid to look). Nor did I “prepare the oven for hearth baking” this time around. (I know, there was a lot of yammering on my part back here where I swore up and down that I was a convert to this method, and I still am. But when I saw eggs and butter as ingredients, I figured we were not really in peasant bread territory and I bailed on replicating a peasant hearth in my oven this time around. And sometimes I get lazy, let’s face it). Perhaps both of these modifications, together, or each on their own, would have changed the character of this bread, from something fit for an effete courtier at the palace of the Hapsburgs to something more to the liking of a lonely goatherd, high on a hill somewhere near Salzburg.* But I probably won’t find out, as I’ll definitely retreat back into the sourdough camp once this bread making challenge is done. I could, however, could see myself using this recipe to replenish my stash of homemade hamburger buns. (Have you made homemade hamburger buns? Even someone like me who is not a burger fan craves these–and I’ll say more about that in the next post).
*And for the record, I’m not actually a Sound of Music obsessive, but I’m trying to run with an Austrian theme here, so work with me please. Also, I had to sing that song in music class long ago and I think it sort of scarred me, and no, I don’t yodel.
Nick Malgieri describes Vienna as the world capital of cakes in his introduction to the recipe for Viennese Raisin Coffee Cake. Aha: perhaps it’s not the culture, history, music, and architecture…
that make Vienna one of my favorite cities–it’s the desserts!
Only appropriate that I make this cake for the Modern Baker Challenge, given that I have a kugelhopf mold. (Yes, rather than a bundt cake mold. I told you I love Vienna.) I’m jumping around a bit here, I do acknowledge (what’s that you say? I haven’t even finished the assigned chapter, “yeast risen specialties”, yet?). But I can’t bear to think of making all those cakes all at once (I just got off the baby weight!) and, less virtuously, I don’t want to wait.
What I found interesting is that this cake is raised by both whipped egg whites and baking powder. In that way it is similar to the other kugelhopf that I made, which was raised by egg whites and yeast. I think this gave the cake a bit of a drier texture (I have noticed that cakes in Prague were often dry, and I think it is a result of using a meringue to raise the cakes). Cakes like Sachertorte are always served with a dollop of whipped cream,
and, while far more modest a cake, I think a similar treatment would serve this cake well.
After all these fancy photos, here’s my pictures of the cake itself, a good all-purpose cake. I think you could dress it up as I mentioned above, or with a nice fruit compote or coulis, but as it’s not too sweet and not too fussy you can have it anytime of day.