Eggnog pie

Full disclosure: I’m a serious pie snob.  As in, I don’t count it as “making a pie” if you don’t make your own crust.  As in, I have extended conversations about pie crust with my grandma.  As in, I plan my Thanksgiving pies a month in advance.  As in, I have serious opinions as to which pies can be served in which seasons.  As in, we served pie instead of cake at our wedding.  I take my pies very seriously, so my resolution to try a new pie every month was not flippant and it should be known that I already have a pretty vast repertoire of really good pies that I can make.

In my quest to add new pies to the repertoire, I invested in some resources, the first being the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.  It’s a really stellar collection of authentic pie recipes, organized by season, with creative flavor combinations.  The authors of the cookbook, and owners of an adorable pie shop of the same name, take pie snobbery to a whole new level.  I decided my first pie should obviously come from their “Winter” chapter.  Eggnog immediately caught my eye.

See, I’m not really an eggnog fan, but my husband is a huge eggnog fan.  It seems that there are really two camps as far as eggnog consumption and it boils down to whether or not you find the idea of melted ice cream appealing or not.  Personally, I say, I’d prefer it frozen.  My husband would say “drinkable ice cream? Awesome!”.  This pie is not nearly so divisive – it’s enough like eggnog to please eggnog lovers, but not enough so that it would turn eggnog haters off.  To me, it has a really nice cheesecake quality without the work (and extreme richness) of actual cheesecake.

Although this pie took me 3 days to make, it’s not really very difficult and you can knock it out in 2 hours (including baking time), which is great for a pie.  It took me 3 days because on Monday I decided to make the pie and added the ingredients to my grocery list, including gingersnaps for the gingersnap crust.  On Tuesday, I went to the store and they had no gingersnaps, so I decided to make my own.  Tuesday night, I made gingersnaps (and they were awesome, I’ll blog about them soon!), but realized I was a cup short of flour so I stuck the dough in the freezer until Wednesday, when I went back and got flour.  Wednesday I baked the gingersnaps, and Friday I finally baked the actual pie.  Then I went to Trader Joe’s where they sell gingersnap cookies.  Alas, storebought would work fine (I mean, the homemade cookies were REALLY good, but I’m not sure how much better).

So I say all of this to say – try this pie.  It’s really good.

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Eggnog Pie

For the crust:

1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs

2T sugar

4T butter, melted (I used salted, if you have unsalted, add a little salt)

For the filling:

3/4 cup cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla paste (which is delicious, but if you don’t have it, vanilla extract would be fine)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

3 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3T rum

1/4 of a lemon

1. Take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften.  Preheat the oven to 375.  To make the crust, use a food processor, crush the gingersnap cookies into a fine crumb (to get a cup, I used 13 2.5″ homemade cookies).  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, and melted butter.  Press the mixture into a pie dish, using the bottom of a glass or measuring cup to distribute.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 after you remove it.

2. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar, spices, and vanilla together until smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides between to make sure you don’t get a big glob of cream cheese at the bottom.  Add the heavy cream and rum, continuing to beat until incorporated.  Squeeze the wedge of lemon in and give it a few more seconds of mixing.

3. Pour the filling into the prepared, cooling crust.  I had slightly too much filling, so you may have a little excess.  Bake the pie at 325 for 25 minutes, then rotate it to make sure it bakes evenly.  Bake another 20 minutes, until the edges are set (45 minutes).  The middle will still not be set, but it will after you remove it from the oven.

4. Let the pie cool for a few hours before serving.  I found it really set up well after an hour in the refrigerator.  You could sift a little cinnamon over the top, but warning that it may come out in a big blob, which you’ll try to scrape off and leave a big hole and cinnamon smear in the side of the pie, which is why the picture is cropped way close.

Source: Barely adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Melissa and Emily Elsen

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I find few greater joys in life than spending my afternoon baking an impressive dessert.  From a homemade pie to macarons to cheesecake – I love a challenge.  But about once a month the men in my life (husband, dad, brothers, probably soon my son) request that I just make chocolate chip cookies.  They’re a comfort – and what they lack in fancy they make up for in deliciousness.

When Ross and I were first dating (nearly 10 years ago!) we decided one night that chocolate chip cookies would be delicious, but Ross lamented that we had no dough, so cookies were out.  I remember trying very hard not to laugh at him when I explained that you can actually make dough.  To be clear, his mother made homemade chocolate chip cookies all the time – he was just oblivious to the dough making process.

Don’t let the oatmeal deter you from this recipe – it just adds a little weight and you don’t truly taste it.  Give it a try.  I also exclusively use Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips (in the brown bag) – they’re slightly bigger than standard chocolate chips and a little melty, but they taste absolutely phenomenal.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes about 40 cookies

2 cups flour

1 Tsp. salt

1 Tsp. baking soda

1.5 sticks of butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp Vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups chocolate chips (most of the bag – you can either use the whole bag or save the last 1/4 cup for a snack later on)

1. Preheat oven to 325.  Sift flour, salt, and soda together.  Melt the butter and beat with both sugars until smooth (1-2 minutes).

