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Adventures in Pastry School January 26, 2012

So, I’ve been slacking a bit on this whole blog thing, but I have a really good reason: last October I started pastry school!  I am currently enrolled in a six month program at Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, and it is amazing.  I’m having so much fun and learning all sorts of new tricks.  There are days when I get frustrated with my abilities, or lack there of, but most days it’s a blast.  I can’t wait to go to class each day and see what I’m going to learn.  I don’t really have a lot of free time to write posts most days, so I’ve been saving up pictures of all of my finished products to share with you now.  Enjoy!


Strawberry-Lemon Tart and a Birthday Celebration July 17, 2011

Today is a very special and exciting day: my boyfriend’s little sister is turning 24, and she loves to celebrate!  Now, I know that everyone loves their birthday, but JW really loves her birthday, and that makes the anticipation of the day so much more exciting.  Thanks to her boyfriend’s careful planning, the celebrations started last night with a Master Pancake show and will come to an end on Sunday in the form of seeing the last Harry Potter.  Between the bookends of two great viewing experiences there are a multitude of activities and surprises.  One of which is this Strawberry-Lemon Tart and I have no doubt that she will love it, after all,  her favorite flavor of dessert is lemon.

This tart was created by combining a few of my favorite recipes: the crust is from one of my favorite blogs Dessert First and the lemon curd is an Ina Garden recipe.  I covered the top in a fruit glaze to keep the strawberries fresh and give everything a nice sheen.  I have to say that I am really happy with how it turned out.

Happy 24th birthday, JW!

Thanks for being the little sister I never had, but always wanted.  You are truly an amazing person and I am grateful to have you in my life.


Strawberry Balsamic Pie and a Pi Day Contest March 15, 2011

Pi, as we all know, is 3.14 and since yesterday was 3/14 that made it “Pi Day”.  I recently learned about the Serious Eats Pi Day Baking Contest and decided it was right up my alley.  After all, it’s just one more excuse to bake.  So, to celebrate Pi Day, I made this Strawberry Balsamic Pie and am entering it in the contest.  This is the first contest I have ever entered, and I am super excited about it!  Wouldn’t it be great if I won? (hint, hint)  You can vote for me starting March 20 (the day the contest closes for entries), if you would like to make my dreams come true…

This pie is amazing, by the way.  I love strawberries and balsamic vinegar; they are a perfect combination.  The balsamic gives the sweet, slightly tart strawberries a rounder flavor.  This pie filling also makes a great jam!

**Update: Unfortunately, I did not win any prizes in the Pi Day Contest, but I had tons of fun making this pie and it tasted so good that we devoured it in just two days.  Thanks to everyone for voting!**

Here’s what you need:

6 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (2 cups reserved)

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 Tbls cornstarch

2 Tbls balsamic vinegar

roll-out pie crust, or homemade pie crust

Here’s what you do:

To make the filling, combine all of the ingredients (minus 2 cups reserved strawberries) in a large saucepan.  Cook over medium heat 12-14 minutes until it thickens and begins to boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Transfer mixture to a glass bowl and cool completely.  (At this point you could use an immersion blender to turn this into jam, if you didn’t want to make a pie.)  Stir in reserved strawberries.  This gives the pie better texture since the cooked strawberries get broken down by all that stirring.  Use all of your restraint at this point to not lick the spatula.  This filling is like molten lava and will seriously burn you!

Prepare pie plate by lining with one pie crust.  Fill crust with slightly cooled filling and bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.  If the edges of the crust start to get too dark, cover with aluminum foil or a pie shield.

To make the pi top, cut out pi symbols from the remaining pie dough using a template.  I found a pi symbol that I liked online, printed it out, traced it onto cardboard, and cut out the symbols using and exacto knife.  This was a bit time consuming, but totally worth it.  Line the pi symbols up on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar, and bake 400 degrees for 6 minutes.  Once cool enough to handle, arrange the pi symbols in a decorative pattern on top of the baked pie.  You could use this same method for any design that you would like.  (Think: leaves in the fall, flowers in spring, the possibilities are endless.)


