Category Archives: pies and tarts

Chocolate silk pie with salted caramel ribbons


A perfect past time for me is to dig into a new baking cookbook.  My latest find, The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day, featuring treats from their bakery of the same name in Savannah, GA, is a true gem.  While perusing this book at my children’s gymnastics class last week, I felt inspired to bake a cream pie with ingredients I had at home.


Before we begin, let me just say with pride that – yes – I do generally have chocolate chips, heaving whipping cream and a can of sweetened condensed milk just sitting around waiting to pour into something fabulous.


My other impetus for baking this pie was to congratulate a friend on a job well done after she completed her first marathon this fall!  Go Ellen!  I wanted to make something special for her and caramel is pure gold when it comes to special.  As you might know, most crust recipes make enough for a top and a bottom for one pie, or a shell for two cream pies.  Since we were in cream pie territory, there was plenty of crust to thank another dear friend for supporting and sharing in my baking business dreams.  Go Amy!  So here’s to you Ellen and Amy.  Love ya!


As the recipes below describe, this pie rolls out to completion through a twelve step plan of sorts.  After gymnastics class last Friday; I made, chilled and baked the pie crusts.  Then I made the chocolate custard, poured it into the shells and allowed the custard to set overnight.  The next day, with renewed energy, I made the caramel sauce.  This is my usual go-to recipe for caramel (the stuff literally glistens like gold), but I cooked it for less time (up to 220 degrees F instead of 250 for caramel pieces) to create a thick, perfectly “bite-able” sauce.  Divine.  Once cool, I drizzled the caramel sauce over and around the set pie, allowing some sauce to drip down over the edges of the crust.  Then, before the caramel set, I immediately sprinkled on Maldon sea salt flakes.  Divine squared.


Finally, I whipped the cream to soft peaks using the whisk attachment on my standing mixer and added 1/2 cup of cooled caramel sauce.  Thereafter, I beat the cream to stiff peaks and spread it over the pie with a sprinkling of chocolate bits to hint at the chocolate silk inside.  A perfect fall package that I insist on day dreaming about through Thanksgiving and beyond.    It’s highly advisable.  (;


Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Crust

Slightly adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (not self rising)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt flakes (table salt is ok)
1 large egg
1/2 cup plus 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if necessary
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into cubes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt; set aside.

2.  In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, beat the egg with 1/2 cup of the water and the vinegar.

3.  Add the shortening and butter to the flour and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the butter resembles small peas.  Add the egg mixture, gently tossing and mixing with your hands or a fork just until the dough comes together in a ball.  If the dough seems too dry, add a little more ice water, about 1 tablespoon at a time as necessary.

4.  Gather the dough together on a lightly floured work surface and divide it evenly into 2 balls.  Wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten with the palm of your hand into a disk.  Chill for at least 1 hour.  The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

5.  To roll out the dough, dust your hands and the rolling pin with flour.  On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll out the chilled dough into a 12-inch round.  Roll the dough from the center out, rotating it slightly as you roll to prevent sticking and to keep it round.  Dust off any excess flour.  Roll up the dough onto the rolling pin and place it in the pie dish.  Carefully arrange the dough to slump inside the dish and press it into the edges.  Trim the excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving about a 1 inch overhang.

6.  For a prebaked shell, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the parchment and pie weights and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool before filling.

Chocolate Silk Pie Filling

(Enough for one pie, double recipe for 2 pie shells.)

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes (table salt is ok)
2 1/2 cups milk
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.  In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch and 3/4 teaspoon salt.

2.  In a saucepan over medium-high, combine milk and chocolate, stirring occasionally, until chocolate melts completely.  Whisk 1 cup hot milk mixture into sugar mixture until smooth.  Whisk milk-sugar mixture into remaining milk mixture in saucepan.  Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until bubbling and thick, 4 to 5 minutes.

3.  Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl until combined.  Whisk in milk mixture in a slow, steady stream.  Return mixture to saucepan.  Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until it just begins to bubble, 1 to 2 minutes.

4.  Pour through a fine sieve into a large bowl, and stir in vanilla.  Let custard cool, whisking occasionally, about 10 minutes.

5.  Pour into crust.  Press plastic wrap on surface of custard.  Refrigerate until set, 4 hours (or, wrapped in plastic, up to 1 day).

Caramel Sauce and Caramel Whipped Cream

(Caramel sauce recipe makes more than enough for 2 pies – freeze the extra sauce.  Double the whipped cream recipe for 2 pie shells.)

