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#ImpulseBakeOff Day 6: Baking the Perfect Holiday Pie (or at the very least, one made with love)

Her leading ladies are blessed with amazing culinary skills, but did you know that Lynn Marie Hulsman, author of Christmas at Thornton Hall, is a chef herself? Here she shares some of her tips for baking the perfect holiday pie.

As the holiday season rolls into full swing, our hearts turn to home and hearth. The nesting instinct kicks in, and even the least crafty among us itch to fashion wreaths from scraps of our grandmothers’ aprons and to bake comforting goodies by hand. Of all the baked goods in the recipe canon, the most essential, in my humble opinion, is pie.

Pie is the ultimate in slow food. You can’t make one from a box. Pie is a small-batch, made-by-hand kind of food. And my advice is this, as long as you’re investing the time and care to plan and shop ahead, and to assemble this sturdy dessert by hand, why not go all the way? That means a homemade crust and quality, seasonal ingredients for the filling. What does that mean? I say use only real butter in all cases, and only use fresh ingredients, never frozen.

I’ll admit that my philosophy crippled me. Until fairly recently, I didn’t make pies because I wouldn’t cheat and take short cuts. It worked out fine when my grandmother and mother were here to be on pie duty. I could make a Bundt cake or a trifle and be done with it. With their passing, I was promoted to matriarch. I never wanted to face a Thanksgiving without homemade pie, so I was obliged to take matters in hand. Filled with trepidation and fear of ultimately being declared a failure, I signed up for several pie-making classes, including a master class in crust from the most foremost pie experts in my area: Cheryl Perry and Felipa Lopez, owners of Brooklyn’s own Pie Corps.

Here’s a photo of the first pie I made under their tutelage:

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A double-crust apple pie with an egg wash, sugar crystals, and decorations that my family would love: A pig (our favorite animal) and a “C” for our last name (yes, I’m Hulsman, but my kids and husband are Cohen!). That pie felt like it weighed ten pounds. Ten pounds of all-butter DELICIOUS!

The women at Pie Corps didn’t let me fall through the cracks. They made a pie-maker out of me. Cheryl instructed that one should make about 20 batches of pie crust (two per batch) before switching to the Kitchen Aid. Having done that and more now, I agree. In fact, I’m likely to always do it by hand. I’m starting to get the feel of the crust in my bones, the way bakers from yesteryear did. They knew the feel of the dough at each stage, they knew how hot their ovens ran, and they knew how much flour their measuring cups held. In class, Felipa demonstrated how 5 different measuring spoons, all marked “tablespoon,” held different amounts of water. Then, she showed us how much a “cup” of flour can vary based on the size of the cup and how tightly you pack the flour. Which brings me to my first tip:

1. Weigh Your Flour

Most Americans didn’t grow up doing this, and I feel resistance, too. It’s worth it until you learn to eyeball the amount you’ll need for a perfect crust, the way your elderly aunts can. I was surprised to learn that a serviceable digital scale can be gotten online for around 20ish dollars/12ish pounds. Unless you have experts standing over you when you learn to make a crust, like I did, this will give you a huge advantage.

Here’s a little eye candy. It’s my deep-dish Bourbon Pecan Pie. See my nice, rustic, homemade crust? Did I mention that I wrote a cookbook called Bourbon Desserts? No? Well, I did!

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2. Freeze Your Butter

If you don’t know this already, the key to flaky pie crust is cold, cold, cold. When I used to read recipes, I thought that using ice water in baking was optional. Warm butter activates gluten, which promotes a rubbery, tough crust. Cheryl and Felipa taught me to add butter in two stages: The first half of the butter is grated, and the second half of the butter is cubed. After working the grated butter into a crust’s dry mixture of flour, salt, and baking powder, your result should resemble grated parmesan cheese. The next round involves smashing the cubes with the heat of your fingers and fluffing until the flour is coated, and the dough has a shaggy texture and JUST holds together. Think “sponge.” This is why the dough should JUST come together. It gets wetter as it rests.

