04 July 2010

When life hands me lemons...

...I make zest! Honestly, I don't think there is a scent that I love more than that of freshly-grated lemon zest.

A continually overworked mouse-wench-about-to-turn-grad-student, I turn to baking as a way to relieve stress. It is somehow so therapeutic to prepare and combine the ingredients, then to trust the oven to do its job. The chemist in me likes to analyze how each ingredient contributes to the final product, but there is still something magical about the way a goopy mess turns into a delicious cake. Of course the best part about this chemistry experiment is that you can eat the final product!

For the 234th birthday of the United States, I made an apple pie and a blueberry-and-cherry buckle. I am not American, but I guess I won't turn down an excuse to bake something to go with the theme of the day. :)

Grandma's Apple Pie
A "Miss Betty" original.

Jordan's grandmother taught me how to make apple pies when I was in LA for Thanksgiving last year. I hope this pie tastes even half as good as hers.

3 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
7 Tbsp. cold water
1 tsp. vinegar
1 c. shortening

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and vinegar. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and mix. Cut in 2/3 c. of the shortening and mix, then the last 1/3 c. of shortening in larger chunks (pea-sized) for a flakier crust. Divide the dough in two halves, cover with cling wrap, and chill for half an hour to overnight.

7 c. apple slices (I used 9 medium-sized granny smith apples)
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. flour
a pinch of salt

Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices approximately 1/4 in. thick. (Note: For the apple slices to cook evenly in the pie, they must be similar in size.) In a large bowl, toss the ingredients together.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Flour a sheet of wax paper (I used an empty cereal bag ^^), place one half of the dough on it and sprinkle some more flour. Place another sheet of wax paper over the floured dough and roll out to approximately 1/16 in. with a rolling pin. Line a pie dish with the rolled-out dough. Fill the pie with the filling. Roll out the other half of the dough, and cover the filling. Pinch the edges of the top and bottom crusts together, creating a scalloped trim. With a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle of the top crust, and poke holes all over the top crust using a fork.

Bake at 350ºF (lower the oven heat just before putting the pie in) until the apples are cooked, 45-60 min. (Optional: Tent the pie with foil for the first half hour or so of baking.)

As is evident from the picture, I epically failed at the scalloped trim. I guess I'll just have to keep practicing!

ETA: The crust turned out pretty excellent despite the hot weather (I was worried about the shortening being too soft), but the filling was very watery -- not sure where all the liquid came from, but next time I'll have to add more flour.

Blue & Red Buckle
Adapted from the Black & Blue Buckle from "Farmers' Market Desserts."

When I went to the store yesterday, I remembered the one thing I don't hate about the summer: berries! I had stumbled across a recipe for a berry buckle on NPR a while back, and I had never even heard of a "buckle" before, so here was the perfect chance to try it! I used fresh cherries instead of blackberries.

1/2 c. flour
1/3 c. gently packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 c. chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until it is in small pieces. Stir in the pecans.

1 1/2 c. blueberries
1 1/2 c. cherries, pitted and quartered
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, toss the ingredients together.

1 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 8" x 11" baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Mix in the egg and vanilla. Add half of the flour mixture, then all of the milk, and then the remaining flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Scatter the berry filling evenly over the batter, then distribute the topping evenly over the filling.

Bake until the topping is golden and a toothpick inserted near the center tests clean, 50-55 min. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

ETA: Success! The whole pan disappeared at an amazing rate -- what a gratifying feeling!


  1. Yum...thanks for the recipes! Is this replacing your LJ? Or is this just going to be a baking blog? I wish I could try your crust; does the chemist in you know what the difference between using an egg in the crust and not using an egg? Because I just use flour, salt, and shortening. I'm curious to know what I'm missing. Also, the vinegar is intriguing, why that and not just water? One last thing: yay fluting pies! I love trying different edges, they're so pretty.

  2. I don't think this will replace the LJ, just... peacefully coexist. :) I don't know much about the chemistry of pie crusts, but since eggs are supposed to help bind things together, I would guess that it gives the crust more structure. Does your crust turn out very flaky/crumbly? I would guess that the vinegar reacts somehow with the proteins in the egg, or breaks them down, or something. There isn't much else for it to react with. ^^