Baking

Key Lime Pie

Paestry readers, I present thee a Key lime pie. Let’s just say I’ve been on a pie-baking roll. I don’t recall what inspired this one — usually I get a sudden jolt of motivation to bake a pie from something truly inspiring — but this time I simply decided. When I made one for a July 4th barbecue I realized what a delightful summertime dessert it is: refreshing, sweet, easy.

Talk about easy! Upon studying recipes, most all of them have only three ingredients for the filling: egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and lime juice. That’s it! For whatever reason I thought it would be far more complicated but it’s actually quite semi-homemade.

A note about limes:

So how important is it to use Key limes versus the regular limes we usually find at the store? Wikipedia says the Key lime is more bitter and tart in flavor. I completely agree. The pie I made had a distant bitterness to it which bothered me at first, but later became very pleasing for a sweet pie. Those regular limes, by the way, are also known as Tahitian or Persian limes. They’re larger, more deeply green and apparently less acidic.

In fact, seeing recipes for Key lime pie reminded me of another recipe I saw awhile back for Meyer lemon pie. It uses the same graham cracker crust, egg yolks and condensed milk and of course, Meyer lemon juice. I am very intrigued by this and plan on trying this version someday. Meyer lemons are less sour than the typical lemon and have an orangey twang to them. Can you guess that I’m in love with citrus?

Limes awaiting their violent death.

To be reincarnated into a pie.

I fresh-squeezed every single lime. Key limes turn out to be rather small and knobbly and thus very cumbersome to squeeze. But I did it using a teaspoon and gutted those bad boys until I had about 1/2 a cup of lime juice. One tip for squeezing limes is pushing them down with your palm while rolling them on a hard surface to coax the juice before slicing. Another tip per Rachael Ray is zapping them in the microwave for no more than 10 seconds to get the juices going — it actually works!

As with most pies, making the crust is the hardest part. I ground graham crackers in a food processor until they became crumbs and added sugar and melted butter. Press down the mixture on a pan until it forms a crust. This took forever!

Here’s the recipe from Epicurious. Don’t forget the fresh whipped cream on top.

Ingredients

For crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.
Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make filling and bake pie:

Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).
Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Gala Apple Pie

Look at this apple pie. Isn’t it gorgeous? I baked it! Even though I made this pie weeks ago, I dedicate this post to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend because so few things are as American as apple pie.

The inspiration came from the suddenly tall and prolific Gala apple tree that grows in my parents’ backyard in Orange County. I collected the ones that fell off and used them for this apple pie.

Mind you it’s not recommended to use Gala apples for pie because they are softer than other varieties and will become mushy after baking. But I didn’t care one bit. They still produced a wonderful appley filling that went well with the buttery crust.

Speaking of the crust, I don’t know what happened but it came out magically well this time. Lord knows I’ve made plenty of pie crusts before and labored to get it right but for some reason this one was particularly tender and flaky. My favorite pie dough recipe is a very simple one by chef Jacques Pepin. As mentioned in a previous post, you don’t have to resort to Crisco for a good crust. In butter, we trust! An exceptional tool for making easy fool-proof pie crust is a food processor. If you have one, I highly recommend using it to mix your dough.

Another factor in this recent pie dough success could be the egg wash. I mixed one egg yolk with about two tablespoons of heavy cream and brushed it on top of the raw crust. An egg wash creates a glossy golden glaze that instantly transforms a pasty-looking pie to an elegant dessert. I mean, just look at it!

Nothing beats a classic apple pie. Nothing beats the spicy, cidery aroma of apples baking with sugar and cinnamon in a pocket of buttery dough. The smell just permeates the entire house and drives you crazy. Then you end up cutting a slice too early before it cools and the filling spills out all over the place. This happened to me so folks, be patient when you take the pie out of the oven. Let the filling cool and set. I know it’s irresistible but try.

A cooling apple pie. Can you see the steam rising?

Panettone Bread Pudding

I never thought I was a bread pudding fan…until now.

You might notice these posts are somewhat…Christmasy? That’s because I baked these delights during the holidays and only now — yes forgive me — am I posting about them. I was looking through my pictures and couldn’t resist posting these latest baking adventures, even as February is just around the corner. But who says you can’t have bread pudding all-year-round? Right. So let’s get cookin.

I’ve always wanted to make bread pudding out of panettone, an Italian dessert bread served during Christmas and other celebrations. It is just the right bread for it: eggy like a brioche…fragrant with orange…and it already contains delectable dried fruit pieces.

First, obtain your loaf. They’re abundant during Christmas but I bet you can find it at your local World Market any time of the year. If you can’t find panettone, brioche or even Hawaiian Bread works too. Bread pudding works best when the bread is stale and on the dry side. First, cut it up in 1 1/2 pieces.

The recipe I used asked to toast it as well, so I did.  You can see some pieces got a little burned but it didn’t matter. In fact, I think it added a nuttier touch.

Next, mix your custard. Bread pudding is essentially bread soaked in a nice, rich custard that is baked into a dessert. It actually tastes similar to and has the same texture as French toast.

Beat eggs with whole milk or even half-and-half, as I’ve seen in some recipes. Add some flavoring. I added vanilla and almond extracts, though I probably didn’t have to, since panettone is already very aromatic, especially of orange. But that didn’t stop me from adding more orange peel!

A note about the Microplane:
The black-handled tool you see here, is by far one of my favorite kitchen tools of all time. I use the zest of a citrus fruit almost every time I bake and with a microplane, you get a beautiful heap of very fine lemon or orange zest within seconds. Easy breezy. Getting that zest isn’t a simple task if you don’t have this handy tool. It is a must-have item if you cook. It’s also a great tool for grating cheese for your sauces and salads. Get your Microplane now!

Add the zest to the custard and beat until well combined. Pour over the toasted bread and let it soak for and hour, ideally overnight if you have time. Bake in a 400-degree oven for about an hour. The custard-soaked bread puffs up so nicely!

Once cooled, cut into large squares and serve warm. Enjoy.

Use What You Have: Blueberry Brownies

Months ago around the holidays, I was inspired to try this recipe after reading about it online. Plus, I just happened to have a bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer. How serendipitous! Recipe can be found here. Enjoy with a tall glass of milk.

By the by, I used ground cloves instead of cinnamon. Not sure if adding spices enhances the brownies, as I found it a bit strange. But adding any sort of spice seems to instantly holiday-ify a dessert. It was fitting back in December when I made these but since the holidays are over, I’m sure you could skip out on the cinnamon if you don’t have any.

Lemon Meringue Pie Obsession

A few days ago, I indulged in once again, my bizarre obsession with baking pies — in this case, a lemon meringue pie.

To begin, I introduce you to a lemon tree that grows in the backyard of my childhood house. Lemons simply explode out of this tree during the warm sunny months:

Aren’t they nice? I used the juice from these lemons for my pie, which by the way, I took to a potluck this past weekend (HOLLA!). While it tasted fine, I have a few words to say about meringue. I’ve made four lemon meringue pies by now and I’d say only one out of those four were truly successful. Here’s a photo of the winner here:

Isn’t it a beauty? Most recently however, I baked this little guy:

Not sure if ugly florescent kitchen lighting is what’s making this pie look less appealing but I could definitely tell it’s not as chipper as Pie Number 1. The meringue seems off, it isn’t as airy as I’d hoped, nor is there enough of it — ideally, the meringue should be piled luxuriously sky-high. It really could have used that extra egg white that I skipped out on. Meringues rarely turn out the same as the last one…at least in my experience.

Also, this photo doesn’t show it but later on, the meringue underwent a serious case of “weepage,” in which the topping began to seep little dots of sugary syrup. It’s really very ugly but my friends who sampled the pie didn’t really seem to think so, or at least I hope not! I’ve researched cookbooks on how to avoid a weeping meringue but everyone seemed as baffled about it as I am. It may have something to do with how much cream of tartar you use while beating the egg whites. Or something or other.

Wow! I sure do have a lot to say about this subject! But I ain’t gonna lie, baking a lemon meringue pie out of scratch isn’t easy. I’m not going to even sugar-coat it for you — it’s arduous. Not only do you have to roll out a nice sturdy crust to avoid filling-leakage, you have to then whisk together the hot filling and soon after, beat egg whites for the meringue — all in a wild, multitasking frenzy. The whole affair is quite stressful, I assure you. This is why there are so few photos of the process. The rolled-out dough and the finished product. I was not going to stop my work flow and take photos of the 10-plus steps in-between.

In fact, the more I think about it, using whipped cream as a substitute for the meringue sounds like a fantastic idea. I’m not a huge fan of meringue anyway!

Despite it all, I do take joy out of laboring over a pie. I get an immense feeling of accomplishment upon taking the pie out of the oven…observing its level of success…SLICING it with a knife…taking a deep breath during this moment of truth…inspecting the insides…and finally, tasting (and approving) the pie. I’d say it’s worth it.