Fall Apple Pie

Every marriage and family has an issue or two on which the people involved don’t quite see eye to eye.   In our house, we don’t fight over the correct way to squeeze toothpaste out of the tube and don’t have “over versus under” toilet paper debates.  We butt heads over the vacuum and its proper resting place in our day-to-day life. I like to keep it in the kitchen, plugged in, and always ready to conquer the next mess that emerges. With two starving teenagers plus a husband who likes to eat,  our family life pretty much  takes place in the kitchen, and as we all know, life can be messy. I’m not going to keep the vacuum neatly stowed away in the closet only to have to take it out five minutes later. No, our trusty Dyson is right there in the middle of the kitchen floor, together with its endless cord that enables me to reach in every corner.

And Mr. Photographer hates that. According to him, it’s the dumbest idea ever and disaster waiting to happen. He claims the stupid vacuum is constantly in his way. He’s tripped over it couple of times, which is something I don’t understand – you see it’s there, so just step over the cord and move on with your life. It’s not like it’s a needle in a haystack, right? Everybody can see a vacuum!

Under normal circumstances, absolutely. Unless you just came home from the other end of the world, are jetlagged after a 15-hour flight, are trying to catch up on the laundry, and cooking 3 meals at once. The washing machine is beeping. You jump up to put the stuff in the dryer. Everything is under control, you’re doing great. Just five more loads to wash and put away. The soup is boiling over. You rush to take care of that, when you hear the oven announcing the bread is ready. You leap over to take it out, and what’s right there in the middle of the kitchen floor? Yep, your trusty Dyson. With its endless cord that enables you to reach in every corner. Except this time, it enables you to land with your whole palm on the open and red-hot oven door.

Sitting here whining and pondering if I should go to the ER or not, I can now with an absolute certainty tell you three things: As big as it is, there are times when you really can’t see a vacuum under your feet. You can’t write, bake,  nor do pretty much anything else with one hand stuck in a bowl of icy water to relieve the pain of a burn.  And lastly, it pays off to listen to our partners more.  As much as it burns me to say it, occasionally they might actually be quite right.

*****

Since baking one-handed can be quite a challenge, this pie is actually a throwback recipe I made last year. I had a lot of fun with it, playing with painting the leaves and decorating it, and I think it turned out beautiful, and would be a great addition to any of your fall celebrations. Enjoy, and please be careful in your kitchen endeavors!

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Fall Aple Pie

(adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com)

Pie Crust:
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 3 teaspoons white sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 200 g (7 oz.) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 large egg
Apple Filling:
  • 1.5 kg (3 lbs.) baking apples, such as Granny Smith or Gala
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling over the pie
  • 55 g (2 oz.) unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg

+ 1 egg, beaten – for egg wash
1 egg yolk + assorted food colors for painting the leaves
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Method:
  1. To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of your food processor fitted with an S-blade, and pulse to combine. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles peas. Add the egg and pulse again 1 – 3 times only – do not let the mixture come to a ball. If the dough is too dry, add 1 tablespoon of cold water. Remove the dough from the food processor and bring it together by hand. Wrap and chill for two hours before proceeding.
  2. Meanwhile, make the apple filling: Peel and core the apples. Quarter them and cut each quarter into 2 – 3 wedges, depending on the size of the apples. Toss the apples with sugar and lemon juice to prevent browning.
  3. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts and the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.
  4. Strain the apples over a bowl to catch the juices. Return the juices to the pan and cook until reduced and caramelized, about 8 minutes. Combine with the apples and spices and set aside.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it in half. On a sheet of parchment paper, roll each half into a circle about 10-inch (23 cm) wide. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  6. Roll out the scraps of the dough and cut out decorative pieces with cookie cutters. Lay them out on a plate/tray and refrigerate until needed.
  7. Take one circle of the dough from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, cut out the trunk/branches of a tree in the center.(The cut-out will work as a steam vent while the pie is baking.) Set aside.
  8. To assemble, fit one circle of the refrigerated dough into a 9-inch (23 cm) pie pan. Pour in the cooled apple filling, mounding it slightly in the center. Brush the edges with egg wash and place the top circle on the apples pressing the edges together. Put the pie back in the fridge and preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  9. To paint the cut out leaves, place the egg yolk in the middle of a paper plate and put a drop  or two of assorted food colors all around the edges of the plate. Mix a little of the yolk in each color and paint the leaves with a small brush. Put a little egg wash around the cut out tree and on the edges of the pie and decorate the pie with your painted leaves.
  10. Carefully brush the top of the pie with remaining egg wash and sprinkle it with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes until golden brown. If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil. Cool on rack before serving.
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Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

Today, my little sister is getting married. When I look at her, a beautiful bride getting ready to shine, it stirs all kinds of unexpected emotions in me. I see her, as this tiny little thing my parents brought home from the hospital. Cute smiley girl with blond pigtails I used to pick up from preschool. A toothless first grader who asked me through tears the day of my own wedding as I was leaving the nest: “And when will you come to see us again?”

