Unexpected Fame

Photo courtesy of bkgreenmarkets

I entered the annual apple pie bake-off at my local farmer’s market.

After that, everything went wrong.

I decided that I would prep all my pie components on Saturday and then assemble and bake the pie on Sunday, the day of the competition. I’m pretty bad about following that age-old rule of never making something for someone that you haven’t made before–so the pie was basically an experiment.

I started with a pecan crust. Having never made a nut crust, I figured I would just cut some of the flour from my usual pie crust and sub in pecan meal. It all seemed to go fine & after chilling it rolled out well. I left the rolled crust in the fridge to rest overnight.

I made a bourbon-brown sugar apple compote. It tasted awesome. I chilled it and put it too in the fridge.

On Sunday morning I awoke, padded up to the kitchen, noticed my refrigerator had been left ajar, proceeded to freak out, and resolved my mind to make it work. However, my crust was far too warm/soft to roll up or fold up or transfer in any way and fell apart. Thus I proceeded to pat and patch it into the pan–I’d planned to do a rustic edge anyway, so thought this fine. I assembled the rest of the pie–crises mostly averted, I went to rest while my crust set in a 425 oven for 10 minutes.

My fire alarm went off.

Back in the kitchen there was smoke billowing from my oven. No actual fire, thank goodness–I assume something must have spilled onto the oven floor. Convinced my wayward crust and once great compote would now taste like barbecue, I turned the oven down to 350 to finish baking. The smoke stopped.

Upon removal, I let the pie rest. I’d made it in a spring form, so took off the sides, allowing it to cool a little faster. Ready to go, I tried to transfer it from baking dish to serving dish: the crust caved in.

I proceeded to freak out.

Oh well, it’s only one quadrant.

I took the pie anyway since I had a friend coming to enter the contest as well. And I didn’t want to let my market manager down, as she knows me by name…

And then I won.

And now people on the neighborhood blog are asking if they can buy one.

It just goes to show you: figuring out the world is impossible.

Figuring out this salad was pretty easy though. It was the first official course of menu project & you can read all about the inspiration here.

7 Component Salad
Yield: 8 Servings

280 grams baby romaine
8 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
8 halves deviled eggs
200 grams bacon
150 grams Parmesan Cheese, cut into ½” shards
300 grams green peas
200 grams celery, macedoine
Chives, for garnish

For the Dressing
1 egg yolk
1 T Dijon
¼ t salt
½ t sherry vinegar
½ t lemon juice
1 t granular sugar
Cayenne pepper, to taste
150 g neutral oil
Celery Leaves, hacher
Water, as needed

For the Deviled Eggs
4 hard boiled eggs
bacon fat from the lardon
1T mayonnaise
½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ t cayenne
30 g sweet pickles, brunoise
2 t chives, minced, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Dressing

  1. Combine egg yolk, mustard, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and pepper in a bowl.
  2. Whisk the oil in gradually to create an emulsion and until you’ve reached the desired consistency (adding water to loosen if necessary). Add celery leaves.

For the Bacon:

  1. Remove the rind and cut the bacon into strips ½” long
  2. Cut the bacon strips into lardons, approximately ½” wide.
  3. Sauté the lardon until they render out most of their fat.
  4. Set aside and reserve bacon fat.

 For the Peas & Celery:

  1. Prepare each, separately, à l’anglaise, refresh in ice water, and then combine and set aside.

 For the Deviled Eggs:

  1. Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Refresh Eggs in ice water for several minutes and then peel.
  3. Slice eggs in half. Set the whites aside and put the yolks into a bowl with mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne and salt. Mash the yolks into a paste and then add rendered bacon fat until it reaches the desired consistency.
  4. Stir in the pickles and 2 t chives.
  5. Put the yolk mixture into a piping bag and pipe into the egg white cavities.
  6. Garnish each egg with paprika and a 1 inch piece of chive.

 For the Water Chestnuts:

  1. Rinse well and peel with a vegetable peeler.
  2. Slice into ¼” rounds.
  3. Rinse again & set aside, in cold water.

 For Service:

  1. Lightly dress lettuce and place a layer on each plate.
  2. Dress the pea and celery mixture and fill a 2” ring mold.
  3. Set 1 egg half atop each mound. And remove ring mold.
  4. Drain water chestnuts & dress. Place 3 slices on each plate.
  5. Place 3 pieces each of the bacon lardons & Parmesan shards around the plate.
  6. Garnish with minced chives.


Each course require a beverage pairing, for this one I chose a Rose Spritzer. More on why here.

Drink Pairing

Rosé Spritzer
Yield: 8 drinks

1 bottle Château Tassin Rosé from Wineberry  
4 oz. Cherry Heering Liqueur
Seltzer Water, to taste
1 Lemon
1 Lime
8 Maraschino cherries

For the Maraschino Cherries
1 pint sour cherries
1 cup unrefined sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
3 black peppercorns
1 sprig thyme

For the Maraschino Cherries

  1. Put sugar, water, peppercorns, thyme and a pinch of salt into a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add cherries (they can be pitted, but leaving the pits in does lend additional flavor). Return to a boil until they’ve turned bright red.
  3. Pour into a holding vessel and add liqueur. Let rest until they’ve reached room temperature. Chill.

For the Cocktail

  1. Fill cocktail glasses half-way with ice.
  2. Slice both the lemon and the lime thinly. Lightly twist one round of each over 8 glasses to release the essential oils & then drop the round into the glass.
  3. Pour 2 ounces of wine into each glass.
  4. Pour 0.5 ounce of cherry liqueur into each glass.
  5. Top with seltzer, stir gently, garnish with cherry & serve.


I didn’t win. My former victory has been tarnished by sad defeat.

At least my detailing was noticed, as the judges heralded the unparalleled beauty of my pie. I overheard one judge whispering to another in doubt that I’d made the apple chips that garnished the top (I had). I think my downfall came in the form of palates not accustomed to the heavy amount of cinnamon I’d used to honor the pie’s of my ancestors (i.e. my great grandmother’s fried apple pie filling).

Still, if you ask me, my pie was über delicious. My opinion as to why the winning pie conquered: it was served still warm, fresh from the oven. Kudos to you, friend baker–this round is yours, but next year, the jig is up!

As for my creation, what I learned from myriad apple tastings was that flavors of apples vary from farm to farm. A.K.A., the Galas from Red Jacket Orchards taste nothing like the Galas from Migliorelli Farm. For my test pies, I ended up combining scraps from the latest tasting. The (not surprising) revelation here is that using multiple varieties of apples elicits a more complex flavor & because I was making a smashed apple pie, the texture wasn’t of great concern. The conclusion: don’t feel bad about buying one of each variety available to you. Hold your own, secret tasting and then use the bulk to make a pie for the family who loves you:

Shmapple (Smashed Apple) Pie with Pumpkin-Oat Streusel

For the Filling
3 ½ lbs. of apples, peeled and diced (a good mix works best here. I used Winesap, Gala, Empire, Mutsu & Keepsake)
1/3 cup Apple Cider
2 tablespoons Butter
¼ cup Granulated Sugar
pinch of Salt

1 tablespoon Cinnamon (I used 2 tsp. of Ceylon and 1 tsp. of Cassia, but whatever you have will work)
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Cognac

For the Topping
2 cups finely diced Pumpkin (from 3 lb. sugar pumpkin)
1 cup Rolled Oats
¼ cup Butter, melted
pinch of Salt
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
½ cup Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons Flour
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest

Prepare the Filling
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, slightly brown the butter over medium heat. Toss in the apples, cider, sugar and salt and, with the lid on, bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat until the mix starts to look very juicy. Remove the lid and keep the apples on a low simmer, stirring occasionally until they become very thick. (Some of your apples will break down on their own; others you might have to coax with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon.) This could take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on the juiciness of your apples (mine actually took about 3 hours, because I let it cook very slowly, while I did other things around the house). When it’s somewhere between applesauce and apple butter, you’re there. You should be able to drag a wooden spoon through it and the ‘dam’ should almost hold. Take it off the heat and add the last three ingredients. Set aside. At this point you can taste it. If you think it needs to be sweeter, add more sugar, if you think it’s too sweet, add a bit more lemon. If you think it needs more complexity, maybe add a few dashes of Angostura bitters (which I did).

Prepare the Topping
Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Build your Pie
Use your favorite pie crust recipe or this one (minus the coconut) for the bottom crust, adding ½ tsp. of cinnamon to the dry ingredients and substituting Cognac for the Rum & Apple Cider for the water/coconut water.

Fill the bottom crust with the prepared apples and spread evenly. Gently scatter the topping over the entire pie. Bake in a 400º oven for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the crust is browned and the pumpkin has begun to caramelize. Let cool before slicing.

isn’t it just supposed to be one a day?

So, when I went to the Greenmarket on Sunday to gather apples for a few sample tarts, I was met with four varieties that hadn’t been there the previous weekend.

When I go to Union Square tomorrow there will be more still, but I decided I couldn’t in good conscience make the best pie without knowing if any of these new apples before me would be a better option. Thus, I picked up one of each + a few of the variety I’d chosen for my pie (more on that later).

Based on it’s mostly dark red skin (with minimal yellow striations), this apple was surprisingly tart and crisp! In fact, it looked so much like it could only provide a lame-o Red Delicious mush fest that I almost didn’t bother to pick it up. Luckily, it’s smooth and shiny exterior gave way to beautiful bright white flesh and a crunchy sweet/tart bite. This would be fantastic on a cheese plate or loaded up with peanut butter or, I think, amazing in a traditional layered apple pie.

The first apple in this week of tastings that I can genuinely say has a complex flavor, the cox-orange is an heirloom apple. It’s very sour, but with a sweet backbone–reminiscent of sour-apple candy. As the name suggests, the skin bears an orangish-red hue and is quite speckled–like Seurat painted an apple, it came to life and now I get to eat it! The bite isn’t the most pleasant–not mushy per se, though not crisp either–however, the flavor is so interesting, that I didn’t really mind.

Another heirloom variety, this is apparently one of the oldest apples still being grown. I must say, if the choice of which apples to grow were based on my opinion, Georgian England could have this one back. The skin is very similar to that of a Bosc pear being cracked apart by the shiny green apple within, i.e. kind of neat. The flavor…like a Bosc pear, but with an unfortunate soapy aftertaste, i.e. not so neat. So, while it’s not terrible, I’d rather just have a pear–and then not feel like, following my snack, I’ve washed out my filthy, 1750’s mouth.

Whomever named this apple had a good sense of irony. A keepsake is something you treasure; this apple is something you should put back down. OK, so I’m being overly harsh–it actually has a very complex flavor and could add punch to a baked apple medley, but you don’t want to eat it alone. The taste is best described as fermented (a fellow taster’s first reaction was, “Shrimp Paste!”) and it left a powdery feeling in my mouth. Also, when sliced through the core, it looks like a butterfly…sort of.

Those are my takes at least. Perhaps you have a differing opinion? In my research I came across this awesome site, in case you want to look up a few other varieties. For now, I’m biding my time until the contest day arrives. Decisions have been made. Test pies have been baked and eaten. Surprises were revealed. Tune in next time for my Eve-tempting revelations. Same apple time; same apple channel.

apparently, i’m a glutton…

for pie contests. This weekend I entered myself into another one.

My neighborhood Greenmarket is hosting an apple pie bake-off in 2 weeks; so, inspired by my recent victory, I decided to go for it.

Then I realized, I’ve never made an apple pie–it’s just never been one of my favorites (unless we’re talking fried apple hand pies). So, I’m currently brainstorming ways to make an apple pie interesting. Those ideas are yet to come, but today I’m sharing with you my findings upon an impromptu apple tasting.

The one stipulation for the contest is that the apples must be local. Thus, I grabbed one of each variety available from Red Jacket Orchards and headed home to savor the flavor:

This apple sports a smooth and shiny skin in a melange of green and red–It looks like it came straight out of the that painting you did at the rec center in 1992. Unfortunately, that beautiful skin is super chewy. The flesh is slightly tart, almost lemony; but, beyond that isn’t incredibly flavorful. The texture: not really crisp but not really mushy either. All in all, a boring apple.

A smaller specimen, with skin a bit rougher to the touch, the Gala is mostly red, bespeckled yellow. The flavor here is unmistakably floral. It’s sweet, it’s crunchy and from a first glance point of view would be fantastic cooked down into a puree. Though it’s flesh has a yellowish cast–read, not as pretty as the bright white of others–this apple is certainly one of the most delicious.

The big boy, Pippin, is a promising apple. The skin somewhere between a shiny Granny Smith and matte Golden Delicious, a light green that gives way to a slight red blush, dare I say it’s a demure apple? When sliced it greets you with bright flesh sporting a green aura. Then you bite. Your sweet, genteel apple slaps you in the face. It was all a sham. Sour. Mushy. Absolutely terrible. Next weekend I might suggest they stop growing it. Seriously.

The best way to sum up the apple we all know is to say it tastes like an apple. It’s what apple-flavored candy tastes like. It’s tart, it’s sweet, the texture is crisp–though almost creamy–which is a weird description, but it’s true. Also, this particular apple is totally one of the coolest apples ever–check out the abstract expressionism going on with that skin! Not a common feature, but a fortuitous one (if you like abstract expressionism).

Golden Supreme
Surprise! The Golden Supreme has yellow skin. I know you’re shocked. It also has yellowish flesh and is exceedingly crisp. This beauty tastes like apple juice. Obviously related to Golden Delicious (a common baking apple) the G. Supreme will definitely hold up to cooking–perhaps in a pie–but would probably need some flavor boosters. I suggest ginger.

Paula Red
Another big loser. The Paula Red, so cute in its diminutiveness has the toughest skin of these seven contenders. It’s also completely mushy and has no apple flavor. There is, however, a slight essences of dirt; so, if you’re geophagic, good news for you!

Honey Crisp
This apple is stupid delicious. It’s refreshing–and after consuming practically two pounds of apples, that’s saying something. There is a perfect balance of sweetness to tart and it is fantastically crisp. It’s juicy, it’s plump–really it’s everything you want an apple to be. If only it came with its own cheese plate…

Of course, after my apple overdose, I received my Basis delivery and there were more apples to try–Jonagold and Fuji–I haven’t given them the full inspection, so won’t report on them just yet.

As for now, any thoughts on apples or apple pies are appreciated. My second victory lap is just around the corner…

the greatest reward

…is sharing my pie recipe with you

The judges, still amazed at how great a pie could be.

1 1/4 cups AP Flour
1/2 t. salt
1T sugar
2T flaked coconut
5T unsalted butter, cubed and frozen
5T vegetable shortening, cubed and frozen
2T coconut rum
2T coconut water + 1T coconut water
1 egg

Some tasters, wondering if anything could ever be as good as that Coconut Cream Pie with Salted Coconut shavings. The two in the background are totally arguing about it; the two in the foreground are resigned that no, no it can't.

4 large or 5 medium egg yolks
1/3 cup self-rising flour
3/4 cup sugar
14 oz. can coconut milk
1/4 cup half & half
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla
1/2 t coconut rum
1 T Cognac
1 1/2 T lemon juice
2 T butter

4-5 egg whites (the whites from however many eggs you used above)
pinch of salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup coconut water
1/2 t vanilla
1 t coconut rum

In a food processor (although you could do this part by hand, with a fork) pulse flour, salt, sugar, coconut, butter and shortening. You want to get the coconut really well ground & the fat evenly distributed (if you’re doing this part by hand, you might want to use a knife to mince the coconut first).  It’s also best if the whole thing is cold–I actually throw all those things in the processor the night before I intend to make a crust and just leave it in the freezer until I’m ready. Once it looks sandy or cornmealy or whatever euphemism you prefer-y, drizzle in the rum and then the 2T coconut water. Keep pulsing until it looks even and then spill out onto plastic wrap. TECHNIQUE TIP: this is where I use the heel of my hand to kind of schmear the dough. Supposedly it turns the pebbles of fat into discs of fat, resulting in an excess of flakiness. Then, bring it all into a cohesive disc, wrap it up and throw it in the fridge. Leave it for an hour or two days, whatever your needs require, and then move on.

To roll out the dough, Google a video on how to roll out dough. My suggestion: roll it out directly on parchment, put in on a cookie sheet and chill the whole thing for 10 minutes, then invert your pie plate onto the dough, flip the whole thing over and gently peel the parchment away. (Save the paper though, you’re about to use it again!) You can then fit your crust, shape it, flute the edges, whatever your druthers. If you have warm hands, I suggest chilling it again. Then bake it: Oven preheated to 425, place the parchment back in the pie shell and fill with dry beans or weights–this step ensures your shell remains a shell and doesn’t turn into a puffy pocket of goodness–then bake for about 10 minutes. While it bakes, prepare an egg wash: 1 egg, 1T coconut water. Once the 10 minutes have passed, take the crust out of the oven & remove the beans and parchment. Using a fork, prick all over the bottom and sides of your crust and brush all over with the egg wash. Place back in the oven for about 10-15 more minutes. Keep an eye on it, when it gets pretty, it’s ready.

In a saucepan, whisk together the eggs, flour, coconut milk, half and half and salt. Put it over a medium flame and whisk/stir constantly until it gets thick, your utensil leaves a trail, and you’re tired of all the whisking. Usually you know it’s done when a single bubble boils up in the middle. You can put this through a sieve if you’re worried about lumps. Otherwise, take it off the heat—transferring to a bowl will help it cool off more quickly, but it’s not necessary. Whisk in the Cognac—you could use bourbon, rye, dark rum or even an almond liquor—anything you like that will compliment and add depth to the coconut flavor. Then whisk in the coconut rum, vanilla and lemon juice (which will round out the flavor and give your tongue something to think about besides sweetness.) Last, whisk in the butter. Once all is completely incorporated, pour it into the pie shell. Place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard and chill for at least 3 hours. Overnight is cool too—custard pies have to set, yo.

Start by making a simple syrup. Put the coconut water and sugar in a saucepan, swirl it around, set it over a medium flame and leave it alone. If you have a candy thermometer, use it. If you see sugar crystals forming, brush them down with a wet pastry brush.

While that’s working, whip your egg whites, rum and salt until foamy throughout. Once your syrup has reached soft ball stage (240 degrees), take it off the stove and, with your mixer running, or your other hand vigorously whisking, begin to slowly pour the stupidly hot mixture into the egg whites. In so doing you will not only cook the raw egg, but you will have made Italian meringue. Hurrah for you! Once the sugar is all in, add the vanilla and keep beating until you reach stiff peaks 7-10 minutes. Side note: it’s virtually impossible to over-beat meringue when made this way.

Now, you can pipe it on, or just scoop and spread. You can toast the meringue with a torch if you’re daring or in the oven at 400 degrees. You could also throw it under the broiler; or, because it’s fully cooked, you can forgo toasting altogether if that’s not your bag.

Depending on your method of meringue toasting, you might have warmed up the custard so you might want to chill it again for a bit. A warm custard is a runny custard. But deliciousness is ready. And, don’t forget, top it with these. They really are very good. You can also make them yourself, but why go to the trouble.

And there you have it. Award. Winning. Pie. Now that it’s made you can kick back, put your feet up and pipe the remaining meringue directly into your mouth.

Judge, Jordana Rothman, of Time Out NY is really adamant about fluffy meringue.

Luckily, mine was satisfactory!







*All pictures courtesy of the New York Theatre Experiment*

the pie’s the limit

“So many wrong things were done to pie today.”

Sometimes you overhear parts of conversations.

I have to start by saying that I agree. Gluttony aside, underseasoning, overbaking, lofty-ambition and questionable combinations killed some bakers’ dreams for a brighter tomorrow. Luckily, whether heralded above or thrown asunder, each pie baked will help thrust inspiration on some child somewhere. And that was the point of the whole weekend–not winning or losing, but supporting arts education.

