Friday, January 12, 2018

Super Simple Apple Pie

This blog post is brought to you by: seeing one of those stupid accelerated cooking videos on Facebook. My husband showed me a video of an apple pie that had a cinnamon bun crust and a cinnamon bun top and instead of the normal person's reaction of "oh, isn't that amusing", my reaction was "I NEED TO MAKE THAT NOWWWWW." So I did.

Well, sort of. The first thing to do was look for an actual legitimate recipe. And I couldn't find a single one that had cinnamon buns as both the top layer and the bottom layer. I suppose I could have combined two recipes but that inherently felt like a phenomenally bad idea. So I opted to go with the Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll Dutch Apple Pie which has a cinnamon roll crust and involves peeling no apples.

This is seriously one of the easiest desserts ever. To make the crust, you press one cinnamon roll into the middle of your pie plate and then surround it with the other seven cinnamon rolls. Press them together until you seal all the gaps. Bam. Bake crust.

While it was baking, I made the crumble which goes on top. It consisted of brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and flour. My only problem here is that it suggested combining with a fork. I wasn't getting quite the crumbly quality I was looking for so I switched to my pastry blender. That helped a bit but it wasn't entirely there and then I remembered that the best way to make crumble is with my hands. Two seconds later, perfect crumb for the top of the pie. Then I stirred in some pecans because who doesn't love pecans?

At this point, the crust was done baking and was cooling off a little bit. I opened up the can of apple pie filling with no regrets because I hate peeling apples and I have had no success with apple pie yet. Then I was an idiot and went to move the crust to a more open counter space, completely forgetting that it had just been in the oven. Six of my fingers were not pleased. Fortunately, my instinctual reaction to being burned is to throw down the thing that is burning me and not grab on tighter. Also fortunately, I didn't drop the pie plate onto the ground. It was pretty harrowing.

After running my fingers under cool water, I put the apple filling into the pie, topped with the crumb, covered the edges with tin foil and then stuck it in the oven for 30 minutes. Beautiful. The grand finale was microwaving the cinnamon bun icing and topping the pie with decorative drizzles. Voila!

Not the best picture in the world but it sure was tasty! I was expecting it to be way too sweet but somehow it wasn't. Very nicely balanced. It's my new favorite super low effort pie. Easy for beginner bakers if you're interested in giving it a try!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Back to Basics Christmas

Happy New Year everyone! I just discovered that I am 23 posts away from 100 blog posts. So now I'm pretty dedicated to making it there. Now that I'm happily in my new home, I have yet another new kitchen to get used to baking in. And what better way to kick off baking in a new kitchen than with the annual Christmas baking insanity with my dear friend? Devotees will recall that last year ended in disaster and tears and sad cookies and truffles. This year, we decided it was time to go back to basics to get our Christmas baking mojo back. We decided to go with a plan of all things we had made before with only one new cookie and NO TRUFFLES. It was hard dropping the truffles but after last year, we really needed the break.

So here's the plan:
1) Palmiers
2) Walnut balls (the CORRECT recipe this time!)
3) M&M cookies
4) Cookie press cookies (i.e. Christmas trees)
5) Double chocolate cookies
6) White chocolate ginger cookies (our new addition)

Seems like a fair plan, right? Even more relaxing, we had a slumber party planned so we could do the baking over two days! Well, you know what they say about plans...

For reference, I had only moved into my house two weeks prior, on the day before Thanksgiving. So to say I was a bit frazzled and knew where nothing was is an understatement. The result of this was basically me looking in my cabinet, saying "I've got the walnuts and the M&Ms and surely I have everything else I'll need", and then actually having none of what I needed. We went to bake the first batch of cookies only to discover that I had no puff pastry for the palmiers and only one stick of unsalted butter. Who runs out of butter??? This girl.

I enlisted my dear husband to run to the supermarket for us. Because we didn't feel like going outside. Really and truly, that was the reasoning. Since I had my husband going to the store anyway, I decided to also add things that probably needed replacing in my cabinet. Baking powder from 2012 is probably no longer super effective. His list consisted of baking powder, baking soda, puff pastry, some spices for the ginger cookies, and five pounds of butter. "Five pounds?!?" he says. "Of course, five pounds!" we says. So off he goes. While he's there, our evening looks like this:

Not pictured: Home Alone on the TV. Priorities. Finally, my dear husband arrived (about the same time as our whole cheese pizza just for me us) with this:

We. Could. Not. Stop. Laughing.

Technically, I suppose he correctly bought five pounds of butter. But it's whipped butter! Which I have never bought in my entire life and has never been in our fridge in our entire relationship! I attempted to research if we could even use whipped butter and the resounding answer from the internet was "nope." Also not pictured: the world's largest box of baking soda and the TWO cans of baking powder (which, in fairness, a nice lady at the supermarket suggested he buy after hearing we make several hundred cookies). Remember, we were only getting these ingredients because I hadn't used up the stuff I bought FIVE YEARS AGO. [I love you, husband! Thanks for trying!]

So where does this leave us? Eating pizza, drinking wine, and watching Home Alone while my dear husband goes back to Shop Rite at 11 pm to return the offensive butter and no baking at all on Day 1. I guess we were no worse off than any other year though.

We woke up in the morning to nice normal sticks of butter in the fridge with a pound left out on the counter to soften overnight (nice idea, but the first thing we did was take out the other four pounds. We blew through that first pound in about 2 minutes.) So we could get right to baking! We started off with the cookie press cookies. We didn't do any planning for a numerical goal or for how many batches we wanted for each so I think we tripled the batch for the cookie press so we could do four shapes and colors. This logic made sense early in the morning. In reality, we made two types in two colors. But that was fine, easy to accomplish and brought our cookie count to a quick 150 or so.

I think next we made the ginger cookies. Those were the new ones and required several steps so I think we decided to get them out of the way early. The dough was pretty easy to put together except for one thing: when I was making my list of spices, I didn't actually check the recipe and was just going from memory. So instead of getting nutmeg, I told my dear husband to get allspice. Whoops. I didn't have any nutmeg. But instead of fretting, we just used the allspice and hoped it would taste good. [It did.] The first batch of cookies was a little bit underbaked and the cookies were a little too big so after that we made them a bit smaller and cooked them a bit longer. Then they were perfect circles of gingery excellence. We put them aside for later because the next step was dipping them in chocolate and piping adorable holly berries on them. No potential for failure there whatsoever.

On to the next critically important step: walnut balls! We were so heartbroken last year that we needed to take extra care this year. We checked, double-checked, and triple-checked the recipe. We carefully measured everything. We remembered to sift the powdered sugar. Aaaaaaaaaaand...they're perfect! Little nutty balls of heaven. Note for next year though: sifting the powdered sugar does nothing. We won't waste our time next year.

With those out of the way, we turned our attention to our next potential problem. Namely, we started to get afraid of running out of flour and, you guessed it, butter! Around this point, we were also talking about taking a coffee and breakfast break. As we were discussing our urgent need for coffee, an angelic voice from upstairs yelled "give me a few minutes and I'll get you coffee!" Husband to the rescue! The kicker was when he was taking our coffee order and I threw in the "hey, while you're out, could you pick up some more butter?" and his jaw almost hit the floor. His immediate reaction seemed to be "no, you have more than enough butter" but then he was very sweet and got us flour and butter. Which we didn't end up needing. Whoops.

About this point, we started to divide and conquer. I took out the puff pastry to thaw for the palmiers and started collecting the various chocolate needed for the double chocolate cookies while my friend worked on making the base for the M&M cookies. I melted A LOT of chocolate. I don't even want to tell you how much. But those cookies are a tried and true favorite even if they aren't very Christmas-y. On the other hand, one of our goals was to make a pretty tin of cookies with lots of colors and designs so it helped fill out the tins in that way. One of our other goals was to make the M&M cookies smaller this year, which we accomplished, but it was much harder to get the M&Ms into the cookies fast enough. We also baked up the chocolate cookies which take forever to bake so we finally got a little break. I also ran out of cocoa. Tired yet?!?

Speaking of chocolate, we still have to dip those ginger cookies! At this point, we had completely run out of space in the kitchen and on my dining room table so that means dipping the cookies in chocolate and then laying them on wax paper on the floor. SorryNotSorry. We started the chocolate melting adventure by choosing bad vessels for dipping and realizing that we each needed our own bowls of melted chocolate if we were ever going to finish. We used white Wilton candy melts and apparently the thing that makes chocolate smooth for dipping is adding shortening and NOT increasing the microwaving time. Thanks, Google! It actually worked perfectly except that I ran out of white chocolate candy melts and white chocolate and my giving a crap level was quite low at this point. So even though we were only dipping half of each cookie, we somehow managed to use a technique where we only covered the top of half the cookies. Basically, from the top, the cookies look perfect but from the bottom, they look like a disaster mess. But we managed to eek out enough chocolate to dip all but three cookies so mission: accomplished.

We're in the home stretch! And starving because we've only eaten a bagel all day. We once again called upon our fetching hero to fetch us some lunch/dinner at the grilled cheese restaurant. And we got going on the palmiers. Which we never should leave to last because they take FOREVER. Fortunately, I have a ton of baking pans so we could cut almost all the cookies and place them on pans to be ready to bake. At this point, there was pan overflow into my living room. Things are a bit of a blur here because I think we were also piping the ginger cookies at the same time. My friend was piping the red berries and I was piping the holly leaves. On the floor. We quickly discovered a need for pillows under our knees but it was rather uncomfortable regardless. Naturally, I didn't have piping bags large enough for all of the chocolate I needed so once the bags got refilled, our hands were covered in red and green chocolate. It took forever. My hands cramped. But I do have to say, the effort was worth it because these cookies were adorable and delicious.

Note the trays of uncooked palmiers in the foreground. Palmiers continued their endless baking while we cleaned up the kitchen and packed up the cookies. Here's a photo of the stuffed dining room table with tasty cookies:

Ok, really that's about 2/3 of the cookies because you may recall, they just didn't all fit. And our final cookie tally this year was a whopping 667. Not our record but not half bad either for one day of baking. Here's our very scientific tracking system:

Whew! All the cookies came out great and we definitely have our confidence back! Guess we'll have to do something crazy for next year, right?