3. Butter You Can See Means Flakes You Can See

Don’t overwork that dough! You want to see uneven speckles and chunks of butter. These form “pockets” in the dough. But for the love of God, don’t let the crust warm. The butter will weep moisture into the flour and make everything soggy. Keep it chilled, and when the cold pie crust goes into the oven, the water in the butter in your pockets turns to steam, and puffs the pockets up. This is how your flakes are formed! So, honor the speckles and chunks.

After your dough comes together, form it into patty-shaped blobs and let it rest in the refrigerator. Like I said (again and again), cold is still key. This step also allows the moisture to distribute throughout the flour.

Speaking of butter, because there’s not enough in the crust (ahem!), I made the Buttermilk Pie (featuring lots of butter) after the recipe for the Kentucky State Fair winner this year. Did someone say flaky crust?

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4. Rolling Requires Confidence (and two sheets of parchment)

Working quickly, so your butter doesn’t melt (cold is key, remember?), place your patty between two sheets of parchment sprinkled with a tiny bit of flour to discourage sticking. Starting in the middle of the patty, roll pushing away from yourself with firm, even pressure. Now, give the entire parchment package a one-quarter turn. Do this again, and keep rotating the dough. From time to time, peel back the parchment to see if the dough is sticking. If it is, sprinkle on as little flour as you can get away with, and flip the entire parcel, rolling on the other side. Cheryl told me, “if the dough doesn’t travel, it’s a wasted pass of the rolling pin.” This means the sheet of dough should be growing longer with each push. As you rotate, you’ll get a general circular shape.

5. If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Right

Pies are teaching me this lesson. I’m a big-picture girl. I work in broad strokes, and “quick and dirty” is my motto. That quality has helped me get things done in life. I’m a rainmaker. But some endeavors require attention to detail. Sometimes patience and method is required for something to turn out right. Pies fall into this category. Like I said, pie is slow food. Making pies is like a meditation for me. It’s like yoga: When I have lists in my head of what I need to accomplish today, and my cells are humming with the need to achieve, if I surrender to yoga, I become calm and centered. You simply have to be in the moment, and do the next right thing. Just as with pie-making. That’s why when I made this pumpkin pie, I roasted fresh pumpkins and scraped out the pulp to make custard for these pies:

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In short, like Cheryl says, “Don’t make a rhubarb pie in January.” Sure, you could dump a bag of frozen rhubarb into a bowl, but it won’t taste right. In fall and winter, scrape your pumpkins. Use the apples you picked from the U-pick farm, or at the very least get the apples that your supermarket handles from a local farm. Peel luscious pears, and grate whole nutmeg over them. If you’re going to make that velvety-rich Coconut Cream Pie, take the time to top it with meringue.

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Cut corners elsewhere. After all, if you’re going to put all of your love into making that crust, be sure and fill it with worthy ingredients.

Because as we say down south, “Ain’t no one ever said, ‘Hell no, I don’t want me no damn homemade pie.’”

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Drool! Those pies look so good! Is anyone planning to make a pie this Christmas? We’d love to see your finished pies!

Christmas at Thornton Hall is out now

#ImpulseBakeOff Day 5: Festive Holiday Mulled Wine

The #ImpulseBakeOff continues with another tasty recipe from Lynn Marie Hulsman, author of Christmas at Thornton Hall. We’ve moved a little away from cakes, because this mulled wine is delicious – it is Christmas, after all! Don’t forget to share your festive recipes on twitter and Facebook!

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Nothing fills a home with the holiday mood like the spicy-sweet fragrance of mulled wine. Guests adore being called inside from the dark and chill of winter by having a steaming mug of winter cheer pressed into their hands. Tread carefully, though! This delicious warming beverage goes down easy. I’d go so far as to call it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That said, when the jolly chatter of convening with friends rings in your ears, and the worries of workaday life melt away with the season, why not indulge a little? Christmas comes but once a year!