That said, I totally took home the grand prize at this weekend’s 4th Annual Pie-Off.

photo courtesy of Kymberlee Fajardo

A coconut-infused pastry with coconut custard, coconut meringue and topped with roasted, salted coconut shavings, the judges were, at first, frightened by my inclusion of Malibu Rum. As well they should be–if you drink Malibu Rum, you drink gross things. As a flavor enhancer, however–it’s totally ok. I then won them over with my “wonderfully creamy” custard, “fluffy” meringue, flakey crust and texture enhancing coconut chips.

To make my recipe my own, I simply adapted recipes that I know and love. I started with the crust–by riffing on America’s Test Kitchen’s Fool-Proof Pie Dough in combination with my mother’s dough, tips and techniques I was able to develop a wonderfully flakey crust with a buttery depth and a salty kick–a great counterpart to the sweetness within. By grinding flaked coconut right along with the flour, subbing ATK’s vodka for coconut rum and tap water for coconut water, the pie’s foundation was the first layer in ultimate coconut domination.

What I generally hate about coconut cream pie is the filling. I don’t want bits of coconut in my custard. So, I eliminated them. My custard began with coconut milk. I don’t know why this is a revelation and I don’t know why it’s not done more often–but most coconut cream pies are made with a typical milk custard, sweetened, flaked coconut and imitation coconut extract–and if you want suntan lotion pie, you can totally go that route. Otherwise, find some good coconut milk.

Good coconut milk, however does not mean the most expensive. For the test pie I made the week before, I used Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk. It’s totally the most expensive and it is also totally not good. Basically, it tastes like the can. A bit of research revealed that guar gum, often included as a thickener in canned coconut milk, can yield an ‘off’ flavor. Thai Kitchen uses guar gum. So, scour your Asian and Latin isles and check the labels: avoid both guar gum and water. However, if your only contenders all contain water, choose the one with the most fat per serving (that means they used less). My winner: Goya. Also, if you’re avoiding dairy, you could totally use all coconut milk, though I cut mine with just a bit of half and half for a little extra richness.

For the topping of my test pie I made a Swiss meringue. Upon a guinea pig’s suggestion that perhaps the meringue could be coconuttier; and, upon a lightbulb appearing over my head, I decided I’d attempt an Italian meringue instead. The reason: Swiss meringue is made by combining all ingredients in a double boiler, cooking til the sugar is dissolved and whipping til it’s cool. Italian meringue is made by preparing a simple syrup and then drizzling, hot, into whipped egg whites. By subbing coconut water for tap in the syrup, I could easily impart greater coconut flavor into my meringue.

For a garnish, I could have made salted coconut chips. But I didn’t. I bought them. And they were actually the impetus for this pie. These are amazing on their own, but ever since the first time I tried them, I’ve wanted to use them as a pie topper. Salty/sweet isn’t just for caramel anymore. Seriously. Buy them now. As judge Johnny Iuzzini (of Top Chef: Just Desserts & Jean Georges) said, “They make ‘the pie’ something special.”

And now, you too can make an award-winning coconut cream pie, just by following my very simple recipe! I know I don’t do a lot of recipes here; but, for your benefit, I’ll make this exception…tomorrow.

last chance

Have you perfected your best recipe yet? I’ve been working on my own & I think I’m quite happy with it. I know a lot of people just whip up their grandmother’s blue ribbon chiffon–but I think that’s cheating–develop your own, dude. However, even if you’re lazy and Nana’s Nana-Cream is all you can muster, you should still head on down to the Reunion Surf Bar this Saturday

If you haven’t registered your entry for the 4th Annual Great American Pie-Off in support of the New York Theatre Experiment and Lift Every Voice, you still have time–but not much. You can also register at the door, but why wait?

With a slew of celebrity judges and a ton of great prizes, plus the benefit of helping out a fantastic organization–it’s a win win win situation for everyone. Even if you don’t bake, you can show up and eat pie. Lots of pie. Including mine.

Details can be found here or on Facebook.