Summertime Baking: Easy as Pie
Baking always makes me happy, and the berries have been beautiful out at my local farmers' market. I've been dreaming about the many ways to make pie.
It all started with my Darling's fascination with the Thai Tea Pie over at The Pie Hole in downtown Los Angeles. I wanted to make my own version, but could not find a recipe to guide me. I imagined that it might be similar to making pumpkin pie only adding Thai tea steeped in condensed milk. I was uncertain of my pie making skills. I so wanted to try to make my Darling's favorite pie. Yet I didn't want a kitchen mess up. I've had few chances to cook or bake lately. So... instead of attempting to make Thai tea pie, I made Thai tea cake. I've been such a cake baking sort of gal. I love cake. Darling likes pie. Hmm.
Well, after the second attempt at baking Thai tea cake, the results were mystifying: Thai tea flavor just disappears in cake. It looks so pretty. And coconut mascarpone frosting tastes good all by itself. But on the whole? It did not work for cake.
And why oh why was I afraid of making pie?
I don't have enough hours in the day to ponder pie recipes as much as I'd like to, with driving my three kids to various summer camps and a full work load to juggle, along with some very stressful personal issues to add to my summertime blues. Noticing the array of juicy berries at the farmers' market one day, I found that I was contemplating the transcendental mystery of pie.
The saving grace of my summer:
Coming to the realization that baking pie can make it all better. And that baking pie is easy.
First, let's talk puff pastry. Why labor over it when you can find it pre-made in a gourmet market freezer? Dufour Pastry Kitchens makes an excellent pâte feuilletée (puff pastry dough) so you don't have to roll and fold and roll and fold. I know how to make puff pastry from scratch. Of course it would be a pleasure to make if I could enjoy my days wearing nothing but a sundress and cute apron, just baking away while sipping cold lemonade. But ladies and gents, when you are busy, there is nothing wrong with buying your dough pre-made. Just make sure it is a good quality and no one needs to know otherwise. No they don't.
Now, it's easy as pie. You were waiting for that, weren't you? Yes, because it is easy. Making pie with puff pastry is so simple, you can imagine filling it with so many kinds of savory and sweet ingredients and eating a bunch of hand pies every day. Yes, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I certainly imagined that when I realized how easy it is. I could fill puff pastry with farmers' market summer finds like zucchini, cherry tomatoes and fresh artisan-made cheese, or sweet berries and nothing more.
We celebrated my Darling's birthday in the middle of July for a good week-long Happy Birthday. We enjoyedtwo romantic dinners at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas and Josiah Citrin's Mélisse in Santa Monica. It was very special. And parties! One dinner (with birthday cake) just with the kids. Another dinner with friends (and pie). I can't celebrate my man enough. He's as sweet as pie to me. So happy he's my Darling. We had a Mexican Chocolate Pie and a Caramel Apple Pie from The Pie Hole and celebrated at our friends' taqueria Mexicali Taco and Co. Yes, tacos and pie.
And suddenly, I'm into pie. Why not make a birthday pie instead of cake?
I was drooling over the combination of blueberries, goat cheese and basil for many weeks. But I'd arrive late to the farmers market on Sundays, and all the blueberries were gone. Blackberries by the basketful, juicy strawberries overflowing. I was obsessing over blueberries.
I'd imagine other combinations using blackberries, but I had set my heart on the blueberry goat cheese and basil hand pies I saw on KCET Food. Well, just like neighbors exchanging recipes, "I heard from KCET Food that Beth from Local Milk made these incredible blueberry goat cheese and basil hand pies..." I could taste the goodness of summertime baking in Tennessee out of my California oven.
Yet, weeks went by before I tried to make those gosh darn blueberry hand pies. (There is a reason my Darling affectionately calls me Molasses. I'm a slow poke and time just whirls by me like a Vitamix on the highest setting). Dreaming of pie... I decided one night that I was going to make them even if that meant baking at midnight.
And that's just what I did.
I had a pint of blueberries (albeit from the supermarket), goat cheese in its round of white, and a fragrant bunch of basil just waiting for its purpose. I had a quart of buttermilk calling out for baking in the fridge, and a container of plain, I mean, ahem, "naked" fromage blanc from The Dairy Goddess. A dollop of Harry's Honey brought out the natural sweetness of the blueberries, enhancing the flavor of fromage blanc, goat cheese and aromatic basil.
The oven was hot and ready. I had already thawed the puff pastry for a day in my refrigerator, and prepared the blueberry goat cheese mixture the night before. All I had to do was assemble the pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush on egg wash, sprinkle with raw sugar, and bake these little hand pies.
Here is the recipe I followed from Beth at Local Milk via KCET Food and adapted according to how I made them.
For your baking (and eating) pleasure:
I used one package (14 oz.) of Dufour Puff Pastry, but you may want to buy two packages and bake more often. I know it's cheating, but when you have these hot little hand pies fresh from the oven, you will want more. And you'll be pleased that you didn't worry about making the pastry from scratch. Save that for another time. Summertime baking should be easy.
Hand Pie Filling
1 pint of blueberries
a spoonful of fromage blanc
1/4 cup goat cheese
splash of buttermilk
3 tbsp honey (or to taste)
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
small pinch of salt (Maldon Sea Salt flakes)
2 tbsp flour (to thicken)
1 tbsp whole milk or cream
raw sugar, for sprinkling
pastry brush for applying
Prepare by rolling out the puff pastry on a floured surface and cutting out rounds with a biscuit or cookie cutter. Place your bottom circles of pastry on a sheet pan covered in parchment paper.
Heat oven to 400° F.
Prepare filling. Mix those sexy blueberries into a bowl gently with all of the ingredients (except the flour). Then sprinkle flour on top of the blueberry goat cheese mixture, carefully blending until desired consistency of the mixture is smooth.
Assemble your hand pies. Fill each circle with a spoonful of blueberry goat cheese mixture. Place a circle of pastry on top. Crimp edges with a fork. With a paring knife, cut an X on top to vent. Don't forget that part. I did. You can mix in your chopped basil, or wait and sprinkle the basil on top of each individual circle of filling before covering it with the top layer of pastry.
Brush them with egg wash and cream, then sprinkle with sugar.
Ah, the smell of pie baking in the oven!
I ate six of these little pies out of the dozen I baked while standing in the kitchen. A cold glass of milk mixed with a spoonful of honey and a blueberry goat cheese basil hand pie. Midnight snack!
Now maybe I'll be brave and try to bake that Thai tea pie...