But time doesn’t stop, and this time, she’s the one leaving. I see how happy she is and the way her new husband looks at her. It’s their beginning. They’re now writing  their own unique story, and I wish them all the happiness in the world. There are thousand things I’d like to tell them, but can’t possibly squeeze into that brief moment when each of the wedding guests wants to shake their hand.

Please remember this day. Sis, remember the man you’re marrying and don’t forget how he made you feel. D, remember how excited you were when you saw her walking down the aisle. Don’t expect him to wear a halo… don’t hope she’ll be an angel. Neither of you will… but as long as you both won’t stop trying, you’ll figure it out. Never take each other for granted, and cherish the little things… because life *is* the little things.

Love one another and you’ll be happy. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.

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Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

(cookie recipe adapted from www.bakerella.com)

 

Chocolate Cookies:
  • 228 g (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 150 g (¾ cup) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200 g (1 cup) chocolate chips
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 210 g (1 ½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 90 g (¾ cup) unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
Raspberry Buttercream:
  • ¾ cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 170 g (6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon framboise liqueur (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 ½ cup powdered sugar
Method:
  1. For the cookies, cream together softened butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the egg and mix to combine.
  2. Melt the chocolate chips, stir, and let cool slightly. Add the melted chocolate to the butter – sugar mixture.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients, add them to the chocolate – butter mixture and stir just until combined.
  4. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  5. Line a big cookie sheet with the parchment paper and set aside.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into 5 mm (less than 1/4 inch) thickness. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the prepared cookie sheet. Refrigerate while you preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C).
  7. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes (I baked the smaller ones for 13 minutes, and the bigger ones for 15 minutes.) It is better to underbake them, than to let them go crisp – soft texture works better in ice cream sandwiches. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for couple of minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  8. Make the Raspberry Buttercream: Blend the raspberries with the granulated sugar in a blender; set aside.
  9. Cream butter with powdered sugar, add vanilla, lemon zest, and framboise. Run the sugar raspberry mixture through a sieve, and with the motor running, gradually add it to the buttercream.
  10. To assemble the cookies: Place about 1 tablespoon of the pink buttercream on the bottom cookie and cover it with the top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Refrigerate until serving.

Caramel Cream Puffs

Cream puffs were sold at every cake shop in my hometown growing up. Sitting in a confectioner’s case, they were big and sweet, overflowing with  creamy caramel filling, and  glazed with chocolate. I absolutely adored them, so much so that I used to secretly sneak into my parents’ closet and fumble in the pockets of their clothes looking for change, just so I could buy myself a cream puff. Little thief with a sweet tooth.

These days I try to limit my exposure to sweets 🙂 but I still have a soft spot for these puffs.  And I’m happy to say that even though they may seem complicated, making them is actually pretty simple. The caramel whipping cream needs to be made the night before, and if you make the puffs at the same time, the only thing you’ll need to do the next day is to fill them and let them sit in the fridge. Easy – peasy, and a lot of bang for the buck. They do need to be filled couple of hours before serving, so that the crispy pate a choux pastry has time to soften a bit under the cream. You can either glaze them with melted chocolate, or use the recipe for caramel glaze I’m offering here. Either way, they’re delicious, and when I take a bite, they take me straight back to my childhood. Once again I’m the little girl with pigtails looking through the window of the pastry shop, trying to decide what to get. And even though many times I wanted to branch out and try other deliciously looking cakes behind the glass, at the end I’d always go for a good old cream puff, and not even once was I sorry I did.

