Sunday, August 30, 2009

Early Autumn Incites Baking FRENZY!

So much for our two weeks of summer! I have spotted the first few trees starting to turn color, and a few nights ago, I had to run around the house, closing all of the windows, and digging up some spare blankets to avoid turning on the heat! There was an actual frost warning--IN AUGUST! What ridiculous weather we've had this year. And this weekend has been drizzly and damp, and it has really put me in a serious baking mood.

I usually bake for other people, but as this is my last weekend of freedom before the semester starts in earnest, yesterday, I made some cookies just for ME! Not that I won't share them, of course, but they are just the kind of cookie that I like best--sweet, salty, buttery and nutty. YUM! This recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, and they are simple drop cookies--easy-peasy! You can mix up the dough and bake it right away if you like, or you can chill it for cookies that are less flat and crispy (as pictured below) and more rounded up and chewy...your choice. I really only made one significant change to the recipe. I LOATHE the overpoweringly artificial taste of butterscotch chips, so I swapped out some toffee bits and extra pecans. Delish and truly addictive!

Salty-Sweet Butter Pecan Cookies
(Source: adaped from
King Arthur Flour)

1 1/3 cups pecan halves (I used 2 cups)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon butterscotch, vanilla-butternut, or butter-rum flavor (I used Princess Cake flavor, which is mildly nutty)
1 teaspoon vinegar, cider or white (I used cider)
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups butterscotch chips (I swapped out 1 cup of toffee bits)
1/2 cup granulated sugar mixed with 3/4 teaspoon plain table salt, for topping

1) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment or a Silpat) two baking sheets.
2) Place the pecans in a single layer in a pan, and toast until they've darkened a bit and smell toasty, about 8 to 9 minutes. Set them aside.
3) In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter, shortening, salt, espresso powder, baking soda, vanilla, flavor, and vinegar, beating until smooth and creamy.
4) Beat in the egg, again beating until smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.
5) Mix in the flour, then the chips and toasted nuts.
6) If you're going to refrigerate the dough, cover the bowl, and refrigerate for about 4 to 5 hours; or overnight. Cookie dough refrigerated for 3 1/2 to 4 hours will spread moderately; chilled overnight, it will spread much less.
7) Mix the 1/3 cup sugar and salt for the coating, and put it in a bowl. To bake cookies immediately (without refrigeration), use a spoon (or a tablespoon cookie scoop) to scoop 1 1/2" balls of dough into the sugar/salt mixture, rolling to coat. Then transfer to the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2" between them on all sides; they'll spread quite a bit. Or use a teaspoon cookie scoop to scoop 1 1/4" balls of dough.
8) Bake the cookies for 10 to 11 minutes — 11 minutes for smaller cookies, 12 for larger ones. Their edges will be chestnut brown and their tops a lighter golden brown. (For dough that's been refrigerated, add 30 seconds to 1 minute to those baking times.) Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pan until they've set enough to move without breaking. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Yield: about 4 dozen 3" cookies, or 7 dozen 2 1/4" cookies. (SHEESH! Mine must have been big ones, as I only got 32 cookies!)

But I didn't only indulge in selfish cookie baking, I also made a pie today--perhaps the most perfectly executed specimen ever to come out of my oven! I'm thrilled that it turned out so well, because it's a gift for my neighbors who helped me out of a (literal) jam lately. I won't go into too many of the gory details, but suffice it to say, I'm still having sewer drainage issues that have been plaguing me since the spring thaw. And my brave and selfless neighbors came over, dug down to the main line in the back yard, and snaked it clear with a couple of long lengths of cable from the barn. Talk about Good Samaritans! So I thought the least I could do was to pay back some of my indebtedness with a homemade pie. Both fellows enjoy all kinds of berry pies, so I rooted around in the freezer and found one bag of blackberries and another quart of wild blueberries. Thus, it was to be a black-and-blue pie! And since I've been making a lot of double-crust pies of late, I decided to go with a crumble topping for this one. My neighbors like a rather sweet pie, so I knew it would go over well. I believe that this recipe yields a perfect transitional pie between the seasons--showcasing summery berries inside, but with a warmly-spiced topping that hints at autumn right around the corner.

Black-and-Blue Crumble Pie

one nine-inch pie crust, your favorite recipe

Black-and-Blue Filling:
5 cups blackberries and blueberries (in any proportion you prefer)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or ground instant tapioca)

Crumble Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, slightly softened

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and chill the pie crust until very firm. In the meantime, gently mix together the berries, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, corn starch and tapioca flour. Set aside until the oven has come to temperature and the pie shell is well chilled.

Pour the berry filling into the pie shell and even the top with a spatula. Bake on the lowest rack in the oven for 30 minutes. Toward the end of the first half hour of baking, make the topping. Whisk together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Then blend in the butter with your fingers until evenly distributed throughout the dry ingredients, and large, moist crumbs begin to form.

After the pie has baked for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven, add a pie shield (or tin foil) to the edges, then carefully top the pie with the crumble mixture. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and return the pie to the oven for about another 45 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling up from underneath and puffing up the topping all over (especially in the middle!), and the topping is golden to caramel brown.

Carefully remove the pie shield (tucking any loosened pieces of the crumble right back onto the hot pie filling), then cool the pie completely on a wire rack, at least two hours, before serving.


Kris said...

Omigod that black-n-blue pie has my mouth watering! I MUST try making one myself.

And this is probably dumb, but one quick question: when you return the pie back to the oven with the crumb topping, does the pie remain on the lowest rack?

Thanks! :-D

Julia said...

I love your blog. I will definitely come back for ideas and recipes. I went and saw Julie and Julia also. I agree with your review.

la petite gourmande said...

Yum, this looks scrumptious! Blueberries were $7.98/pint at the local store last week (!!!), but I'm hoping that was some weird fluke. I'd love to cook with a few more pints before the season is over!