Wednesday, December 28, 2011


johnny cash's to-do list via listofnote

I've mentioned more than a few times I love to keep lists. Written down on just about anything and about everything. Some are simple 'to do' lists, others are types of 'wish' lists that include my inspirations, goals, and dreams, and still others are functional lists that help me remember, check off, and accomplish tasks. But I'm not the only one who likes to keep lists. The above handwritten To-Do List was made by the one and only 'Man in Black', Johnny Cash. Note #2 Kiss June and #3 Not kiss anyone else.

For me, the act of putting thoughts down to paper is a way to keep sane. Lists can decrease stress, increase productivity, keep you organized, and provide a sense of accomplishment. There's nothing more satisfying than crossing an item off your list. And frankly, there's so much going on in my head, my life, and with work that I need to write everything down so I don't forget it. I know with our busy schedules I'm not the only one that struggles with a short attention span. Lists also help me to stay focused in a day filled with interruptions. And when you're feeling overwhelmed, they act as reminders of what needs your attention. I can't tell you how many times I simply forgot to do something in the heat of the moment but if I go in with a list, I'm less likely to leave without finishing what I set out to do. The fact is, the simple act of writing things down not only helps you remember, it also sets goals you're more likely to accomplish.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


This year's Christmas cards. I kept it simple and handmade my own this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


via keef

A timely reminder. I love to mentor young people, especially when I can share a nugget of wisdom learned from my own mistakes. And I've made a lot of them. Not a hard thing to do when you're the type to attempt new things with more enthusiasm than experience. Over the years I've picked up a trick or two and I believe it's important to share our experiences. But not just as cautionary tales. Sharing knowledge is empowering for everyone. I never understood people who were stingy with information.

One lesson worth sharing is to always know your own worth. Particularly when it comes to negotiating your rate. If you don't know how much you're worth, no one else will either. And although I don't always agree with the above sentiment, I will say this - nothing undermines your enthusiasm more than feeling like you're being hustled. Translation: under appreciated and underpaid. Someone will always try to cut corners, shave costs, or get something for nothing. Just don't undercut yourself. Ever. And if you're going to accept a crap job with crap pay, do it with your eyes wide open. It somehow lessens the bitter aftertaste.

Monday, December 12, 2011


In the following short film photographer, Tim Walker, discusses his inspirations, his influences, and his process as an artist. You can't help but fall in love with his extravagant stagings and romantic motifs. There's definitely a surreal fairytale quality about his images that capture your imagination, and you can't help but lose yourself in the photograph as you go in search of the story that speaks to you in a barely discernible whisper. Walker keeps scrapbooks full of clippings, images, stories, and just about anything that inspires him as "a cupboard full of ingredients" from which he "draws on to bake a photograph." I love his reference to baking.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


"Potpie... a crusted pie made with poultry or meat, and, usually chopped vegetables. The term, which first appeared in American print in 1785, probably refers to the deep pie pans or pots used to bake pies in, and it has remained primarily an Americanism. The most popular pot pies have been chicken, beef, and pork. The first frozen pot pie was made with chicken in 1951 by the C.A. Swanson Company." - Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani

Growing up, my family wasn't particularly into canned foods or frozen TV dinners but we did usually have two staples in the kitchen - Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup and Banquet's Pot Pies. When you think of either, you immediately think comfort food. And I guess that's part of the reason my dad served it to us. Chicken noodle soup wasn't served for lunch or dinner in our house, Campbell's soup was breakfast on cold blustery mornings before he hustled us off to school. And even though Dad must have served us pot pies regularly, I seem to remember them as treats for special occasions. Maybe because they came with flaky crusts we kids automatically associated with desserts. As an adult I became more selective with what I was willing to eat, and most frozen items fell to the bottom of my list. Occasionally, I'd think of those Banquet pot pies of my childhood and wander down the frozen food aisle. But I always managed to pass them by.

