Pizza Rustica {TWD-BWJ}

This is my second forray into Tuesdays with Dorie, and I’m happy to report that I liked this recipe a lot better than the Irish soda bread I made a few weeks ago. This recipe is from Nick Malgieri, and it reminded me of a savory version of his Neapolitan Easter pie.

I should say up front that I’m sure there’s some historical reason for the name, but it really isn’t anything like a pizza. It’s more of a savory cheese pie, akin to a quiche, but not as custardy.

The crust is simple to whip up in the food processor. The surprise here is that, although this is a savory pie, the crust is quite sweet. I found my dough a bit on the dry side, so I wet my hands and kneaded a bit of water into the dough before rolling it out. It worked beautifully.

The filling also came together quickly. It consisted of ricotta cheese, eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, sweet Lebanon bologna (my substitution for prosciutto), mozzarella cheese, and spices. I began by stirring the ricotta to soften, then mixed in the remaining ingredients one at a time. I spooned the filling into the crust and smoothed the top.

I rolled out the remaining dough and cut it into strips with a  ruffle-edge pastry wheel, then made a criss-cross lattice pattern on top of the pie.

I baked the pie for about 40 minutes at 350°F, until the crust was golden brown and the filling set. The recipe says to cool the pie completely before eating. I let mine cool for about 20 minutes, but we were hungry and decided to eat it while it was still warm.

It seemed like it needed something light and refreshing to go with it. I wanted to make a frisee salad, but I didn’t have any greens in the fridge. I’m not sure what made me think of it, but I decided to toss together a quick carrot salad to eat with the pie. It turned out to be the perfect accompaniment.

The pie was rich, sweet, savory, and salty all at the same time. I’m not sure how it would be with prosciutto, but the sweetness of the crust paired beautifully with the salty-sweet of the Lebanon bologna. And the carrot salad provided just the right coolness and acid to balance out the dish. We all agreed that this is a dish we would gladly eat again.

This post is part of Tuesdays with Dorie. Check out the group website to see what everyone else thought of this dish. Our hosts for this recipe were Emily and Raelynn. Surf on over to their blogs for the pizza rustica recipe.

Next up: Lemon Loaf Cake. You’ll have to check back in a few weeks to see what I thought of it, but here’s a preview:

Dinner and dessert

 

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The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri {Review}

“If you have an oven, you need The Modern Baker.”  ~ Maida Heatter

First published in 2008, Nick Malgieri‘s cookbook, The Modern Baker: Time-saving Techniques for Breads, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, and Cookies, has just been reissued in paperback.

Like most home cooks, I own a lot of cookbooks. Some I turn to all the time; others I rarely touch. The Modern Baker never leaves my kitchen.

This book contains over 150 recipes, both sweet and savory, with everything from quick breads to savory tarts to cookies, cakes, and pies. I have been baking from it for about a year and a half, and even started the Modern Baker Challenge to encourage others to bake with me. In that time, I’ve made — and blogged about — almost 100 recipes. (If you want to read any of the blog posts, use the search box on this page to search for {ModBak}, the tag I use in all my Modern Baker posts.)

I have really come to appreciate the clarity with which the recipes are written, how easy they are to follow, and the consistent results I get when making them. But what really sets this book apart from other cookbooks is the way Nick takes the mystery and intimidation out of baking. Through his helpful, step-by-step instructions and photos, he shows how to make perfect pie crusts, “instant” puff pastry, bakery-quality cakes and pies, and company-worth tarts.

I originally picked up The Modern Baker in hopes that I could finally overcome my mental block when it comes to pie crusts. As comfortable as I am in the kitchen, both with cooking and baking, I had never been able to make a decent pastry crust. It wasn’t that I didn’t try; I just could never seem to get it right. My dough would be gooey or too dry, and when I baked it, it would turn out tough or dry and crumbly. So I was delighted when I made Nick’s quick pastry crust and it turned out perfect the first time. And the second. And the third. And every time since.

The puff pastry is another breakthrough in this book. It mixes up in minutes and doesn’t require rolling in butter in “turns” as in most puff pastry recipes. After mixing the ingredients in the food processor, you pat it out, fold it over itself envelope style, roll it up, and pop it in the fridge. And the resulting puff pastry surpasses anything you can buy. Since I discovered Nick’s technique, I always have homemade puff pastry in the freezer. And the book has taught me countless ways to use it.

If you fancy yourself a cook, but have always been intimidated by baking, you need to own this book. And if you are a seasoned baker and want to find some new, streamlined techniques for the recipes you love to make, you’ll find them here. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at homemade bread or layer cakes, you will feel like a real baker after trying just a few recipes.

In fact, whatever your level of baking experience, you will learn amazing tips, techniques, and tricks from Nick Malgieri and The Modern Baker.

Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Tart {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Mondays recipe veers sharply away from the sweet puff pastry recipes we’ve been making recently to bring up something savory, tangy, and, OK, a little sweet. The combination of caramelized onions, blue cheese, and tarragon is genius. These flavors play off one another to bring out the best qualities in each of them.

As with all the recipes in this section, this tart is built on a crust made of puff pastry. The full recipe makes a 12 x 15-inch tart. I wanted to halve the recipe, so I used a 6 x 7 1/2-inch pan, right? Wrong!!! I used an 8 x 11 1/2-inch pan, which is very close to half the size of the jellyroll pan called for in the recipe.

How, you say? Let’s do the math. A 12 x 15-inch pan has a surface area of 180 inches (12 x 15 = 180), half of which is, of course, 90. And 8 x 11.5 = 92; pretty darn close to 90. So, I used half the puff pastry called for in the recipe, rolled it out to fit the pan, and stuck the crust in the fridge until I was ready for it.

Next, I prepared the caramelize onions. There are two basic methods for caramelizing onions — the real way, and the fake way. The real way involves cooking the onions over very low heat in butter or oil with a pinch of salt for a long time (upwards of an hour). The “fake” way, which really doesn’t involve caramelizing the onions at all, is to sauté the onions in butter or oil and add sugar and balsamic vinegar to mimic the color and flavor you get when you caramelize onions.

When I read the ingredients to this recipe and saw that it called for both brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, I figured we’d be faking the caramelized onions. But then I read the recipe and saw that the onions are cooked over low heat for 40 minutes, and I realized that Nick had combined the long, slow cooking and natural caramelization with sugar and vinegar for added flavor. I should know by now to trust him, shouldn’t I?

The onions looked and smelled wonderful while they cooked. And the flavor was as good as any caramelize onion I’d ever had.

With the crust and caramelized onions at the ready, all that was left to do was crumble some blue cheese and chop fresh tarragon. I used a mixture of chevre blue and buttermilk blue for the cheese. The goat blue was firm and very flavorful; and the buttermilk cheese was soft and tangy.

To assemble the tart, I poked the crust with the tines of a fork, spread the caramelized onions over the crust, added the blue cheese, and sprinkled on the tarragon. It seemed to be heavy on the toppings to me, but having tasted the onions, I was ready to trust Nick’s judgment on this one.

I baked the tart in a 400˚F oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the cheese had melted and begun to brown. I probably should have let it bake for a few more minutes, as the crust was quite soft when I cut it.

I let the tart cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into it. It was so good — the buttery crust, the tang and sweetness of the onions, the bite of the blue cheese, and the sweet, licorice-like flavor of the tarragon, all complemented one another perfectly.

Nick bills this tart as an appetizer or first course, but I was perfectly happy eating it for a late-night snack and breakfast the next morning. It would pair well with a crisp, fruity wine.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the sweet puff pastry recipes that we’ve made over the past month or so, I have to say that this is among my favorite recipes in this section so far.

Apple Tart with Lattice Crust {Bake!}

A small group of us have been working our way through Nick Malgieri’s Bake! at the slow steady pace of a few recipes per month. We took August off to catch up on any recipes we might have missed, or to get ahead on the next section. We started up again in September with Truffle Brownies, a great way to start, if you ask me.

This was the second recipe for September, chosen for us by Kayte. Yes, I said September. I actually made this recipe on time, I just didn’t get around to posting it until now. A month to catch up, and I’m already behind.

This was a fairly straightforward recipe. It’s basically an apple pie baked in a tart shell with a lattice crust.

The lattice topping is brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sugar.

I had some filling leftover, so I baked it in a gratin dish with the extra crust from the lattice.

 This was a good pie, nothing extraordinary. Probably not one I’ll make again. But then, I have a lot of great apple pie, tart, and cake recipes to choose from.

Apricot & Almond Strudel {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge was a quick, easy dessert. It consisted of puff pastry with an almond paste filling and apricots. I decided to make this for dessert the other evening about 10 minutes before dinner went on the table. And I had it in the oven before we sat down to eat.

I rolled out the pastry dough, mixed the almond filling with the Kitchen Aid mixer, and drained a can of apricots. I spread the filling over half of the dough, then topped it with apricots.

I slit the top dough, placed it on the strudel, and pressed it in place. I fluted the edges with the back of a paring knife, and it was ready to bake while we ate dinner.

By the time we were done eating, the strudel was ready to come out of the oven.

I set the strudel on a rack to cool while we cleaned up the dinner dishes; then we cut into it.

We all enjoyed this strudel. The puff pastry was, of course, rich, buttery, and flaky. The almond filling was delicious and paired well with the slightly sweet, slightly tangy apricots.

This was a perfect weeknight dessert. Easy to throw together at the last minute, and absolutely delicious. And, hey, it had fruit in it, so it must have been good for us, too!

Easy as (Peach) Pie

This past weekend, we took a trip to a local orchard. This is something we always do in the Fall, usually several times. It’s as much a part of the change of seasons as falling leaves, sweatshirts, and college football (go  Irish!).

On this trip M surprised me by asking for a half peck of peaches so that she could bake a peach pie. Other than the deep dish peach pie with lattice topping that I made recently for the Modern Baker Challenge, I don’t know that I’ve made a peach pie since M was born. I love peach pie, I just never bake them. But I’m always one to encourage my girls’ baking endeavors, so we bought the peaches, along with some Honeycrisp apples, cider, caramel apples, and fudge.

M wanted to make the pie all on her own, using a recipe from Better Homes & Gardens. She even turned down the offer of a premade crust from the freezer. So I advised her to chill her pastry ingredients and explained how to use a boiling water bath to peel the peaches, then got out of the way.

And, left to her own devices, this is what she came up with:

She came up with the idea for the fruit cut-out on her own and did it freehand.

It was late when she finished baking the pie, so we let it cool overnight and had it for breakfast the next morning.

I was amazed — but not surprised — by how delicious the pie came out. The crust was flaky and perfectly done, and the filling was fruity, spicy, and very flavorful.

It’s good to know M didn’t inherit my pastry gene. After baking about 50 tarts and pies for the Modern Baker Challenge, I’ve finally overcome my mental block with pie crust. M somehow nailed it on her first try.

Apple Tarte Tatin {ModBak}

After my recent tatin disaster, you’d think I wouldn’t want to rush right back in and try another one. But as I’m never one to let a little thing like failure dissuade me, jump back in I did. Besides, this it the real thing — a classic apple tarte tatin.

Having learned from my issues with the pineapple tatin, I did make some changes this time. To begin with, I made my caramel in a saucepan. That way, I could pour it out as soon as it was done so it wouldn’t overcook.

Now that, my friends, if perfectly cooked caramel. Despite my history of burning caramel, this time I nailed it.

The other change I made to the recipe was to bake it in a cake pan instead of a sauté pan. I poured the cooked caramel into the cake pan, then layered on the apples.

I covered the pan with puff pastry dough, which didn’t melt this time, as the pan wasn’t hot.

I baked the tatin at 350°F for about an hour, then cooled it a bit before turning it out onto a plate.

It was obvious at first glance that the caramel wasn’t overcooked on this tatin like it was when I made the pineapple tatin, and I was hopeful that this one would make up for the disaster I had the first time around.

I didn’t have any ice cream, so I served this one naked.