2. Add both eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Add in flour mixture slowly.  Fold in chocolate chips and oatmeal.

3. I use a cookie scoop to drop 2T blobs of dough onto the cookie sheet.  Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown and allow to cool a few minutes on the pan.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container, but they’re obviously best straight from the oven.

Source: adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Family Cookbook

Grapefruit Scones

It’s always a surprise to me that winter brings grapefruit.  Grapefruit seems like such a summery fruit – light, citrusy, pink – so it’s a true delight that it’s at it’s best in January when not much else is.  I got a little overzealous in my grapefruit purchasing a few weeks ago and ended up with a few spares, so I tried putting them into a scone and the results were fabulous.  You don’t get an oppressive amount of grapefruit flavor, but enough to know it’s there.  As with all scones, I prefer a much smaller scone than is typically considered a serving size, so I cut mine into triangles that have about a 3″ hypotenuse.  Sometimes I just form the dough into a disc and cut it like a pizza after baking – either way, you’ll get about 15 small scones.

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Grapefruit Scones

1/2 large grapefruit

2 cups flour

1 T baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar (more if your grapefruit is bitter)

5T butter

1/2 cup cream (I used half&half)

1/4 cup yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Peel the grapefruit and remove the pith from grapefruit segments.  Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into 1/2″ pieces and cut the butter into the flour mixture using either a pastry cutter or a fork.  The idea is to break the butter into small pieces, not to incorporate it entirely.

2. Add the cream and yogurt to the dough and stir with a spoon until the flour is incorporated.  Fold in the grapefruit chunks – they will break up as you stir them and provide a little more liquid.  Taste to make sure there’s enough sugar to offset the tart of the grapefruit.

3. Form the dough into a disc about 1″ high and place in the center of a baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.  After allowing the giant scone to cool for a few minutes, transfer to a cutting board and slice like a pizza.

Goat Cheese Biscuits

Before I made these biscuits, I was under the assumption that Grands in the blue can were the gold standard of biscuits.  I’ve tried making homemade biscuits before and nothing was ever really worth the effort.  Then I made these biscuits to go with a big pot of parsnip soup (recipe coming soon!).  I ended up making them for breakfast the next weekend and many meals after.  This weekend I made them for a bridal shower and had many requests for the recipe.  The recipe doubles easily for a party, but I do warn you that while your mouth could eat the whole pan, they are seriously rich and you probably won’t eat more than one or two.

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Goat Cheese Biscuits

Makes about 12 biscuits

2 cups flour

1 T baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper (to taste, I like a little more)

5 T butter, divided

3 oz. goat cheese (eyeball it)

1 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 425, and put a cast-iron skillet inside to heat up (I’ve done it in a 10″, 12″, and 14″, doesn’t really matter).  Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a medium sized bowl.

2. Cut 4T of butter into small pieces and crumble the goat cheese.  Cut the butter and cheese into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry cutter.  It should not be smooth, but you want all the chunks to be pebble-sized.  Stir in the buttermilk until all of the flour is absorbed.  It should be a thick, lumpy batter.

3. Pull the cast-iron skillet out of the oven and melt the remaining tablespoon of butter into it, use a knife or fork to coat the bottom and sides.  It should make a pleasant sizzling sound.  Using a spoon, drop the batter into small mounds into the skillet.  They can touch, it’s fine.  I usually go around the outside of the skillet and then put three biscuits in the middle.  Depending on your size, you should get 10-12 biscuits.

4. BE SURE to use an oven mitt (from experience!) and return the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops are browned.  Serve warm, be sure to save one for yourself.

Source: adapted from Art Smith for Oprah

Pumpkin Scones

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like pumpkin spice lattes.  It’s tough because I live in North Texas and when the PSL is released (in what, July?) it’s still about 85 degrees outside and it doesn’t seem very seasonal to order an iced pumpkin spice latte.  Instead, I’d rather sip some iced coffee from home and enjoy my breakfast pumpkin in the form of a scone.  These scones have a very autumnal vibe and are incredibly easy to make.  They require a few specialty ingredients, namely a can of pumpkin.  I do find that sometimes scones are too dry, too massive, and have a huge slab of icing on top – not the case here, these are moist, normally sized, and have a nice glaze.  Pumpkin season is ending, so get one last great breakfast in before it’s smoothie season.

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Pumpkin Scones

yield: 12 small scones

2 1/2 cups flour

1 T baking powder

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp ground cloves

4 T cold butter

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

2/3 cup pumpkin puree

For the maple glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 tsp maple extract

2 T heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and spices in a medium sized bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces and cut into the dry ingredients (I used a fork, but you could also use a pastry cutter or your hands) and break the butter up into very small pieces.

