AND THE OSCAR GOES TO...
The real movers last weekend were the Shakers. The audience for Shaker Meyer lemon pie may quietly be building in number, but the pie still feeds my Yelp anxiety. Not everyone embraces lemon slices complete with rind suspended in lemon curd. I fear some nasty Yelper will comment that the pie is prepared by a slacker, one who pauses briefly to remove the seeds before tossing in the remainder of the whole lemon. Why do haters have to hate on a public forum? I’m just following a recipe that was developed by members of the Shaker community back in the early 1800s. The thrifty Shakers believed the juicy yellow fruit was a gift and created a recipe that utilized the whole shebang. The end result is a pie with a filling both sweet and tart, jammy and marmalade-y, a taste very close to sunshine.
This week I’m switching gears from lemons to limes. A five pound bag of Persian limes from Costco has a way of providing inspiration. Unlike the slightly floral/herbal flavor of Key limes, Persian limes are more assertive, announcing themselves with bracing TMZ tartness. Key limes have a strong following amongst highfalutin pastry chefs for their distinctive flavor. They are less popular amongst the humble pastry chef forced to squeeze the juice out of the tiny green gems. In this area I speak from experience, which is why my go-to Key lime juice is provided by the famous Nellie and Joe of Key West, Florida. It is available in a comfortable 16 oz. bottle for home bakers and in a gallon size jug for professionals.
Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed my days in the Key lime pie sun. A Slice of Heaven walked the red carpet of dessert celebs with that pie, serving up more slices than I care to remember. That continues to be my go-to lime pie recipe, tucked into a graham cracker crust, dressed up with whipped cream and pinwheels of lime slices.
Every now and again however, I wander over to the Persian lime side and a recipe from the Stella Notte days. Those were the days of filling hotel pans with tiramisu and squeezing Key limes by hand. It was where I honed my crunchy biscotti skills and turned out anise-scented waffle cookies on a vintage (yet earnestly hot) pizzelle iron. It is also where I learned the value of swapping graham crackers for amaretti cookies in a pie crust.
Gussied up in brightly colored wrappers, Amaretti cookies could have been dressed by Bob Mackie. Toss a few handfuls of almonds into the mix, and you end up with a deeply flavored crust, the perfect vessel for a tart lime filling. A swirl of toasty meringue and jewel-toned raspberries make this a dessert worthy of an Oscar nod.
If we weren’t handling sharp knives and hot ovens, the gracious thing to do with my surplus limes would be to mix-up a pitcher of fresh lime cocktails. I could share the libation with my cronies circling the Baker’s bench. But we will all be left to our own devices on Sunday night, watching the movers and shakers from various locations. I can’t vouch for the rest of Team Butter, but I can guarantee that I will not be wearing Harry Winston; more likely a fine dusting of King Arthur and Persian lime No. 5.
THE GLACIAL PACE OF WINTER
The I-heart-you cookies have left the building and blissfully we are sidestepping the Grammys. I’ve yet to see a Bowie/Gaga cookie cutter but no doubt Pinterest boasts a few. The next cookie worthy event on the docket is the Academy Awards. That leaves a week before we unearth the star cookie cutters from where they’ve been snoozing since the 4th of July. Those cutters taunt with the memory of fresh peaches and summer berries. Recently, the only berries I’ve seen are blackberries sprawling in oversized plastic clamshells at Costco.
Frank may be crooning Weather wise it’s such a lovely day, but that would be a lie. Intermittent snow and car-wash rains require serious water-resilient knee high footwear. In my haste to leave the house this week, there have been several occasions when my kitchen clogs were left behind. Clomping over a checkerboard linoleum floor attired in brown thick-soled boots, an L.L.Bean fleece and capping off the look with a polka-dot bandana, I scream Glamour Don’t. At least my feet are warm.
On my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, Sibling Sister handed me a small crimson drawstring bag. Tucked inside was the ideal gift for one who complains of cold extremities year round. A pair of lightweight yet toasty socks emblazoned with a sentiment guaranteed to please a baker, “Shut Your Pie Hole”.
This is not a phrase I toss about casually but one worth saving for just the right occasion. Last Sunday would have been a perfect time to toss the phrase over my NJ Transit train seat. Had it landed on the woman seated behind me, perhaps it would have dissuaded her from reciting the New York Times, word for word, all the way from Maplewood to Penn Station.
More importantly, the socks would have been the ideal vessel to cram into the mouth of the individual seated behind me at the matinee performance of On Your Feet. Was his ice clinking beverage and bottomless cello bag of crunchy snacks enough to suck the life out of the afternoon? Not quite. Mr. Not Interested in Being On His Feet was totally interested in texting on his cellphone. Despite a spirited cast and a conga beat that unleashed every Gloria Estefan lyric embedded in our subconscious, the distraction was infuriating. Mr. Cellphone? Don’t you ever think that for one minute I forgot you.
The return trip on NJ Transit was uneventful except for the crew’s oversight in providing air conditioning instead of heat. Which fuels my fixation on the weather and the calendar, inching its way towards the next season.