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Caramel Cream Puffs

Puffs:
  • 1 cup (250 ml, 8 oz.) water
  • 100 ml (3.5 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
  • pinch salt
  • 140 g (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
Caramel filling:
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (500 ml, 16 oz.) whole milk, divided
  • 90 g vanilla “cook and serve” pudding (a little over 2/3 package)
  • 1 cup (200 ml, 8 oz.) heavy whipping cream
Caramel whipped cream:
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (500 ml, 16 oz.) heavy whipping cream
Glaze:
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 100 ml (3.5 oz.) milk
  • powdered sugar to make a semi-thick glaze

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Method:
  1. The night before, make the caramel whipping cream: In a deep saucepan, combine sugar and water. Cook over medium heat until the water evaporates and the sugar turns nice caramel color. Watch the caramel closely, it burns easily. Do not stir, just gently swirl the sugar syrup from time to time as it cooks.
  2. When the sugar caramelizes, carefully pour in the cream (The mixture will sizzle; watch it so it doesn’t boil over). Stirring constantly, cook the caramel cream mixture until the crystalized caramel dissolves again. Pour the caramel cream into a jar and refrigerate it overnight.
  3. For the puffs, place a pan with boiling water on the lower rack in the oven, and preheat the temp to 390 °F (200 °C). Line a big rimless baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. In a saucepan, combine water, butter, and salt. Heat the mixture until it starts to simmer. Take off the heat and immediately add the flour and mix together. Over a low heat, cook the butter – flour mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring vigorously, until the mixture coats the bottom of the pan and your spoon, pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Set the pan aside and let the mixture cool till lukewarm.
  5.  Transfer the lukewarm mixture into a bowl of your food processor. With the motor running, one by one add the eggs, mixing well after each addition.
  6. Drop by tablespoons onto the parchment lined sheet, or transfer the dough into a pastry bag with decorative tip and pipe out a 2.5 inch (5 cm) mounds.
  7. Place the baking sheet on the top rack with the pan of water underneath, and bake the puffs for about 20 minutes until they’re risen and nice golden brown, depending on the size of your puffs. Do not open the oven during baking, or the puffs won’t rise. Immediately after taking them from the oven prick each one with a toothpick, and let them cool completely. (The puffs can be made the night before, or even sooner if you decide to freeze them.)
  8. To make the Caramel Filling, combine water and sugar in a saucepan. Cook until the water evaporates and the sugar caramelizes. When the sugar turns into caramel, carefully pour in 1 1/3 cups milk. The mixture will sizzle; watch it so it doesn’t boil over. Cook the caramel in milk until it dissolves.
  9. Meanwhile combine the remaining 2/3 cup milk with the powdered pudding until smooth. Pour the mixture into the caramel milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and creates a nice caramel crème (about 3 – 5 minutes). Take the caramel crème off the heat, immediately place a piece of saran wrap on the top so it doesn’t form a skin, and let it cool completely.
  10. When the caramel crème is cool, whip the cream until soft peaks form, and using a spatula, combine it gently with the caramel crème into a light filling. Set aside.
  11. Make the Caramel Whipped Cream: Take the caramel cream you made the night before out of the refrigerator and whip it until firm peaks form. Set aside.
  12. Assembling the Caramel Cream Puffs: Cut each puff into halves, not cutting all the way through, so the puff stays together. Spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of caramel crème filling into each puff and place some caramel whipped cream on top of the filling. Cover with the top half.
  13. Make the Glaze: Combine sugar and water and cook until the sugar turns into caramel. Pour in the milk and cook until the crystalized caramel dissolves again. Combine the caramel milk with powdered sugar to make a thick glaze.
  14. Glaze the tops of the puffs. Chill for about 2 hours before serving.

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Dobos Torte

When I married, Mr. Photographer gave me a Hungarian last name. I don’t speak a word in Hungarian, and I suspect I never will, because from what I know, Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to master. Hungarians are dynamic, cheerful folks, they make great wine, and bake spectacular cakes. Even though Dobosh Torte is Hungarian in origin (it was invented in the 1800s by a confectioner Joszef Dobos after whom it is named) it is well known in the neighboring countries and you can find it in cake shops in Prague, Vienna, and my hometown, Bratislava.

Dobos Torte is basically a multi-layered vanilla sponge cake, filled with chocolate buttercream. Top layer is traditionally coated with a shiny caramel glaze. Although baking it it’s not hard, the process has a lot of steps and it’s time – consuming. The cake layers need to be baked individually so they are as uniform in thickness as possible, and are then layered with buttercream and finished with a thin caramel layer on top.

