Best Pumpkin Pie

November 26, 2013

Best Pumpkin Pie - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

Margaux says…

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite pies, and we have them at our house more than just for Thanksgiving.   I like to use Joy of Cooking’s recipe, which yields a crispy, flaky crust, and custardy, delicious filling that’s not grainy or soggy.  The key is the blind-baked crust, which is pre-baking your pie crust lined with foil and pie weights.  I like to do this with all of my one-crust pies, ever since I read about it in Joy.  It really does produce superior results.

Blind Baking a Crust - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

 

Blind Baked Crust with Egg Wash - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I have made only a few pumpkin pies in my time. It seems for holiday gatherings, others make the pumpkin and I bake apple or pecan-sweet potato pie – like this Thanksgiving!  And I usually follow Mom/Granny’s lead and use the recipe on the side of the can of pumpkin. 🙂  I’ve always been satisfied with the results, but then I’ve never had this version!  One thing I will say is that I think pumpkin pie is best made with canned pumpkin. Every time I’ve had it with fresh pumpkin puree, it seems watery. How about you Margaux? What are your thoughts on fresh vs. canned pumpkin?

Margaux says…

I definitely ALWAYS use canned pumpkin.  Not only does it seem watery with fresh, but often grainy and stringy.  Yuck.  It’s really not worth the extra step, because canned pumpkin is just that…pumpkin, no additives.  You would have to have commercial grade equipment to get it the consistency that canned is, which is perfect for pies.  I was happy to see that there was a little section about it in the November issue of Martha Stewart Living…their test kitchen came up with those same results.

Best Pumpkin Pie - Sweet and Savory Kitchens

Blind Baked Pie Crust

1/2 recipe pastry dough, like this one

1 egg yolk

salt

Roll out pie dough.  Carefully place it in a 9″ pie plate, trim the edges leaving a 1″ hang over, fold it under and crimp.  Place in freezer and freeze for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Take pie shell out of freezer and cut a large piece of aluminum foil.  Place foil into pie plate, shiny side down, carefully pressing it into the corners and leaving a good amount hanging over the sides.  Fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice (I keep dried beans on hand and use them over and over again).  Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, and carefully remove foil.  Prick crust all over with fork and put in oven again for another 5 minutes or so, until the crust is golden.  Meanwhile, beat egg yolk with a pinch of salt.  When crust is done, brush with egg yolk all over and bake for another minute or two, until the glaze is set.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

A note about eggs in the recipe: If you like your pie more custardy, use 3 eggs.  If you like a stronger pumpkin flavor and a denser filling, use only 2.  I like to use 3.

2-3 eggs (see note above)

2 cups pumpkin puree

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 1/2 cups evaporated milk or half-and-half

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk eggs together in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

While mixture is sitting for a few minutes, place foil around the fluted edges of the crust (or use an aluminum pie sheild…one of my favorite kitchen gadgets).  Warm crust back up by placing it in the oven for 1-2 minutes, until it is hot to touch.  Pour filling into the hot crust, place in oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, until center seems set but quivery, like gelatin, when you tap the side of the dish.  Cool on a cooling rack to room temperature.  Serve within one day, store in the refrigerator.

Whipped Cream

1 cup cold heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp sugar

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium high until soft peaks form, no longer.  Serve dollops on slices of pie.  Store remainder in refrigerator in airtight container.  Whip with a wire whisk for 10-15 seconds when ready to use again.

Spritz Cookies

December 24, 2011

Spritz maker

Margaux says…

A very fond Christmas memory for me is helping my Granny make spritz cookies. She is the one who taught me to bake when I was very young…we baked cookies pretty often, and she let me do a lot of the work. But spritz was my favorite! I loved twisting the top of the spritz-maker, squeezing out dough in cute little shapes. She let me pick the shapes, and most of them turned out being either too fat or too skinny. But the point was that she let ME do it, and I felt so proud! And then we got to decorate them with colored sugars and silver baubles, making them into perfect little Christmas treats.