Recently, I had a craving for chicken pot pie. A constant craving that wouldn't go away. And sometimes, you just need to give in to it because nothing else will satisfy it. And because I happen to have left-over pie dough, I decided to make chicken pot pie from scratch. I asked myself, when you think of comfort food which chef comes to mind? Of course, the only answer is Nigella Lawson. The below recipe is an express version of her Chicken Mushroom and Bacon Pie. Now, I'm a huge fan of bacon so I didn't have to think twice if this recipe was for me. And true to her word, total prep and cook time was exactly 30 minutes. Quick and delicious - sold! The end result was absolutely scrumptious and worth the effort.

But sometimes, when you're tired, in a hurry, and can't be bothered, frozen pot pie isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Banquet brand kicked off in 1953 with the introduction of their frozen meat pies. And although there are many brands to choose from these days, Banquet is the one brand I'm guaranteed to find in any grocery store across America. I recently tried one, and honestly, there's no comparison to homemade but in a pinch, they're not bad. Each bite brings me closer to the past and my childhood, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, I'd say it's a darn good thing.

Nigella Lawson's Chicken Mushroom and Bacon Pie
(2 servings)
3 rashers streaky bacon, cut or scissored into 1-inch strips
1 tsp garlic infused oil
2 cups chestnut mushrooms, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
8 oz chick thigh fillets cut into 1-inch pieces
2 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups hot chicken stock
1 tbsp Marsala
1 (13-oz) 9 x 16 inch sheet all-butter ready-rolled puff pastry
  1. Preheat the oven to 425º F. Fry the bacon strips in the oil until beginning to crisp, then add the sliced mushrooms and soften them in the pan with the bacon.
  2. Turn the chicken strips in the flour and thyme (or toss in freezer bag), and then melt the butter in the pan before adding the floury chicken and all the flour left in the bag. Stir around with the bacon and mushrooms until the chicken begins to color.
  3. Pour in the hot stock and Marsala, stirring to form a sauce and let this bubble away for about 5 minutes.
  4. Make a pastry rim for each of your pots for the pies by curling 1/2-inch strips of pastry around the top of the pots. Dampen the edges to make them stick.
  5. Cut a circle bigger than the top of each pie-pot for the lid, and then divide the chicken filling between the two.
  6. Dampen the edges again and then pop on the top of each pie, sealing the edges with your fingers or using the bottom of a fork.
  7. Cook the pies for about 20 minutes, turning them around half way through cooking. Once cooked, they should puff up magnificently.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


In life we are tasked with different types of quests - some trite while others can be life changing. Quests often start in one place and end in another. But every quest needs a first step, and those moments that propel your story forward. In novels these moments are referred to as the "inciting incident," or the decision that will change a character's life. Certainly, my own life can be stringed together by a series of quests. And in a strange way it seems regardless of decisions or choices made, or even roads chosen, I was always going to end up right here. And depending on what that means to you, that could either be a good or bad thing. I haven't quite figured out my own situation. But I can't help but wonder if all these quests are just disguises for what really is our need for perfection. After all, aren't most quests an arduous search for something? And usually involving some pie-in-the-sky ideal that can never be attained. Or can it?

I came across an interesting article in a 2003 issue of Saveur magazine. The author, Elmer R. Grossman, was on the quest for the ultimate shortening that would result in a flaky, flavorful pie crust. He had tried Crisco, the go-to fat for his Jewish grandmother, that although produced tender flaky crusts - fell short on taste. In search of an alternate shortening, Grossman learned the choice fat of most classic cookbooks was lard. And when he started baking with this rendered pig fat, he found it did yield a wonderful flaky texture. But lard is hydrogenated for a longer shelf life, and Grossman realized that if he wanted to avoid trans fats, he would have to find old-fashioned fresh lard, the kind butchers sold from their refrigerated cases. But he soon learned all lard is not created equal, and that the most desirable kind for baking is leaf lard, which comes from the collection of fat around the pig's kidneys - nearly all of which is purchased by commercial bakers. And so began his quest for leaf lard, which ultimately turned out to be more illusive than he originally anticipated. But persistence paid off, and the reward was a crust that was both beautifully flaky and flavorful. Now, that's going the distance for the perfect pie crust.