All in all, baking the cake ate away a substantial part of my Saturday. Mr. Photographer left to take pictures of something else than my creations, the boys each had their program as well, and I had an afternoon for myself. I briefly considered going shopping, and spent even less time pondering the possibility of cleaning the house. As you can see, at the end the vacuum stayed in the closet,  I took out whisks and spatulas, and had a wild one person party in the kitchen. When Mr. Photographer came home, everything in sight was covered in sticky caramel: the counters and stove, my shirt, I even had some in my hair. But the cake was almost done and the buttercream was divine, the best chocolate buttercream I’ve ever made.

As I suspected, the biggest challenge proved to be the caramel layer. I adore caramel in any shape and form, but it can be a little temperamental, and this case was no exception. To make the caramel layer on the top cake round, you need to work quickly, because caramel hardens extremely fast: First you have to spread the hot caramel onto the cake layer, then, while it’s still gummy, cut only the caramel layer into slices, and when it’s cooled a bit, cut the entire caramel cake layer into triangles. If you wait too long, the caramel will be hard to cut through and will shatter.

I decorated the sides with chocolate covered almonds, because I had them on hand and they look pretty in the pictures, but they’re not part of the traditional Dobos Torte recipe. If you’re unsure about the caramel, please don’t let that stop you from making the cake: simple chocolate glaze in its place would work just as well; in fact, many confectioners don’t bother with caramel glaze these days and use chocolate instead.

I am very excited about this recipe; so much so that I’ll definitely look around for more recipes for Hungarian sweets. Who knows, I might even take up Hungarian after all; being able to go through old cookbooks and look for recipes for delicacies such as this one is pretty powerful motivation!

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Dobos Torte

Each of the six sponge cake layers:
  • 1 egg, divided
  • 20 g (¾ oz.) white sugar
  • 30 g (1 oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • pinch salt
Chocolate Buttercream:
  • 220 g (7 ¾ oz.) eggs, beaten (about 4 eggs)
  • 220 g (7 ¾ oz.) white sugar
  • 35 g (1 ¼ oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) dark cocoa powder
  • 280 g (10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
Top Caramel Layer:
  • 150 g (5 oz.) white sugar
  •  ¼ cup water

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Method:
  1. Make the Vanilla Sponge Cake layers: Preheat the oven to 200 °C (390 °F). On each of the six sheets of parchment paper, draw a circle around a 26 cm (10 inch) round cake pan.
  2. Start beating the egg white with pinch of salt, gradually add sugar. Whisk until stiff peaks form. Carefully mix in the egg yolk, and lastly add the flour and combine.
  3. Spread the batter in a thin layer on one of the circles drawn on the parchment. Bake for about 10 minutes; invert on a cooling rack and carefully remove the parchment paper. Let cool.
  4. Prepare the other five cake layers in a same way.
  5. For the Chocolate Buttercream, place the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch into a small deeper pan. Carefully heat the mixture over a water bath, whisking constantly, until it thickens. (Do not boil, or you’ll end up with sweet scrambled eggs.)
  6. Transfer the thickened egg mixture into a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and whisk the crème until it cools.
  7. In the meantime, beat together butter and cocoa until light and fluffy. Gradually add the cooled vanilla egg crème, one tablespoon at a time, and combine into light chocolate buttercream. Set the buttercream aside.
  8. To assemble the Torte: Take one of the cake layers, and with a tip of the knife, gently draw lines on, as if dividing the circle into 16 triangles. This will be your top layer. Set the cake aside.
  9. Place one cake layer on a plate and spread it with 1/6 of the buttercream. Layer the five sponge cake circles and the buttercream on top of each other, and spread the rest of the buttercream on the top and the sides of the torte. Refrigerate the Torte while you make the top caramel layer.
  10. Make the Caramel: In a non-stick pan, combine sugar and water. Let the mixture cook, until the water evaporates and the sugar turns light golden brown. Do not stir; if you feel you need to, just gently swirl the sugar syrup in the pan. Watch the caramel closely so it doesn’t burn.
  11. While the sugar syrup is cooking, lightly butter three long knives you’ll be using to cut the caramel. Set aside.
  12. When the caramel is ready, quickly pour it over the reserved top cake layer and spread it thinly. Through the caramel, you should see the lines drawn on the cake. Wait a minute till the caramel becomes gummy, and cut it quickly with the buttered knife into 16 triangles, cutting only through the caramel, but not the cake. The caramel will stick to the knife, so you will need to change the knives often. Let the caramel harden (it only takes a moment), and cut the triangles all the way through.
  13. Place the caramel triangles on the torte and refrigerate until serving.