Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pizza for Any Night

I am rarely in the mood for pizza. Un-American, one might think. When I am in the mood for pizza, I usually go for a veggie type. One of my favorites is spinach pizza, though I have made many styles and combinations. All that aside, lately it seems I have gone off the deep end. Ever since I made the little English muffin pizzas for the Winefest event in late March, I had some of the mixture (pizza sauce, minced pepperoni and Parmesan, with just a bit of green pepper) in the refrigerator. The bottle was filled to the tippy-top, and my assumption is that because there was really no air space, it lasted far longer than it might have. So a couple of weeks ago I made some pizza using that mixture, plus a few more pepperoni strewn over top and then cheese. And then I made it again. And yesterday, while the pizza mixture was long gone, I was still in the mood, still had some pepperoni in the fridge and a fresh batch of grated cheeses. 
Hamburger Pizza with Green Pepper and Mushrooms
Hamburger Pizza with Green Pepper and Mushrooms

My husband loves pizza. Hardly a week goes by that he doesn't come home with a box and have it for snacking on. While he does not generally go for pepperoni pizza, it is okay to have some on it. His favorite is a meat-lovers type, of course. When we make pizza here at home, he usually chooses a combination of hamburger meat, green pepper and mushrooms. While I like this mixture on pizza, as I said, I usually make one with things I prefer. No crossover. 

Yesterday however, I had the hamburger out and mixed up a sauce, made the pizza dough and we had pizzas. This time I made them both the same. And they were delicious. For us, this is a nice pizza for any night. Nothing fancy. Nothing prim and proper. Nothing outlandish.

Last October I'd gotten in the mood to try a Buffalo Chicken Pizza, which, as something different, was really tasty. At that time I had created a recipe for pizza dough for one large pizza. Lately, I have been doubling that recipe and using it to make our separate styles of pizza. I will say, the weather has been exceedingly dry up here, and I have found this makes a huge difference in the flour to water ratio in my bread recipes. Even from October to now, it has been so dry that I had to add a half cup more water to the dough to get it to hydrate at all!  As a refresher, this is the recipe:

Pizza Dough
making pizza dough
making pizza dough

For two large (15 - 16-inch) pizzas

(start at least 4+ hours before serving)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons instant yeast
1½ cups lukewarm water, 80 - 90 degrees
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 2½ cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ to ½ cups water, if needed
the Sponge (above)

SPONGE: In a heavy duty mixer bowl, or in another large bowl, combine the flour and yeast and mix together. Add the lukewarm water and oil and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1½ hours, until bubbly. (When in a cooler climate, setting the bowl in the oven with just the oven light on creates a nice warm environment. Some oven lights are too hot and will begin to cook the dough. In this case, leave the oven door ajar so some of the heat escapes.)

DOUGH: Once bubbly, if the sponge was made in a heavy duty mixer bowl, add in two cups of flour and the salt. Set the dough hook in place and begin kneading on low speed until combined, 2 - 3 minutes. If making by hand, add the flour and salt to the sponge and mix by hand. Once well mixed, determine if more flour is needed. If the climate is very dry, you may have to add water. Start with a little and add more as the kneading progresses Once the flour and salt are mostly incorporated, knead for 4 to 5 minutes more with the dough hook, or 5 to 7 minutes by hand, until the dough is smoothly elastic and not too sticky. In the mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but still puddle a little on the bottom. Grease a bowl and set the dough in, turning once to grease all sides, cover the bowl and set in a warm place to rise for another 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.

The dough can be patted out and placed on a cornmeal coated piece of parchment (to later slide on to a pizza stone) or on a greased 15 inch pizza pan. If the dough wants to spring back too much, allow it to rest for 10 minutes and try again, stretching to desired diameter. Top with your choice of flavorings and bake at 400 degrees (375 on Convection Bake) for 20 to 25 minutes.

Slices of Hamburger Pizza
Slices of Hamburger Pizza

Once the dough is started, you can begin prepping the ingredients for toppings. I like to make some garlic-steeped olive oil to brush on the bare dough once stretched on the pans: combine about 4 - 6 tablespoons olive oil and 4 - 6 cloves of fresh garlic, minced finely. Set this in a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat to steep for at least 15 minutes. It should absolutely not boil. You want a nice garlic flavor: not raw and not browned. Set aside to cool until needed. When ready to make the pizzas, use a pastry brush to brush this mixture over the dough, before any toppings. I mixed up a batch of "pizza sauce"; simple, but good and then began prepping the other ingredients to have everything handy.

These pizzas came out very good. I did not think to use the bottom oven rack for the first pizza, and the crust was more soggy than I liked. Remember to use the bottom rack for a crispier crust. The heating element in ovens is in the bottom, so the closer to the element the pan is, the more browning of the crust.

Pizza Sauce 

For 2 large pizzas

1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
½ teaspoon dried oregano OR 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh, minced
2 tablespoons good Pesto, OR
- 4 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
a package of pepperoni slices, if desired

Combine ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Divide between the two pizzas when ready to bake.

Hamburger Pizza Toppings
Hamburger Pizza Just baked and sliced
Just baked and sliced

Enough for two large pizzas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound hamburger meat
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves OR 2 teaspoons fresh leaves
½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves OR 2 teaspoons fresh oregano minced
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 green bell pepper, cubed
2 small (4-ounce) cans mushroom stems and pieces, drained
16 ounces shredded cheese of choice (mozzarella or combination)
olive oil for pans

In a large heated skillet, add in the olive oil and the chopped onion and cook until the onion is softened and golden. (If you prefer raw onion, eliminate this step and use the onion raw on the pizza - my husband will not accept raw onion on the pizza!) Remove the onion to a plate and set aside. Add more oil if needed and fry the hamburger until it is well browned, adding in the salt, thyme and oregano during cooking. Add the onion to the meat, stir, and set the meat aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To assemble the pizzas, stretch the dough to fit two (oiled) pizza pans as directed above. If the dough will not cooperate, allow it a 10 minute rest and stretch again. If needed, do this again, until the dough will fit the pan. Brush the steeped garlic and olive oil onto each pizza round. Divide the Pizza Sauce between the pizzas and spread out evenly. Sprinkle half the Parmesan over each of the pizzas. Strew on the meat mixture, dividing equally between pizzas. Strew on the green pepper bits and the mushrooms. If using pepperoni, set slices, as many as desired, over top of the meat. Top with half the cheese per pizza. Bake the pizzas one at a time on the bottom rack of the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bourbon and Buttermilk - Creating a New Pie

It is interesting to me how I come up with "new" recipes - if any recipe can be called new, really. It seems that every time I think up a concept, if I go out and "Google It", it already exists, and in many forms, to boot. This morning I was thinking about buckwheat, because yesterday I had made the recipe I posted at the beginning of the month for pancakes made with buckwheat and Kamut flour. They were so fluffy and light I made them again  for myself and was eating them this morning. I gave thought to buckwheat scones. I was thinking of what flavors would go well with buckwheat and I though of maple. Upon Googling, sure enough, there are buckwheat scones made with maple flavors. 

Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
I just thought up this new breakfast treat after breakfast this morning, and since scones are best fresh, I will wait on making them until I finish with the pancakes. Since I am the only one eating them, they will last at least 4 days. But instead, I had been thinking about my Chess Pie, which is one of my husband's and my favorite pies. It is so good, and so easy to make, I was imagining what to do to alter flavors just a little. I did see (online) some recipes for Bourbon and Buttermilk pies, some with one flavor, some with others. While they were similar to my Chess Pie, they differed in a few particulars. Since I have been making the Chess Pie for over 40 years, I figured, why mess with a good thing? I planned to stay as close to the amounts for my new recipe as possible.

Bourbon Buttermilk Pie just baked
Bourbon Buttermilk Pie just baked

With that in mind, I looked at that recipe and substituted the Bourbon and buttermilk, but then, what other flavors? I liked the orange extract flavor with Bourbon in the Pannettone Breads I made at Christmas time. I decided to use orange extract in this pie. Of course, when making a pie, one needs the pie pastry also. For me, the "soggy crust" at the bottom of the pie is a highlight, so I do not pre-bake the pie shell. If you are one of those who cannot stand the soggy crust, then I suggest pre-baking, as I described in my post of April 6th, except, once removing the beans or pie weights, do not continue to bake the shell. Just allow it to cool before adding the pie filling. The shell will be subjected to baking for nearly another hour, once filled.

Before and after baking

Chess Pie, if you are unfamiliar with this term, is basically a custard pie. It has just a teensy bit of flour and cornmeal to thicken, but aside from that, it is eggs, milk and sugar.  Butter gives it exquisite flavor. All these things would stay the same, except substituting buttermilk for the plain milk. The bourbon was just an added 2 or 3 tablespoons of liquid. With the amount of egg in the recipe, this would be no problem. I opted to use vanilla bean rather than extract. While 1 teaspoon more, or less, of liquid would be no big deal, I felt that the crisp flavor of true vanilla bean would be better. In retrospect, perhaps at another time, it might be good to use brown sugar instead of white, granulated sugar, for a more caramel-y flavor. 

The results? The Bourbon is noticeable. The orange extract is not. I cannot detect anything that points to buttermilk instead of regular milk. The texture is identical to Chess Pie; smooth and creamy. All in all, while the pie is excellent, I guess more changes are needed to make it truly something other than Chess Pie. Still. If you've never had a Chess Pie, but like the idea of Bourbon in a pie, you might want to try this one out!

While I used a 9-inch pie plate for this pie, the filling was just a little bit too much. It would be best to use a 10-inch pie plate if possible, or make two smaller 8-inch pies. This is what I did:  
Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
Bourbon Buttermilk Pie

Bourbon Buttermilk Pie

Makes one 10-inch pie

1 (10-inch) pie shell
2 - 3 tablespoons Bourbon or Whiskey
½ vanilla bean, scraped into the Bourbon
½ teaspoon orange extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons or ½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Fit the pie crust to the plate and crimp the edges high. Place the empty shell in the fridge until needed. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the Bourbon, vanilla seeds and orange extract and set aside. The vanilla may have to be coaxed to separate. Mine wanted to stay in clumps.

Making Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
Bourbon, vanilla & extract            |                  creaming butter & sugar              |                        eggs added             
In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with the flour, cornmeal and salt. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the Bourbon mixture to the buttermilk and add this to the creamed mixture and beat to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. As this is a custard type pie, the center will still be a bit jiggly when the pie is done. It will set completely as it cools.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Curried Lamb Dish for Dinner

Heidi and me opening gifts
Heidi and me opening gifts
I have mentioned quite a few times lately that a friend, Heidi, and I had celebrated our birthdays together. When asked what she would like for our dinner, she said Indian Curry. Since I am a total lover of Indian spices and flavors, an Indian Curry sounded perfect for our birthday dinner. Most times, I use a recipe from somewhere and then embellish to my husband's and my taste. Most often, the changes and embellishments leave little of the original recipe. However, since I had already had at least one and up to 3 guests at a time for the previous three weeks, I was seriously cooked out by the time it came to our birthday dinner. I looked desultorily through some of my Indian cookbooks but could not find a single recipe (which attests to my tired and scattered state of mind) that seemed to fit. The only specific was that it was to have lamb in it for the meat. 

More often than not, when cooking Indian food for guests I really go crazy, making all the side dishes I love so much like Palak Paneer or a Dhal recipe using little red lentils. I make Paneer from scratch, along with whatever is the main dish. I made Gulab Jamun once. I just love those little things for dessert. I have oodles of recipes I have made successfully and deliciously. Besides being hurried, and because I had absolutely no plan for a dish for this meal, nothing sounded good. Maybe I need more cookbooks! Probably not, though I will likely get more. But seriously, it was not the cookbooks that were lacking. It was just that I had no free time in peace and quiet to peruse and select at my leisure, pure and simple. I am a planner. When something special is required, I take plenty of time ahead and look carefully through my books for inspiration.

