An innocent reach for a single lemon should not disturb neighboring produce. Pineapples however, tend to strut their tropical selves in showy displays that spell disaster. Wedged tightly alongside loose, bouncy citrus, the perennial fruit demands two-handed attention. There is always a shopper hell bent on removing one pineapple from its tightly arranged pyramid, agonizing over the purchase, handling it momentarily before casually placing it back and walking away. That pineapple waits for someone like me to brush against it just as it loses its balance, careening towards any untethered produce in its wake.
Aside from the embarrassment of tidying up a few lemons and cara-cara oranges, I placed the trouble making pineapple in my mittened hand and cradled one of the emancipated oranges in the other. As the remaining pineapples shifted unsteadily, I crept away.
Pineapple upside-down cake is one of the joys of winter. Cakes and pies have long been turned on their heads as a means of utilizing slightly tired fruit by covering it in a blanket of batter. In 1925, Jim Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company sponsored a recipe contest seeking clever uses for the prickly fruit. Dole is credited with establishing canned pineapple manufacturing, launching the mass marketing of the once elusive, tropical sweet.
Cookbooks and pamphlets categorize Pineapple Upside Down cake as both a “Busy Day” cake and a “Celebration" cake.” Which leads me to believe that even on the busiest of days you can celebrate. Canned pineapple is arguably easier to use and reliably sweet. But where’s the fun in that when you can secure a fresh pineapple and get to know the poor fellow at Trader Joe’s tasked with reconfiguring the pineapple display?
Jessie’s version of upside down cake was generally baked in a 9” square pan. I think her reasoning behind that was it circumvented any fussing amongst the children. Each slice was the same size, sporting a perfect round of pineapple studded with a maraschino cherry and a pecan or two. I bake mine in a 10” two handled cast iron skillet because juggling a single handled, screaming hot pan is tricky and cumbersome. The cast iron skillet allows me to melt the butter and brown sugar right on top of the stove and then move on and choreograph the fruit. Jessie included a little orange juice and orange zest in the batter, which was probably her way of foreshadowing my forays into the produce aisles of January. This cake is truly one of my all time favorites and deserves bonus points because other than whipped cream, it requires no additional embellishment. Unless you forget to buy the cream when you're at Trader Joe's, forcing you to eat the cake straight up.
With a solid week of January under our stretchy waistbands and snow in the forecast, the kitchen remains a safe refuge from the outside world. It's doubtful Dr. Fauci will agree with me when I suggest a breakfast pastry can be considered an immune-boosting meal, one high in antioxidants and Vitamin C. But a morning bun swirled with citrus and slathered in lemon curd certainly couldn’t hurt our current state of wellness. And just think of all the egg white possibilities in a recipe yielding 7 leftover whites! (Despite landing on the cusp of a brand New Year ripe with resolutions, my leanings would be more Pavlova-focused, less omelette driven.)
Morning buns are indeed, a commitment, and might require a run to the market. (Technically not a run; my knees and wrists can assure you that slick pavements are totally unforgiving.) The curd can be made a day or two before, which will streamline the process and afford you a few spoonfuls to snack on while you wait for the dough to rise. Once the buns are assembled, you can slice through them with dental floss, a trick that’s been around for a very long time, despite its recent ten minutes of fame. Just make sure to use unflavored/unwaxed floss; this recipe is not intended for, nor does it endorse ‘minty freshness’.
As meteorologists quibble on the number of snowy inches headed our way, one remedy to the numbing temps and icy sidewalks is a serious dose of sunshine. Though a trip to the market is not nearly as restorative as a tropical vacation, a stroll through the citrus aisle can feel somewhat therapeutic, a harbinger of warmth waiting on the other side of this season. Hopefully you will remember to pause and grab a not-so-sanitized shopping cart instead of juggling the fruit, the eggs, and the flour in your hands. More importantly, may your check-out line be shorter than the lines for a rapid-test.
Holiday bakes are fickle creatures. Just when it’s all about the pie, suddenly it’s not. And then you’re in the thick of jelly doughnuts until it begins snowing confectioners’ sugar and silver drageés. Pretty soon anything spiked with ginger or glittered in gold will be so, yawn, December.