Blueberry Lime Pie February 1, 2011

Thanks to the Midwest Blizzard 2011, it’s cold outside.  It’s not snowing here, but it is very nearly freezing.  I frankly would prefer snow because cold without snow is useless.  I had plans to go shopping today for a little craft project I want to start, but decided that it is much wiser to stay inside where it’s warm.  Staying in gives me an excuse to be productive, though, and work on this little blog of mine.  I promised you recipes from my holiday baking adventures, so I thought I would oblige.

Thanks to a very good friend, I learned something very important over the holiday season: how to make pie crust.  And it is the easiest pie crust ever invented.  She uses it to make the best apple pie on earth* from a secret family recipe, but I used it to make Blueberry Lime Pie.  I modeled the recipe off of this one from Bon Appetit magazine.  I made the original recipe, but found it a little too tart for me (and I love cranberries!), so I made a few changes.  I eliminated the cranberries and replaced the lemon with lime.  (Blueberries with lime is one of those perfect combination like strawberries and balsamic.)   The result?  Fabulousness!

Here’s what you need:


24 ounces frozen blueberries

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 Tbls cornstarch

2 cinnamon sticks

1 Tbls fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp grated lime zest


1/3 cup hot water

1/2 cup cooking oil (I used canola)

2 cups unsifted flour

pinch of salt

Here’s what you do:

To make the filling, combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan.  Cook over medium heat 12-14 minutes until it thickens and begins to boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Transfer mixture to a glass bowl and cool completely.

To make the pie crust, place the oil in a small bowl and add the hot water.  Add the oil mixture to the flour and salt.  Mix with a fork and then your hand until the pastry forms a ball.

Divide the dough into two portions.  (Because I did a lattice top, I made the portion for the bottom bigger than the one for the top.)  Roll out the bottom portion between two pieces of wax paper, until it is 2 inches bigger than your pie plate.  Place the bottom pie crust into your pie plate.  Roll out the top portion between the same wax paper and cut into 3/4 inch strips for the lattice top.

Place the filling in the bottom crust, making sure to remove the cinnamon sticks.

On one piece of wax paper, lay out about half of the crust strips.  Using the remaining strips, create a lattice top by weaving: starting in the middle, fold down every other crust strip, place one of the remaining strips in the middle perpendicular to the other pieces of crust, and fold the strips over this new piece.  Repeat until you have a finished crust.  Using the wax paper, invert the lattice top onto the filled pie.

Trim the edges of the pie crust and crimp to seal.  I sprinkled the top with raw sugar before baking.  Place the assembled pie on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake 400 degrees for about 1 hour 10 minutes.  Cool pie on rack before serving.

*Seriously, it puts my apple pie to shame.  Thanks JW for being gracious enough to let me use your crust recipe.  You’re the best!


Rustic Apple Tart and Some Life Changes September 4, 2010

So…It’s been a while…but I’m finally back to posting.  It’s been a crazy few months in my life and I didn’t really have much time to do anything more than just breathe.  Here’s the short list: I lost my teaching job due to budget cuts (thanks Kansas Department of Education for overspending your budgets, so you aren’t able keep all of your teachers to be able to properly educate your children; really great move on your part), budget cuts = no teaching jobs in Kansas, no teaching jobs = packing up all of my (and my boyfriend’s) stuff and moving to…drum roll please…Austin, Texas!  We’re still unpacking, but have settled in quite nicely, so back to baking I go.

About once a week we have a “game night” with some friends of ours and I, of course, choose to bring dessert, while my boyfriend typically supplies the board games.  (Don’t forget to check out his blog listed on my blogroll as “a blog by a boy”).  The first dessert I ever made for game night was this Rustic Apple Tart.  This type of tart can be found in many different European cultures and can be called about a dozen different names, but no matter what others call it, I just call it deliciously easy.  It starts with a store bought pie crust (I’m still working on perfecting homemade) followed by a layer of cream cheese mixed with powdered sugar, then heaped with cinnamon scented apples, and topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar for good measure.  Everyone loved it including our friend who doesn’t really like desserts all that much (I know! A sin, right?)