I actually didn’t much like eating spritz cookies when I was a kid (I was more of a thumbprint cookie lover); I didn’t get a full appreciation for them until I was an adult.  But now they’re one of my favorites…little butter-citrus bites that are the perfect size.  I always make citrus-flavored (because that’s what Granny always made), but you can do all sorts of variations on them, which I will give instructions for below.  I got these recipes out of last year’s Martha Stewart Living December issue…it is very similar to, if not the same as Granny’s.

Lemony Spritz Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt until fully combined, about one minute. Add flour, and beat on low speed until just combined (do not overbeat). If tinting the dough, divide it into separate bowls and mix in the food dyes. Just make sure you’re not overworking the dough so that it doesn’t make tough cookies.

If you want to make vanilla cookies:
Replace citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp pure vanilla extract.

If you want to make chocolate cookies:
Replace 1/3 cup flour with 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, and citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp vanilla extract.

If you want to make spice cookies: (I think I’m going to try this next year-sounds good!)
Add 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground allspice, and 1/3 tsp freshly ground pepper when you add the flour mixture. Replace citrus zest and juice with 2 tsp vanilla.

To bake the cookies:

Knead dough briefly to soften. Fill a cookie press with dough and fit with disk to make shapes (Mirro made a great cookie press, you can find lots of them on Ebay). Squeeze cookies directly onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional). Bake at 350 degrees until firm, 12-14 minutes. Let cool completely on cooling rack before glazing (also optional…last year I glazed because I had time, this year I didn’t. I think they’re just as good without glaze. Granny never glazed. 🙂 ).

Vanilla and Citrus Glazes

For citrus glaze:
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp citrus juice
3 tsp finely grated citrus zest
3 tbsp light corn syrup

For vanilla glaze:
3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Dip tops of cookies in glaze, decorate with sanding sugars or small candies while glaze is still wet. Let set on wire rack.

Thumbprint Cookies

December 15, 2011

Margaux says…

One of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes has always been thumbprints. It’s a family tradition on my mom’s side, and these are one of my aunt Gigi’s specialties. My grandma and my aunt Judy always filled them with jam, but aunt Gigi made them seriously sweet and decadent with the buttercream filling-my favorite! Aunt Gigi’s also always look perfect, unlike mine, because no matter how hard I try I can never get them all to look exactly the same. These look especially sad, too, because they are the survivors of my husband’s work Christmas party (I unfortunately wasn’t able to photo before the party).

There are two ingredients in these that I NEVER use in baking: salted butter and margarine. EEK! But, I promise, it’s much better this way. I tried to make them with all butter once, and they fell into flat little pancakes and didn’t have the little thumbprint in the middle at all. And if you don’t use salted butter, you should increase the salt probably, maybe even double it. The saltiness of these cookies are what makes them so good!!

Thumbprint Cookies

makes about 3 dozen cookies-I double this recipe; they’re small cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup margarine, softened (is it already soft?  I guess I don’t know.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg white, slightly beaten
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment (easier cleanup!).

Mix butter, margarine, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla with mixer until fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together salt and flour. Add to butter mixture and mix in until just fully incorporated.

Roll 1 tsp dough into balls (I actually use a melon baller, which I think is a little more than a teaspoon). Dip in egg whites, then roll in nuts. Place 1″ apart on cookie sheet. Bake about 5 minutes, then take out of oven and make “thumbprints” (I use the end of a wooden spoon handle to make more perfect divets). Bake another 5 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack and cool completely. You may need to re-“divet” them again when they come out of the oven.

Some helpful tips:
Dealing with the egg whites is messy and sticky. It is highly recommended to first make all your balls and put them in the egg whites. Then roll them in the nuts. I also recommend not dumping all the nuts in a bowl and the rolling the balls in them…just have a little bit of the nuts in a bowl at a time. Otherwise, as you are going, the nuts will get stickier and clumpier from the egg whites. Adding fresh nuts as you go along will alleviate that situation.