Curried Lamb with Peas over Saffron Rice
Curried Lamb with Peas over Saffron Rice
So it was that I came to the time to prepare the meal (my kids who were visiting had just left that morning, so I was still missing them acutely), with my guest Heidi having just arrived, and still with absolutely no plan for my Indian Curry. I was beginning to panic. Finally I just decided to wing it; something that is very rare for me. I knew I wanted to use coconut milk, because my husband and I really love curries with that flavor. I most often include green peppers and peas in my curries, purely because they are some of the very few vegetables my husband will eat. 
Basmati rice
Basmati rice

This time though, I also had Heidi's tastes to consider. She is willing to try things, but to date, her tastes are quite different than mine. She likes more simple foods, and nothing too exotic. I had her taste plantains. She was completely unimpressed and left them on her plate barely tasted. Black beans, the same. She will eat, but sparingly, if she doesn't care for it. She surprised me on two counts this trip, because she tasted my Serbian Grandmother's Beets with Horseradish with ham for breakfast, and while serving herself sparingly at first, she went back for a little more, then a little more, and yet again. Yea, Heidi!

I had already butchered a leg of lamb in preparation for the meal. I just had to find something to do with it. I started pulling out spices that sounded good to me (ALL Indian spices sound good to me!), resulting in quite a list. I got out the coconut milk. I opted to set the meat to "marinate" briefly with a few things while prepping others. The only accompaniment to the curried dish was saffron rice. I could not believe Heidi was unaware of saffron! She loved the flavor of the rice and the smell of the saffron, so I have hopes for her on that score! My saffron rice is simple, but we love it. I buy large bags of Basmati Rice (from India, it says on the bag) when making this rice, and we love the flavor. It is a side dish for many meals - not only Indian.

Saffron Rice

Serves 4 - 6

1 cup Basmati rice
1 tablespoon butter or ghee
1 teaspoon salt
pinch saffron
2 cups water

Place rice, butter and salt into a medium saucepan with tight fitting lid. Rub the saffron between fingers to break up into very tiny bits. Add water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on. Remove from heat and leave lid on until ready to serve.


As for my curry recipe, it came out well, following no recipe at all, but only adding in things I really love. If ground fenugreek is not available, soak a teaspoon of whole fenugreek seeds in hot water to cover for about 15 minutes, then add the seeds and water to the main dish while it cooks. Many Indian dishes are well spiced with chilies of some kind. I have red chile powder (not the kind used in Chile con Carne - just plain ground chilies) and added ½ teaspoon. The heat was not very noticeable. If desired hotter, use cayenne or add in some hot chilies of choice to cook with the dish. Here is what I did:

Curried Lamb with Peas

Serves 4 to 6

Curried Lamb with Peas
Curried Lamb with Peas

2 pounds lean lamb stew meat
1 teaspoon rosewater or water
1 pinch saffron
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fenugreek powder
1 tablespoon Tandoor Spice

2-inches true cinnamon, broken
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, seeds only
1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon ghee or oil of choice
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, cut into cubes
1 can coconut milk, stirred
½ teaspoon hot chili powder
½ cup almond meal
1½ cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
cilantro leaves for garnish

In a small bowl, soften the saffron threads in the rose water or water. Set the meat into a mixing bowl, add in the saffron mixture with the ginger, garlic, salt, fenugreek powder and Tandoor Spice. Allow the meat to marinate while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Heat a dry skillet to medium high and add in the whole Masala spices. Stir them quickly, moving constantly, to bring out their fragrance and oils. Pour onto a plate to cool, then grind them in a spice grinder and set aside.

In a large skillet or pot, over medium heat, melt the ghee. Add in the meat and stir quickly to sear slightly. Add in the onion and cook, stirring frequently until the onion has softened. Add in the ground Masala and stir to combine, then add in the green pepper and about 1/2 to ¾ of the can of coconut milk. Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the meat has become tender. If at any point the pan becomes too dry, add in a little more of the coconut milk, as needed. Stir in the almond meal, which will thicken the mixture slightly. About 5 minutes before serving, add the frozen peas and allow them to that and the curry to come back to full heat. Add the Garam Masala and check for salt. Serve over Saffron Rice. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

As it turned out, I am glad to report that both Rich and Heidi loved the curry. They each served them selves seconds or more and were so taken with the flavors and style of the curry. We loved it too, so obviously winging it once in a while is also a good thing!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Maraschino Cherry Cake Revision a Success

I know, cake/frosting/filling recipes two days in a row! There are lots of birthdays in April around here between friends and my family!
Maraschino Cherry Cake, revised, Moist and perfect!
Maraschino Cherry Cake, revised, Moist and perfect!

In yesterday's blog I mentioned wanting to see if I could make the Maraschino Cherry Cake I made last August for my husband into something actually moist enough to be edible. I tried one of the tips I found online (using a vanilla pudding mix) in a white cake recipe, but I was less than pleased. While the cake may or may not have been more moist, the flavor was all wrong. Okay, so scratch that particular tip. But the real reason I looked for tips on making a cake more moist was for that Maraschino Cherry Cake. The original cake I made was tasty. Nothing wrong with flavors. It was just way-the-heck too dry. Still, when a friend of ours, Tetiana, stopped over and I offered her a piece, with the caveat that it was far too dry. I had not realized at the time that she also was a cherry fiend along the lines of my husband. For her (she said) the cake was perfect and she loved it!

Tetiana's Maraschino Cherry Cake
Tetiana's Maraschino Cherry Cake
Some of the other tips on making a moister cake were things like adding more sugar than the cake called for, adding more butter, adding some oil to the recipe, folding in either yogurt or sour cream at the end, and other things such as substituting brown sugar and using more egg yolks. These last two were not ones I would use in my Maraschino Cherry Cake, because I was basically using a white cake recipe and adding in Maraschino cherries and some of the syrup. I took the recipe I had originally created (see that recipe here) and looked through the ingredients to see where I could use some of these suggestions. 

The changes I made were minimal. Instead of milk I used an equal amount of heavy cream. I added an extra 4 tablespoons of butter and an extra half-cup of sugar, lowered the baking powder amount by a teaspoon and the salt by 1/4 teaspoon. And lastly, 3/4 cup of sour cream was folded in at the end with the cherries. Looking at these changes, I was worried about the extra butter and sugar making it too thin a batter, so I added one more egg white for binding power. I had forgotten I had some Washington cherry flavor I had gotten at the King Arthur Flour website (and appears to no longer be available). While it is not Maraschino cherry flavor, I figured it would still bring more cherry flavor to the cake, so I added a little dash of that too.