Here’s what you need:

1 refrigerated roll-out pie crust (from a package of two)

1 block cream cheese

2/3 cup powdered sugar

2-3 apples (I used fuji)

2 Tbls. butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbls. cinnamon, divided

pinch of salt

2Tbls. flour

1/4 cup sugar

Special equipment:

Mandolin with a straight blade (optional)

Here’s what you do:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet.  I prefer an AirBake cookie sheet because of its larger size, but whatever you have will work just fine.

Unroll one pie crust onto greased baking sheet making sure to flatten it out completely.  In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese and powdered sugar until well combined.  As you can probably tell from previous posts, I like to pair sweetened cream cheese with fruit, but if you don’t, feel free to leave it out.*  Spread the cream cheese mixture onto the pie crust leaving about a two-inch border.

Time to prepare the apples.  Cut the apples into fourths and remove core and seeds.  Using a mandolin slice the apples letting them drop into a bowl of cold water to prevent browning.  If not using a mandolin, slice apples into 1/4 pieces.  Melt butter into a large skillet over medium heat.  Add brown sugar, 1 Tbls. cinnamon, pinch of salt, and 2 Tbls. flour.  Stir to combine and cook until slightly bubbly.  Remove the apples from the water, add them to the skillet, and turn to coat.  Cook until apples are slightly tender and sauce is thick, about 8 minutes.  Spoon apple mixture over the cream cheese leaving about 1/2 inch of cream cheese around the edge.

To form the edge of the tart, gently fold the exposed edges of the pie crust over the apple mixture being careful not to break the crust.  You are wanting to encase the edge of the tart and crimp it slightly to keep the filling from leaking out while baking.  Finish by combining the sugar and remaining 1 Tbls. cinnamon, brush the edges of the tart with water (I just use my fingers), and sprinkle the tart with the cinnamon and sugar mixture.

Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.  When baked remove the pan to a cooling rack and let cool for about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula (or two) carefully remove the tart to its serving try.  To serve cut into slices and drizzle with a powdered sugar glaze, if desired.

*One of our friends doesn’t eat cheese, so I made a personal-sized tart for him without the cream cheese.  I used the other crust from the package and cut it out into about an 8 inch round, filled it with apples, and baked it along with the large tart.


An Ode to Easter, Part 1 April 2, 2010

I love holidays, not because of presents, but because of the excuse to bake, and bake a lot.  I always get overly ambitious and go way overboard, but I can’t help myself, and this Easter is no exception.  We are having Easter dinner at our house this year, so I am being given free reign over what is made…this may have been a mistake, but it is going to be a delicious one.  I have decided on two desserts and one candy, and I will hopefully complete all three.  I have previously made the two desserts, but it is going to be a first for the candy as it is a co-worker’s wife’s recipe, so wish me luck.

This first installment of “An Ode to Easter” will center around the first dessert: Cherry Pecan Tart.  I first made this tart last Thanksgiving with cranberries instead of cherries, and it was an immediate hit.  It is surprisingly easy and looks very impressive.  This time I am making it with frozen sweet dark cherries because, apparently, cranberry season in the fall.  (They are harvested in September and October.)   The original recipe came from the November 2009 issue of “Better Homes and Gardens”.  I saw it and thought, “I want to make that.”  However, as I was reading the recipe I realized it was needlessly complicated: it involved cooking the filling on the stove and then whisking in an egg mixture.  I decided to try the recipe as it was and ended up with a tart filling that had scrambled eggs in it, yuck!  Needless to say, that went into the trash and I started over.  I decided that I could do better by combining the “idea” of this tart with two other recipes.  The filling came from a friend’s “Pecan Tartlet” recipe, and the crust I borrowed from the blog Dessert First.  The result?  Amazing!

Here’s what you need:


1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)

1/4 tsp. salt

9 Tbls. very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 large egg yolk


2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup dark corn syrup

2/3 cup brown sugar

4 Tbls. melted butter

2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups pecan halves, toasted if preferred

1 cup frozen dark cherries (or fresh cranberries when they are in season)

Here’s what you do:
Place the flour, sugar, and salt in bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add in cold butter and process until pea-sized lumps of dough form.  It should be loose and crumbly.  Add the egg yolk and process until the dough starts to come together.  Butter one 11 inch tart pan or six 5 inch tart pans.  The ones with the removable bottoms work best.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and lightly press it together into a ball.  (I just dump it into the tart pan and press it together.)   Using your hands, press the dough into the pan working it over the bottom and up the sides.  If you are having a hard time getting an even layer of crust, you can use the bottom of  a measuring cup to flatten out the dough.  Chill in freezer for about 15 minutes while you combine the filling ingredients.

