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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ilvermorny Cranberry Pie

I don't often show it on here, but I'm a huge Potterhead. I've stood in line at midnight for book releases. I've seen every movie at least 20 times at this point. If I see a picture on Tumblr featuring Jacob Kowalski and Queenie Goldstein I burst into yowling tears. The fact that we're learning more and more about America's own Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has gotten me more excited than a niffler in a bank. You can learn more about Ilvermorny on Pottermore, and hear all about its wonderful history, and all about James and Isolt, and Cranberry Pie.

Oh. And I'm a Pukwudgie at Ilvermorny. (Slytherin at Hogwarts. Der.)

Cranberries are a native plant here in the northeast, and they date back to the first Thanksgiving. Now, don't take my Basic Bitch card for this, but I'm a little over pumpkin pie. Cranberry Pie, though? Now that's where it's at. It's old-fashioned, delicious, and unbelievably fast to pull together. It's perfect to bring to a Friendsgiving or to throw together for a family affair when granny won't let go of the pumpkin pie recipe. The best part of this recipe? It's dairy-free and I used coconut sugar in it! Now, what's so great about coconut sugar? I'll tell you.

Coconut sugar is a wonderful alternative to cane sugar that you can use 1:1. It's conflict-free, sustainable, and super tasty. It's getting cheaper and cheaper, too, which is good news for those of us that spend all of our money on rose wine and avocado toast.

Ilvermorny Cranberry Pie
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

  • 1 package (a little over 2 cups) fresh cranberries
  • 2/3 cups toasted pepitas(pumpkin seeds)
  • 2/3 cups coconut sugar + 1 cup coconut sugar, divided
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 oz or 1/2 cup vegan butter substitute(I love Earth Balance, melted)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease your favorite pie dish with either butter substitute or pan-spray. Add in your cranberries and sprinkle over the 2/3 cup of coconut sugar and pepita seeds. Give it a little toss to mix and coat evenly. Snap a photo for Instagram.

Combine the flour, remaining cup of sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and butter and whisk together until rather smooth. Pour it over the berries in thin ribbons.

The batter will be rather thin and dark-looking, but it'll taste really good, almost like sweet molasses.

Shinnyyyyyy - like the treasure from a sunken pirate wreck...
Bake this at 350 for 45 minutes and let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving. It's a pleasingly tart pie and I just adore it with a dollop of whipped cream. This little dollop looks just like the Sorting Hat! Oh, and look, the recipe's over, just like that. See how quick that was? It'll be even quicker to cook. I promise!

Happy cooking and happy eating and HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I wish you luck with your family and friends. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Simple Popovers

My gunkles(gay uncles) are moving to Texas, so I get first pick of all the pastry/antique stuff they had from their St. Louis home. Of course, they gifted me a beautiful copper tea kettle that freaking sings...

Some gorgeous copper canele molds, a copper strainer, a copper bowl, and a new pan...

Shinyyyyy like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck...
Oh, and three nonstick popover molds, along with a kiss on the cheek and a cheeky "I want popovers for Christmas brunch" before handing me everything.

So I must confess: I've never actually had a popover. The first time I'd even heard of them was when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott when the March family shares their Christmas feast with the Hummels, and I think I was around six or seven when that happened. It happened again when I was watching a dubbed episode of Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network's Toonami when Serena/Usagi goes to the ball in search of the Silver Crystal disguised as a guest with the nomme "Duchess Popover" in a poofy pink dress. I don't think I even looked up what a popover was until I was already in culinary school, so I'm basically going into this whole thing blind.

A popover is described as an airy pastry that, to me, resembles a choux puff in structure. They're baked in a fairly deep cup pan that has high sides and seems to be structured as such to allow as much heat as possible to penetrate each popover as individuals, rather than as a unit, like a cupcake pan would.

This tells me that it is ideal to have a crisp crust on the outside and plenty of high sides for the dough to cling to as it rises and domes over the top. A quick google search of "popovers" will tell you that many struggle to get it just right, which tells me that it takes a certain amount of skill to do so, or at least have a basic understanding of baking/pastry chemistry.

To get a rise out of something - an angel food cake, for example - you generally do not grease your tins. This is because, as the cake/muffin/popover/whatever is baking, gas is rising and being trapped in the glutinous web that is generally the flour. As this batter rises, it must have something to cling to, and it can't stick to something that's been greased all to heck. That being said, most recipes I've seen tell you to grease your popover tins. This seems counterproductive to me, but whatever, I'll try it.