Makes about 12 mugs

2 large, thin-skinned oranges

1 small lemon

2 bottles cabernet sauvignon

1 bottle pinot grigio

3 thick, coin-sized pieces of fresh ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 tablespoons brandy

Wash the oranges and lemon thoroughly. Using a sharp knife or citrus zester, remove the zest from the oranges in strips about the size of your thumb, being careful to remove only the outer layer, leaving the white-colored pith behind (it has a bitter taste, and will ruin the pot). Then, using a citrus reamer, juice the oranges and lemon. Pour the juice into a very large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot.

Pour the cabernet sauvingon and the pinot grigio wine into the pot with the orange juice. Add the strips of orange and lemon zest, the ginger, the cinnamon sticks, the cloves and the sugar to the wine mixture. Stir lightly to dissolve the sugar.

Cover and set the pot over medium-high heat, and simmer until just steaming, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Do not boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and warm the mixture for about an hour to allow the flavors to combine and develop. Using a slotted spoon, or a skimmer, remove and discard the fruit peels, ginger, cinnamon sticks, and cloves,  and serve hot in mugs with a splash of brandy.

#ImpulseBakeOff Day 4: Rich Winter Chutney

The #ImpulseBakeOff continues with another tasty recipe from Lynn Marie Hulsman, author of Christmas at Thornton Hall. Don’t forget to share with us your festive recipes on twitter and Facebook!

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Rich Winter Chutney

Even home cooks who swear they can do little more than toast bread and boil water can pull off this simple chutney recipe with aplomb. For beginners, though, I don’t recommend learning the ins and outs of canning (though this condiment lends itself nicely to that method of preservation). My philosophy is that it’s so easy to make, and gets eaten so quickly, why not just store it in the fridge and plan to eat it daily? And believe me when I tell you that delighted holiday-gift recipients won’t mind stashing jars of your homemade treat in their own fridges. I suggest serving this as an accompaniment to sweet and salty roast pork, or on a platter alongside a wheel of brie and some hearty crackers. Or, give your overnight Christmas guests something to remember by spreading it onto sandwiches made with leftover slices of turkey or goose.

Makes about 2 cups / 480 milliliters chutney

1/2 cup / 75 grams chopped walnuts
1/2 cup / 80 grams chopped pitted dates
1/4 cup / 50 grams chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup / 50 grams chopped dried figs
1/3 cup / 50 grams raisins
2 large apples, peeled and chopped
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons grape juice
2 teaspoons honey

Place the walnuts in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade attachment. Process the nuts until coarsely ground. Add in the dates, apricots, figs, raisins, apples, and cinnamon and pulse 4 to 6 times, until mixed. Scrape into a bowl and mix in just enough grape juice to make a pasty consistency so the mixture sticks together (you may wind up using more or less than a few tablespoons). Stir in the honey. Serve immediately, or ladle into clean jars with tight-fitting lids and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

#ImpulseBakeOff Day 3: Rog’s Banoffi Cupcakes

Today on the blog we have another festive recipe for you! We’ve loved seeing all you baking on #ImpulseBakeOff, please do keep sending them in. This recipe is from Carmel Harrington, author of The Life You Left and Beyond Grace’s Rainbow – find out more about Carmel here!

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While I don’t get to bake very often anymore, it’s one of my favourite things to do with the children. We often decide to make cupcakes on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

One of the things my husband Rog is renowned for, is his sweet tooth. His favourite dessert is Banoffi Pie, so when I stumbled across a Doctor Oetker recipe for Banoffi Cupcakes, I had to make them for him.

And as they have become such a hit in our house, I decided to include them in my book, The Life You Left. Sarah Lawlor, my heroine, is a mother of three children and a beautiful baker. She would give Mary Berry a run for her money! By including Banoffi cupcakes in Sarah’s story, was my little way of honouring my husband.

