Despite the fact that Rhubarb prefers working solo, this week's recipe is more of a group project, pairing the opinionated pie plant with tart cherries and almond frangipane. The rich dough benefits from an overnight snooze in the fridge; ditto the frangipane. Prep the fruit in the morning and roll the dough into your shape of choice. Circles, rectangles, and squares are equally agreeable; I opted for squares (gathering the four corners together creates fruit filled parcels). Take the time to let the filled pastries chill for 30 minutes (or more) before baking to help them keep their shape. If you have a gift for planning ahead, (a concept I am woefully unfamiliar with), the pastries can be assembled in advance and frozen for later baking. Best to freeze them on a parchment lined baking sheet before transferring them to well-sealed plastic bags. Just before baking, brush the frozen turnovers with egg wash, cut a few steam vents in the pastry and bake until deeply golden. A sprinkling of almonds is optional, but recommended.
Rhubarb has a long, storied history- originally utilized for herbal and medicinal purposes. Botanically speaking, the pink and green stalks are considered a vegetable, and didn't appear in American seed catalogs until 1839. When sugar became less of a luxury item and more affordable (here and abroad), sweetened rhubarb began to steal the spotlight in spring-centric desserts. And because strawberry season aligned with rhubarb in many parts of the country, the two were paired together. Early recipes for rhubarb pie could be a little vague. In 1878, rhubarb was mentioned in Jenny June's American Cookery Book with the note, "This Is one of the greatest spring luxuries though the quantity of sugar required to be used with It renders It rather expensive. Sugar may be put In as long as your conscience will let you, and a handful afterwards."
Interesting to note, In 1947, the United States gave rhubarb the legal designation as a 'fruit' to avoid the high tariffs Imposed on Imported vegetables. (It was cheaper at the time to bring fruit Into the country.) Today, rhubarb adds a hit of brightness to sweet and savory dishes, but lends Its distinctive pucker to the double crusted dessert we can't get enough of. You'll probably see a little (or a lot) of rhubarb drama play out tomorrow at your local Farmers' Market as the individuaI just ahead of you snags the last stalks from your favorite purveyor. Just a thought- the world can be a greedy place; consider leaving a little for the person waiting patiently behind you. Chances are pretty good you'll be able to get your hands on one or two containers of the season's first gem-like strawberries. Even if you're a rhubarb pie purist, sweet strawberries will temper rhubarb's brazen flavor which means you can take it easy on the sugar. (There's nothing quite so disappointing as an overly sweetened fruit pie, imho.)
For a 9" pie, The Joy of Cooking recommends equal parts early season rhubarb and strawberries (5 cups total) teamed with 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup minute tapioca, orange zest, pinch of salt. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees F, and bake until bubbly about, 35 minutes more. Cool completely. Enjoy.
Sweetened condensed milk often gets a bum rap for being a canned pantry item, best relegated to hankerings involving key lime pie or dulce de leche. Credited to culinary wizard Gail Borden, the shelf stable milk was introduced in the U.S. in 1856. After much tinkering with sterilized milk, Borden created a canned dairy product with a shelf life far longer than that of, say, a Twinkie. A result of vacuum pressure, heat and plenty of sugar, condensed milk boasts a chemical profile that doesn't curdle when paired with acid, making it a natural foundation for citrus based, custard-y desserts.
History tells us, however, that in 1804, French chef Nicolas Appert built a canning factory which eventually (in 1827), began processing condensed milk. The product lacked sweetness, which explains its lackluster audience. Despite obtaining a patent for a canned milk product with added sugar, Appert never put the sweetened milk into production. This gave Borden the lofty title of "Sweetened Condensed Milk Inventor." Much of Mr. Borden's fortune was in large part due to a steady supply of orders for the sweetened milk from the U.S. government during the Civil War. Calorie rich, safe to consume, and portable, sweetened condensed milk was an ideal grab-and-go for Union Army soldiers. After the war, Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk found a place on the pantry shelves of American kitchens and ultimately, into graham cracker pie crusts.
The key ingredient in Florida's official state pie was ideally suited to the Florida Keys, a location where refrigeration and availability to fresh milk was uncommon prior to the 1930s. According to the Miami Herald, one of the first local recipes for Key Lime Pie was printed in 1949. Though synonymous with the Sunshine State, Florida wasn't the only locale smitten with the pairing of citrus and sweetened condensed milk. Magic Lemon Cream Pie is credited to Borden's New York Condensed Milk Co., dating back to 1931. Advertising campaigns and recipe contests sponsored by the company opened the oven door to the product's growing popularity.
Today, whether you opt for lemons or key limes, or any number of citrus-y fruits, the 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk is an integral part of the operation. Swapping out some of the lime juice for pureed and strained mango delivers a pie slightly less tart than its lemon or lime cousins, but one that is easy to assemble and even easier to eat.
The Book of Esther is the story of a woman who essentially risked her life in order to save the exiled Jewish people from Purim's evil villain, Haman. The gist of the text is that the vulnerable, particularly those living in exile, can be triumphant without relinquishing their heritage. A most timely story, indeed.
Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar, but this year, the baking community has decided to kick things off a touch early. Hamantaschen, the tri-cornered, quintessential Purim cookie symbolizes Haman's pocket, or his hat, or his ear. It all depends on whom you ask. As for the type of Hamantaschen you prefer, much has to do with the cookie you remember from your childhood. The triangle cookies our grandmothers and great grandmothers painstakingly rolled, filled, and folded were made from yeast-risen doughs. Kuchen dough provided an agreeable backdrop for poppy seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. The cookies were truly better suited to a morning nosh with coffee as they were far less sweet than the cookie-like Hamantaschen we consume today, bolstered by sugar and baking powder.
I gussied up the comfortably bland dough with lekvar (prune and apricot) plus a batch of lemon curd, because it seems to me that we could use a little sunshine. Honestly, the yeast dough is a little more work, a little knead-y. But Purim is a holiday about giving, "mishloach manot" - giving the gift of food; a "mitzvah," a good deed. The smallest gestures can have enormous impact, even when they begin with something as simple as a cookie.
Mother Nature must be enjoying an early spring break, leaving behind her digital assistants to run the show. Instructing Siri and Alexa to play her Greatest Hits album while she’s out of the office, the weather has hit new highs, frosty lows and dabbled in all the temps in between. In the last week we’ve been taunted by brilliant skies followed by biting winds and sleet. Thoughts of shedding my down parka are squelched by a passing snow squall with white out conditions. Weather apps are equally confused, offering neutral forecasts of partly cloudy/mostly sunny headlines only to give way to the incessant beeping of a Winter Weather Advisory. There’s plenty of wind to ruin your one good hair day and a generous dose of freezing rain/messy slush for the afternoon you’ve donned a pair of open-back clogs. Wednesday we were awash in blue skies, sunshine, and summery temps. But that balmy memory has since been replaced by more freezing rain, ice, and snow. Reports of early crocus pop-ups must have been greatly exaggerated; ditto for sightings of spring produce. I retreat to boxes of lesser used bakeware stashed in the basement in hopes of finding some worthy of a revisit.
My perpetual paring down of kitchenware has unearthed a stack of small glass pie plates, measuring barely 7” across and emblazoned with the word, Sealtest. Embossed on the bottom is the word GLASBAKE, which was a line of kitchenware introduced in 1917, manufactured by the McKee Glass Company of Jeanette, Pennsylvania. Glasbake competed with the more popular Pyrex (made by Corning) and Fire-King brands, claiming to be heat and break resistant. These particular pie plates were produced in tandem with a Sealtest advertising campaign featuring ice cream pies. Most kids growing up in the 60s will remember not only Sealtest’s eye-catching magazine ads and posters, but their rotation of seasonal flavor combinations. Half-gallons of sundae-worthy offerings such as Pineapple-Lemon, Banana-Strawberry Split, and Vanilla-Raspberry-Lemon-Lime required little more than a bowl and a spoon. One of my favorites was the Checkerboard; dizzying squares of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry aligned in perfect grid-like harmony.
From where Mother Nature sits, undoubtedly in a sprawling lounge chair, poolside somewhere, an ice cream pie might feel appropriate. Here, amidst a backdrop of ice and freezing temps, a bunch of not-quite (but-soon-to-be) ripe bananas are ready for their place in the partial sun. Dangerously easy to eat, banana cream pie laughs at the weather and a 7” pie plate handily accommodates one half of a typical pie recipe. With a math problem even I can solve, (“Six bananas divided by two…”) half of a whole pie sounds downright nutritional. Topping the pie with unsweetened whipped cream sounds dramatic, but paired with the rich custard and plenty of fruit, the pie is a perfect sum of its parts.
When Mother Nature returns to her post, my hope is that she is sufficiently refreshed with an eye on spring. I can weather this weather for just so long, but once this pie is gone, I’ll need some renewed inspiration. Alexa? Siri? Play "Spring Is Bustin' Out All Over"...
There is an ongoing freezer shortage at my house. Anyone lucky/unlucky enough to live with me knows I have a tendency to fill the freezers with bags of post season rhubarb. This means that in order to remove most anything from the deep freeze requires hoisting ziploc bags of pie plant out of the way. By the time you've completed this task chances are pretty good you will have forgotten what it was you were searching for in the first place.
I'm very prudent with the frozen pie filling, always worrying that I'll exhaust my supply before the next crop swings through town. My housemate(s) assures me this is highly unlikely and claims he has the freezer burns and mild concussions (from free-falling bags of rhubarb) to prove it.
January and February are blustery months where I live. Jealously watching @benbmims preparing jewel-like marmalade on the west coast, I complain to no one in particular, "I want to live where you can casually pluck citrus from your backyard tree!" No one replies; the only sound is ice pelting the windshield of my car. By the way, regardless of what you read in the cyber gospel, frozen rhubarb is not really the same creature as its spring-fresh sister. It unleashes puddles, (rivers, really) of moisture and is far better suited to a seriously par-baked crust.
Incidentally, the photo of the pre-baked shell is totally untouched; that little 'heart' is sun peeking through the curtains. I like to think Its a sign from my rhubarb-loving mother. She was also an avid photographer, Always behind the camera, swapping lenses, even developing film in a small darkroom in our basement. She had an eye for composition and light and I wish she was still around to take the pictures. I also miss the way she chose to á la mode her slices of fruit pie with chocolate ice cream which drove my vanilla loving father nuts. I don't have any ice cream in the house because there isn't any room in the freezer because of, well, the rhubarb. For our purposes, whipped cream steps in as a pretty agreeable understudy.
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.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm