Monday, October 15, 2012

Lessons in Mini Pies

So Adam and I got married [actually, to the day] a month ago. When we first started planning our wedding, I did the typical girl-thing and read a LOT of wedding magazines, blogs and boards looking for ways to make our day special and unique (yea, I know it's never going to be THAT different if you're looking for ideas on the Internet....). And I came up with a lot of ideas for things that we wanted to do on our own which may or may not have been a good idea ("Let's take apart old wooden crates to make a base for our centrepieces!") but the one thing that I was set on pretty much from the beginning was to handle SOME portion of the food. I wasn't crazy enough to consider handling the actual meal, so it was probably going to be dessert. I briefly considered baking our wedding cake, but the truth is that I don't bake a lot of cake not to mention we wanted carrot cake which I've never actually made....once. I did know that I wanted pie to be present in some way at the wedding because I LOVE pie, and I was leaning toward an edible favour so aha! Pie wedding favours!

A lot of people tried to talk me out of doing this, with arguments such as "WHEN are you going to make 200 pies", "How/when are you going to bake them when we're leaving for Niagara-on-the-lake the day before the wedding?" and "you are crazy. I am not helping you". But I decided to just go for it. How hard could it possible be? I didn't even have structural concerns like I would with a cake! I just had to make a LOT of small pies (muffin sized, in muffin tins). And figure out how to package and label them. Easy.

So many boxes!
The plan was to make and freeze (but not bake) 200 pies in the month or so leading up to the wedding, and bake them off the morning before. Since we were spending the night out of town, everything had to be baked, cooled and packaged/ready to go by noon on the Friday. Honestly, I wasn't really concerned at all about making and freezing the pies. As long as the work was stretched out, it felt pretty doable. I was most stressed out about the morning baking session, as even when baking 24 pies at a time at 30 minutes each would be at least 8 batches. Luckily, Laura's parents have two ovens so we could bake 48 at a time which meant 2-3 hours of baking. Right? Right!

So I started baking. I was planning to make three or four different flavours of pies: pumpkin and strawberry-rhubarb which I had tried and tested recipes for, an apple crumble and possibly a peach which ended up turning into a peach-blueberry pie. I did a few test rounds and learned a few things, which are noted below.

To be honest, there were a few very long baking sessions involved and there were some aspects (specifically the packaging) which look a lot more time than I originally anticipated. But I 100% do NOT regret my decision and would totally do it again. Of course, I had help. My mom graciously lent me some kitchen and freezer space (which I very much lack in my condo). My bridesmaids were AMAZING and helped with everything from creating colour-coded labels, assembling and stamping the boxes, and baking off the pies so I can't say I could have done it all on my own. But with all the other crazy planning and decision making going on, making the pie favours was honestly the thing that I felt most sure about and excited for. I knew that as long as I made the time it wouldn't be a problem, and it added such a perfect, personal touch to the day. And seriously, they looked so cute!!

The good news is, you can make mini-pies for ANY occasion and you don't need to make 200. You could even make some, freeze them and bake off a couple at a time and call it portion control? I actually made some more for Thanksgiving once we got back from our honeymoon because in all the craziness we didn't actually get to TASTE any of the favours. So below are my tips and recipe for my personal favourite from the day! (apple crumble)

If you cut strips of parchment to line the muffin tins with, it'll make it easier to get the pies out once they're baked.

Mini Pie Tips

1. Mini pie crusts need to be more flexible than regular pie crust.
Since you're going to be rolling these out thinner than you would a normal pie, you need something to make these a little more pliable than your standard crust. The regular recipe that I use also tends to be super flaky (meaning, crumbly) so the first round was okay, but not ideal. I ended up adding buttermilk to my liquid which helped a lot.

2. Mini pies = a VERY small dice for fruit fillings
This is pretty obvious in retrospect. Small pie, small dice right? Except my understanding of "small" didn't really compute until I tried to fill my first apple pies and got like, 5 hunks of apple into the crust. If you don't cut up your fruit pretty finely, you won't get very much in your mini pie and then you'll just have a dry pie with a bad filling:crust ratio.

3. Freezing before baking helps fruit fillings from boiling over while baking
Normally, when you're baking full-sized pies you sometimes have a problem where the crust cooks before the filling. This can be solved by covering your pie with foil once the crust is finished to prevent over browning. With mini pies, you have the opposite problem. The filling cooks up much faster since there is so little of it, and so with "jammy" fillings you may have a problem with the filling boiling over before the crust is browned. So if your pies are frozen in advance, this will help extend the cooking time of your filling. I still had some issues with the strawberry-rhubarb and peach-blueberry pies, but they were SUPPOSED to look homemade, right? ("It's rustic!")

4. Crumbles and "topless" pies are your friends
Small pie tops are annoying. I used a lattice crust for the strawberry-rhubarb, and a regular crust for the peach-blueberry. What a PAIN.

5. Proportions are a little confusing when converting recipes. Don't let it stress you out!
I made a lot of extraneous filling when I made the pies. I basically guessed as I went along trying to figure out how much filling to make, and sometimes it didn't really come out right but if you have extra filling, you can always make a crisp or crumble. If you have extra crust, freeze it for later.

Boxed and ready to go!

Apple Crumble Mini Pies

18 ounces flour
6 ounces butter
6 ounces vegetable shortening (I use Tenderflake)
5 ounces ice-cold water
5 ounces buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

2 1/2 pounds of apples (I used Paula Gold and Crispin)
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon (start with half the juice and add to taste - I really like lemon and thought it made the pie, but Adam claimed this was too citrusy)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Crumble Topping
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
Mush it all together. Add more of any ingredient if you want. Exclude the oats if you don't have any. Add nuts if you like nuts. This is pretty flexible.

1. Prepare crust - Cut out butter and shortening amounts, and freeze for about 1/2 hour Making sure the ingredients are cold is incredibly important when making pie crust. I try to store the tools I'm going to be using in the freezer while my butter and shortening are in there as well to keep everything cool.

2. Measure out flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl

3. Cut in (or grate in) butter and shortening into the flour

4. Add water and buttermilk mixture a couple tablespoons at a time, until flour mixture starts to clump together. Form a ball with your hands (be careful not to overwork the dough or it will end up tough)

5. Divide into two discs, wrap with saran wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until ready to use

6. Peel, core and dice apples into VERY SMALL PIECES. Probably around 1/4 inch pieces.

7. Toss the apples with lemon zest and juice, sugar, salt, flour and spices. Set aside.

8. Roll out crust to around 1/4 inch thick. Make sure you're using plenty of flour as you roll out, because if you don't the crust will stick and it won't be fun trying to pry it off the counter. Cut out circles that are a little wider than your muffin tin and line your pan.

9. Fill the crusts with the filling, basically as full as you can without the apples spilling over the sides, and making sure you leave some room for the crumble topping. Sprinkle the crumble topping on top.

At this point, you can either freeze the pies overnight and then pop them out of the liners and into ziploc bags until ready to bake, or bake at 350 degrees Farenheit, 175 degrees Celsius for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is browned. You don't necessarily need to worry about the filling with apple pie as these won't boil over.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Impress your Family at Thanksgiving!

So I have a whole backlist of things to post about. The 200 mini-pies that I made for our wedding three weeks ago, all of the amazing food we ate on our honeymoon in Maui plus some actual other cooking that I did while I was too busy planning a wedding to write about. But first...Thanksgiving is this weekend. Now, we had our turkey dinner LAST weekend as my aunt and uncle from Korea were still around from the wedding festivities and it happened to be Chuseok, the Korean autumn harvest festival or "Korean Thanksgiving". My aunt made the traditional songpyeon (a steamed sweet rice cake) that are traditionally eaten during the harvest festival, but beyond that we had our usual Canadian Thanksgiving meal. Which means that I can post some recipes before you make YOUR turkey dinner this weekend!