(makes two 9" pie crusts)
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup pastry flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
12 tbsp chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp leaf lard, chilled
  1. Combine vinegar and 1/4 cup ice water in a small bowl. Combine flours, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Put both bowls into the freezer until well chilled, about 20 minutes.
  2. Using a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut butter and lard into chilled flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal flecked with pea-sized pieces of butter and lard. Sprinkle in water-vinegar mixture, stirring dough with a fork until it begins to hold together.
  3. Press dough into a rough ball, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Give dough several quick kneads until it becomes smooth. Divide dough in half, gently shape into 2 balls, and flatten each ball slightly to make a fat disk. Wrap disks individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours before using.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I watched the most amazing episode of Chopped in which the featured 'chefs' or contestants were school cafeteria cooks. I was so glad to see these 'lunch ladies' being honored for all that they do to feed our kids in school. All the contestants were knowledgeable and crafty cooks, but what stood out to me was just how gracious, honored, and thrilled they were to be on the show. There wasn't a sore loser in the bunch, all the ladies were incredibly supportive of one another. It was so obvious how much they cared about their students' health, using fun and clever ways to entice them to try new foods. One contestant wasn't intimated at seeing quinoa because she served the grain in her school! I also loved how the judges refused to call the contestants anything other than "chefs," bringing tears to the ladies' eyes. In the end, they were all considered winners and awarded five days of classes at the Culinary Institute of America. Cheryl from New Haven ended up taking the win and $10,000 with her Grilled Cream Cheese and Fruit Sandwich dessert. By the show's close everyone was crying - contestants, judges, even myself. I think it's fantastic that Food Network believed these ladies were worth featuring on the show. These talented school chefs disproved the stereotype of lunch ladies with hair nets, serving slop.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


One of my oldest friends recently got hitched in a sweet lil' one-stoplight town nestled against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Picture scenic roads, quaint antique shops, and country eateries where you can pull off for a glass of iced sweet tea. The actual wedding took place at a friend's family home - a big, beautiful, porched red house built in the late 1800's. It was the perfect venue for a vintage country wedding. The decor was exactly how I pictured it should be - vintage doilies flapping in the breeze, local honey bear keepsakes, and a handmade well-wishes tree. The bride wore a gorgeous vintage wedding gown with a brown velvet sash. asparagus studio took her official wedding photos.
photos: asparagus studios

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I'm flying out tomorrow for a friend's wedding. She's not just any friend, I've known her since freshman year high school. The summer before I entered 9th grade my family moved to Florida. I'd say it was just about the worst age to start a new school, especially when everyone else seemed to know one another since grade school. So I considered myself lucky when I met not just one but two best friends. You could say we were the product of the MTV generation in that, we hit puberty about the same time music television launched on air. So like most teenagers of that decade we bonded over Duran Duran, John Hughes films, and boys. To say we were boy crazy would be a huge understatement. The truth is, we lived, breathed, and mooned over boys 24/7. All types of boys, but especially those we considered cool.

And who at that time was cuter or cooler than Jake Ryan (sigh)... okay, possibly lots of other boys but Jake Ryan will always be the boy, the very popular and hot senior everyone of us at some point in our lives pined for but always believed was out of our reach.

My all time favorite coming-of-age movie is Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald, Michael Schoeffling, and Anthony Michael Hall. I'm not embarrassed to admit I've seen the film a hundred times over. I adored Molly Ringwald, loved everything about her from her on-camera personality, cool taste in music and clothes, to her gorgeous red hair. For a period, I was even convinced we were separated at birth. A ridiculous notion because I'm half-asian and look nothing like her. We were twins in spirit.

Maybe in some ways I never grew up because I still enjoy teen inspired entertainment, whether it's books, films, or television. For me, no one did it better than John Hughes. Nor has anyone made me swoon quite like Jake Ryan.

Monday, October 31, 2011


This Halloween, Noah wanted to be the Big Bad Wolf, not the one from Red Riding Hood but the wolf that huffed and puffed in The Three Little Pigs, he was very specific. I made him the wolf costume he's wearing - pointy ears, sharp claws, furry tail, and all. It was all a big hit with him, especially the face painting part.

Little pig, little pig, let me come in.
No, no, not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.
Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in.


Pumpkin Pie Pops
Follow this recipe for Lollipop Pies, then swap out the filling for the pumpkin one below. One 9-inch double crust dough makes approximately 18 pies pops. 1 (2 roll) package of pre-made pie crust works perfectly in a pinch. It's easier to cut out the jack-o-lantern faces on half the cut out rounds before assembling the pie pops but you can also using a sharp paring knife afterwards to gingerly cut out the eyes and mouth before baking.

pumpkin filling:
1 14-oz can pure pumpkin
1 12-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt

Saturday, October 29, 2011


When you're craving something sweet but there's nothing in the pantry but a jar of jam, fruit preserve, or marmalade, then the following recipe is for you. This Easy Jam Tart is from David Lebovitz.

Easy Jam Tart
9 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg, separated
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups apricot, raspberry or other jam
2 tbsp coarse sugar
  1. Beat together butter and sugar until well-combined. Mix in the egg, egg yolk and almond extract.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Gradually add the dry ingredients, just until the mixture just comes together.
  3. Divide 2/3 of the dough, pat into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes. Take the remaining dough and roll it into a log about 2-inches in diameter, wrap it in plastic, and also chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to room temperature slightly. With the heal of your hand, press the dough evenly into the bottom of a buttered 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, or springform pan. If using a tart pan, press the dough up the sides to the rim, but if using a springform pan, press dough about 3/4-inch up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate the dough-lined pan until firm, approximately 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375º F. Spread the jam evenly over the dough.
  6. Cut the chilled dough log into thin discs with a sharp knife. Arrange them slightly overlapped in concentric circles over the jam to form a top crust. Whisk the remaining egg white from the separated egg, and brush lightly over the top and sprinkle generously with about 2 tablespoons of coarse sugar.
  7. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, approximately 20-25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Just because sometimes we need a little instruction on how to let our imaginations fly...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've been obsessed with vintage jeans for ages. For me they represent a treasure trove of memories, not just of my own adolescence, but also of the decade, the styles that came out of them, and the subsequent vintage ad campaigns. In the 1980's, designer jeans were the style craze. The once utilitarian clothing instantly evolved into high fashion when famous designers started making their own style of jeans and stamped them with their labels. Sales of jeans skyrocketed and everyone wanted a pair, no matter the price tag.

My own love affair with designer jeans started in 1982 with a girl named Amber and CHIC Jeans. We all remember that one girl in middle school who we all aspired to be, the girl who despite being our age always looked older, more stylish, and infinitely glamorous. The first one to wear makeup, the first to own a pair of designer jeans, and the girl all the boys crushed on. Amber in her CHIC jeans spurred my own interest in fashion. I also remember Gloria Vanderbilt were my mother's first foray into designer jeans. I was obsessed with them and often "borrowed" the jeans, even though they were much too big for me. But my own first pair were Calvin Kleins, and nothing came between me and my Calvin's. Here are a list of the most popular designer jeans of the 1980's.

In 1976 Gloria Vanderbilt launched her own line of designer jeans carrying her name embossed in script on the back pocket, along with her swan logo. Her jeans were more tightly fitted than the other jeans of the that time.

Jordache launched an aggressive ad campaign in 1979 to set their brand apart, starting with a television commercial starring a topless woman in tight Jordache jeans riding a horse through the surf. Even though the ad was rejected by all the major networks, independent New York stations aired it, and the label surged to popularity.

In the late 70's and early 80's Sasson popularized their jeans with an ad campaign that featured the catch phrase, "Oooh, la la, Sasson!"

In 1980 Calvin Klein featured a 15 year old Brook Shields in an ad campaign wearing a pair of his jeans with the strap line, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Every woman has wished for glamorous, perfectly-lined eyes. I always wondered how girls managed to line their lids with one steady stroke of liquid black eyeliner. All my attempts came out sloppy, whether too thick, uneven, or lopsided. I watched with envy as Julianne Moore's character in A Single Man effortlessly created flawless retro cat eyes with a few strokes of her eyeliner brush, and thought, "What style!"

Recently, bored with my usual make-up routine, I started playing with black liquid liner again. I have small, almond-shaped eyes, which means I have to be extra careful when lining my eyes. Otherwise, it smears every time I blink, the curse of barely-there eyelids. These days the process is made much easier by the types of liners available to choose from, as well as the many brand on the market. I prefer pointy felt-tipped liquid liners because you can nail the thickness of your strokes perfectly, just make sure it's a stay-put brand. Others may prefer to work with pencils, or powdered varieties that require brushes.

You are not limited to just one eyeliner look either, so experiment with a few of the following:

Winged - You can either go classic retro or try a modern version of the winged eyeliner. The line should start out thin as possible and grow thicker as it angles out toward the outer corner of your eye. How far your wings extend and whether it ends in a sharp point or a blunt line, is up to you.

Egyptian or double-lined - This is a double-winged look that extends straight beyond the top and bottom lashlines.

Theatrical - This is usually a deviation from the traditional eyeliner designs. Experiment, play, and go crazy. With the right amount of confidence and attitude you can pull off just about anything. Just keep it appropriate for the time and place.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


My friends' 3 year-old son, Noah, has been asking me to bake him a lemon tart. So today, I made it my priority to do just that. I wanted to try a new recipe so I went to smitten kitchen where I can always find something not only delicious, but also kitchen-tested. Her Whole Lemon Tart recipe is loosely inspired from the Parisian pastry shop, Rollet-Pradier. I finished my evening with a slice and the balance of flavors was perrrrfect... creamy smooth with just the right amount of sweet and sour. And the tart shell recipe is one of the best I've ever come across. It kept its shape and tasted great!

Whole Lemon Tart (via smitten kitchen)
1 parbaked 9-inch tart shell (see recipe below)
1 average-sized lemon (4.5 ounces), rinsed and dried
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large eggs
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven 350ºF.
  2. Slice the lemon into thin wheels, remove any seeds, and toss the rounds (flesh and peel) into a food processor with the sugar and butter chunks. Process until the lemon is thoroughly pureed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt and pulse until the batter is smooth.
  3. Pour into prepared tart shell. There may be excess batter, do not pour it past the top of your crust. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet to catch any spills.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the filling is set. There should be a slight jiggle, may brown lightly on top.
  5. Let cool on rack, remove from mold, and serve. Dust with confectioner's sugar. You may prefer this tart chilled.
Sweet Tart Shell (9-inch tart crust)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
  1. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in.
  2. Stir egg to break the yolk. Add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - 10 seconds each - until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work space with and with little handling as possible form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for about 2 hours before rolling.
  3. Roll chilled dough into a 12-inch round, and place in tart pan with a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork.
  4. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes or longer, before baking.
  5. For a parbaked crust, preheat the oven 375ºF.
  6. Butter shiny side of aluminum foil and fit, butter side down, tightly against the crust. Since the crust is frozen there is no need to add pie weights. Put the tart pan on a a baking sheet and bake on center rack for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press down on it gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust another 10 minutes, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The trend these days is definitely fairy tales, as evidenced by all the recent books, films and TV series loosely based on classic fairy tale stories. Take for instance the new ABC series, Once Upon a Time, set in present day but with a cast of fairy tale characters that can't remember their true identities or anything about their former lives. Other shows include Grimm and a series based on Beauty and The Beast. Another updated version of the same story is the film Beastly based on Alex Finn's book of the same name. The number of Young Adult fiction based on fables are endless. Recently, I read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, which is a modern twist on Little Red Riding Hood about two sisters whose mission in life is to rid the world of werewolves. There are also dozens of upcoming films in development, including Sleeping Beauty, Neverland, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and several versions on the stories Snow White, Cinderella, and Peter Pan.

Here are some stills shot by fashion photographer Eugenio Recuenco for a photo spread he did called Fairy Tales.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Fall has arrived and to celebrate I made pumpkin pie. This will definitely be the first of many, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner. Like so many other pie varieties there are dozens of pumpkin pie recipes to choose from. I wanted something quick and easy so I modified the recipe on the label of my can of Polar Pumpkin. I thought using sweetened condensed milk instead of heavy cream, half-n-half, or milk might make my pie too sweet but in fact it came out just right with an interesting balance of flavors.

Pumpkin Pie
1 9-inch pre-baked single pie crust (see below)
1 can (15 oz) Polar 100% pure pumpkin
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 425º degrees.
  2. Whisk together sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla extract, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add pumpkin to the mixture. Continue to whisk until smooth. Pour filling into warm pre-baked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 15 minutes.
  3. Lower heat to 350º degrees and continue to bake pie for an additional 30-35 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2-3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool pie at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)
  4. Served with fresh whipped cream.

9-inch single pie crust
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tbsp chilled water
  1. Preheat oven to 400º degrees.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl; cut in 2 tablespoons of the butter until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; cut in until biggest pieces look like large peas.
  3. Dribble in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it is ropey with some dry patches. If too dry, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten onto a 4-inch thick disk; refrigerate. After a minimum of 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it's malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 12-inch circle and 1/8-inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
  4. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around pie plate. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim overhang to 1/2-inch beyond lip of the pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights. Baked on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove and let cool while preparing filling.

Friday, October 7, 2011


When baking a pie or tart there are a number of pastry recipes you can choose from. How do you know which pastry works best with a recipe? Is it just trial and error or is there an exact science to figuring it out? Maybe a little of both. There are 3 basic ingredients for pastry crust - fat, flour, and liquid. You can come up with numerous variations by changing your basic ingredients and their ratios. Typically, American pies have crusts that are both light and flaky. Whereas, tarts tend to have crusts that are richer, smoother, and crumbier.

The secret to a tender and flaky crust is make sure you only coat the fat with flour, not blend them. This is easier if your fat is cold. When adding liquid (whether it's water, milk, egg, lemon juice, vinegar, or even vodka) you don't want to mix in, but collect all the flour-coated fat particles together and make them stick to one another. That's why less is better than more, and cold is better than warm.

Flour: For the tenderest crust, choose a low protein flour. Pastry flour works great but cake flour might have too little protein, making it difficult to work with. All-purpose flour is generally my go-to flour for pastry crusts. Make sure all the dry ingredients are sifted together, which lightens the mixture.

Fat: Your choice of fat will affect the flavor and flakiness of your crust, while the amount affects its tenderness. Flakiness comes from bits of unmelted fat layered between layers of flour melting away while baking. When it comes to fat, you can use butter, shortening, lard, duck fat, vegetable or nut oils, or a combination of any of those. Butter makes a tasty dough, whereas shortening makes the flakiest dough.

all butter - flavorful but less flaky
all shortening - easier to work with, holds shape, flaky but less rich in flavor
lard - flakiest crust but chemical aftertaste
combo butter/shortening - flavor and flakiness
melted butter or oil - mealier dough but fine-textured and crispier crust