Yesterday I considered spending the day with Pie, but Pie had other plans. So I reached out to Rugelach who has been feeling a bit blue post-Hanukkah. I tried to console the traditional crescent filled with jam, nuts, and dried fruit. “C’mon cookie, you’re the quintessential holiday cookie. You’re evergreen! There’s not a cookie tray in town that wouldn’t make room for you amidst the Spritz.” Facing a few pantry limitations and unwilling to return to Trader Joe’s before the weekend, I made some adjustments. Rugelach came around to the idea of a pineapple upside-down inspired flavor profile. Swapping out walnuts for pecans, and adding dried cherries to the mix, brown sugar stepped in last minute for cinnamon sugar. Rugelach brightened up considerably with the addition of pineapple preserves, confessing a long-term aversion to apricot. In the end, the pineapple-cherry-pecan crescent played nicely alongside all of the Gingers in the cookie tin. Much like pie, the buttery, cream cheese-y, flaky, jam-filled cookie that teeters on being pie is a true labor of love. Which is why keeping a few circles of the rich dough tucked away in the freezer is always a good idea. Pie returns tomorrow to celebrate a milestone of sorts, so be sure to check back.
Taking a pause on the pumpkin and visiting a not-so-secret stash of Hyline Orchard Farm Market cherries tucked away in the freezer. Hanukkah wants me to lean into the doughnuts and Christmas has made its cookie intentions abundantly clear. (All in good time, Christmas.) Granted, fresh cherry season is a wish and a dream away, but frozen cherries are available right now. Based on their color palate alone, cherries deserve a spot amidst your holiday bakes. (Avoid frozen cherries packed in sugar and steer clear of the neon sugar-drenched varieties emblazoning subpar commercial fruitcakes; the ones with a shelf life of forever.)
For those who feel baking and cocktail fixings should align, (and shouldn't they?) after you purchase some frozen cherries, pick up a jar of The Original Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, another holiday kitchen essential. Sure, you can try to use up the last of the cranberries purchased in a panic last week. But the bog berries are so Thanksgiving while cherries are so out-of-season appropriate right now. Yes, I'll be dabbling in cookie doughs soon enough but for now, I'm stealing my moment in the cherry sunshine and I've invited Pie to tag along. Because seldom, if ever, does anyone say, "No, thank you" to cherry pie; even in December.
At long last, family. Traditions ebb and flow as dictated by circumstances. Our crew (and the generations of folks circling the table prior to 2021) always believed the devil was in the details. Very specific menu choices served on very particular dishes on a certain damask cloth capable of stretching across all of the leaves in the table. Yes, it was a dressy setting, but there was plenty of casualness amidst the formality. Splashes of indelible wine, mammoth spills from toppled water glasses, waxy candle drips, and giant trails of gravy. It was never Norman Rockwell-ian, more akin to the dinner scene in My Favorite Year. A little raucous, just enough eye rolling, with simultaneous conversations drowning out my father's commentary that "hot food should always be served hot." He wasn't wrong, but getting a large meal of multiple courses on the table amidst familial chaos is challenging for the cooks. (And that's probably why gravy was invented; drowning your formerly hot/now tepid meal in scalding pan drippings.) 2021 was significant for many of us who finally had the opportunity to sit down in person independent of a zoom screen. It was as effervescent as a glass of bubbles.
Unlike my grandmother's Thanksgiving dessert offerings which always featured three pies and a layer cake, we skipped the cake and one fruit pie. There was still plenty of overkill within the pies; all the nuts and more than a generous splash of cognac and a side of whipped cream. Yes, there were fewer leaves in the table but just as many spills on the tablecloth. Because, tradition.
As we inch closer to the last Thursday in November, sooo much heated conversation swirls around the dessert course (and the side dishes) that the holiday’s former star, Turkey, is seeking new representation.
Always a greatly anticipated guest at the Thanksgiving table, Pie has reached such an elevated status that there’s no place left to go but back to humble. Sure, drop-dead gorgeous pie art isn’t leaving any time soon, but as always, pastry repeats itself. Which means classic is perfectly okay, dare I say, cool again. That said, when you envision your Thanksgiving dessert it’s a really fine idea to keep it within your skill set; in other words, you dough you.
The minutiae of pie making begins with, obviously, the ingredients, but also with a timeline. With less than two weeks remaining, stock the pantry today. Ditto for pie dough in the freezer. I know there’s something dramatic about baking your pies on Thanksgiving morning while Underdog floats high above the Macy’s day parade. But it’s also a little nerve wracking and doesn’t leave much wiggle room for oven traffic or unlucky gravitational crises, or those pesky supply issues. Something along the lines of, “Hey!!! Weren’t there a dozen eggs?" or "I’m sure there was a lemon in here…" or the ever popular, "You put the heavy cream in your coffee??!!”