As it turned out, this tatin didn’t need any adornment. It was delicious. The caramel was perfectly cooked and complemented the apples beautifully. I would gladly make this again, caramel and all. In fact, this may just be the recipe to help me overcome my mental block with caramel.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin {ModBak}

I knew this week’s recipe for the Puff Pastry section of the Modern Baker Challenge was going to give me trouble. Like my well-known issues with pie crusts, I’ve always struggled with caramel. It goes from amber to burnt so quickly, and I usually end up having to make it twice. Nonetheless, I bought my pineapple, assembled my ingredients, and got to work.

I began by roasting the pineapple until it was cooked and slightly dried.

While the pineapple cooled, I made the caramel sauce. This recipe is unique in that the tatin is baked in the same pan that you use for the caramel sauce. One of the problems with this is that the caramel continues to cook after you remove it from the heat, so you have to be careful not to overcook it.

I, of course, overcooked it. It very quickly went from this…

…to this…

…to this.

In my own defense, I don’t think the caramel was actually overcooked when I took it off the heat. But it, of course, kept cooking after I removed it from the heat. I turned my attention to the pineapple, and by the time I got back to the pan, the caramel looked a bit overdone.

The caramel contained sugar, corn syrup, water, and butter and only took about 10 minutes to make; so I should have made it again as soon as I suspected it was burnt. But, of course, I didn’t. I layered on the pineapple, covered the top with puff pastry dough, and baked it.

Another issue created by the hot pan was that the puff pastry dough started to melt when I laid it over the top of the tatin. This didn’t seem to negatively impact the baked tart too much.

I let the tatin cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turned it out onto a plate.

It smelled delicious with the caramel and pineapple, and I was hopeful that the caramel hadn’t overcooked to the point of bitterness.

After the tarte had cooled, I cut a slice and plated it with some homemade vanilla ice cream.

One bite was all it took. The pineapple was sweet and well-caramelized. But the caramel was overcooked and inedible. I ate the ice cream (no sense wasting that), then threw out the slice and the rest of the tatin.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a particularly difficult or time-consuming recipe, nor did it call for a lot of ingredients. But it was still a huge disappointment. Don’t get me wrong: there was nothing wrong with the recipe as written. All of my problems were operator error. 

Unfortunately, they were enough to ruin the entire tatin. And it made me that much more anxious about the next recipe: apple tarte tatin. It’s the same basic recipe made with raw apples instead of roasted pineapple. You’ll have to come back in a few days to see how that turned out.

Deep-dish Peach Pie with Woven Lattice Crust {ModBak}

If you can’t find perfectly ripe peaches, make the apple or plum variation.” So says Nick Malgieri in the introduction to this recipe. Reading the ingredients, you quickly understand why. Other than the peaches, the filling contains nothing but sugar, a few tablespoons of flour, and some nutmeg. The peaches are clearly the star of the show.

So, with all of that, you’d think I’d heed Nick’s warning, wouldn’t you? Anyone who has made as many of Nick’s recipes as I have and trusts that he knows what he’s talking about wouldn’t try this recipe without perfect peaches.

Except me. But more on that in a minute. This recipe is very simple to put together. After rolling out and shaping the puff pastry, you prepare the peaches, mix them with a little sugar and spice, then put the whole thing together and bake it.

I started by making the woven lattice crust. This part might seem a bit intimidating if you’ve never made a lattice topping before, but Nick’s instructions make it simple.

I began by drawing an outline of my pan on parchment paper, then rolling puff pastry into a rectangle slightly larger than the outline.

Next, I cut the puff pastry into strips,…

… and removed every other strip.

Then I folded the first, third, and fifth strips back to the center, laid a strip of dough crosswise over the remaining dough, folded the strips back down, and repeated with the second and fourth strips.

I turned the parchment around and did the same thing from the other end, and I had my lattice top.

I slid the lattice into the fridge while I prepared the filling.

To prepare the peaches, I put a pot of water on to boil and filled a bowl with ice water. After cutting a small “X” in the base of each peach, I plunged them into the boiling water for a few seconds, then moved them to the ice bath.