Most popover recipes comprise of four basic ingredients: milk, flour, eggs, butter. The ratios are different, but this seriously reminds me of a pate a choux dough in many ways. There are even recipes that tell you to heat up the milk before adding it to the flour - I mean, seriously, that's exactly what you do with a choux paste. The differences are ratios - a popover recipe yields a thin batter, thinner than pancakes but thicker than crepes. Also, there's not a lot of fat in popovers in comparison to choux buns. This intrigues me because it tells me that most of the gas and bubbles are going to come from the eggs and milk versus the evaporating fat, but hey.

So, what do all of these things tell me? High heat. Non-greased tins. Gluten is essential. Oh, and one thing most recipes seem to agree on: the batter must rest before baking. This is similar to canele batter, another thin-battered treat that requires certain pans and certain methods to be successful. Most recipes for six standard popovers are the same, but the methods all vary. I tried Ina Garten's first, which does not mention resting...

There was an attempt. 
Okay so these were tasty, but they were rather close-textured and a bit pale. They had some good bubbles starting, but I think that there were some factors missing: gluten, for example. I think these ones may have been a little high in fat - not butter fat, but milk fat - and were pale because of the lack of sugar. Also, upon watching the instructional video, I noticed that Ina had a 12-popover mini pan versus my standard 6-popover pan, so that honestly explained a lot.

so smol
Another thing I should probably mention is that there are no dairy products in my house. My partner, B, is violently lactose intolerant and I get mildly fart-y when I eat too much cheese, so it's just easier to have no dairy products in the house. I use almond-coconut blend because, to me, it works the best with most recipes and it tastes most-like dairy milk. I used the almond-coconut blend in this recipe as 100%, but I still suspected that the amount of fat in it may be the culprit. I decided that some lateral thinking was in order, so I switched it up to water.

With a mere 1/2 cup of the almond-coconut milk and the rest being water, I also decided to switch to bread flour with the second batch. The bread flour will allow larger bubbles, and react better with the water to create more gluten, and it will hold the steam in better for the fat from the "butter", which is really vegan butter substitute. The eggs and such were still the same - only the water and the type of flour were different. Oh, and this time I was going to let the batter rest. Most recipes say you can do this overnight or for up to 24 hours, but I just let this batch rest for 45 minutes - half because I'm impatient, half because I had work around 2:30 and didn't want to be late.

I filled up the tins(only lightly greased this time) a little more than 2/3rds full rather than the "less than half-full" instruction from a previous recipe, and preheated the pans by letting them hang out in the oven for about 2 minutes. I suspect that this is to allow an initial 'crust' to form on contact so that the popover batter will really have something to cling to as it goes up.


I added a longer baking time to ensure that these puppies do not collapse, while only lowering the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees instead of the 425. You want these to be crisp, after all, so the longer the better. When I opened up the first one, there was quite a bit of steam coming up, so a few more minutes in the oven wouldn't hurt, especially since it was still rather custardy in the middle. The final bake time was about 45-50 minutes. Seriously, the difference was phenomenal.

Me vs. you

Take the popovers immediately out of the tins and allow them to cool on a rack. I highly recommend eating them fresh and hot, because nothing will quite beat these babies when they're steaming and crispy.  They're great with "butter"(Earth Balance, that is) or with any kind of creamy soup to mop it up. I can't wait to try a blueberry popover for Christmas.

Simple Popovers
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe
yields 6 standard popovers or 10 mini popovers

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c warm water
  • 1/2 c coconut/almond milk blend(any dairy-free milk will do)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 oz vegan butter substitute (roughly 3 Tbsp)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 8.5 oz bread flour
Combine everything in the pitcher of a blender and blitz for 30 seconds, then scrape down, and blitz again for another 5 seconds or so. Pour into a container with a spout(a big measuring cup would be ideal, or possibly a pitcher) and cover with plastic wrap. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours. (Apparently, the longer the better.) If you plan on only letting it rest for 30 minutes, take this time to preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Prep your popover pan(yes, you need POPOVER PAN, not muffin tins) with a light bit of either pan spray or melted butter. Preheat the pan itself by putting it in the oven for 2 minutes. When the pans are ready, break out your batter!

Pour your batter into the molds to a little over 2/3rds full. Turn your oven down to 400 and then set the timer for 45 minutes. DO NOT PEEK. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN FOR ANYTHING. TAPE IT CLOSED IF YOU HAVE TO. DON'T PEEK. Just let them bake until rather dark brown and crisp on the outside.