Buttercream frosting (for the filling)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla (or 1/4 tsp almond, depending on your preference)
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tbsp milk
food dye

Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add vanilla and salt, and beat until fully mixed. Add powdered sugar and mix for about 30 seconds on low, and then another 30 seconds on medium speed. Add 4 tbsp milk and mix on medium-high for about a minute. Add more milk if needed. Divide, if desired, and dye each half a different color. Using a pastry bag fitted with star tip, fill each cookie with frosting. Let sit for a couple hours on rack to allow frosting to set, then set in containers in one layer (I prefer tins because Tupperware is too air tight and will make the cookies go soft, and the frosting will be too gooey. If you use a Tupperware, keep one corner of the lid ajar so that air can get in the container.) After sitting overnight, you should be able to stack up cookies in a container, putting a piece of wax paper or parchment in between each layer. Cookies will keep up to one week.

Margaux says…

I’m not big on semi-homemade, at all, ever. Except for these cookies, so I guess I can’t say ever. But one taste, and you’ll agree. It’s one of those no-bake, super easy, make in minutes recipes like everyone seems to make around the holidays. And I usually steer clear of those. But I simply cannot stop eating these when they’re in front of me, and I have to have them once a year. It’s fudgy-peanut butter-crispy goodness. They’re one of my Aunt Gigi’s specialties, who is the original expert/ amateur baker in the family, and she always makes them for Christmas, along with several other perfect cookies, some of which I will post soon.

Scotcharoos

Butter a 9×13 pan.

1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
6 cups Special K cereal

2 cups (one 12 oz. bag) semi sweet chocolate chips
2 cups butterscotch chips

Heat the syrup and sugar just until it starts boil around the edges. Add the peanut butter and mix well. Add the Special K and spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips together and spread over the Special K mixture. Let cool and cut into squares.

One 12-oz. box of Special K makes two recipes of bars.

Almond Shortbread Stars

December 12, 2011

Margaux says…

I saw this recipe in a Martha Stewart Living holiday issue ages ago…probably around 2000 or 2001, and I’ve been making them every single year since.  I think this is the best shortbread recipe I’ve ever had, probably because of the addition of almonds, which I love.  Plus, shortbread is my mom’s favorite cookie, and she loves almond, too, so even if I didn’t want to make these it wouldn’t matter because she requests them every year.  She just asked me tonight if I was planning on making “those shortbread stars,” while looking at me with eyes that said “you’re making those shortbread stars,” and it made me realize I should probably write a post about them with enough time for people to make them for themselves.  Trust me, your family will thank you.  Luckily, I happened to have photographed a plate of them last year!

I usually make a double recipe because they tend to disappear fast. And of course, you don’t have to make stars…you can make any shape you want!

Almond Shortbread Stars

2 sticks softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup blanched almonds, pureed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together flour and salt in bowl. Whisk together sugar and almonds in another bowl. Beat butter in stand mixer with paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add sugar/almond combo and beat until combined. Add almond extract and beat again. Add flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Separate into 2 disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. Roll out into 1/4″ thickness. Cut out cookie shapes and place them on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden. Carefully remove cookies to cooling rack. When still warm, toss in powdered sugar. Toss again when cooled.

Margaux says…

You can’t have Halloween without sugar cookie cut-outs.  Actually, you can’t have Christmas or Valentine’s Day without them either, if you ask me.  This sugar cookie recipe is my absolute favorite.  Aunt Suzy gave it to me when I was 11 years old…it came along with a bunch of other “must have” recipes, a recipe box (that I still use, by the way), a large pot for steaming or cooking pasta (which I also still have, and still use), and “how to cook” tapes made by her.  Other than the pasta cooker and the recipe box, this recipe is what I have used the most out of that gift. I love that she was the first person to get me interested in cooking! It was like we were destined to have a blog together someday (although, that word didn’t even exist in 1988).

I think this recipe is my favorite because of the addition of sour cream and nutmeg.  The cookies turn out crisp, but not too crisp, and have great flavor.  They’re perfect with vanilla frosting, which is what I prefer to use over royal icing or a powdered sugar and milk glaze-type icing.  They may not look as perfect with the frosting over the icing that turns hard and smooth, but they sure taste better!

Sugar Cookies

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. Cream together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add flour alternately with sour cream. Form dough into ball. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 6 hours to overnight. Divide dough into 4 parts. Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper, or grease them. Roll out dough to 1/4″ thick. Cut with cookie cutter. Bake plain or with sugar on top (if you’re not icing), 10-12 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on cooling rack. Frost.

Vanilla Frosting

4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-4 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter in stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add powdered sugar, beat until mixture is starting to clump together in pea-sized clumps. Add vanilla and 2 tbsp milk, beat on high speed until creamy and uniform (scrape down sides of bowl as needed). Add more milk if needed, and food coloring if desired. Frost cookies, let sit for about an hour so that the frosting will set (but it won’t get completely hard because of the butter). If adding sanding sugar or sprinkles, do so right away before the frosting gets a hard crust on top.

Aunt Suzy says . . .

These cookies are a “must bake” for me every holiday season.  This year was no exception, although I made them very late – right before New Year’s Eve.  But then I heard on this radio spot about lucky New Year food traditions that some eat these for good luck on New Year’s Day thinking that the cookies are coin-like to represent money.   Although I heard this after New Year’s Day,  I was glad to have eaten them as part of our lucky New Year’s Day menu!

These cookies are called many different names – Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, Butter Balls and others.  I’ve made a version of them for years from a recipe that was purportedly the one that Jackie Kennedy used which used powdered sugar as the dough sweetener.  Whenever I would tell my Mom (aka Granny) that I’d made these cookies, she’d ask “Did you make Grandma Teegarden’s (my Dad’s Mom) recipe – the one with honey?”  I would confess each year that I did not, having been enamored at a young age by Jackie Kennedy.  Last Christmas, I made both recipes and conducted taste tests, asking friends to say which they liked best.  The votes, including mine, were in overwhelming favor of Grandma T’s, so I think I have dumped Jackie O in favor of Grandma forever!

Margaux says…

I almost never make these cookies for Christmas because everyone else in my family does!  But this year I had a girls’ cookie baking get-together at my house, and my friend Jen wanted to make the Joy of Cooking version of these (which is exactly like the Jackie Kennedy recipe), and I swayed her to Grandma’s recipe instead.  They turned out perfectly, as usual!  This is definitely my favorite version of this recipe, and the times I have made them, this is the one I use.  It was actually one of the first recipes ever given to me (by my dad), when I was in grade school and first learning to bake!

Grandma’s Butter Balls – makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons mild honey

2 cups sifted flour

½ teaspoon salt (omit if using toasted and salted pecans)

2 cups ground toasted pecans*

Powdered sugar for rolling

Instructions

Cream the butter, salt and vanilla with a electric mixer.  Add the honey and the flour and continue to beat on medium until thoroughly blended.  This will be a fairly stiff dough.  Stir in the nuts by hand.  Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll by hand into balls the size of walnuts.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the cookies are just starting to turn golden brown in spots.  Place the cookie sheet on a rack and let sit for a few minutes to set.  Place the powdered sugar in a pie plate or round cake pan.  Roll the cookies in the powdered sugar while cookies are still warm.  (Make sure you let them set or they can fall apart if too hot.)  You can roll them in powdered sugar again after a couple of minutes.

*A note on the pecans:  This year I bought a bag of toasted pecan pieces from Trader Joe’s and used those.  I had never used toasted pecans before in this recipe and they made a delicious cookie even better – toasted pecans are the way to go!  The pecans need to be chopped or ground fairly finely, but be careful not to overdo it or they will become powdery or oily which will not result in a good cookie.  These low-tech vintage nut grinders are perfect for the job and, I just discovered, available on eBay from $3 to $20.  The one I use is on the left.