When I began to peel the peaches, it quickly became obvious that they were underripe. The skins, which should have slipped off, clung stubbornly to the peaches. When I switched from a paring knife to a peeler, it was apparent that the flesh, which should have squished under the pressure of the peeler, was firm and underripe. 

Heeding Nick’s warning, I should have stopped right then and either switched to apples or plums, or returned to the store to buy different, riper peaches. At the very least (as I realized later), I should have returned the peaches to the boiling water to loosen the skins and soften the peaches somewhat.

Of course, I didn’t do any of those thing, but rather, proceeded stubbornly with the pie. Once all the peaches had been peeled and sliced, I mixed them with the sugar, flour, and nutmeg.

I scraped the mixture into the pan, then topped it with chunks of cold, unsalted butter.

I took the lattice crust out of the refrigerator, brushed it with egg wash, sprinkled it with finishing sugar, and slid it onto the pie.

I baked the pie in a 375° oven for about 35 minutes, until the crust was golden and the filling was nice and bubbly.

I served the pie with homemade crème anglaise ice cream, which I hoped would make up a bit for the lackluster peaches.

Now, you’re probably expecting to read that this pie was tough and entirely lacking in flavor. To my surprise, however, it was actually delicious. Yes, the peaches were a bit on the firm side (although they did soften up considerably in the oven). And the flavor wasn’t as bright and “peachy” as it might have been with ripe peaches. But it was still really good.

I made this recipe as part of the Modern Baker Challenge. And it’s one I’ll definitely make again. But next time, with perfectly ripe peaches.

Raspberry Almond Tartlets {ModBak}

Talk about saving the best for last. This is the final recipe I made from the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, and what a way to finish! I would have to put this recipe in the top 3 for this section, right up there with the Pumpkin Pecan and Bourbon-scented Pecan Tarts.

I put this one off until the end, not just because it’s near the end of the section (I tend to make the recipes roughly in order), but also because tartlets always seem a bit fussy to me. I tend to favor full-size tarts and pies, as their miniature counterparts tend to be tedious to assemble. I needn’t have worried with this recipe, however, as it came together really quickly.

Having made the crust the day before to use for lemon lime tartlets, all I had to do was roll it out, cut it, and fit it into the mini muffin pans.

I had planned to make a half recipe of the lemon lime and raspberry almond tartlets, so I divided a single batch of sweet tart dough and set aside half for each recipe. There was a small chunk of dough leftover when I made the lemon lime tartlets, and I had stuck that in the fridge after I made the crusts for those the day before. As I rolled out the dough for the raspberry tartlets, I realized there was enough dough to make more than just 12 tartlets. To my surprise, between the leftovers from the day before and the raspberry tartlet dough, I was able to make 24 tartlet shells.

While the dough chilled in the fridge, I put together the filling, which consisted of almond paste, sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter, and flour, all whirred together in the food processor. Then I gathered my ingredients to assemble the tartlets.

I began by putting a dab of seedless raspberry preserves in each shell, then topping that with either one large raspberry or two small blackberries.

Then I spooned in the filling to cover the berries. Nick says to spread the filling evenly with an offset spatula, but mine seemed to even itself out nicely. I sprinkled the top of each tartlet with sliced almonds, and they were ready to bake.

I baked the tartlets at 350°F for 20 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the filling was puffy and set.

Allowing the tartlets to cool was no easy task, but I left them alone for about 25 minutes, until the pan was cool enough to handle, then I removed each tartlet to a rack to finish cooling. Well, all except for those destined for the dessert plate.

In case you’re wondering, that wasn’t all for me. My wife and I split the tartlets on the plate. But I did sneak another one every time I walked past the table. And I found lots of excuses to pass through the dining room.

I really enjoyed these tartlets. The almond paste gave the filling a wonderfully rich and warm flavor, while the berries provided a juicy, tart contrast. I liked the blackberry ones the best, although I wouldn’t say no to either of them. Which is why I eventually had to wrap them and put them away.

So that’s it for the sweet tarts and pies. On to Puff Pastries. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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