Tag : autumn
Tag : autumn
Last year, I made a decision to master pie once and for all. I went about it as scientifically as possible: I compiled half a dozen pie crust recipes, tested each one (with labels, taste-testing, notes, sample batches, and all), and developed my own recipe.
October (2015), when I took a pie class at a local bakery, all of that went out the window, as I had learned a new recipe and some new techniques (which I never mastered.) At that point, I thought I had everything down to a science and it was time to start playing with fillings. I even attempted to make my own pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins.
I have since learned, from first hand experience, reading things online, and asking professional chefs, that this is a waste of time. I haven’t pureed a pumpkin in approximately 382 days.
Half a year later, I took another pie class, and everything I thought I knew about pie went out the window…again. The technique I had learned last autumn was just a little too much work to justify something that should be as easy as pie. The pastry instructor from the cooking school gave us a useful ingredient ratio for pie pastry, so now I don’t even bother looking at my pie crust recipe (which I updated a few months ago after taking that class.)
For what I call “American pie crust,” the crust that most of us Americans know via apple, pecan, and pumpkin pie, the best ratio is 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter, and 1 part ice water. How you go about chilling and combining the three is up to you, but it really isn’t difficult. The first few times, it can be daunting because we seem to mythologize pie crust, but once you’ve gotten the process into your muscles and bones, it’s a 5-minute recipe that you can do with your eyes closed, and the result is always phenomenal.
Even filling, which until this past summer frightened me, can be simple. I never managed a fruit pie recipe over the summer, but come April this blog will be replete with blackberry cobblers, mixed berry pies, lemon meringues, and Little Jack Horner will be weeping with joy. A berry pie filling is five basic ingredients: sugar, starch (corn, tapioca, flour), berries, flavor (lemon zest, extracts, spices), and liquid (optional, because the sugar will melt and the berries will excrete juices in the oven.)
For the sweet potato pie, I went through a few iterations of recipes, each time experiencing the same problem: my filling was runny and the sweetener was leaking out as the pie cooled down. After much pestering of chefs and coworkers, I decided to reduce the liquid in the filling drastically and simplify everything, and here we are:
The molasses is the main sweetener, and sweet potato is already relatively sweet, while the egg helps the filling set up (sweet potato puree is very loose, unlike pumpkin), and the rum is added for an additional splash of flavor. Altogether, the filling is slightly tart, deeply yam-y, and pleasantly molasses-y, so if you don’t like Meyers Jamaican rum, this might not be the pie for you!
ideas for next thanksgiving: cranberry ginger pie, classic apple pie, lemon meringue pie, fig and feta pie
sweet potato molasses pie
one 7″ pie (~5 servings)
15 ounces (1 can) sweet potato puree
2 ounces molasses
0.5 ounces dark rum
dash of salt
pecans, walnuts, or marshmallows for topping
demerara sugar for topping
Roll out pie pastry, ~10″ in diameter, fit into a 7″ pie plate and crimp or fold the edges as you like. Freeze or refrigerate the shell unbaked.
Preheat the oven to 425 F/ C, and set oven racks at top and bottom 1/3 of the oven.
Combine the sweet potato puree, molasses, rum, salt, and egg and whisk until smooth. Fill the shell and spread the filling out with a spatula, smoothing along the surface.
Decorate with marshmallows, nuts, demerara sugar, extra pie pastry, etc., and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the crust is bronze and the center of the pie is set.
Pie can be served warm or chilled.
I remember the good ol’ days of getting out of my car at 10:00 p.m. and watching my glasses fog up immediately. Those precious “is that sweat, rain, or the humidity?” moments. The 5:00 am sunrise and “will the sun ever set?” times.
But those are over now. My glasses don’t fog up anymore and I can walk around without fainting.
I’ve finally finished up all the frozen summer berries and started stocking up on pumpkin puree, sweet potatoes, and various apples in anticipation of autumn sweets, and let me tell you, I’m anticipating a lot of sweets.
About a year ago I started really exploring pie crust. I watched every YouTube video and read every recipe I could find. I tried every possible technique the Web would show me, and even did a bit of scientific experimentation, complete with sticky labels and test batches and all.
It was very official, y’all.
And then I took an autumn pie workshop at Scratch Bakery last October, and everything I thought I had figured out was flipped, turned right upside down on its very head. I stuck with the recipes from that workshop for months, until I took a pie class at work, and everything was made even simpler by the pastry chef. The first thing she taught us when we got to work on the dough was a universal ratio for the dough: 3 parts flour, 2 parts cold butter, 1 part ice water.
It was pie-vana. I had a pie-alization. The flaky, buttery dough, the rich summer berries, the dark almond-flavored cherries, they all came together to form one simple truth:
Pie is easy.
And now a full year later, making the dough is like second nature: I toss everything into a food processor, no gimmicks or silly tricks, squeeze it into a ball, and freeze it. And it turns out well every time!
Now that the crust is a breeze, I want to expand on my fillings. Last year, I made Spiced Chai Apple Streusel Pie and Boozy Pecan Rum Pie for the holidays. I’m already dreaming up new autumn and winter combinations for this year (Pear and Fennel, Chocolate Peppermint, or Limoncello Brûlée?)
I’ve also been playing around a little bit with free-form tarts (Italian: crostata; French: galette) and just filling them with a layer of fruit and spices. One evening, when I was really feeling the impending leaf-changing and air-crisping, I sliced up some apples (skins on because I can’t be bothered to peel them), and mixed up some sugar and spices. I threw in some dried rosemary and assembled the tart, then when it was in the oven, I placed some leftover rosemary sprigs (I had made focaccia that day, as well) on top for an extra flavor infusion, and voila!
rosemary spiced apple crostata (crostata di mele e rosmarino)
makes two 7″, or one 9-10″ crostata
200 – 300 g red apples
50 g granulated sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1-2 fresh rosemary sprigs (with or without leaves)
1 egg yolk, for washing
1 spoonful raw, turbinado, or demerara sugar, for coating
Core and slice the apples. You can peel them if you want, but they’re just as good with the skin on. Set the slices aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and spices. Set aside.
Roll dough out into a circle or a square a few millimeters thick. With a bench scraper or spatula, mark approximately halfway (both vertically and horizontally) between edges, then 2/3 of the way between the outer edge of the dough and your marking. You should now have slight marks/scores 1/6 of the way in from the edge of the dough, and halfway across. This is just a guide for how much of the dough to fill and how much to fold.
Spread about 2/3 of the spice mixture between the outer markings (so the middle 2/3 of the dough, leaving the outer 1/3 border empty.)
Layer the apples on top of the spices, and sprinkle the other 1/3 of the spices over the apples.
Fold the edges of the dough in, pinching them together where they overlap.
Freeze the tart for at least half an hour to let it chill.
Preheat your oven to 425 F/220 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Brush the edges of the tart with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes until the crust is bronze and the filling is bubbly.
Remove and transfer to a wire rack with the parchment paper underneath the tart.
Cut and enjoy!
Tarts to you later,
What is my favorite thing about baking, you ask?
Well, I have to test the recipes a lot before I feel confident calling them “my own,” let alone “successful,” and as a result…I get to eat a lot.
And if I’m making something buttery or high-carb-y, and my parents are on a diet, I have to eat a lot, a lot. I mean…I get to eat a lot, a lot.
When I was in Japan, I discovered the versatility of rice flour as a gluten-free ingredient, and ever since it’s become my goal to really get to know gluten-free ingredients, and to find recipes using the more common, easier-to-find, and cheaper ingredients.
Also, I started budgeting again and, y’all, it ain’t lookin’ good.
I spent the entire month of November on a muffin journey: testing out the previous monthly muffin, then attempting to make a gluten-free version, testing every flour combination imaginable (white rice + brown rice, white rice + buckwheat, white rice + half a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, white rice + soy flour, and white rice + chickpea flour.) I discovered that they all work well as long as you have a base of white rice flour, plus a high-fiber flour. You can also do 100% white rice flour for a lighter muffin, but for those of you who, like me, need to hibernate immediately, hearty is good.
I also tested out dairy and non-dairy versions: buttermilk, greek yogurt, and soy milk.
In all, I made enough muffins to feed the city, and when I was just about to start the dairy testing, but realized I had no more puree left, I picked out a recipe for the January monthly muffin (shhhh, it’s a secret. duh.) The texture of these muffins is so unbelievable, you’d never guess they’re gluten-free. None of the weird gummy-crumbly-heavy-like-a-boulder stuff, and you don’t have to break the bank searching for flours you’ve never heard of (but if you would like to do so, by all means, go ahead.) When it came to non-dairy milk, I decided just to try a totally vegan version, and those turned out as well as the rest, albeit a little smaller and drier.
All substitutions included in the recipe below.
gluten-free sweet potato muffins (with vegan substitutions below)
adapted from whole wheat pumpkin streusel muffins
makes 1 dozen
80 g white rice flour
80 g high-fiber gluten-free flour (brown rice, soy, chickpea, buckwheat) or 80 g white rice flour (160 g total)
80 g starch (tapioca and cornstarch combined, or one of the two)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
80 g buttermilk*
150 g maple syrup or agave nectar
45 g canola oil
200 g sweet potato puree
extra: pecans, raisins, brown sugar, streusel topping, crystallized ginger
*You can substitute greek yogurt, milk (dairy or non-dairy), or dried buttermilk. For greek yogurt, the batter will be thicker, so add a few extra grams of yogurt (90-100 g), and for milk, substitute 1:1 (80 g.) If you use dried buttermilk: 80 g water into the wet mixture and 4 teaspoons of buttermilk powder into the dry.
**You can make these vegan by using 80 g non-dairy milk and 20 g vinegar in the wet mixture, and 3 tsp baking soda (10 g vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda = 1 egg), instead of 1 tsp in the dry mixture. These will be a little drier than the recipe, so I would do 160 – 170 g syrup instead of 150.
Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cups.
In a small bowl, combine the flours, starch, salt, baking soda and powder, and spices.
In a large bowl, whisk together syrup, buttermilk, canola oil, eggs, and puree.
Dump dry mix into wet and mix quickly. If desired, mix in extras (nuts, raisins, etc.) and divide evenly among muffin cups, ~3 Tbsp per cup, then top with streusel, nuts, cinnamon brown sugar, or whatever else you like.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until firm to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool in pan, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.
I like them best when they’re topped with cinnamon and brown sugar.
Halloween may be done and gone, but Pumpkin Season isn’t over yet, and we still have a few months of apples, sweet potatoes, cranberries, booze, ginger, and more! Once the pumpkins are all adopted away, it’s Yam Time, yo.
There are various dietary restrictions and differences among my family and friends: I can’t have dairy (well…I can but I shouldn’t), my uncle can’t have gluten (definitely can’t), and my cousins try to eat healthy. Little Woeful Me likes to bake constantly, but even my Massive Mouth and Insatiable Stomach can only take so much, so I generally try to think of things I can give to people, and I’ve pulled more than one muscle stretching to find reasons to give them to the people.
Recently, I thought of making autumn muffins for people who want less sugar. I don’t know much about sweeteners and calories, but I went out and stocked up on molasses, agave nectar, and maple syrup.
Long story short, pumpkin muffins + molasses = not pumpkin muffins (and if you calculate the conversion from brown sugar to molasses the way I do, then you may just end up with dark brown spicy mush.) I made a few variations with molasses before I realized it’s just too intense for a pumpkin anything, and so I tried maple syrup and agave nectar instead. Both of them worked perfectly without compromising the integrity of the muffins (although, really, how much can you compromise the integrity of such a proud pastry?)
And then I got a bakery job interview and they wanted me to bring in a pastry, so I made the muffins a sixth time. And then, I thought I would attempt some gluten-free versions, so I made them a seventh and an eighth time. And then, my parents ate them all before I could take any pictures, so I made them a dozen more times.
All within a week. And they all only lasted about 12 hours. They were/are damned good.
I call them “semi-whole wheat” because I like to do a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flours. WW flour is really dense and dry, and has a really heavy taste. On the other hand, it has far more nutrients than refined white flour/all-purpose. I’m not sure how 100% whole wheat muffins would turn out, but for hearty, gut-warming autumn muffins, the whole wheat is unbeatable. If the recipe you’re taking from only uses white flour and you want to mix in whole wheat, figure out what percentage of whole wheat you’d like (eg., 50% all-purpose, 50% whole wheat), and then just reduce the amount of whole wheat by a few grams (so, 60% all-purpose, 30% whole wheat, and less flour overall), to match the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Otherwise, you’ll end up baking and burning some whole-wheat pumpkin boulders. And if you want less sugar, omit the streusel topping and use something else instead (like pecans.)
but hold up, what is “muffin of the month”?
Sometimes it’s hard to think of things to blog about, or to produce enough quality content within a short period of time (I can honestly only manage two recipes a month.) I’ve found that a good way to beef up your blog is by doing regular post series, such as Throwback Thursday, Shortbread Sunday, Five Bottles of Red Wine Friday….or something like that. Each month, in addition to whatever else I can manage, I’ll be preparing a new muffin recipe.
Aside from the fact that they’re the easiest thing to make, it was the first M word I thought of…
semi-whole wheat pumpkin muffins with streusel topping
makes one dozen
120 g all-purpose flour
80 g whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
160 g maple syrup or agave nectar (can be substituted 1:1 ratio)
230 g pumpkin puree (or sweet potato)
50 g canola oil
2 eggs (100 grams total without shells)
100 g buttermilk
extras: oats, toasted pecans, raisins
80 g granulated sugar
50 g all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp water
3/4 tsp cinnamon
4 Tbsp (57 – 60 g) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin pan with 12 paper muffin cups.
make the streusel:
In a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, cinnamon, and oats (if using.)
With a fork or whisk, blend in the water, breaking up any clumps as you go, in order to wet as much of the mixture as possible.
Slowly whisk in melted butter, breaking up large clumps with your hands or the whisk, until there’s no dry mixture left. You can put this in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
make the muffins:
In one medium/large bowl, combine flours, salt, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and oats (if using.) In another medium/large bowl, whisk together the maple syrup (or agave), pumpkin puree, canola oil, eggs, and buttermilk.
Using a whisk or rubber spatula, mix dry ingredients into wet, mixing quickly until they’re mostly combined. They don’t need to be fully mixed together, but you shouldn’t see any flour.
Using a large spoon or a cookie scoop, fill each muffin cup about 3/4 – 4/5 full, and sprinkle the tops liberally with streusel.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until the tops are dry and they resist a little when you press down. You can also test by inserting a wooden toothpick into the center of a muffin, and if it comes out clean, they’re done!
They’re perfect for breakfast, lunch, first dessert, second dessert, midnight snack, moonlight walks on the beach, and more.
See ya later, pumpkin eater.
Whenever I’m home, I like to peruse the farmer’s market and learn about what’s in season at the moment. You can buy pretty much anything at any time of year at the supermarkets, but for the best gustatory (look I used a word) experiences, it’s good to remain seasonal. Unfortunately, that means no more pesto or repeats of the unbe-leaf-able spicy basil beef I made last month (I devoured an army’s share.) But it also means I can spend the next 8 months thinking of way to use the herb before it comes back around, so I can be prepared to have The Best Spring and Summer Ever in My Mouth.
I wrote about this a little bit on the dead blog, and in order to keep this one going while I find some recipes I can feel confident sharing, I’m going to post monthly about what’s in season here in North Carolina, and maybe even in other areas, while also writing about what will soon be in season the next month so that we can all prepare ahead of time.
Here’s what’s good this month in North Carolina:
september fruits (take a peek here, too):
non-sweet fruits ‘n’ things:
september vegetables and other such things:
recipe ideas (without links because I don’t want to take away from other sources, so you can search for specific recipes as you like):
curried or candied sweet potatoes | | sautéed greens with black pepper and lemon juice, or vinegar | | roasted cabbage wheels with olive oil and spices | | roasted pumpkin seeds | | pumpkin soup | | pickled cucumbers | | cucumber soup | | tomato soup (and grilled cheese sandwiches!) | | tomato sauce/marinara sauce | | salsa (for football season!!) | | peanut butter | | peanut butter pie | | peanut collard green salad | | peach cupcakes | | peach tarts and crostadas | | peach cobbler or crumble | | peach streusel muffins | | raspberry jam | | raspberry muffins | | raspberry-blackberry pie | | fig pudding | | olive oil fig cake | | apple brown sugar cake | | apple pie | | apple whole wheat muffins | | apple cider (for the really stressful days)
Thinking of all this produce is making me hungry and the itch to cook is far too strong to resist. I need a pumpkin spice latte (don’t judge.)
Categories: seasonal produce
“How many seasons do you have in the United States?”
“Hmmm…we have about 100. Because it’s entirely plausible that the earth can inhabit 100 different positions around the sun in one country, but only four in another.”
They like to say there are four seasons in Japan. We like to say there are two seasons in Los Angeles: Spring, and Rain. That being said, there are still four seasons in Los Angeles. There are four seasons in North Carolina (four very beautiful seasons.) In fact, there are even four seasons in the Arctic Circle, even though that area is only relevant during one of them.
But all bitterness aside, let’s discuss autumn in Japan.
This season is called “the season of food,” and is peak harvest time. It’s a season of stuffing oneself in preparing for the coming winter. It’s a season of that strange burning smell coming from the farms around my apartment. And it’s a season of orange: persimmons, an attempt at mimicking Halloween, Japanese sweet potatoes (red on the outside, orange on the inside), mikan, Japanese pumpkins (green on the outside, yellow-y on the inside), and my tiresome search for pumpkin-scented anything. The last one isn’t any color in particular, actually.
More so than my home and native land, Japan cares about seasonality. I’d forgotten what “seasonality” meant, until my vice principal dropped a grilled sweet potato on my desk last October. I haven’t turned back since (I also haven’t successfully roasted a sweet potato since then.) The alternative name for the season, which is usually aki (秋), is shun no shokuzai. It means “peak seasonal produce.” In addition to the aforementioned orange things, that includes the first rice harvest (shinmai, 新米), mackerel (shioyaki sanma, 塩焼きさんま), chestnuts, gingko nuts, figs, apples, and matsutake mushrooms.
Any day now, my school will start serving new rice with boiled chestnuts, sliced persimmons, and fried mackerel. I think I just gave myself a foodgasm thinking about it…
Not only will the food change, but the mood, decorations, and dishes will change. In other words, I will start using coffee-scented candles instead of vanilla, because I can’t find a pumpkin-scented thing to save my life. Restaurants will use ceramic and clay dishes instead of glass; brown, red, and orange will adorn walls around the country; and I will start wearing cardigans again.
From now until I fly home, it’s Sweet Potato Day every single day. Once I can figure out this roasting business, I’ll throw up some recipes here.