Now I've been "in charge" of the turkey dinners in our family for a pretty long time and I have a little theory about what makes a Thanksgiving meal (or Christmas, or any holiday involving a large roasted hunk of meat) truly impressive.

And here it is: It's all about the sides!

Honestly, ANYONE can roast a turkey. It's really not that hard. Yea, you can brine it, use a rub, inject a marinade, deep fry it, barbeque, or whatever other cooking method is trending this year OR you can just buy a turkey, season it with some salt and pepper and throw it in the oven until a meat thermometer in the thigh reads 165°C. Seriously. Try it sometime! And if the breast meat is a little dry? That's what gravy is for! I really REALLY love turkey, but I've never had one that was SO exceptional. Where you can really impress is the "other stuff". So here's my menu!

Kim family Turkey Dinner

Turkey (just Google it)

Gravy (I can't really help you here. I've still figuring out gravy. I use Bistry gravy granules to supplement my drippings!)

Pioneer Woman's Thanksgiving Stuffing with some extras...usually with some chopped dried or fresh cranberries to add a bit of colour, sometimes giblets, I used chestnuts this year too! Go nuts.

Mashed Potatoes (my only tip here is to use either a potato ricer or a masher that has little holes on the ends instead of a wavy pattern becuase it'll mash the potatoes finer, and use plenty of butter and milk and salt. don't use a hand blender, it makes them gluey!)

Kraft Dinner (ORIGINAL - it tastes good with turkey, I swear)

Harvest Buns (brush them with melted butter once they come out of the oven, they'll look so good and shiny that everyone will be SO impressed)

Cranberry Sauce (see recipe below)

Pumpkin Pie (see recipe below - I made mini pies this year but I'll post about that later)

Cranberry Sauce

12oz fresh or frozen cranberries, washed
One orange
3/4 cup white sugar

1. Zest the orange and set zest aside; juice the orange and add enough water to make one cup
2. Combine orange water, sugar and cranberries in a medium saucepan over high heat and stir to dissolve sugar
3. Cook until the water mixture boils, then reduce to medium and keep cooking until the cranberries pop and turn into a sauce (it will be lumpy but start to resemble jam - if you don't like whole berries you can also strain it at this point)
4. Remove from heat, stir in the orange zest and let cool. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Whipping Cream

adapted from Anna Olson

1/2 recipe Pie Dough, chilled (or you can just use a frozen crust. The Tenderflake ones are decent)

2 cups canned PURE pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling! I HAVE made my own pumpkin puree in the past - get a sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, roast in the oven until soft and then scoop out the insides and puree in a food processor or hand blender. It's better, but I can't say it's REALLY worth the effort)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp fancy molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 can evaporated milk

Spiced Whipped Cream1 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit, or 204 degrees Celsius

2. On a floured surface, roll out dough to just under ¼-inch thick, it should be about an inch wider than your [9-inch, preferably glass] pie plate. Try to shift the dough a bit while you're rolling so that it doesn't stick too much to the surface. Loosly roll the dough onto your rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate. Trim the edges and put into the freezer while you're preparing the filling.

3. Whisk pumpkin with brown sugar, molasses spices and salt with a stand mixer or hand blender if you have one. Whisk in eggs, then evaporated milk. You can also do this by hand, but I find that the filling is a bit "fluffier" if you use a mixer. Pour into the chilled pie shell (I always ALWAYS find that there is too much filling here, unless you're making mini pies. Then it's perfect for 2 dozen)

4. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees Farenheit, 175 degrees Celsius and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until filling puffs just a little around edges but still has a bit of jiggle in center when moved. Allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

Spiced Whipped Cream - Whip cream with sugar and spices until medium peaks form. Sometimes I use the magic bullet and it's SO FAST.