There was a time that I’d make my Dulce de leche by boiling tins of condensed milk! Anyone else remember doing that? But now it’s easily available in all supermarkets,  so I always have a stock of it at home. It can transform a scoop of vanilla icecream, into an instant sundae, with just one squirt with fruit and cream.

And if you’d like to try, here’s the Dr. Oetker recipe, with my own little twist added to it.

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Rog’s Banoffi Cupcakes

Ingredients (12 cupcakes )

For the Cupcakes:

110 g Butter (4 oz)

110 g Caster Sugar (4 oz)

Eggs Medium x 2

75 g Self-Raising Flour (3 oz) Sieved

5 ml Vanilla extract (2-3 drops)

100 g Bananas Sliced

Dulce de leche (Toffee Sauce)

For the Sweetened Cream Cheese:

200 g Cream Cheese (7 oz)

50 g Butter Softened

200 g Icing Sugar (7 oz)

2 ½ ml Vanilla Extract (½ tsp)

 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Place the baking cases into a cupcake tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and the Natural Vanilla Extract. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a little flour. Fold in the remaining flour with a spoon.

Place a spoonful of the mixture into each of the baking cases and bake for 15-20 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack.

To make the sweetened cream cheese, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the Natural Vanilla Extract and then gradually beat in the icing sugar.

Cut a small hole into the top of cupcake (Pop this into your mouth for tasting purposes!) and fill the hole with dulce de leche.

Using a palette knife or piping bag, cover the top of the cupcakes with a liberal helping of the sweetened cream cheese.

To decorate, cut the banana into diagonal slices and place a couple of slices on top of the cream cheese.

For the perfect finishing touch, drizzle the dulce de leche over the top of the cupcake.

Enjoy!

Christmas #ImpulseBakeOff – Day 2!

Today we have another recipe for you as part of our Christmas #ImpulseBakeOff – don’t forget to share with us your festive recipes on twitter and facebook! This delicious Dried Cherry and Dark Chocolate Loaf comes from Lynn Marie Hulsman, author of Christmas at Thornton Hall. Find out more here!

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I love this simple-to-make loaf as both a gift and a sweet treat for the table. If making it as a hostess gift or a present, I suggest including a tag listing the dry ingredients that are included in the jar, along with the list of fresh ingredients needed to complete the recipe, and the directions for baking. If you’re crafty, the jar itself or the handwritten recipe can become keepsakes that rekindle memories for holidays to come. Holiday shopping already complete? Treat yourself! Served with a milky cup of tea, this moist, decadent loaf is the perfect pick-me-up for exhausted tree trimmers.

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Makes one 9 x 5-inch / 23 x 13-centimeter loaf cake

1 1/2 cups / 180 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup / 200 grams granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup / 75 grams dried cherries
1/2 cup / 80 grams dark chocolate chunks (I like Ghirardelli)
1/2 cup / 75 grams chopped walnuts

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then spoon into a canning jar. (You can use large resealable plastic bag, but you won’t gorgeous layered appearance.) Tap the jar gently on the countertop to settle the flour. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a bowl and pour over the flour in the jar. Continue the layers with the dried cherries, then the chocolate chunks, and finally the walnuts. Put the lid on the jar and decorate as desired. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to use, up to 6 months.

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To make the bread, you will need:

1/2 cup / 120 milliliers sour cream
4 tablespoons / 60 grams butter, melted
1/4 cup / 25 grams Confectioner’s sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C and grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch / 23 x 13-centimeter loaf pan.
Pour the jarful of dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir well, using a wooden spoon. Using your hands, make a well in the center and crack in 2 eggs, beating lightly with a fork. Add 1/2 cup / 120 milliliters of sour cream and 4 tablespoons / 60 grams of melted butter. Stir just until incorporated; the batter will be lumpy. Transfer the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly in the pan before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup / 25 grams of confectioners’ sugar and 2 to 3 teaspoons of milk (adding a little at a time to reach the proper drizzling thickness) and drizzle the glaze over the top.

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