With your mise-en-place seriously hidden/camouflaged in the fridge and pantry, get a jump-start. Pie is forgiving but also stubborn, knowing when you’re stressed and rushed. To avoid squabbles with melty or rubber-bandy dough, embrace the cumulative process of pie making. Dough likes to lounge in the fridge before rolling, and rest again once rolled. These tasks are easily done in advance. With pie shells hunkered down in the freezer, check that off your list and congratulate yourself. As you inch closer to Thanksgiving, you now have the opportunity to partially bake or double blind-bake your pie shells a day or two before you fill them. I’m a big believer in the blind-bake simply because a nice crispy shell is always preferable to one that isn't. Trying to accomplish everything in a single morning is exhausting. Being less of a perfectionist doesn't mean Pie will suffer. And consider relaxing about the presentation and focus more on the tangible act of getting your hands involved in some dough. It's pretty meditative, if not restorative.
Pie attire can range from simple Pyrex to humdrum metal to chic ceramicware. Embrace the easy going crimp, the occasional pumpkin crevice; Casual Pie requires no apologies; it is perfect in its imperfection.
The kitchen magic required for a slightly warm and quivery pie is impractical; if that is important to you, you will need to frantically negotiate some oven time with Turkey, a notable oven hog. Any pie menu that includes a custard based choice, (I’m lookin’ at you, Pumpkin and Pecan), will need a slow oven. The simple truth behind the magic of a still warm pie simply means someone has to get up at half past dark o’clock to get things rolling. And because Pie is a little bit unstable when it exits the oven, it needs some time (translation: hours) to pull itself together before coming to the party. Regardless, the first slice(s) will be stubborn in the pie plate and not nearly as glamorous as you’d hoped, despite your painstakingly curated mid-century china.
Whether your go-to is the signature red-capped aerosol whipped topping, artisan ice cream, or a dollop of whipped cream seriously spiked with liquor (because, Relatives), channel your inner Ina/Martha/Julia/Maida. Get organized. Get going. In two short weeks from today you’ll be finishing the last slices of your pie efforts with some morning coffee. Or you should be.
Personally, Harry Potter has always been about the food and drink. When J.K. Rowling’s encyclopedic chronicle of a young orphan hit local bookstores in September of 1998, I hopped on board the Hogwarts Express. As was the norm in many households with young children, the book became a pre-bedtime read aloud ritual. Following young Harry and his cronies required attention to detail, and there were plenty of details to tuck away for safekeeping. Watching Harry navigate wizardry school while dodging He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Lord Voldemort) was both exciting and exhausting. The challenges facing our beloved protagonist seemed other-worldly because in fact, they were.
At some point during Harry's journey from youth towards adulthood, I lost focus and put down the books. The up and coming wizards (plus Hagrid, the Dursleys and more characters than I can recount), soldiered on without me. Dodging more sinister events than an average Muggle (such as myself) would encounter in a lifetime, there was one feature of the books that deeply resonated. Amongst the minutiae found on every page of J.K. Rowling’s fictional masterpiece, I gravitated towards the excruciatingly detailed food references. When Harry and Ron shared sweets from the Hogwarts Express tea trolley, I was riveted. Chocolate frogs, pumpkin pasties, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, all of the cream cakes, eclairs, and pies jumped from the pages into my hungry imagination. I craved steaming mugs of hot chocolate, eggnog, and the popular wizarding drink, ButterBeer. (I was already well acquainted with aromatic elderflower wine, thanks to the folks at St. Germain.) J.K. Rowling had created one of the most extensive pouring selections found in literature, one so detailed, you could practically taste it. When the characters spoke of tipples and sweets, the vivid prose latched onto my brain, as indelibly as a Sharpie marker on parchment.
Eventually the books segued into movies, though the dizzying effects and darkness were not my tankard of tea. Harry outgrew his Hogwarts attire and was stepping into roles on Broadway. The Harry Potter brand however, was conjuring far bigger plans for the future.
Quite a few books and so many movies later, the Harry Potter brand has taken up residency in 21,000 square feet of retail space in New York City. Boasting the largest collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts products in the world, the flagship store spares no attention to detail. Spanning three floors, the store feels more theme-park than shopping emporium. Offering plenty of merchandise, an array of selfie-opportunities, and an interactive trivia game, there are also more wands than you can shake a licorice stick at.
