The Cookbook Club – Round 2

Hopefully everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! Ours was a small gathering, but at least not spent apart from my mother and brother this year. Part of this year’s dinner at my own home included my selection from round 2 of Raindaybites Cookbook Club on Instagram. The challenge was to make one of the following: Apple, Caramel and Hard Cider Pie, Creme Brulee Pumpkin Pie, or Blueberry Streusel Buns. These are selections from Baking for the Holidays by Sarah Kieffer. My first instinct was to go for the Blueberry Streusel Buns as that is where my experience lies, but no, I decided to face my fears and go for the pie. You see, I had never made pie dough from scratch before, and this was a challenge after all. Once I decided to go pie, the next choice was which one? I liked the idea of the Apple, Caramel and Hard Cider Pie, but I didn’t have any hard cider and I know myself well enough to know that if I made it with the optional plain apple cider, I’d backtrack mentally and be dissatisfied knowing that it would be better with hard cider. Also there was that dough. If I made the pumpkin pie, I would only have to make a single pie dough instead of a double. That’s a 50% reduction in the chance of failure? I know that doesn’t completely make sense, but to me it did at the time. There was also the lure of the brulee. I could order a torch from Amazon and set something on fire. My choice was made.

Once my decision was made, I read over the recipe and the list of ingredients noting the one optional ingredient was blackstrap rum. I didn’t have that either, but for reasons I can’t explain, I was able to make the decision to heed the word “optional” and carry on. Why could I ignore the blackstrap rum option and not the hard cider option from the other recipe? I don’t have a genuinely good answer to that. Perhaps it is because I enjoy the occasional hard cider, but have never had blackstrap rum. Though I will say, I am curious.

Before launching into my pie dough making efforts, I decided to attempt to be a good student and watch a couple of episodes of Food 52’s Bake It Up a Notch with Erin Jeanne McDowell on YouTube. Erin literally wrote The Book on Pie and has a 4 part series on pie making on YouTube. I learned a lot, but watching isn’t the same as doing is it? The next day, I decided to put my new found knowledge to the test and made my dough incorporating some of the tips I had just learned from Erin.

The next step was to make the filling. The process was unlike other pumpkin pie fillings I’ve made in the past and involved sieving the filling through a fine mesh strainer, but this is a step that was definitely worthwhile as it produced a beautifully smooth result.

With my dough and my filling made, I tentatively put my pie into the oven. While it was baking, I scrolled through my Instagram feed only to see NYTcooking featuring a video of Erin making perfect pie crust. I immediately knew I’d under-hydrated my dough. I felt a little crushed, but at the same time determined to have a good attitude about it. When the pie came out, it didn’t look too bad, so I soldiered on.

When it was finally time to serve the pie, it was also time to try the most exciting step. Let the torching begin! I gingerly put the sugar atop the pie and lit my torch. How did it turn out? Not too bad. There were certainly some uneven spots, but it did have the satisfying crackle that all creme brulee lovers desire. My mom who is an experienced pie maker, enjoyed a small piece, but did agree the crust was a bit dry. She also sought out another piece a couple of days after Thanksgiving, but the pie was long gone.

In the end I would say hesitancy is the word of the day. I was hesitant to put too much water in the dough, and hesitant so as not to overwork the dough. I was also hesitant to put enough sugar on the pie and hesitant with the torch as is blatantly obvious by my photo. But the thing is, I am grateful for this experience. I learned a lot and have developed more confidence for future pie making adventures which I suppose will start with another pumpkin pie for my mom.

Creme Brulee Pumpkin Pie

I see this as a success with qualifications and a gateway bake into more things pie and more things torched. Now let’s see how things turned out for Ray.

I can see it now… Karen running around the kitchen with torch in hand and my brother running from the house faster than she can get it lit!

Thanksgiving was enjoyable in our house as well. While we missed the bigger get together a bit, we decided we would sit one more round out. We had lots of fun cooking together as a family – even our two dogs joined in when I worked on the cooking club project… but more about that later!

Karen already did a great job of outlining our recipe choices for this round, so I won’t go into all of that again and get right to the part about which recipe I chose! Each year my wife makes the pumpkin and apple pies and I look forward to both of them, so that made my choice easy – I made the Blueberry Streusel Buns. I knew we had more than enough dessert for Thanksgiving day, so I waited until Friday to make them.

Much like the dough that was used for our first round in the club for making pull apart bread, the base dough for this recipe could also be refrigerated for up to 72 hours before using it. Since Thanksgiving is a very busy day in the kitchen, that flexibility came in handy and allowed me to make the dough Wednesday night and tuck it away in the refrigerator for Friday morning. Making the dough was very easy too as it was designed to require very little kneading.

Friday came and I went to work making the buns for a mid morning snack. We don’t usually have such extravagant snacks in the morning, but it was a holiday weekend and you have to bend the rules every now and then right? The process to put them together was very simple and in little time I had them in the pan for the final rise before baking.

Once they were out of the oven and the icing was drizzled on, we dove in. We really enjoyed them – they reminded me of a combination of cinnamon buns and blueberry muffins. We enjoy both of those things, so putting them together into one delicious package was a win win situation!

When I posted my picture, I noticed that the buns I made were a bit smaller than the others that fellow club members were posting. I know exactly why that is and I have a little secret regarding that. I didn’t share it on Instagram – I haven’t even shared the story with Karen yet – but now it’s confession time!

Remember when I said above that even our dogs pitched in to help? It was the kind of help I didn’t need! We have two mini Australian Shepherds – they’re both puppies still, one is almost 5 months old and the other is almost a year and half. As you can imagine, two puppies can engage is some rather spirited play together from time to time. Normally we put a gate in the middle of the kitchen when we’re cooking to keep them on the dining side so we can work at the counter without… well, incident is the perfect word here!

Perhaps it was the morning after eating lots of turkey haze that took me over, but for whatever reason I didn’t put the gate up that morning. I went to work and dumped my dough on the counter – about a third of it was still stuck to the bowl, so I got out my scraper to get it. At the precise moment that I released that last third of the dough and had it in my hand, some of that spirited play broke out right next to me. The dogs bumped into my legs and the dough flew out of my hand and despite my best efforts to reach out and grab it in mid air, it hit the floor!

Don’t let their size or cute innocent expressions fool you – they can reduce your useable dough by 33% faster than you can blink an eye!!

Luckily having one third less dough to work with didn’t reduce the flavor by a third – they were still 100% delicious. Round three is coming up soon – I know two dogs that won’t be helping me out this time! Have a great weekend!

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