In a medium bowl mix together the filling ingredients except the pecans and cherries.  Remove the tart shell from the freezer and scatter the pecans into the crust followed by the cherries.  Pour the filling mixture over the top of the pecans and cherries.  Let the tart sit for a few minutes so the filling can level out and seep into all of the nooks between the pecans and cherries.

Bake the tart in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes until filling is set.  Let the tart come to room temperature and then move to the refrigerator to cool completely.  Cut the tart into wedges to serve.

Post Script:

While the tart looked wonderful, once I cut into it I realized that the cherries were much more juicy than I had expected.  This resulted in the filling being a bit more runny than usual.  This could easily have been avoided by adding 2 Tbls. of flour or cornstarch to the filling.  Oh well, next time I will know.


Delectable, bite-sized pies March 6, 2010

I first made these “Tiny Pies” for Easter many years ago and the original recipe, while good, was not great.  I have changed it many times since then, even going so far as making my own pie crust, and have settled on this as my favorite version.  I have chosen to stick to the original recipe on the crust and buy it.  Most people would call this cheating; I will call it convenient, and quite honestly, better than my homemade.  I plan to master the art of pie crust at some point in time, but that time has not yet come.

You can choose to put any filling in them (I have even done chocolate), but for this post I made Cream Cheese Cherry.  I chose to use canned cherry pie filling because cherries aren’t exactly in season in the winter months in Kansas, but I have previously made theses pies with homemade fruit filling, which is even better.

Here’s what you need:

1 box refrigerated rollout pie crust (15oz.)

1/2 block cream cheese

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 can cherry pie filling, I use the kind with “more fruit” so the pies are generously full

1/8 cup unsalted butter, melted

3″ round cookie cutter

2″ round cookie cutter

rolling pin

mini-muffin tin with 24 holes

Here’s what you do:

Remove pie crusts from pouches and unroll, one at a time, onto your work surface.  I like to flatten it out with my rolling pin to make it even and slightly bigger.  Using the cookie cutters, cut out 18 to 24 three-inch rounds and 18 to 24 two-inch rounds.  Spray the mini-muffin tin with non-stick baking spray, and press the three-inch rounds into the tin making sure that the edges extend slightly over the sides of the cups to form the bottom crusts.  I fold the rounds into an X shape to fit them into the tin and, then flatten them out to form the crusts.

First, lightly brush the exposed edges of the bottom pie crusts with butter; this will help to seal the top crusts to the bottom.  Next, mix the cream cheese and powdered sugar together to form the bottom layer of the filling.  You can spoon this mixture into the bottom of the crusts, or I like to place it into a plastic freezer bag, squeeze the mixture into one of the bottom corners, and cut a generous hole in the corner to form a disposable pastry bag.  Spoon or pipe a dollop of the cream cheese mixture into the bottom of each of the pie crusts.  Then, spoon about a tablespoon of the cherry pie filling (three to four cherries) on top of the cream cheese in each crust.

For the tops, cut small vent into each of the two-inch rounds.  My cookie cutter isn’t exactly two inches, so I roll out each of the top crusts slightly before cutting the vents.  This also makes the top crust thinner, which I like.  Place the two-inch rounds on top of each pie, and seal the edges.  I do this by pinching the two layers of crust together to form a lacy edge.  Lastly, brush the top of each pie liberally with melted butter to help with browning.  At this point, you can sprinkle the tops with sugar, if desired.  I like to cover my pies in powdered sugar glaze, so I choose to opt out of this step.

Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove pan to wire cooling rack for two minutes, then remove pies from the pan and place on cooling rack.  At this point, I mix together 1 cup powdered sugar with 1/2 cup half and half to form a glaze and dip each pie’s top.  Lastly, I sprinkle with clear sugar crystals.


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