27 October 2008

Injured, Yet Ever-So Delicious Seasonal Pie

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

Pie! How I love pie. Sigh.

This pie is a bit of a twist on Elise's Old Fashioned Apple Pie. Her crust (as I make it) never fails. Ever. It's buttery, flaky, and rich in that I-know-this-has-almonds-in-it kind of way.

After a recent trip to upstate New York, where I bought local apples at a farmer's market, it was clear I needed to make some apple pie. I also had a container of organic cranberries from the co-op -- they'd need to go in as well. But I thought it would be interesting to add something else. Something with a little zing. Something that would bring the whole pie into focus like nothing else. Dried Bing cherries were the answer.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

The secret ingredient was pears. Really ripe pears. They sweetened up the cranberries and balanced the whole thing out. I have finally discovered my go-to pie for fall. Although, if you know anything about me by now, you know I'll be tinkering with other pies until I love them as well.

Since my recipe doesn't stray very far from Elise's, I'll simply list my alterations as follows:

In the crust:

1. Instead of all all-purpose flour, I split the difference between ap and whole wheat pastry flour.
2. Instead of the sugar and the water, I used 3 tablespoons of agave nectar.

In the filling:

1. I used about 1/4 cup of agave nectar instead of the 2/3 cup sugar.
2. I added the juice from half a lemon to squeeze over the fruit (although, you could just as easily split open a few cranberries and not have to do that since they have a lot of antioxidants in them).
3. I increased the allspice and nutmeg to 1/2 teaspoon each.
4. I omitted the brandy and vanilla extract.
5. For the fruit, I used 1 cup fresh cranberries, 1 cup dried Bing cherries, 2 pears, and 4 apples (a split between empire and gala).
6. For the egg wash, I used the whole egg and water, not cream.
7. Nearly forgot! I did not use flour as the binder, I used corn starch. This is very important. It's a VERY wet pie. The corn starch does a much better job of gelling the pear and apple juices.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

After baking the pie, I thought about soaking the cherries separately, but because I combined all the fruits with the lemon juice, spices, and corn starch for at least an hour while I made the crust, they were pretty well soaked. However, you could certainly boil some water, then soak the cherries in the water for 10 minutes, drain them, then add them to the other fruit. It might drain some of the flavor, though. Your decision.

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

My only regret is that I started the baking process with the aluminum foil around the edges of the pie to save the crust from browning too much. In the future, I'd bake it for 15 minutes first, then foil it. That's what caused the injury to the pie. The crust clung to the foil and did not let go when I tried to lift it off to finish the browning. It wasn't too damaged, but it kinda ruined the effect for me. Oh well. I'll just have to bake another.

The reviews of the pie were glowing. My friend Mark, who never ever compliments my baking higher than "It's good," said it was "excellent." In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard him say anything was excellent, no less my cooking. ;D Last Monday, it didn't last very long at all. I am convinced that this is the best combination of fruits for a fall pie. Well, that is until I figure out another.

What are your favorite pie fillings?

20 October 2008

Update: Spicy, Nutty, Seedy, Agave-Sweetened Granola

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

Update: I mistakenly typed an extra teaspoon of ginger. Caught by my pal Tanya! Correct version below.

Celine wasn't kidding when she said it was yummy stuff. My version is pretty loosely based on her White Chocolate Raspberry Granola. I added spices to mine, though, along with different nuts, more/different seeds, and different add-ins at the end. Oh, and I tripled her recipe because I was making a bunch as a housewarming gift (hint: give them a cool container with the granola; I used Lock and Lock. It's awesome!).

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

I didn't quite realize how much I actually made until I mixed all the dry ingredients together. Tripling the recipe yields A LOT of granola. Good thing it's mighty tasty!

My mountain of granola:

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

I think it's probably more aptly named something like chai spice, but you can decide for yourself. And, don't make the mistake I made by baking it all in one rimmed cookie sheet. Use two. It will go a lot faster if you do.

One final warning: once you try this, you will never buy granola again. The recipe is so simple and flexible, you'll want to try all kinds of combinations of add-ins.

Here's the recipe as I made it.

Spicy, Nutty, Seedy, Agave-Sweetened Granola (based on Celine's White Chocolate Raspberry Granola)

Yields a whopping 120 oz. of tasty, spicy granola.


3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup barley flour
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (as finely shredded as possible)
3/4 cup chopped almonds
3/4 cup chopped pecans
7 teaspoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup flax meal
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas (I used pepitas)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/3 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon vanilla

add-ins for the post-baking mix:
3/4 cup apple-juice-sweetened cranberries
3/4 cup dried cherries (I used unsweetened dark sweet cherries from Trader Joe's.)
1 cup unsweetened carob chips


1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In your largest bowl or a super-large ziplock bag, mix together the top 15 ingredients (all the ingredients up until the oil). Make sure everything is combined very well and that there aren't any hidden flour pockets. They will hide from you.
3. In a much smaller bowl, blend together the three wet ingredients until well incorporated.
4. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix really well. This could take a while, so just be patient and put on your favorite music to mix by. If you find that things look a little dry, add a tablespoon more oil and mix it all again.
5. Spread your mix into your prepped cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, then take the sheets out, stir up the granola, then switch the positions of the sheets (top goes on a lower rack) in the oven, and bake for another 15 minutes. Stir once more, then bake until nicely browned--light brown, not dark brown. It should take up to 15 more minutes maximum.
6. While you're baking the final time, mix together the final three ingredients in the biggest bowl you have. When the granola is done baking, slide it off the pans on top of the add-ins in the bowl and stir well.
7. Spread the mixture out in the pans again and let the pans cool on top of wire racks for at least two hours before transferring your granola to airtight containers.
8. Enjoy a small bowlful with some vanilla rice milk right away!