At work, I will bide my time tossing Meyer lemons with sugar and coaxing them into Shaker Lemon pies. On the home front, the world is my blackberry clamshell.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
Be still my heart shaped sugar cookies. Traveling towards the expansive bakery counter armed with cookies iced in reds and pinks requires a steady hand. Bobbing and weaving through the coffee guzzling public is a bit of an obstacle course. There’s a disgruntled ‘Live Gluten-free or Die’ sconer in my path. Apparently the gluten free offering this morning is cinnamon raisin and not cherry coconut. The baristas are bending over backwards to be accommodating. I’m bending sideways to avoid colliding with a man waving an insulated milk carafe. Depositing the vintage crystal pedestal on the counter, I retreat. The air is thick with powdered sugar that tickles my throat. The phone warbles incessantly. There’s a woman seated at a table directly in front of me. She looks at me, looks at the phone, then back at me.
In its new configuration, the bakery is double in size. Patrons can espresso themselves while watching bakers in action. It’s a little too up-close-and-personal for my taste. Involuntary eye rolling and shoulder shrugging is in full view. It’s also abundantly clear when I’m ignoring the phone.
“How can I help you?” I ask, eyes rolling. The connection is poor and the woman on the other end is fading in and out of a speakerphone. Catching every other syllable I ask the woman to repeat what she is saying.
“We seem to have a bad connection. Can you turn off your speaker phone?”
“You (crackle) make (crackle) knees?”
“I’M SORRY, BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
“BROWN (crackle) KNEES! (crackle) HEART!” I’m wondering if she’s trying to reach an organ donor line. “KNEES!” Suddenly she’s off the speakerphone. “I’m sure you make them.”
“We make many things, but I’m fairly certain we don’t make knees.”
“I’ve ordered them before.”
“Out of fondant?”
“No. Out of brownies.”
“Knees out of brownies?”
“Nooo. Hearts out of brownies.”
“Ohhh. No. I’m sorry. We don’t make those.”
“Are you sure?”
“Believe me, I’m sure.”
Ms. Desperately-Seeking-Brownie-Heart pauses momentarily before calling back. This time an unsuspecting barista answers the phone and then asks me the question. Unflinching, my answer remains the same. No, No, No. “That’s all we need. Cut out little hearts from brownies… We just said yes to a last minute birthday cake. And the birthday boy’s name is 4 letters, 75% of them consonants. Are we playing Wheel of Fortune? Would you care to buy another vowel?”
The barista nods and replies, “You haven’t had any coffee yet, have you?”
I may have said no to the brownie hearts, but just the other day I said yes to an unusual pie request. A gentleman named Philip asked me if I would bake him a pineapple pie with a lattice crust. When Philip reminisced about a bakery he frequented as a child growing up in Illinois, I was intrigued. Pie memory is a very powerful thing. It’s quite possible that the pineapple pie Philip remembers from his youth was made with canned pineapple tucked into a Crisco crust. I took the liberty to bake one using fresh pineapple and an all-butter crust. He seemed pretty excited when I handed him the windowed box, steamy from a pie just out of the oven. Every now and again pie nostalgia can benefit from the slightest ingredient update.
With pineapple pie on my personal Valentine's menu, there’s hope for this holiday weekend. More importantly, I had a visit from Cupid on my way to work yesterday. Walking to the bakery I found a slightly crumpled pink construction paper heart on the sidewalk. Unfolding it, the cursive sentiment read, Somebody Loves You. Be still my heart, indeed.
Hang on to your espresso cup, folks. This Friday, the expanded bakery will open its doors to the public. The caffeine counter is outfitted to better serve your buzz needs, the baker’s racks are overflowing with scones happy to raise your cholesterol.
The bandana crew has been on hiatus for several days while the wall dividing old bakery with new came tumbling down. I grabbed the opportunity to hop aboard Alaska Airlines and pay a visit to Sibling Sister in Seattle. My 50/50 rule of travel applied, playing out just as predicted. One half of the air travel experience was nearly flawless; timely, comfortable, turbulent-free. The other half was fraught with peril; mechanical difficulties, delays, screaming infants and a fog machine landing. Fortunately, I had the foresight to fill my carry-on satchel with a bar of Theo chocolate and a ginger molasses cookie from one of my favorite Seattle bakeries, Macrina. There was also a beautiful pear that weathered the flight, eventually finding its way into a small but significant pie to herald the weekend.
Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Café cookbook was given to me by my sister more than a dozen years ago. With little coaxing, the pages open to the recipes I return to again and again. The flavors are definitively Seattle, the recipes delivering baked goods and savories that are delicious, not overly fussy. Without standing on an organic milk crate screaming the words FARM-TO-TABLE, I understand what Mackie means when she uses the words fresh, pure and high quality.
I’m jealous that Macrina Bakery is as easily accessible to Sibling Sister as Washington state pears are ripe for the baking. I envy the fact that a perfectly frothed morning brew plated with a square of chocolate at Caffè Umbria is part of her daily routine and not mine. But what saddens me most about the pie-coastal divide separating us is the distance between our kitchens. And that’s why it makes sense to be a frequent flyer on Alaska Airlines, 50% of the time.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm