5 Dumb Things You Don’t Need To Buy For Your Kitchen

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Staying home for an extended period has gotten a pretty wide assortment of interests out of people. Some folks are getting VERY into home exercise, home improvement projects, shaving their heads, or falling down conspiracy theory rabbit holes that Junji Ito would pass on as too twisted.

Most beautiful of all of them, I think, is “I’ve got all this time at home now, I’m gonna learn to cook and bake better!”

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Comfort Food, Part 2- The Family Table

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Between my day job at the bakery, trying to keep up with this blog, and the release of the book (IN 3 DAYS!!,) I’ve actually managed to run a little low on energy for other parts of my life.

Which is why, last night, I decided I was going to give myself a weird form of self-care and fix myself a slightly advanced version of Matt’s Nights In In College.

Don’t make that face. This doesn’t come from nowhere. Nothing we eat does.

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It’s “Pie” Time I Wrote Something About This

Good morning, friends and neighbors!After last weeks “crash course” in chocolate, another discussion popped up that I couldn’t help but stick my beak in as the topic was very close to my heart:Hey everyone, of all things in the kitchen, I know next to NOTHING about fruit pies. Help?”

Bakers and chefs chimed in, and I scrolled through their responses before finally saying,

“Yeah, everything here is about right to my experience. Here’s a couple other things I do that you might find helpful..”

My friend from last time popped up. “Oh thank God, I was wondering this too. Have you written about this?”

I went back and found my previous pie-related entries, only to realize I NEVER COVERED FILLINGS.

“Dude, GET ON IT, and then send me the link! Maybe a video how-to?”

Well, I like to correct my mistakes, and I’m here to please, so strap in all. I’m going to take you through baking pies and my personal Top 5 Fruit Pie recipes! Video how-to will come soon!

So What’s My Deal with Pie?
Pie, to me, is the ultimate homecooking icon. It’s the real symbol of hospitality and comfort food (get out of here with your pineapple symbolism,) and it’s ingrained in our culture going back centuries:
“Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie…”
“American as apple pie.”
“Easy as pie.”
Beyond that, it’s also the most direct (and beautiful) example of my personal culinary philosophy:    Simplicity, with ElegancePie is, by its nature, not a fussy affair. It’s a crust with a filling. Simple in appearance, seemingly simple in execution. To make a truly excellent pie is a work of art and a demonstration of real craftsmanship. If something goes wrong with the crust, there’s NO HIDING IT. If the filling is off, there’s NO HIDING it. No icing. No sauce. No sprinkles. No piling a little mound of microgreens on top of a burned bit.Pie is honest. It is honest about itself, and about your skill as a baker. That is a beautiful thing. Pumpkin PiePumpkin Pie
Back when I was a kid, I loved pie- it just felt more… fun. I don’t think I ever had a birthday cake after the age of 10- simply because I always just wanted pie instead.
That’s something that persists to today, by the way. You know, in case anyone is in the Portland area in July. *hint hint* Cheddar Apple Pie
Cheddar Apple Pie

Crust And Assembly Recap!

As I mentioned above, I’ve done a couple of posts about pie before- one on making and handling a perfect crust, including my favorite recipe, and another on assembly once you have everything ready. You should really go read those first:
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: The Season Is Upon Us!
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: Pie of the Tiger
For those of you in a hurry, though, I’ll touch on the most important bits here. Since writing those, I’ve changed up my method a bit so I’ll include that here:
Pie Dough

My Favorite Recipe
(from The Joy of Baking. Good for 2 single-crust pies or one double-crust pie)

2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon (30 grams) granulated white sugar (leave out if you want it savory)
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 – 120 ml) ice water or other chilled liquid (experiment with different liquids to get interesting flavors!)
Herbs or Spices as you see fit

If you are using an electric mixer, freeze the butter. If not, chilled is fine.
Mix all the dry together, and then the butter until the mix resembles coarse meal (if making by hand, use your fingers or a pastry blender to cut in the butter. You DON’T want any large lumps. By keeping the butter chilled/frozen, you break up the butter before it can melt.
Add the liquid all at once. If it’s too dry, add a bit more. Your dough should be cold, but not wet or very sticky. Pulling apart a lump, you should be able to see layers inside. Split into two equal size discs, wrap in plastic and chill.

Basic pie dough is 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part liquid- hence, 3-2-1 Dough
Keep everything as cold as possible, and use as little flour as possible when rolling. Otherwise the dough will absorb it and dry out.
If your dough is shrinking back after you roll it, it means it’s been overworked. Let it sit for a few minutes before rolling again.
Pie Assembly

  • Mise en place, mise en place,
    After lining your pie tin, let it rest in the fridge.
    Cook your fillings ahead of time and store them. Hot filling + cold pie dough = melty, greasy dough.
    When sealing your pie, be sure to moisten BOTH pieces of dough with whatever wash you are using, and then crimp/fold to ensure a good seal.
    Egg yolk wash will make your pie look shiny and golden when baked, milk will make it look crusty and rustic.
    Got all that? Go look at those blog post for a bit more detail, as well as demo pictures!
    An assortment of berries

Basic Stuff

When it comes to fruit pie fillings, you can absolutely follow a (tested and proven) recipe, but between you and me, I rarely have one.
Want it a little sweeter? Add some more sugar! A little thicker? Add some more thickener. Remember- Baking is chemistry. With practice, you’ll understand which rules you can bend or break- and which ones you can use to have fun!

My Fruit Filling Ratio

4 parts fruit to 1 part sugar
8 parts sugar to 1 part cornstarch.Let me say it again here- this is not set in stone. This ratio will just give you a good idea for how to assemble a fruit filling. You should ALWAYS feel free to experiment and figure your own best recipe out!
Be a mad scientist!Is the Cornstarch Necessary?
Well, yes and no.
Cornstarch is a thickener, or a “gelling agent” in fancy industry lingo. It works better than flour, and is less expensive than other thickeners like arrowroot.
It’s a popular addition for people who make their own jellies or jams, and it’s often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin in cooking and baking.
Thicker filling- your slice of pie remains a SLICE. The filling stays in place, under the crust, picture perfect.
Thinner filling- you want a juicy, runny pie. You want the filling to go all over the plate, and you wanna lick it clean when you’re done.
In the end, it’s your pie! Experiment and do your own thing! PictureNo judgments- You do you!

To Pre-cook, or not to Pre-cook?

This is another one of those divisive questions in the pie world- do you pre-cook your filling, cool it, and THEN put it in the pie? Or do you let the filling cook and thicken in the shell?

Again, it’s up to you! For me, I personally like to pre-cook. It means I can spread out the time necessary to make a pie (having dough and filling made a day before means that I can just assemble and bake when I’m ready!)

It also leads to a thicker filling, since you are really just heating the pre-cooked filling and baking the crust.

How Do I Know When It’s Cooked?

Regardless of whether you pre-cook or not, the tell-tale sign that your filling is properly cooked is watching for bubbling in the vents of your top crust.As your pie bakes, the filling will bubble up. It’ll start out with small, fast bubbles- like a boiling pot of water. What you are looking for is the bubbles to come up slow and thick, like bubbling tar. That means that your filling has been thickened to the point that the cornstarch is well-cooked, and you’ll have thick, shiny goop!Alright, got the basics down? Here’s some of my favorite filling ideas! Depending on how big a pie you are making, some of these may make a bit too much. Hold on to it and make another pie, or just scale it down! 

Got all that? Good!

Here’s some of my favorite pie fillings!

The Über Apple Pie!

This is the pie I made for my recent blogs. It’s a fall favorite of mine, and a wonderful demonstration of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth OVERdoing!” The pie crust is seasoned with apple pie spice and made with apple cider. The filling gets dosed with Applejack Brandy, and the selection of apples just screams fall!
3 lbs Apples (my favorites are Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, and Honeycrisp)
½ cup of brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
Allspice
Nutmeg
Cinnamon
1 tbsp Brandy
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Cook over medium heat until the apples release a noticeable amount of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
Add the sugar, and whisk the cornstarch, spices, brandy, and extract together into a slurry. Pour in and stir regularly.
Cook until thick, with a shiny layer of goop forming on your spoon!

Blueberry Lemon Mint

Coming from New Jersey, summer meant BLUEBERRIES. Adding citrus to berry pies brightens them up and highlights their tartness, and the addition of mint lends an herbaceous, cooling feeling that makes this pie legitimately refreshing.
(adapted from The Joy Of Baking)4 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Peach Jalapeño

Gotta love that sweet heat!

4 lbs chopped fresh peaches
1 lb. sugar
About 1 oz. cornstarch
Any spices you like (for a smoky hit, add a little ground chipotle pepper!)
A few jalapeno peppers, diced and seeded.

Cook as for the blueberry pie, whisking the dry ingredients into the cooking fruit, and adding the jalapenos at the end. Just like with the herbs, adding the peppers toward the end preserves their heat! If you cook them with the filling, they wind up just tasting like green pepper.Cherry Almond Cardamom

This is another go-to fall/winter pie! Despite cherries being very much a summer fruit, their combination with cardamom and toasty almonds makes this pie unnaturally filling and warming- like a hug in your belly, perfect for a cooler night in fall!Filling
4 lbs cherries (a mix of sour pie cherries and dark sweet cherries)
1 lbs sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
About ½ c toasted, chopped almonds
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanillaFollow the same directions as above, but this time mixing in the almonds.Tips and TricksFrozen fruit is fine to use, as is canned! Seasonal is obviously best, but don’t be afraid of getting the best frozen/canned stuff you can. If it’s canned, though, you don’t want to use the syrup or juice it’s in. Save that stuff for sweetening things later!Cardamom is awesome but a SUPER STRONG spice! Don’t overdo it on this one!

  • This pie demonstrates one of my favorite principles in flavor-matching- combining related produce! Cherries and almonds taste great together because they are actually closely related- as are almond and rose, and rose and peach! When putting flavors together, try keeping it in the family!

Strawberry Rhubarb with Goat Cheese and Black Pepper

Now this one is the master course, and a demo of everything we’ve gone over in this blog.
It’s creamy. It’s fresh. It’s spicy. It’s sweet. It’s YUM.Filling
3 lbs. Strawberries
1 lbs. Chopped rhubarb
1 lbs. Sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
4 oz. soft goat cheese
Black pepper, to tasteCook fruit and rhubarb as above, whisking the sugar, cornstarch, and black pepper together and adding together.
Before baking, spread or otherwise evenly distribute the goat cheese over the bottom of the pie shell. Pour fruit filling on top.There You Go!
Now you know how to make your own fruit pies, just in time for the holidays!
Think you’re family will be pleased? Which pie is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments!Stay Classy,

Eating Healthy, Part II- 5 Tips for Going Shopping and Beating Your Food Budget

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

No matter where you are on Earth, certain things drive food culture forward- geography, climate, population, social mores, and so on. Right at the heart of it though, from the salt-of-the-earth origins of cuisines all over the world- from the Soul Food of the Southeastern United States to the multifaceted mosaic of Chinese food- is economics, and the single question every cook asks:

“HOW DO I TAKE WHAT’S CHEAP, MAKE IT TASTE GOOD, AND FEED EVERYONE?”

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Culinary Drivers

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

As I said last entry, I try to keep things on here apolitical. I really hate bringing up social policy, economics, and other junk on here that would encourage any of my readers to assign me to a specific camp- or assign themselves to one. Instead, I like covering things everyone loves and can agree or disagree on good-naturedly: food and drink, and how to enjoy it.

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I’ll drink to that!

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“L’CHAIM!”- The BHB’s Forays Into Homebrewing, Part 2

Good evening, friends and neighbors!
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on On The Bench… some dude screamed the whole time with his arms up or something.
Actually, I told you how to how to get started brewing a simple mead at home. Here’s what you do for when the 10 days- 2 week fermentation time is up!
Ok, not to curb your enthusiasm or anything, but just a quick note- this is only the PRIMARY fermentation. Today, we’ll be getting your delicious mead off the dead cells, sediments and whatnot that might mess up the flavor if you let it sit there. Your mead will KEEP fermenting until either it runs out of sugar (which can take years) or you choose to kill it by boiling and filtering it.

Mead is interesting in that, in most cases, after it is bottled it can be cellared INDEFINITELY. You can drink this stuff in 5 years and see where the reaction and aging has taken it. If you just want a sweet, quick little drink, go ahead and enjoy now. Otherwise, hold off for a while- this is only a BABY mead at this point.
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Unless you’re REALLY into drinking babies for some reason…

What To Do When Your Mead is Done

First of all, you might want to get some equipment from your local homebrew supply store:
A large tub for sanitzing everything (remember what I said about cleanliness?). This is a storage tub I got from Home Depot, filled up with about 10 gal. of water.
This is my preferred sanitizing agent, BTF Iodophor- an iodine-based cleaner. It’s food-safe, doesn’t require rinsing afterwards (even though I do anyway,) and doesn’t leave a funky flavor on the stuff it cleans. Whatever you decide to get, pick something that won’t leave weird flavors, and DEFINITELY won’t mess with your equipment.
Just dump the appropriate amount in (following the sanitizer’s instructions) and mix.

You’ll also want a couple of tools to make this process a little easier for you. None of these things will break the bank, and in fact some homebrewing stores may include them in a “starter” kit.

This is an auto-siphon, an open-ended pump that’ll make it super easy to get your mead from your big fermenting jug to smaller bottles. This one even has a special cap on the bottom to keep it from sucking up TOO much of the sediment.
You’ll also need a length of food-safe tubing. I picked up a clamp for mine just to keep things neat.
This is a bottle filler, and it will prevent a LOT of cleanup later, trust me. The valve on the bottom only opens when pressed, so with your siphon and hose connected to this bad boy, your mead will go where you want it- as opposed to the floor.
Bottles. Duh.

Those are the basics. I also have a hydrometer, testing flask, capper and caps.

These are for if you are a super-nerd like me and really want to figure out the proof (alcohol content) of your mead. The capper and caps are only a must if you want to store it in bottles that don’t have a swing or screw top, and it’s cheaper than a corking machine.

At this point, you will want to chill your mead down as best you can. This will slow down the fermentation and it will gather most of your sediments to the bottom in a process called “clarifying.”

This whole process is called “racking.” In winemaking, this would be when the wine is pumped from steel fermentation containers to barrels so that it can sit and age. In my case, my big 3 gal. fermenter can’t fit in my fridge, so I split it up between several smaller containers so I can clarify it more quickly and fully rack it later.

​CLEAN EVERYTHING!!!

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FIll all your bottles with sanitizing solution, let sit about 4 minutes, then dump them out…
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…drain them well, and let them air/sun dry.
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Everything else goes in the tub for about 5 minutes, immersed COMPLETELY, inside and out.
EVERYTHING that interacts with your mead must be cleaned, sanitized, drained, and air-dried. EVERYTHING.

Once you have your cleaning out of the way, it’s time to set up your siphon and get things going!

Simply take your hose and connect your auto-siphon to one end, and your bottle filler to the other. Drop the business end of your siphon slowly into your mead so that it sits JUST ABOVE the sediment on the bottom. Yes, you will lose some mead to that. Sorry. :C
If you’ve ever filled up a fuel can or cleaned a pool, you know how a siphon works. Put simply, it’s when water goes down a tube in such a way that it pulls more water with it. The pump on your auto-siphon will get your mead “up the hill” enough that it can fall and create the siphoning action. Since the end of your hose has your bottle filler on it, you might need someone to press that down into your first bottle while you pump. That’ll get everything going.

From there… just fill up your bottles!

Cap them in whatever way pleases you. I love swing-top bottles just for this purpose.

Voila! You have bottled your first mead! Now label it, date it, and either drink it or store it!

​Just remember, before you put all your equipment away…

Yeah, you weren’t getting away from that one. Brewing is mostly cleaning.

At least you get booze out of it!

​Stay Classy,