From Island Beach State Park in October, Granola, Pie

15 October 2008

Cookbook Review: Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Mani Niall's Sweet & Natural Baking, so when his publisher contacted me about reviewing his new book, Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado, Home Baking with Every Kind of Natural Sugar and Sweetener (Paperback), I was happy to do it.

The just-out-of-the-oven cupcakes seen above are from Sweet! They are the "Lemon Cupcakes" without the "Mascarpone Cream and Raspberries." I selected the recipe because it's the one shown on the cover, and it's one of the handful of recipes that use agave nectar as the sweetener. While most of the recipes tend to use derivatives of cane sugar, there are some wonderful-sounding recipes for agave nectar. I can't wait to try the rest. It's a very well-written book, and as you can see below, filled with well-tested recipes, flexible enough to stand some serious tinkering. I highly recommend it. It's a great buy on Amazon right now for less than $13!

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

I did eventually frost my lemon cupcakes, but I used neufchatel cheese instead of mascarpone, which was five times as expensive. Also prohibitively expensive were raspberries. I'm sure they would have been delightful, but the budget's a bit tight these days, so I just did without. While everyone was pleased with the flavors, I wished the frosting didn't "melt" as much as it did. I was aiming for the look on the cover of Sweet! Oh well. Next time, I'll use a touch less lemon juice and agave. That should do it.

The cupcakes themselves were fantastic the day I made them. Buttery, with just the right amount of lemon, I had a hard time telling I'd used whole wheat flour instead of the all-purpose called for in the original recipe. They degraded just slightly (only I'd notice) when I served them the next day, making the whole grain a bit more noticeable.

Another key substitution was the 1% fat milk for the whole milk. I'm not sure the milk made a big difference considering all the butter in the recipe, but it may have been able to break down the texture of the whole wheat a bit. I also could have used some lemon juice instead of all the milk, and that would definitely have attacked the whole wheat, but I'll save that experiment for next time. I'd definitely make these again because they were so moist, lightly and refreshingly lemony, and overall, quite the crowd-pleasers. Folks went back for seconds and thirds (bear in mind, I made mini-cupcakes for the crowd).

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

While these appear quite muffin-y, they are definitely cupcakes!

Here's the recipe as I made it.

Lemon Cupcakes with Neufchatel Frosting (inspired by Mani Niall's Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado, Home Baking with Every Kind of Natural Sugar and Sweetener recipe "Lemon Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream and Raspberries")

Cupcake Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup agave nectar
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup 1% fat milk
Zest of one lemon

Frosting Ingredients:

1 8-oz package Neufchatel cheese
3 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon


1. Sift together the dry ingredients into a very large measuring cup (makes it easier to pour into the wet ingredients). You'll notice a bunch of bran left over after sifting the whole wheat flour. You can either keep this in the recipe or save it for your morning cereal. It's up to you.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until it's smooth. Mix in the agave nectar, eggs, and vanilla until very well blended.
3. Slowly mix in the dry mixture, then the milk until the batter is uniform (not longer than a couple of minutes).
4. Fold in the lemon zest.
5. Let the batter sit while you preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and line your muffin pan(s) with baking cups. I used two mini-muffin pans (12 each) and one standard muffin pan (six cups filled, the others I filled halfway with water for baking). This sitting time is very important with the whole wheat. It will help the butter cling to the wheat and keep it moist. Don't skip it!
6. When the oven has reached baking temperature, fill your baking cups about 2/3 full. (I used a small cookie scoop. It worked very well -- 1 scoop for minis and two and a half scoops for the larger ones.)
7. Bake 15 minutes for mini cupcakes and about 20-25 minutes for the standard ones. If you use a tester, it should come out clean.
8. Let the cupcakes cool for 10 minutes in their pans, then take them out and let them cool completely on a wire rack.
9. While you enjoy how wonderful your kitchen smells, make the frosting:
a. Beat the cheese until smooth.
b. Add the agave nectar and lemon juice and beat again until smooth.
c. Frost the cupcakes and gently sprinkle some of the lemon zest on top.
10. Serve and enjoy!

From Kitchen Cabinets, Upstate NY, Mani Niall's new book

09 October 2008

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

After an extremely pleasant weekend with friends in upstate New York, I came home to discover that my laptop was simply not cooperative at all. It turns out, thanks to John's detective work, that my hard drive expired. I sit in front of John's home laptop writing this, hoping not all is lost.

I backed up most things about three weeks ago, but that doesn't count some nice photos and lots of useful emails. Oh well.

All that to say, if you don't see a typical post here for a bit, hang in there. I'll be back up and running soon. Until then, happy cooking and baking to you!