3. Combine the wet ingredients in a small bowl and fold into the flour mixture.  Don’t over mix the dough, just use a spatula to blend the ingredients until they form a soft, but sticky dough.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper and use your hands to make a rectangle.  Using a knife, cut small triangles of dough and separate them onto the parchment paper a few inches apart.  Put your parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake until the scones are firm, but still soft inside, 12-15 minutes (I tap the top to make sure there’s still some give).

4. Whisk the powdered sugar, maple extract, and cream together to make the glaze.  Once the scones are cooled, dip the top of the scones into the glaze.

Source: adapted from Our Best Bites

Cost-Benefit Analysis:

This recipe has 3 integral specialty ingredients: pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and maple extract.  If you don’t put cream in your coffee, you may need to purchase that as well.

1. A can of pumpkin cost $1.79 – it’s nonnegotiable in this recipe.  Fortunately, you use about a half a can in this recipe, which leaves you plenty of pumpkin to make pumpkin snickerdoodles in the same week.  You could also put pumpkin in a smoothie (with some yogurt, banana, and some spices) or feed it to little ones if you have them.  I put plastic wrap over the can and store it in the fridge for a few days.

2. Pumpkin pie spice cost $5.49, which is a lot for a small container.  It would probably cost much less if you were buying it in, say, April, but I’ve never really wanted a pumpkin scone in April.  If you have PPS, use it!  If not, it’s really easy to make your own with spices that you probably already have.  To make it easy, PPS is essentially 1 part ginger, allspice, and nutmeg to 3 parts cinnamon (so 1 T cinnamon, and a teaspoon of ginger, allspice, and nutmeg).  If you’re planning to make a lot of pumpkin baked goods, scale it up and store it in an old spice container, if you’re just using it for these scones, I would increase the cinnamon to 1 1/2 tsp and then use 1/2 tsp of ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.

3. The maple extract cost $3.59.  I really love the taste of maple extract and I use it in frostings and glazes enough to make it worth the cost, but if you don’t want to buy it, you could easily substitute 2-3T of maple syrup and get the same effect.

4. I put whipping cream in my coffee, so I always have it on hand.  If you don’t, you could certainly substitute half and half or even whole milk, but it will give you a runnier glaze.  If I were not a cream lover, I’d buy a small container, use it for this recipe, and then plan on making a pasta with cream sauce pretty soon.  Cream stays fresh in the fridge for quite a while before it goes bad, so you don’t need to use it immediately.

Pecan Tassies – tiny pecan pies

When I was growing up I had no idea that you could actually purchase pecans at the grocery store.  Since my grandpa had a pecan tree that produced tons of pecans, I thought that pecans were just something that existed in large ziplock bags in the freezer.  If only.  Because pecans were always in plentiful supply, I put them in everything from cookies to casseroles just because they were there.  Now that I buy my own pecans, I’m a bit more judicious with my use.  These tiny pies really showcase the greatness of pecans without requiring you to buy a ton.  I only learned about these recently, and after some quick googling, I’m really shocked – the recipe is everywhere and basically doesn’t change much except for quantity.  It’s a classic that you might find in an old Junior League cookbook, but probably overlooked (like I did) because you weren’t quite sure what it was.  Pecan Tassies are not to be overlooked  in the three weeks I’ve known about the recipe, I’ve made them three times.

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Pecan Tassies

makes 24 (easily doubled to 48), adapted from multiple iterations of the same recipe.

Crust:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened

3 oz. cream cheese

1 cup flour

Filling:

1 cup chopped pecans

1 egg

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 T melted butter

1 tsp vanilla (or almond) extract

1/4 tsp salt (a bit more if you’re using unsalted butter)

1. Preheat the oven to 325.  Locate mini-muffin pan (this usually takes me 15 minutes).   Beat the butter and cream cheese together for a minute or two until combined.  Add in the flour and beat until it forms a soft dough.  The dough will NOT be like pie dough, it has an odd, firm elastic consistency.  Roll the dough into 24 small balls – about an inch in diameter.  Smash the ball between your palms to make a flat disc and place them into the ungreased mini-muffin pan.  Use your fingers to make sure it comes all the way up the sides.  They don’t need to look perfect, but if you have holes the filling will drip and you’ll have a hard time removing them from the pan.

2. Using about half a cup of the nuts, place a spoonful into each individual pie.  Melt the butter and whisk in the egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Pour the mixture over the nuts, putting a bit less than a tablespoon in each.  I melt the butter in a glass pyrex measuring cup with a spout and whisk the ingredients together in there to make pouring less messy, but you could spoon it in, too.  Top the tassies with the remaining pecans.

3. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops are set and the pecans are toasty.  Let the tassies cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing.  I use a toothpick to pop them out.  Enjoy, make more!