Liquids: Ice water, fruit juices, vinegar, vodka, eggs, sour cream, buttermilk, milk or cream add different flavors and textures to your pastry crusts. You also only want just enough liquid to moisten the flour, not drench it. The liquid must be ice cold and added gradually for best results. Use the pinch test to see if your dough has the correct amount of liquid. Pick up a small clump and gently squeeze between your fingers. When the dough just sticks together with small dry cracks, your dough is perfect. Chilling the dough before baking also promotes tenderness. This allows the gluten to relax, the fat to re-solidify, and helps prevent shrinkage while baking.

fruit juices - acid: tenderizer, flakiness
lemon juice & vinegar - dough conditioners: tenderizer, prevents oxidizing, relaxes the gluten
vodka - texture:moistness and suppleness, stops the formation of gluten
buttermilk, milk or cream - protein, fat and sugar: texture, richness, browns crust
whole egg - structure: stronger dough, less shrinkage
egg white - protein: crispness and stability
egg yolk - additional fat, richness in color and flavor, smoother dough that's easier to work with

To egg or not to egg - that is the question. Whether used whole, or separated into yolks and whites, eggs perform a number of functions that affect hydration, structure, texture, leavening, flavor, and color. The proteins found in whole eggs coagulate during the baking process and create structure. Dough made with whole eggs create a crust that doesn't fall down the sides, or shrink into the mold while baking. Yolks adds richness in color as well as flavor, while its natural emulsifiers generate a better distribution of liquids and fats that help to make a smoother dough that's easer to roll out and work with. This isn't always desirable if you want a more tender, crumblier texture. Dough using only the yolk sometimes falls down the sides of the mold. Using only egg whites gives you a stronger dough from the coagulation of the protein. They also add crispness and stability to baked dough.

I rarely use eggs - whole, whites or yolks - in my pie crust recipes. However, I will use eggs if I want a richer, smoother crust - usually for a tart recipe. I threw in an egg for the following tart recipe. I found it easier than usual to roll out the dough, but the texture was much 'chewier' than my normal eggless pastry recipe.


Fig Frangipane Tart
pastry for a 9-inch tart or pie pan
1/2 lb blanched & peeled almonds
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp lemon zest
3/4 lbs figs
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp water
  1. Heat oven to 375º degrees. Roll out the pastry dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and fit into a 9-inch tart pan. Trim, and discard excess. Pop it into the freezer for 10 minutes.
  2. In a food processor, grind the almonds, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, butter and lemon zest to make a smooth, slightly flowing paste. Set aside.
  3. Remove the stems from the figs and cut the fruit into lengthwise quarters. Set aside.
  4. Pre-bake the tart shell: Prick the shell with a fork. Lay a sheet of foil or parchment paper in the shell and fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake until the rim is dried and lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and remove the beans and foil.
  5. Spread the almond mixture in the base of the tart, using the back of a spoon to spread evenly. Arrange the cut-up figs as you like on top of the almond mixture, pushing them in a bit.
  6. Place the filled shell on a baking sheet and bake until the almond mixture is puffed and golden, 40 to 45 minutes.
  7. When the tart is almost done baking, warm the honey and water in a small saucepan until fluid. When the tart is done, lightly brush the tops of figs with a little honey mixture. Serve at room temperature.
Tart Shell
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 egg
1 - 2 tbsp ice water
  1. Place the sugar, salt and flour into a food processor. Pulse a few times to incorporate.
  2. Add chilled butter. Pulsing a couple of times, just until combined.
  3. Add egg and pulse once or twice.
  4. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing between additions, just until the dough starts to gather together and pull away from the bowl.
  5. Pat the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
  6. Place the dough on a floured work surface and rub all sides with flour. Roll out the dough from the center until 1/4-inch thick and approximately 12-inch diameter.
  7. Lift the dough onto the rolling pin and center it over the pan. Place it in the pan, pressing gently against the sides and bottom.
  8. Trim any excess dough that extends more than an inch over the sides of the pan. Place in refrigerator or freezer for at least 20 minutes to re-solidify the butter.