Evacuate them from the pans immediately and let cool for at least 5 minutes before consuming. You can eat them piping hot(which I recommend) or have them at room temperature with jam, with cheese and fruit, or just on their own. They're honestly perfect mid-afternoon snacks, and I really think that more Americans should be baking these on the regular. For as technical as they are, they're truthfully the quickest things ever to prepare. The batter takes mere minutes to prepare, and the longest time is the waiting. If you do try them, with success, without the resting period, please let me know - I'd like to meet a superior human. 

Have fun trying this one, you guys! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Kinda-Sorta-Definitely Cheesecake

Creamy and delicious; brush it with rum.
Okay so here it is: my partner is lactose intolerant to a violent degree and I love him enough to not let that stand in the way of our happiness. Cooking and eating a dairy-free lifestyle is oddly easy, once you know what you're doing, and you'll slowly start to wake up from the spell that you have to have dairy-milk every day.

Sure, it's great when you're a kid, but here's the thing: it's the breast milk of another animal. We can't even handle breastfeeding in our own species, and yet the average American guzzles 199 pounds of a four-legged mammal's breastmilk per year. Yeah, dairy milk is awesome, but it's not the end-all, be-all. The spell that it has so many of us under is so thick it's a little staggering; we won't even try other milks, even though they're often just as good in many different ways. Anyway.

We have a lot of great milks available for baking, for drinking, and many of them can be nut-free. I really like rice milk for drinking, and coconut milk for baking. B, my partner, really loves the almond-coconut milk blends, because it is the closest thing we've found, in his mind, to the regular dairy milk. I've had pea milk before, and I love it for savory cooking - such as mashed potatoes! The point is that there are so many non-dairy options available that there's really no reason to be consuming dairy milk. Nowadays, thanks to modern science, they've come up with all kinds of dairy-free substitutes for milks, cheeses, sour creams, and butters. I've got my favorites, of course, but your best bet is to try different kinds and see what you like best. And you know what? They work just fine for baking; and take it from me - I was a Pastry Chef for 3 years!

Baking and pastry work is nothing but chemistry, science, and math - quite simple and logical! It is working within the constraints and rules of such where creativity is born. Creation is not the opposite of constriction - but I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is that I wanted cheesecake the other night and I only have dairy-free stuff in my fridge. Here's what I put together:

Kinda-Sorta-Definitely Cheesecake
serves 12 

For the crust

  • 144 grams graham crackers, crushed up
  • 92 grams dairy-free butter (I love Earth Balance), melted
  • 46 grams coconut sugar
For the custard
  • 2 8-oz packages (450 grams) plain Daiya cream cheese
  • 175 grams coconut sugar
  • 120 grams egg yolks(about six)
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 170 grams Tofutti sour cream
Toss the melted butter, coconut sugar, and graham cracker crumbs together and press against a 10" springform pan to form a crust. Bake the crust at 400 degrees F for five to seven minutes, just until it's set. Remove the crust from the oven and lower the temperature to 300 degrees F. Take a cake pan of any shape and size and fill it with water, then place it in the bottom rack of the oven; this will help.

For the custard, beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment until smooth, then add the vanilla paste and sugar. Mix until creamy and smooth, then turn the speed up to high to make the mixture rather light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolks, one at a time, and let them incorporate fully before adding the next one. When the yolks are fully incorporated, scrape down the bowl, mix for a little longer, then add in the sour cream. Whisk together until fully incorporated, smooth, and shiny, and give it a little taste - does it taste like cheesecake? Would you like to add a little lemon or orange zest? You can; it's your cheesecake, after all.

Pour the custard into your crust and give it a gentle tap-tap-tap on the bottom to pop out any big bubbles there might be. Pop in the oven in the middle rack, directly over the pan of water on the bottom rack, and bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, give it a very gentle shimmy in the pan; if it seems liquid in the middle, let it go for about 10 minutes before pulling it out. When it's just set, turn off the oven and crack the door open; let it sit in the nice warm environment for at least another 15 minutes before removing from the oven entirely.

Let the cheesecake chill in the fridge for at least a few hours before cutting into it; overnight, of course, is best. You can also freeze the cheesecake for up to a month and thaw it in the fridge overnight for when you want it. 

To serve, run a small, sharp knife around the outside edge of the pan and pop it away. This cheesecake serves 12 very attractive slices, and you can top it with a berry compote, non-dairy whipped topping, or just eat it plain with a cup of coffee. It's an extremely tasty cheesecake with just a hint of coconut flavor from the sugar. Oh, sure, you can use cane sugar, but coconut sugar is a much more sustainable alternative, and has a lovely depth of flavor. Even better, brush it with rum and flambe it. You're an adult; you can do what you want.