The outcome was absolutely spectacular. I made a smaller cake (two 7-inch layers instead the regular 8 or 9-inch) for Tetiana and then made one tiny 6-inch layer so my husband and I could taste and critique the cake. I divided the 7-inch layers in half, making 4 thin layers. I cut the little 6-inch layer in half also, making it a 2-layer bitty cake for us to try.The cake itself was moist as can be with fantastic cherry flavor and color. The crumb was delicate and fine. It was all I could hope for in a cake.

Maraschino Cherry Cake, revised
Tiny 7 inch Maraschino Cherry Cake
Tiny 7-inch Maraschino Cherry Cake

Makes one (2-layer) 8 or 9-inch round cake

6 large egg whites
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup Maraschino cherry syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon Washington Cherry Flavor, optional
2 sticks / 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups cake flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 (10-oz) jar Maraschino cherries, drained
¾ cup / 6-ounces sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection Bake). Spray two round cake pans with nonstick spray. Cut parchment rounds to fit the bottom of the pans and set them in place, then spray the parchment. Set the pans aside.

Drain the jar of cherries (keeping the syrup for flavor) and cut the cherries in half or quarters. Set them aside to drain well while making the cake batter.

Whisk the egg whites together in a bowl until just foamy and well broken down. Add in the cream, cherry syrup and extract(s) and whisk well. Measure out 1/2 cup of this mixture and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the soft butter (not melted) with the 1/2 cup of liquid mixture. Begin beating slowly, increasing speed as the mixture begins to coalesce. Add in the remaining liquid mixture and beat slowly to combine, then increase speed to medium for about 1 minute to combine and aerate. On low speed, add in the drained cherries and the sour cream. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake the cake layers for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a crumb or two. Do not over bake! The batter is very light and fluffy soft, so watch carefully.

Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely before filling and frosting.

MAKE AHEAD: If not using the cakes right away they may be frozen. The 8 or 9-inch cake pan with the cake in it can be placed inside a gallon zip-top bag and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Thaw before filling or frosting. To make the 4 layer cake, slice each layer in half horizontally to make 4 thinner layers.


In yesterday's blog I gave the recipe for the Blackberry Mascarpone Filling  I made for the birthday cake I made for friend Heidi and myself. (I just realized I forgot to even add the Mascarpone as an ingredient! That is now rectified.) I wanted to do a similar thing with the Maraschino cherry cake's filling, so I used the same recipe, using a cherry jam (again, not Maraschino cherry flavor, and I had to pass it through a sieve to make it smooth enough). To make the cherry flavor more intense, I boiled down 6 tablespoons cherry preserves with about ¼ cup of the Maraschino syrup to make a total of about the same ¼ cup of cherry as there was blackberry jam in that recipe. It worked very well and the cherry flavor was beautiful.

Cherry Mascarpone Filling

Makes enough to fill a 4 layer cake with plenty left over

1 jar (10 ounce) maraschino cherries, drained, syrup reserved
6 tablespoons cherry preserves (not jelly)
¼ cup reserved Maraschino syrup
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cherry flavor, optional
1 carton (8-ounces) Mascarpone cheese

Drain the Maraschino cherries well and cut them in half. Set them on paper toweling to drain while making the filling.

Pass the cherry preserves through a sieve. Measure the amount after sieving. In a small saucepan, combine the measured preserves and the Maraschino cherry syrup and bring to boil. Keep at a steady low boil for about 10 minutes, reducing the mixture to about ¼ cup. Allow to cool while beating the butter.
Cherry Syrup and Finished Filling
Left: the cherry mixture cooked down to thick syrup       |               Right, the finished Cherry Mascarpone Filling

Make sure the butter is soft. If room temperature still has the butter too hard, hold it in warm hands or use the microwave in short 2 - 5 second bursts to soften, but not melt. One or two short microwave bursts should be enough. Place the softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed or higher and beat it for 8 minutes, until very, very light and creamy-pale, stopping to scrape sides of the bowl once or twice during the 8 minutes. Add in the cooled cherry mixture and beat to combine. Add in the confectioners' sugar all at once and mix on very lowest setting until it is moistened. Add the flavorings to combine, then increase the speed to medium or medium high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 or 6 minutes more. Add the softened Mascarpone cheese and beat just to combine.

To fill the cake, spread a good layer of this filling onto a cake layer, setting some of the drained cherry halves onto the filling. Top with another cake layer and repeat, then once more, pressing gently on each cake layer as it is added. If any filling oozes out, use the tip of a butter knife or table knife to scrape away any excess. Refrigerate the cake before frosting to set up the filling so the layers do not slide around.. 

Use this filling between the layers of the Maraschino Cherry Cake for those Maraschino cherry lovers in your life!  

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.   

Monday, April 20, 2015

Yummy Blackberry Mascarpone Filling for Cake

My birthday was just a few days ago, though we celebrated it the week before, with our guests. One of the guests, Heidi, had her birthday just a few days before mine, so we celebrated together. Luckily, we both love white cake with white icing, so that part was a no-brainer. I did play with the white cake recipe just a bit, to see if I could get it to be more moist. For me, the recipe is delicious as is. I found it someplace on the web but I am not sure exactly where. Wherever I found the recipe I use, it is quite wonderful, but you know, I just have to tinker. Tweak. Nudge. 
White Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling
White Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling

The reason I tinkered with this recipe at all is because last year for my husband's birthday I made a Maraschino Cherry Cake. He is a total Maraschino cherry fiend, so I thought this cake would be a treat. I had used this white cake recipe as the basis, and added in a 10-ounce jar of cherries with some of the juice. The cake looked lovely. It tasted great. Unfortunately it was just so dry it was very hard to enjoy. Looking ahead to trying this Maraschino cake again, I'd been planning to do some research on how to make that cake (and any cake) more moist. There just happened to be a site out there with a lot of tips, some of which I decided to try. Off the top of my head, some of the tips were:
  • if possible, use brown sugar instead of white sugar
  • if possible, use whole eggs, or add more yolks
  • mix a dry instant pudding mix with the dry ingredients for the cake
  • add one (8-oz) carton of yogurt or sour cream to the batter
  • use more sugar than called for
  • add more butter or some oil
There were more tips (go here for the site), but these were ones I recall. For the white cake I was going to make for our birthdays, I would not be adding whole eggs or yolks, and even less use brown sugar. I did decide to try adding one vanilla pudding mix with the dry ingredients, but I will probably not use that particular tip again. I could taste the artificial flavors of the pudding. It was still really good cake, and possibly more moist, but at least for the white cake recipe itself, I will be leaving well-enough alone.

So, although I was making white cake and white icing for our birthday cake, I did decide to make a filling that was different. I know Heidi loves fruit pies, particularly berries. I have made a fruit pie for her once, but this time I wanted to try something new. I wanted to use blackberries, to make the filling berry flavored and colored, and I wanted to use Mascarpone for some tang and to cut the sweetness. My first dilemma was to figure out how to make the filling taste of berries without adding too much liquid. The last thing I wanted was for the layers to squash the filling out, making the cake look like it had a few spare tires.

White Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling and fresh blackberries
White Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling and fresh blackberries

Finally I came up with an idea. I would use some seedless blackberry jam. I chose Polaner's only because it had no added sugar, per se (I know it has sugars, but it is not as sweet as some). If you use a jam with seeds or bits of fruit, press it through a strainer first. I do not suggest using jelly as it is too difficult to get it to meld into the icing. I used a version of my standard icing recipe and just added in some of the blackberry jam. It was too pale (I felt) so I added a little red food coloring. Unfortunately, this removed any trace of the pretty pale purple and turned it solid pink. Oh well. I do have some blackberry flavor extract, so I added in a tiny bit of that, as well as 1 tablespoon of Chambord liqueur. Chambord is raspberry flavored, but I just wanted to up the berry flavors as much as possible. I didn't add the Mascarpone until the icing was finished, and then only mixed until it was just all incorporated. This filling was absolutely stellar!

I had sliced the two layers of the cake in half, making 4 layers. The filling went onto the first half, and then I sliced fresh blackberries lengthwise and set them onto the filling. I did the same on the next two layers. Then I went ahead and made the white icing and frosted and decorated the cake with that. This filling did separate a little, looking slightly curdled, but I was not intending it for the outside of the cake anyway. As a filling, the flavors were just fabulous. Except for the artificial flavor component in the cake itself, this cake was (to me) just to-die-for. Here is the filling recipe as I made it:

Blackberry Mascarpone Buttercream Filling

Makes enough to fill an 8 or 9-inch cake, layers cut in half (three inner layers)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
White Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling and fresh blackberries
White Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling and fresh blackberries

4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) seedless blackberry preserves (not jelly)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon blackberry flavor
1 tablespoon Chambord liqueur, optional
1 carton (8-ounces) Mascarpone cheese, softened
1 small carton fresh blackberries, sliced in half lengthwise

Make sure the butter is soft. If room temperature still has the butter too hard, hold it in warm hands or use the microwave in short 2 - 5 second bursts to soften, but not melt. One or two short microwave bursts should be enough. Place the softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed or higher and beat it for 8 minutes, until very, very light and creamy-pale, stopping to scrape sides of the bowl once or twice during the 8 minutes. Add in the blackberry preserves and beat to combine. Add in the confectioners' sugar all at once and mix on very lowest setting until it is moistened. Add the flavorings to combine, then increase the speed to medium or medium high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 or 6 minutes more. Add the softened Mascarpone cheese and beat until just combined.
Filling the cake layers
Filling the cake layers

Spread the filling onto the first cake layer, evenly. Set blackberries, cut side down onto the filling. Top with the next cake layer and repeat. Do this once more, then top with the remaining cake layer and frost the cake as desired. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Delicious Fish Stew

Okay, I know many might read this title and think, "What in the world could possibly make a fish stew delicious?" My husband is one of these. And then there are more adventurous people who might just be intrigued. The dish in question is one I learned to make while living in Guatemala, and it was made exclusively for Good Friday. I made this stew every year for Good Friday, once I learned to make it, and I truly looked forward to making it, because I really loved it. Originally, the recipe is called Bacalao a la Vizcaina, or Cod in the style of Biscay (as in Biscay, Spain). In Guatemala, the dish was traditionally made with salt cod. Learning to use salt cod was interesting. Granted I was in my early 20s at the time, and had never heard of salt cod before. 

Bacalao a la Vizcaina
Bacalao a la Vizcaina

Variations on a Dish from Spain

As with any dish, who makes it will determine how it is made. Even in a small area, each cook will have their own spin put on the "way it should be done." To have a dish from northern Spain, made in Guatemala, one can imagine how far some of the changes might go. And yet, there are still some basic ingredients that stay the same. Salt cod of course, is the basis of this dish, whether in Spain or Guatemala. The use of olive oil, onions and tomatoes to make the sauce is held in common, though even in Spain there is question as to whether the sauce should be made with only red bell peppers rather than tomatoes. In my recipe from Guatemala they added both, and I have noted in looking around the internet that most recipes use both. Some recipes call for potatoes. Some call for olives. Some for garbanzo beans. Still others for other vegetables such as peas or carrots. The recipe from my ex family in Guatemala uses potatoes, carrots, capers and pickled cocktail onions! 
Not endorsing these brands; just using what was on hand!

The Spanish, apparently, use this dish for Christmas and Easter holidays where it often has chorizo sausage added in. This would exclude the dish from strict Catholic Good Friday meals. In my opinion, the dish is certainly a holiday-type fare, with all the little additions I mentioned at the end of the last paragraph, and the fact that it is so very delicious.

On Using Salt Cod

If you have never used salt cod, it is cod that has been dried and salted heavily to preserve. To use salt cod, it must first be soaked in clear water for 2 or 3 days, changing the water daily, to both plump the fish back to its mostly original size and weight, and more importantly to remove the heavy amount of salt, which would make it completely unpalatable otherwise. The salt cod I bought when in Guatemala was sold in a wooden box. It came from Spain or Norway, usually. The fish was rather strongly scented and quite hard. It is set into a container with a lid, covered in water, lid placed on and refrigerated. The next day, it would be removed from the fridge, drained, again covered in clear water, lidded and refrigerated. Next day, this step is repeated, and only on the fourth day was it ready to use in a dish. To make the Bacalao a la Vizcaina for Good Friday, I would start soaking the cod on Tuesday in order to be ready to make the stew on Friday. Even after all this soaking, one never, ever had to add salt to the dish, as there was always a significant amount of residual salt in the fish; enough to salt the dish perfectly.

My Latest Experience

My Bacalao a la Vizcaina, in the pot

Trying to find salt cod here in the US these days is a far more difficult task. I looked online for hours and was nearly ready to give up altogether. Most places that sold it had prohibitive prices. As if that were not enough, most places had absolutely scathing reviews on the fish. I finally ordered some through Amazon, though it was described as "12 ounces, which would plump up to 1 pound". The boxes I used to get in years prior were a pound of dried fish - VERY dried fish. I am pretty sure, though I never weighed it, that this would plump to something more like 1½-pounds. The "salt cod" that actually arrived on my doorstep this year was already quite wet and slightly plump, though covered in salt. I proceeded to make my Bacalao a la Vizcaina as I always did, soaking the cod for three days, changing water daily. Then, when ready to make the dish, I made the "stew" part, cooking until the vegetables were tender. I cooked the drained fish, covered with another change of fresh water until it could be flaked. After flaking, it was added to the stew just before eating.

I will say, this fish, once reconstituted fully and cooked, seemed to be quite nice. However, my initial misgivings on seeing already partly plumped salt cod were well-founded. This cod was certainly not that fully dried-and-salted sort I'd had in past. As a matter of fact, the stew ended up needing salt added, which in many, many years of making this dish, had never been the case. 

My reasoning, then, is that:
  • If salt cod is nearly impossible to find here,
  • If it is not nearly as "salted" as the salt cod I'd had in past,
  • If I have to add salt to the dish anyway,
  • Then why not just use some nice fresh cod and add salt as I normally would in a dish?

A "Stretchy" Recipe

If you should choose to make this dish, please understand that (at least in Guatemala) this was one of those stews that could be stretched to fit the need. Less vegetables and water were added if the dish was to serve a small family. Lots more potatoes and carrots were added, with more water, if it was to serve a larger crowd. I suggest, if using fresh cod instead of salt cod, to use at least a good 1½ pounds as the least amount. You might add more, if needed, for a larger crowd. The recipe is simplicity itself. Not overcooking the fish is the only thing to be careful of, as overcooked fish is rubbery, at best. The "stew" part of the recipe is the time it takes to cook the vegetables through, no more. The fish is added at the last minute. All that said, I love the reheated leftovers just as much!

Bacalao a la Vizcaina

Bacalao a la Vizcaina
Bacalao a la Vizcaina

Serves 6 - 10, depending on how one makes the dish

1 pound salt cod, reconstituted, OR
1½ pounds fresh cod (in which case add salt to the stew)
2 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 - 3 white or yellow onions
2 - 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 - 3 cans (6 ounce each) tomato paste
4 - 6 cups water
2 - 4 jars (4 ounces each) sliced pimiento, with their liquid
1 small jar green olives (about 15 - 20 olives, drained)
2 - 4 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 small jar cocktail onions, drained (about 15 - 20)
3 - 6 carrots, peeled, sliced in coins a scant ¼-inch thick
3 - 5 medium potatoes, peeled, cubed

If using salt cod, begin 3 days prior: remove salt cod from wrappings, rinse and set into a glass or ceramic casserole with lid. Cover with water, set lid in place and refrigerate. Next day, drain the water, add fresh, cover and refrigerate. Repeat this again next day. On the day of making the stew, Drain the water again, set the fish into a saucepan, cover with water and gently bring to a simmer, cooking until the fish will easily flake when pressed with a fork. Drain, cool slightly and flake the fish. Set aside.

To make the stew: Slice the onions in half, lengthwise and then cut across into 1/4-inch thick half-ring pieces. Heat a stew pot and add the olive oil. Cook the onions in the olive oil gently, stirring occasionally until tender and barely golden. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add in the cans of tomato paste and begin adding water, mixing to make the stew base. Add in the pimiento slices with their liquid, the drained olives, capers and cocktail onions. Add the carrots and potatoes, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about ½ hour or 45 minutes. When ready to serve, stir in the flaked fish. Serve with crusty French bread.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lamb Burgers to Die For

Birthday Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling
Birthday Cake with Blackberry Mascarpone Filling (recipe to come)
Hello! I have had guests for the past weeks, coming and going. It's been wonderful having our friend Rich visiting, as well as his significant other, Heidi, and always a stupendous lot of fun when my son Kenneth and his wife Julia come to visit. Because of the amount of guests, and amount of food prep and other things attendant on having guests in the house, I hadn't managed to get to a blog for about 11 days now. It is good to have the house quiet again, no matter how I love them all. So here I am, back at my blog, and a year older, too!

I just had my 65th birthday yesterday, though we celebrated with our guests last weekend. Yesterday was totally normal day with work to be done, though my friend Deb took me out to lunch, which was excellent.

My Calamata Tapenade
My Calamata Tapenade
When my son and his wife visit, I try to make some favorite things. I have used a recipe for lamb burgers found on the internet quite a few years ago. This was long before I had any idea about writing a blog, maintaining a website or any such thing. This year I got out the recipe and taking a good look, realized I probably never actually used the recipe except as a guideline. For example, the original recipe calls for 2 ½ pounds of ground lamb and only 2 cloves of garlic, for starters. I love garlic, and so does almost everyone I cook for. I used 6 large cloves of garlic when making these burgers last week. And, so it went with a lot of the recipe.

The recipe called also for making a tapenade to go on the burgers and while I like tapenade (or what passes for tapenade in jars in the grocery), I had never made it myself. My husband wouldn't eat it anyway, so if it is just the two of us, I wouldn't bother. But in talking to friend Rich, along with Ken and Julia - they all love tapenade, or at least olives, so that was the one totally new and different thing I did this time. Julia made a run to the nearby grocery and brought back some marinated Calamata/Kalamata olives. If I made this tapenade again (and I most certainly will!), I would look for these same olives, because the flavor was so excellent. I had only 4 remaining ("orphan") Kalamata Olives in a jar in the fridge, so I added these to the ones Julia brought home in making the tapenade.