Thanks to the kind folks at Le Creuset, Williams Sonoma and Warner Brothers Consumer Products, I had the opportunity to visit the store flanking Broadway and East 22nd Street. Sampling a mug of ButterBeer at 9 o’clock in the morning might not be for everyone, but I’m thinking the brew (which tastes like a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda on steroids) has a.m. drinking potential. A shot of the butter-scotchy beverage would be a fine addition to a strong espresso based drink. And just a few steps beyond the ButterBeer Bar, an expansive alcove stocks floor-to-ceiling sweets. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans are available in, yes, every flavor. For those who like a kick with their chocolate, Shock-O-Choc dark chocolate with ‘chilli’ powder will do the trick. It’s just the sort of sustenance one might consider as a fine antidote to all of the peanut butter cups and Hershey miniatures heading your way this weekend. For those who follow Sirius Black’s mantra, you might prefer celebrating Halloween (and an extra hour of sleep), with a handful of chocolate frogs. Because what’s life without a little risk.
Yes, it’s almost time to start stashing pie shells in the deep freeze. And it’s also a good idea to contemplate your holiday dessert menu. But I’m currently distracted by a large quantity of Seckel pears from @solebury orchards, the ones glaring at me every time I open the fridge. So instead of chipping away at the diminutive autumn fruit with slabs of gruyere and fontina (plus glasses of house rosé), I’m sending the pears on a scone mission. Inspired by a scone from long ago (the 90s) and far away (Manhattan) the happy result is a medley of cornmeal, honey, pears, and ginger. A simple egg wash, no sugary glaze, because I feel very strongly that scones should be scones, not Pop-Tarts. (I’m not judging, just stating my preference.) And while I wait for the scones to cool, I’ll roll a few pie shells because old habits die hard.
There will be more talk of Pie-vember in greater detail, as we inch closer to the end of this month. For all of the pie bakers in the audience, would you be kind enough to weigh in below in the comments, “What’s your favorite pie plate? What’s it made of and why is it your fave?” Just doing a little research… Thanks in advance! Oh, look at the time- it’s scone o’clock.
Sharing/Not Sharing dessert with @mschweppe15 since 1983. (Technically since 1981 but that was in Siam and Neverland- what a time that was.) On this date so many years ago, we had a party with 80 of our dearest in Rommy and Jerry’s backyard. The rental company didn’t bring enough chairs so my brother drove over shortly before the ceremony to retrieve them. @merryliza had car trouble. No one noticed (or wanted to tell me) that my bouquet had an errant rose which in most photos looks like it is growing out of my neck. Rommy snipped handfuls of hydrangeas from our neighbor’s yard to fill in the casual centerpieces. The chocolate ruffle cake was the star of the event, made and transported from Connecticut by the sweetest @betsypalmer. I had one bridesmaid, @bkgray66 who wore a little off-the-shoulder Laura Ashley number. @steinberglorims recalls that Rommy nixed my idea of wearing red shoes. I wore my mother’s wedding dress (reconfigured), a ring of flowers in my hair, and yeah, I did my own hair and make-up. Mr. Brynner sent a telegram and my other celebrity boss, a cigar smoking composer/producer, much to our surprise, attended. Which goes to show- if you invite them, they just might show up. It was a holiday weekend so we had brunch in the backyard the next morning; a glorious party.
So many of the guests are no longer with us, a not-so-subtle reminder that time has winged feet. You have the patience of a million saints, @mschweppe15. Glad you can do the math, because I can’t; ’83-’21 feels like forever and just yesterday. Like the illuminated Timex you wear, (so you can see the time in a dark theatre and know if we’re going to miss our train), we keep on ticking.
Faced with a small avalanche of apples, I had to choose between eating them out of hand, dunking them in a vat of caramel, or turning them into a pie shell. I chose the latter, spurred on by a recent purchase from Toronto’s St. Lawrence market. An addition to my rather extensive bakeware collection wasn’t critical. But I desperately coveted a small yet mighty springform, one with a latch that clamped shut with gusto. One that laughed in the face of water baths, cradled soufflé cakes, and housed the occasional pie. My collection of springforms were showing their age, having traveled endless miles along the Oreo cheesecake highways of the ‘80s and the Martha wedding cake extravaganzas of the 90s. The pans, ranging in size from 4” to 12” had celebrated far too many Cupids and Passovers to count. So I’m retiring some of the formerly durable, currently unhinged tins. Most of them served me well until they didn’t, at which point they taught me how to extinguish smoke and scrub an oven. Springforms and pie date back to savory across-the-pond versions, when deep-dish pies were both a means of preserving and entertainment. I’m not suggesting you rustle up four and twenty birdies for a pie, but consider apples as a contender. Make sure the springform is plenty deep. And you have some time on your flour-dusted hands.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm