Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Puff up your Breakfast

After a break for vacation, I’m back with a new post (finally!)

There aren’t many things in this world I enjoy more than a hot breakfast.  Maybe it’s because my job and my life mean that I can only do a regular, sit-down style hot breakfast on rare occasions.  Work starts too early in the morning on the weekdays and weekends are often too busy to take the time.  Hot breakfast is usually relegated to vacation time or the occasional breakfast for dinner (which I do enjoy almost as much).

Such was the case last week.  We were off to our annual late summer vacation.  Since our daughter isn’t old enough for school yet, we can still take advantage of a vacation the week after Labor Day while the weather is nice but the crowds have died down a bit.  I usually try to find a place for us to stay where I’ve got a fully functional kitchen.  For me, vacation is not just a time to get away from the usual rigors of life, but a time when I can spend a bit more time preparing meals or baking some recipe I’ve wanted to try.  Since this was vacation, and I had the time, it was hot breakfasts every day. 

One of the recipes I’ve had my eye on for a long time is the puff pancake.  I had a recipe by Gale Gand that I got from the Food Network called ‘Big Apple Pancakes’.  They sounded really good and I’ve been waiting for a chance to try this.  This pancake gets baked in the oven and looks really cool when you pull it out.

Puff pancakes have a flavor and texture that makes them part omelet and part pancake, though this is definitely a sweet rather than a savory dish.  Puff pancakes are often served on a large plate with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a dusting of powdered sugar and may contain (or not contain) a variety of different fillings.  I chose apple for my pancake as I happened to have them on hand and because I love just about anything apple.

Typically, these pancakes are prepared in a cast iron skillet and then tossed in the oven to finish baking, where they experience a big rise, thus giving them the ‘puff’ appearance in the finished pancake.  I didn’t have an oven safe skillet with me on vacation, so I precooked the apples in a regular skillet and finished the pancake in an 8×8 Pyrex baking dish.  Everything went of without a hitch and my square pancake came out of the oven much taller than when I put it in.

I didn’t have any lemon to finish the pancake, and I decided not to sprinkle it with powdered sugar as there was already plenty of sugar in the base recipe.

How was it?  Very good. The apples were cooked all the way through and it had a good balance of tart and sweet with the apples paired with a very delicate and tasty batter.  There was enough here to feed 4 people (or 2 if they’re hungry).  This is definitely a recipe I’ll be making again when I have time for another hot breakfast.  Want to give it a try yourself?  I’ve posted a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any image below to get a closer look at the step by step photos.


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Pie in the Sky

Apple Pie Bite

If you don’t already know, I have suffered from 3 big baking fears: Cheesecake, Bread and Pie Crust.  In a recent post, which you can read on my old blog site here, I noted that I had conquered fear #2 – bread (specifically, yeast bread).  I successfully baked a loaf of cinnamon bread from scratch, and without the help of a stand mixer or bread machine.

Well, we were away on vacation last week in Central Oregon.  The weather was not cooperating as we appear to be in some kind of extended winter here in Oregon.  So, I did what any good baker would do under the circumstances, I baked.  My goal was to bake at least 1 item every day to share with everyone on vacation.  The cinnamon bread was one of the first.  I was so pleased with the results, that I knew I had to try another one soon, while to muse was upon me.  So, with a not quite complete kitchen at my disposal, I set out to complete the trifecta of baking fears – pie crust.

Now, I grew up eating one of the finest desserts I have ever had, even to this day.  That is my grandmother’s apple pie.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was wonderful.  Of all the foods from my childhood, her apple pie carries more memories, more longing than anything else.  Unfortunately she died at a relatively young age, so the chance to eat that pie again was gone with her.  You see, no one else in the family could duplicate the recipe.  They told me it wasn’t so much about the recipe itself (apparently clipped from a newspaper many years before), but it was about her technique.  My grandfather and my mother, both attempted to recreate her pie, but just couldn’t do it.  They mentioned the crust was the big part of the mystery.  I was told how she would keep a bowl of ice water near her workspace to keep her hands as cold as possible while she worked with the dough.  She didn’t have a food processor or a stand mixer to help her with the process.  Everything she did, she did by hand. 

Years have passed and while I’ve had some good apple pies in the 25 years since she passed away, none have compared with the taste and texture of hers.  Flaky and tender, tart and lightly sweet, with apples cooked all the way through, though not mushy.  She had it right – every time – she was consistent. 

Not knowing for certain what recipe she really used, I did my research to learn about the best pie crusts.  What I learned was that a combination of fats: butter and shortening, appeared to give the best results for texture and taste of the crust.  And, as my grandmother obviously knew, I learned that keeping that fat solidified up to the point of baking was an absolute necessity for the final outcome.  As for the filling, I knew it was simple, no fancy ingredients or flavors, just the basics.  I also knew her favorite cooking apple was Granny Smith.  Granny Smiths are available most of the year, hold up well during baking and are just the right amount of tart to offset the sugar in the pie.

I finally settled on a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma ‘Essentials of Baking’ Cookbook.  I love this book.  The photography is some of the best I’ve seen in a cookbook.  Their instructions and step by step details are wonderful and easy to follow.  Page 177 contains a recipe for Double-Crust Apple Pie.  The ingredients seemed similar to the recipes I suspect are close to my grandmother’s recipe – simple, though the Brown Sugar, I suspect was not something she used – oh well, I need to have my own version anyway.  On page 160, they have a recipe for Flaky Pie Crust, which includes instructions for preparation by hand, food processor or stand mixer (way to go Williams-Sonoma, nice touch).  I set out to tackle my pie.

I followed everything very carefully, being certain to keep my butter and shortening as cold as possible.  I prepared the recipe with a food processor, which I happened to have on hand.  It came together rather well.  I thought at first I had too many apples and they wouldn’t cook through.  Not so, they were perfectly done.  The crust was beautiful.  Tender, flaky, tasty.  My testers loved it.  They wanted more.  As for me, I can say this was the closest pie in flavor and texture to my grandmother’s I have tasted.  It was tart, not too sweet, apples cooked perfectly.  It took me back to her kitchen all those years ago where she and I would spend a quiet morning looking through the paper (the funnies for me, entertainment for her) while we sipped coffee and ate a piece of pie from the night before.  I miss those times, but I think it helped to shape me a bit into the person I am today.  I love quiet mornings over a cup of coffee and a pastry.  Talking, reading, just enjoying the quite time of the day.  Now I can a slice of that wonderful memory back again.  She is missed, but once in a while, that wonderful little pie will brighten that memory again.

 You can find the recipe on my page here: Double-Crust Apple Pie and Flaky Pie Pastry


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