My son, Kenneth
I pride myself on grilling things pretty well, but I have to hand it to my son - he just has a knack. My grill racks get scraped down when I grill and all, but I have not cleaned the pan below. The lamb was quite fatty also, and all this contributed to a total conflagration. On my own, I would likely have burnt the burgers. Ken came out to tend them and managed to bring in perfectly done burgers, with perfectly soft Feta on top. I was way amazed at his grilling prowess. Yea, Kenneth!

We came to the table to eat and such was the excitement that I absolutely and completely forgot to take photos of these amazing burgers. Good grief! All I got was one photo of the two remaining burgers on the serving plate and the dregs of the remaining tapenade. Not the best or prettiest photos, for sure, though one can certainly see the perfection of the grilled burgers. While great photos are sadly lacking here, I pray that anyone who loves lamb might try these recipes out, because oh, MAN are they ever just to-die-for-good!

Perfectly Grilled Lamb Burgers
Perfectly Grilled Lamb Burgers

Lamb Burgers with Grilled Feta and Tapenade

Makes 6 large burgers

2¼ - 2½ pounds ground lamb
6 cloves garlic, finely minced, or through a garlic press
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, minced
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Garrigue Seasoning, optional

8 ounces Feta Cheese, cut into approximately 6 slices

Mix all the burger ingredients well and form patties of approximately 1/4 pound apiece. Grill the burgers to desired doneness. Use a grill pan for the Feta, to soften. Feta does not really melt, but will warm nicely. Set one slice of Feta atop each burger. Serve with Tapenade on buns. A heftier, larger type of bun is needed for these large burgers than the cheaper types of bun available!

Olives I used for Tapenade
TAPENADE: Enough for 6 burgers

7 - 8 ounces pitted Calamata/Kalamata olives, drained
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely minced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup olive oil (more, or less, as desired)

Place the olives, parsley and garlic in a food processor to finely chop. With processor running, add in olive oil until the mixture is at the consistency you prefer.

Serve the tapenade on the side, to spread onto the buns when serving.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Third Time is the Charm for Lemon Meringue Pie

This year's Lemon Meringue Pie
This year's Lemon Meringue Pie
Two years ago for Easter I was asked to bring a Lemon Meringue Pie and a Coconut Cream Pie to the Easter festivities at my sister-in-law's house. I got the cold chills thinking about attempting either of these two pies. I have made chiffon pies, fruit pies, nut pies and Chess Pie, but the last time I had tried a Lemon Meringue Pie was when I lived in Guatemala, circa 1973. It came out okay, to my recollection, but my memory could certainly be imperfect at this remove. I had never made another since then, so maybe it didn't come out as well as I recalled. I could not even think of when, if ever, I had made a coconut cream pie. My current husband, of 25 years, dislikes coconut to begin with, and is not over-fond of lemon and tart desserts. When I eat either of these pies, it is as an indulgence when dining out somewhere.

That first attempt at both those pies was a complete and utter disaster. 

Then last year I was asked to make another Lemon Meringue Pie for Easter (I was surprised to have been asked, after the soup-like consistency of the previous year's attempt). This time I used Rose Levy Berenbaum's Classic Lemon Curd recipe, doubled (from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes"), and at least the lemon part of the pie was completely perfect. It cut well and held shape. The meringue, however, continued to leave a LOT to be desired. This is what I did with the Lemon Curd part of the recipe:

Lemon Curd in Blind Baked Pie Shell
Lemon Curd in Blind Baked Pie Shell

Lemon Curd

Makes enough for a 9 or 10-inch pie

4 teaspoons lemon zest, lightly packed
10 large egg yolks (set aside 4 of the whites for the meringue later)
1½ cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces (¾ cup) fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

Place the zest in a bowl. Place a fine mesh strainer over the bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the yolks, sugar and butter. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice until combined. Set the pan over medium low heat and begin cooking the mixture, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or wire whisk, scraping bottom and sides regularly. You will want to keep heat low as too high a heat will cook the yolks and curdle the mixture. This is easier than it sounds. Just keep stirring and if the mixture looks like it wants to boil, remove the pan from the heat instantly, stirring or whisking briskly to keep the heat down. This process can take 15 minutes or so. It is done once the mixture turns more opaque and will coat the spatula or whisk.

Once at point, pour the mixture through the fine mesh strainer over the bowl with the lemon zest. Press the curd through the strainer. Once all through the strainer, stir the mixture gently to mix in the lemon zest. Set aside to cool for one hour, placing a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd, to prevent a skin forming. After cooling to room temperature, refrigerate for at least another 2 or 3 hours before using.


The Meringue Conundrum

The reason for the meringue difficulty is that Easter "dinner" is served at 12 noon. The trek out there is an hour away. To get myself and any foods ready in the morning is a stretch, so I have made the pie(s) the night before on both these occasions. Any time one makes a meringue topping it will eventually tend to shrink and pull away from the edges of the pie if it is left for a time. It is whipped air bubbles. They will burst and shrink. No real getting around that. In trying to find a way to make meringue that remains more stable, I had tried to make an Italian Meringue the first year. Obviously, I overcooked the sugar syrup and obviously, I did not keep the syrup close enough to the edge of the bowl while beating. The meringue was filled with sharp little pieces of hard sugar candy. The second meringue attempt was one that had a cornstarch pudding mixed in to stabilize. It didn't (stabilize) and the consistency was gross. No other word for what I ended up with.

When I was once again asked to make a lemon meringue pie for Easter dinner this year I figured either they are testing my stamina, hoping for a better outcome (beginning to sound like the definition for insanity), or they are just masochists. 

Well, at least I knew I could make a good lemon curd, and that is half the battle. But the meringue was still my bugaboo. I spent some time thinking about the Italian Meringue. I did more research on the making of it, and the timing of things. I also wondered if perchance the fact that I live at just over 1,000 feet above sea level could possibly be causing a problem with cooking the sugar syrup. I couldn't find too much on that topic, but somewhere I read that it would work better if cooked to 2 degrees less than what the recipe called for. Of course, recipes vary also, and some called for the syrup to cook to 340 degrees and some said 338 degrees. Heavens...
This year's Lemon Meringue Pie with lovely meringue

So What is Italian Meringue?

