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


Salt & Pepper Straws and Cheese Straws {ModBak}

The final two recipes in the Puff Pastries section of the Modern Baker Challenge were among the easiest. They are also the best argument I can think of for keeping puff pastry in your freezer at all times. With puff pastry on hand, you can have these delicious snacks baked and ready to eat in no time.

Unlike my friend Margaret, who set out to make salt and pepper straws and ended up making cheese straws instead, I set out to bake salt and pepper straws and ended up making both.

These were so easy to make. I rolled out the puff pastry, spread half of it with egg wash, then covered half the egg wash with salt and pepper, and the rest with cheese and paprika. The recipe called for salt with the cheese, but when I made them previously, I found the cheese straws a bit too salty for my taste.

Normally, you would cover the egg wash with either salt and pepper or the cheese mixture, but I was making a half batch of each.

If that looks like a lot of salt and pepper, it is. In fact, I thought it might be a bit too heavy on the salt. But I like to follow the recipe the first time I make something, so I stuck with the amounts given (cut in half to account for making a half batch, of course).

After folding the unadorned half of the dough over the rest, I rolled it out into a large rectangle, then cut the dough into 1/2-inch strips. I baked the straws for about 20 minutes, until they were puffy and golden. (I don’t have a picture of the finished product, so you’ll have to take my word for it. If you want to see what they looked like, check out Margaret’s cheese straws.)

The cheese straws were delicious. Without the additional salt, they were perfectly savory, cheesy, and, yes, salty. The pepper in the salt and pepper straws was just right, too. It gave them the right amount of bite but didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. I did find them a bit too salty, as did my tasters. Next time I think I’ll cut the salt in half, and I bet they’ll be perfect.

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.

Danish Cheese Pockets {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Mondays recipe is a version of Danish cheese pockets. I recently made the classic version from Bake!, and I was interested to see how these would compare. The Modern Baker version uses puff pastry, rather than a traditional Danish pastry. And the Danish are baked in a muffin tin, which helps them hold their shape.

I began by rolling puff pastry in sugar, just like when I made elephant ears. Once the dough was the correct size and shape, I chilled it while I made the filling, which consisted of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and egg yolks.

To form the pastries, I cut the dough into squares a few inches bigger than the muffin cups. I pressed the dough into the cups, letting the corners drape to the outside of the cup. I filled each Danish with cream cheese filling, then folded in the corners so they overlapped.

I baked the Danish in a 375-degree oven for about 20 minutes, until the pastry was baked through, the filling set, and the sugar nicely caramelized.

These Danish were really delicious, and would be especially attractive to someone who is nervous about shaping a classic Danish. Tastewise, they were fine; but not as good as the traditional Danish from Nick’s other recipe.

Swiss Walnut Crescents {ModBak}

For some reason, I had a mental block when it came to making this recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge. I’d decide to make it, then decide I didn’t want to, then change my mind again. On and on it went over the course of several weeks. I must have moved the puff pastry from the freezer to the fridge and back again half a dozen times. I even jumped ahead and made Danish Cheese Pockets while trying to motivate myself to finally get to this recipe.

It wasn’t until I started putting the recipe together that I finally realized why. Even though he calls these “Swiss” pastries and describes both their Swiss German and Viennese heritage, these crescents reminded me of kifli (or “keeflee”), a Hungarian pastry that my aunt makes every year around the holidays.

Now, don’t get me wrong (especially you, Aunt Dar, if you’re reading this); I don’t dislike keeflees. They’re fine. Sweet, nutty, and perfect with a cup of tea. But a few of them go a long way for me. And, like most treats that are only made once a year, no one ever makes only a few of them. No matter whose house you stop by over the holidays, there are plates of them everywhere, and they are offered to you all day long. So, even though I enjoy them well enough, by the middle of December, I would swear I never want to see another keeflee as long as I live.

Nonetheless, this was the next recipe in the Challenge, so I would make it, like it or not. The recipe wasn’t difficult, and the ingredients and method were interesting. I began by making a paste of sorts out of ground walnuts, bread crumbs (I used crumbs from the less-than-stellar maple walnut scones recipe I had recently made), milk, sugar, butter, and spices.

After cooking the nut paste, I spread it out on a plate to cool while I prepared the pastry dough.

For the pastries, I rolled the puff pastry dough out to a large rectangle, then cut it into triangles. I plopped a spoonful of nut filling on the end of each pastry, rolled them up crescent-style, then put them on a baking sheet. I chilled the dough for a few hours, then baked the crescents at 375°F for about half an hour, until the pastry was puffed and golden.

The recipe called for an egg wash before baking the crescents, but I forgot that part. After tasting a few of them and realizing that they really were a lot like keeflees, only better (sorry Aunt Dar), I decided to finish them keeflee-style by shaking them in a bag with powdered sugar.

Like keeflee, these crescents beg to be enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee. They are sweet, nutty, buttery, and just a tiny bit crunchy. The powdered sugar was great with the puff pastry, although J thought it distracted a bit from the buttery flavor.

In the end, I was glad I overcame my keeflee-block and finally got around to making these crescents. I made a full recipe, and they were gone within a few days. And while I can’t say for sure that I’ll make these again, I may change my mind when keeflee season arrives.

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.

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