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 stick (1/2 c.) salted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
Maldon sea salt flakes

1.  Remove paper wrapper from can of sweetened condensed milk.  Place unopened can in a pot of water, making sure to cover the can with water.  Bring water to boil on a burner set to high.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer the can in the water for 2 hours.  Make sure the can is covered by water at all times.

2.  While the milk simmers, generously grease a large rimmed cookie sheet with butter.  If using crackers, popcorn, chocolate or other treats, arrange them on the pan.  I would advise using a few chocolate chips because the caramel does not adhere well to a “sheet” of chocolate.

3.  After two hours, off heat and remove the can from the pot of water.  The contents are under pressure, so open the can carefully with a can opener, preferably in the kitchen sink, because a bit of cooked milk will squirt out.  The milk should be a light caramel color.

4.  Pour the cooked milk in a heavy pot.  Add the butter, sugar and corn syrup, and mix with a wooden or silicone spoon.  Have an instant read or candy thermometer handy, and place the pot on a burner set to medium.

5.  Stir the mixture continuously, taking care to scrape the bottom of the pot, for approximately 20 minutes, until the temperature reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  Check to see if the consistency is right by dabbing a bit of the sauce on a plate to see if it runs down a bit, but generally stays put.

6.  When the mixture reaches 220 degrees and the sauce is the consistency you desire, immediately remove the pot from the heat and place the pot in the prepared ice bath.  Leave the pot in the ice bath until the caramel sauce is cool, approximately 20 minutes.

7.  Drizzle the caramel sauce over the cooled custard and the edges of the pie.  Immediately sprinkle on Maldon sea salt flakes before the caramel sets.

8.  For the whipped cream, beat 3/4 cup cream with the whisk attachment on high until soft peaks form.  Gently fold 1/2 cup cooled caramel sauce into the whipped cream and whisky until stiff peaks form.  Spread whipped cream over pie.  Garnish with chocolate shavings or bits.



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Cranberry-caramel-oat topping for pie, oh my!

A few weeks ago, in my (personally) earth shattering post about pie crusts and double crust apple pie, I made brief mention of another equally satisfying variation for apple pie:  the single crust, Cranberry-Caramel-Oat Topped Apple Pie. I am now posting it here, just in time for the holidays.

I’m drafting this on the (almost) eve of Thanksgiving due to my inherent tendency toward procrastination and because my mother, a fabulous baker and possessor of many beloved holiday recipes, asked me to send her this recipe to make for Thanksgiving this year.

Yes, the two days away, Thursday, November 24, Thanksgiving 2011. So, as you might imagine, I was flattered, and motivated to get off my behind to do something (mothers often have that effect on people, at least for me).

I’ve now made this pie no less than five times since October, always with rave reviews. If you’re still looking for a dessert to “holiday up” your Thanksgiving table, this cranberry studded but otherwise traditional, apple pie, should do the trick.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Nicole’s Cranberry-Caramel-Oat Topped Apple Pie (with slight adaptation)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Dark Muscovado sugar (lovely deep, natural molasses flavor, found at specialty shops and Williams Sonoma.  No worries if you don’t have it, another scoop of garden variety brown sugar will do)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick or instant)
1 1/4 cup of fresh (or frozen) cranberries

Make single pie crust and apple pie found HERE (you will only need half of the pie crust the double crust recipe yields).  Before placing the apples in the pie dish, toss in a handful (approximately 1/4 cup) of cranberries first.

For the topping, combine the butter and sugar in a saucepan on the stove set at medium heat until melted. Then add the cream and stir constantly until the mixture bubbles and becomes very “frothy.”

Off heat and mix in the oats and remaining 1 cup of cranberries. Spread the topping evenly over the top of the pie and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 425 degrees F. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 20-30 minutes or until the crust is a delicious golden brown.

After baking, you can let it cool to room temperature and then serve or, for optimal servings a la mode, warm it in an oven set at 200 degrees F for a few minutes. The pie lasts as long as any other fruit pie, but I tend to like it best on day two. It takes on an apple crisp quality, except with the double benefit of that flaky pastry that only a well done pie crust offers.

Here are some pictures from the process:


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How you like them…pie crusts?!!

So I made an apple pie, but not just any apple pie.  The apple pie of my life.  And that’s because of one beautiful thing:  the PERFECT PIE CRUST.  I have spent a good part of my life’s leisure time attempting – without success –  to make that elusive crust that is both flavorful (butter) and manageable (vegetable shortening).  A tender flake is also a must and this crust delivers there too.

Three essential ingredients have emerged from this process:  almost equal parts butter and vegetable shortening + VODKA.  Apparently, vodka tenderizes like vinegar, without an aftertaste.  Also, in a chilly state, the vodka also buys you more time to work with the dough before things get messy.  I should have guessed alcohol would make my personal pie party a hit!

This revelation was delivered to me at yet another cooking class, taught by Nicole Frickle.  This time at the Kitchen Engine, a local cooking specialty shop that offered a class focused on pies alone (insert pure giddiness at this discovery).  We made the magical pie crust in class, and used the crust for a basic pumpkin and a lovely cranberry crumble-topped apple.  But those recipes are for another day.  Today, I present to you a non-soggy, Good Ol’ Double Crust American Apple Pie.  Nothing fancy or frilly, except perhaps the gigantic air holes, that were meant to be simple and cute, but appear a bit more like I mistook the top crust for a slice of swiss cheese.

So now – without further ado – the recipe as it was presented to me (with slight variation):

Nicole’s Pie Crust 

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (plain, not butter flavor)
1/4 cup cold vodka (the cheap stuff, the alcohol burns off while the pie bakes)
1/4 cup cold water

Makes enough for 1 double crust 9 inch pie.  Keep the vodka in the freezer until just before you are ready to use.  Keep the butter and shortening in the refrigerator until just before you are ready to use.  Cube the butter as small as you can with a sharp knife (or grate the butter in a cheese grater, a great technique), and then place the flour, sugar, salt, butter and vegetable shortening into the bowl of a standing mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, mix the dough on low speed until blended.  Then, slowly blend – or fold in – the vodka and water.  Fold until just combined then divide the dough into two parts.  Shape the dough into flat disks, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour (but best overnight) before use.  The dough can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month before use.

Rolling Techniques

1.  Keep a small bowl of flour near your work space.  Roll the dough out onto a flat surface with a wooden rolling pin.  I use a large wooden cutting board (uneven tile countertops, darn it) and a French rolling pin.

2.  Generously flour your work surface and rolling pin.  Do not be afraid to re-flour.  Somehow, the dough can absorb it with out getting tough!

3.  While rolling out the dough, constantly move it around, shifting it a quarter or eighth of a turn with each roll out.  After you have rolled out a  circle of dough, before perfecting the shape, pull up the dough, scrape and re-flour the work surface, and turn the dough over.  This will keep the “final product” from sticking, stretching, or tearing when you are ready to pull the dough up and place it in the pie dish.

4.  When you are satisfied with your circle of dough (thickness, uniformity), hold your pie dish over the circle.  The dough circle should be approximately 1 1/2 inches larger than your pie dish.  To move the dough from the work surface to the pie dish, roll the top edge of the dough over your rolling pin and use the pin and your hand to place the dough over the dish.

5.  When fitting the dough in the pie dish, do not press on the sides.  Gently lift the crust and turn the pie dish to get the crust in place.  When the crust is in place, allow a one inch overhang on all sides.  I use kitchen scissors to trim off the excess.

6.  If using, roll out the top crust in the same manner.  Make sure the crusts are sealed together (pinched) with the same one inch overhang.  When you are ready to crimp the pie’s edges, push the overhang up, so that the finished edge is vertical and above the pie.  While baking, the pie will sink a bit.  This will allow the edges to “stay with” the pie and not crumble off as the pie sinks.

7.  For a double crust pie, add air holes with a fork or sharp knife.  Before placing the top crust on the pie, you may also cut out little shapes from the top crust with pie cutters (I did not have any on hand, thus the swiss cheese from a too-large-for-the-task donut hole cutter).

8.  For a single crust pie, use a fork to punch air holes in the crust.  Pie weights can help to keep the crust’s shape while baking.

9.  Bake the pie directly on the center rack of the oven (and not a cookie sheet to catch overflow).  This will allow the bottom of the pie to more fully bake and reach that desired golden brown flake.

Nicole’s Apple Pie Filling

7-8 large apples (use a mix of Granny Smith and red (whatever’s on sale, except Red Delicious), peeled, cored and sliced)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour (or more, if the apples are especially juicy)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Before rolling out the dough, mix the apple filling without the flour.  Add the flour right before placing the mixture into the pie dish.  This will allow time for the apples to release their juices, so that you can better gauge how much flour to use.

Filling Tips

1.  Add flour just until the apples are no longer watery.  If the filling seems too dry, add a tablespoon or two of butter.

2.  To prevent a soggy crust, rub butter on the bottom of the pie before adding the apples to create a “wax barrier.”

3.  If you have poor quality apples, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to boost their flavor.


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Strawberry rhubarb open faced tart

My cousin surprised me last week with an armful of freshly cut rhubarb from his yard.  It was the first cut of the season and I couldn’t wait to come home and bake up some little tarts.

I knew strawberries were already on sale, so I made a detour on the way home, drug all the kids into the grocery store with me, and purchased a flat of strawberries.   (It only cost me a couple of rides for the kids on the free mechanical clown car at the front of the store – well worth my time – for myriad reasons.)

I grew up with rhubarb pie from the plant that grew almost in the wilds of our mountain home.  My mom made a traditional Crisco pie that was all rhubarb and sugar.

To this day, I believe my mom’s rhubarb pie is my brother’s favorite.  Always a sweet tooth, I have grown to prefer the addition of strawberries, to cut the bite of the rhubarb and because they’re pretty.

I combine a couple of recipes to make my favorite strawberry-rhubarb tart.  First, I treat the rhubarb like the vegetable that it is and saute it in a pan to soften the stalks and remove some of the liquid that can make for a very soggy pie.

Later, I combine the rhubarb with the strawberries, orange zest, sugar and my favorite and almost tasteless thickener du-jour, arrowroot.

Then I set out to make a “country” pie dough.  I am still working on the perfect butter pie dough for a double crust pie that has all the taste, flake and elasticity that perfection requires.  Sadly, it still eludes me.

This  corn meal studded dough, however, is always a winner.  It’s  an easy butter dough for making open-faced tarts, or galettes.  You simply roll the dough out over parchment paper, load the fruit filling on top, and fold 2 inch edges over the filling.

After a brush with egg wash and a sprinkling of sugar, the galettes are slid onto a cookie sheet and baked to a tart lover’s bubbly delight.

Here’s the finished product.  Six tarts total, all consumed by family and friends mere minutes after the end of the dinner hour that night (with a little help from vanilla ice cream).   (:

Mid-dinner slice....

Plate-lickin' good!

[Corn Meal Pie Crust PRINTABLE RECIPE]

[Strawberry Rhubarb Open Faced Tart PRINTABLE RECIPE]

Corn Meal Pie Crust
(from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cubed
¼ to ½ cup ice water

1.         Place the flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to combine.  Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds.

2.         With the machine running, pour the ice water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, until the dough just holds together (do not process for more than 30 seconds).

3.         Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface.  Divide in halves or thirds and place each portion on a piece of plastic wrap.  Flatten each to form a disk.  Wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 1 day before using.  Makes enough for 1 large, 2 medium or 3 small galettes/open faced tarts.

Strawberry Rhubarb Open Faced Tarts
(adapted from Baking Illustrated)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 ½ pounds rhubarb, ends trimmed, peeled if the outer layer is especially fibrous, and cut into 1-inch pieces (5 to 6 cups)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 recipe Corn Meal Pie Crust + flour for dusting the work surface
3 tablespoons arrowroot
Pinch salt
1 ½ pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 5 cups)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated zest from 1 orange
1 egg, lightly beaten + granulated sugar for sprinkling

1.         Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until smoking.  Add the rhubarb and ¼ cup of the sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb has shed most of its liquid but is still firm, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a large dish and refrigerate until cool.  Drain off excess liquid.

2.         Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

3.         In a small bowl, mix together ¼ cup of the sugar, the arrowroot and salt.  In a large bowl, toss together the strawberries, cooled rhubarb, vanilla and orange zest.  Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the top and stir to combine.

4.         Lay out a large piece of parchment paper over a flat work surface and dust with flour.  Remove the Corn Meal Pie Crust from the refrigerator and roll out 1/3 of the dough into a 1/3 inch disk.

5.         Spoon approximately 1/3 of the filling onto the pie crust, leaving a 2 inch border all the way around.  Fold border over the filling, overlapping where necessary and pressing gently to adhere the folds.  Repeat for 3 galettes/tarts.

6.         Brush edges of dough with egg, and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake until crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling, about 1 hour.  Transfer the galettes/tarts to a baking sheet to a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


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