There are three main types of meringue: French, Swiss and Italian. 
  • French meringue is your most basic: beat the whites until soft peaks form, gradually beat in sugar until the mixture is glossy and holds peaks. It leaves the egg uncooked, until it is baked to brown.
  • Swiss meringue is made similarly to a 7-minute icing. Mix the egg whites with sugar in a bowl set over (not in) boiling water and beat until they form glossy peaks. This makes a slightly more dense meringue.
  • Italian meringue requires cooking sugar and water to soft ball stage (235 to 240 degrees F). While the syrup cooks, the whites are beaten with a little cream of tartar or lemon juice, then the hot syrup is poured slowly into the meringue while beating constantly (a bit of a juggling act) to stiff glossy peaks. This method leaves the whites cooked enough to consume without further baking, if needed. This also leaves the meringue the most dense of the three.
If you, like me, dislike the regular meringue with that bubbly, burst-in the-mouth quality, then one of these other two variations could be your better bet. I love the consistency of Italian meringue, though some feel it is dense and candy-like. Your choice.

Things I Resolved to Do on the Meringue Front

In order to get the meringue to come out properly, I read, there are a few things to consider. These are ones I resolved to do:
  1. The egg whites should be fresh (as opposed to older), but at room temperature to whip to best volume.
  2. Do not wait to beat the whites until after the syrup is ready! This will likely have the syrup overcooked by the time the whites are at soft peaks.
  3. You will not want the whites beaten too much or too hard before the syrup is added. It is dangerous (unless you are well-versed in making this meringue) therefore, to use a heavy duty stand mixer, because it is far too easy to over beat.
  4. Along the same lines, the heavy duty mixer has beaters that beat very close to the edge of the bowl. Once any of the syrup hits the beaters, you've ruined the perfectly smooth meringue.
  5. Because of numbers 3 and 4 above, I opted to use my small hand mixer. It beats far more slowly and it is easier to keep the beaters away from the syrup.
  6. Lastly, I opted to split the difference and cook the syrup to 237 degrees. Not 238 and not 240.
Pile the meringue onto the curd
Pile the meringue onto the curd

Italian Meringue

Makes enough to mound high on a 10-inch pie

1⅓ cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons water (3 ounces or 90 ml.)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Have the room temp egg whites in a large bowl with the cream of tartar. Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid for about 2 minutes, to wash down any stray sugar crystals from the sides of the pan. Remove the lid and insert a candy thermometer so that it is in the sugar mixture but not touching the bottom of the pan. Cook without stirring to between 235 and 240 degrees. If at sea level, you might cook to 240 degrees. At 1,300 feet, I cooked the syrup to 237 degrees.

While the syrup is coking, begin beating the egg whites in the bowl. Beat on medium speed, only to the point where they barely will hold a peak. Once syrup is cooked to temperature, begin pouring the syrup into the whites in a thin stream, while continuously beating with the mixer, ensuring the syrup is well incorporated, without getting syrup onto the beaters. Continue to beat the meringue until it is cooled. It will be quite hot right after incorporating the hot syrup. To speed this process, the bowl can be set over cold water to finalize the beating and cooling process. Lastly, beat in the vanilla, if using.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection Bake). Spread the meringue onto the top of the lemon curd in the blind baked pie shell, ensuring the meringue is well sealed against the pie shell. Use a spoon to artfully make lovely peaks all over the meringue. Bake the pie for 12 minutes, to brown and set the meringue.
Spread meringue to edges and artfully create lovely peaks
Spread meringue to edges and artfully create lovely peaks

And then the Pie Shells...

Another of my bugaboos in the kitchen is blind baking pie shells. They just never seem to come out well for me. They slip down into the pie plate and end up completely uneven. I consider myself a good baker. My main bulk of baking, however, is cookies, cakes, bars, crisps, with pies a far bit behind. I make a tasty and flaky pie crust, though I dislike doing it. I (unlike many) really love the bottom soggy crust, so that is never an issue in my book! I love eating pies, including all the ones I mentioned earlier. Chess Pie is probably one of my (and my husband's) favorites. 

Lemon Meringue Pie requires a blind baked pie shell. Every time I make one, I am fearful of how it will look once baked. This time, I decided to try and take every precaution I could think of:
  • I crimped the edge of the pastry well up and to the most outer edge of the pie pan. I have always tried to do this anyway, but not often successfully.
  • I used a knife tip to very thoroughly prick steam vent-holes all over the bottom and sides of the shell, in hopes it would prevent undue puffing and/or deflating.
  • I molded a piece of foil to another like-sized pie plate bottom, so it would fit well into the unbaked shell for the first part of baking.
  • I lined the bottom and sides of the unbaked pie shell with this molded foil, and then used a full pound of dried beans in the foil as pie weights. I also made sure to push the weight of the beans mostly against the sides, so it would support the sides and prevent the sliding downwards I have encountered, to date.
Guess what? I got the best looking blind-baked pie shell I believe I have ever made! Practice makes perfect. Try, try again. All those platitudes actually work. Whew!

Unbaked shell, lined with foil and dried beans
Unbaked shell, lined with foil and dried beans

Single Crust Pie Shell

Makes one 9 or 10-inch pie shell

1½ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup lard, shortening or butter
½ teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons water

Place the flour and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the lard (or shortening or butter) into the dry ingredients until it makes a nice crumbly mixture. Begin adding in the water, a tablespoon at a time, using a fork to lightly toss the water and crumb mixture. Once the mixture will come together in a ball, no more water is needed. Bring the mixture together and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least an hour or up to 3 days.

When ready to use, sprinkle a surface with flour and roll out the dough to about ⅛-inch thick. Roll the pastry back onto the rolling pin, then unroll it over the pie plate. Gently ease it into the plate, then trim the edges to about ½-inch wider than the pie plate. Fold this overhang under, and then crimp the edges as high onto the rim as possible.

If filling the pie shell with a filling that will need cooking, it is now ready to use in your recipe. If blind baking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick steam vent holes all over the bottom and sides of the shell. Set a piece of foil into the shell and weight the foil with pie weights or dried beans. Push the beans so they will press against the sides of the shell and prevent undue sagging. Bake the shell for about 10 to 12 minutes, then remove the beans and foil and continue baking for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until the shell is golden and crisped all over. Cool the shell. Discard the beans. (The beans "can" be used after the baking, but are not best in either flavor or "good for you").

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.