Tag Archives: baking

(Almost) Pie Crust From Scratch


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Making a pie crust from scratch is really pretty easy.  Tried it for the first time.

But rolling out the pie dough… Now that’s a bitch.  (Pardon my French.)

But I did it…  Sorta.

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Yes, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe called for vodka.  No sense paraphrasing it so this is what they said:

“The problem is that dry pie dough is impossible to roll out. We needed a soft, pliable dough for rolling—that is, one with plenty of liquid—but a dry dough when it came to baking. The solution turned out to be, surprisingly, vodka. By using a quarter cup of ice water mixed with the same amount of chilled vodka, we could add a high amount of liquid and create a dough that was moist enough to roll out easily, but still tender after baking. While gluten forms readily in water, it doesn’t form in alcohol, and vodka is 40 percent alcohol. The alcohol vaporizes in the oven, so that no trace of vodka is detectable in the finished crust.”

Well, it really worked except when this old former mechanic decided to deviate from said recipe by leaving it in the oven to bake for three extra minutes.

And letting the dough get too warm while rolling it… if you call it rolling.  LOL  Instead of being circular, it ended up looking more like Patrick Star of Spongebob.

Oh well.

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Let’s get down to the evidence:

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Pulse 2/3rds of the unbleached flour together with the sugar and salt.
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After adding the chilled vegetable shortening and unsalted butter, process no more than ten seconds. Separate dough into two or three sections then add remaining flour. Watch out for the cloud.
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After adding the remaining flour and about four to six pulses, dough should look like this. Don’t overdo it.
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Transfer to mixing bowl, add water and vodka, and fold. Should be tacky.
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Form a four inch circle, wrap in plastic wrap then refrigerate at least 45 minutes.
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Liberally dust. I was dumb enough to use my granite counter top…which was still warm from basking in the afternoon sun. I also forgot to dust the top before rolling. 🙂
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Patrick Star in disguise. Making the dough til now was a snap. Rolling it? HA!
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It needs plastic surgery…but don’t laugh. 🙂
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A burned fait accompli. You can see the results of my uneven rolling! In fact, the right side slid down! I actually had to throw it back into the oven as that section was still moist… The bottom ended up looking like graham crackers it was so toasted!
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It didn’t look TOO bad when it was filled up with strawberries covered in PERFECT glaze… not like jello and certainly not runny! Anyways, my good USAF neighbors got half of it; I think he may have flung out the pie crust from 30 Angels as a lethal weapon.

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Well, the dough certainly was easy to put together.

This (aging) former mechanic did it…but didn’t follow the instructions at the end.  In short:

  1. Dust the top of the dough before rolling. LOL
  2. Learn to roll out the dough evenly. Double LOL
  3. Roll it in the early morning before the granite counter top feels like the Sahara. Duh

The secret is the vodka and keeping the ingredients chilled.

Oh.  Don’t burn the crust nor watch Spongebob before rolling.

Somebody Say Strawberry?


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My completed strawberry pie.

This old croaker of a former mechanic thought he could cook… again.

Will I ever learn?  Would someone padlock the kitchen please?

Actually, I had a request… for a homemade strawberry pie.

Daryl Strawberry first came to mind.

Duh.  I must have been on drugs, too.  What did I get myself into?  What was I thinking?  A strawberry pie?

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The key ingredients including the freaking huge strawberries.

So I found a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated once again.  It looked easy enough.

And there weren’t too many ingredients: sugar, cornstarch, pectin, fresh lemon juice and salt…… and strawberries.

Lots of strawberries.

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Well, Cook’s Illustrated failed me this time.

They didn’t write down what SIZE of strawberries to get – just a weight.

Blasphemy.

I thought strawberries were all about the same size.  You know.  Size doesn’t matter.

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Well, the FRESH strawberries I ended up buying were too big.  Freaking too HUGE.

Geez.

And there were LOTS of them.  And they needed to be hulled.  Heck, I knew I would eventually slice my fingers trying to hull them all with a knife so I cheated.  Mechanics love tools, right?  I bought this fancy-schmancy huller for seven bucks.

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For size comparison purposes, I took a picture of the gizmo alongside one of the freaking huge strawberries I bought. It is all Cook’s Illustrated’s fault indeed for not explaining what size strawberries to get.
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This is what it looks life after you press that green button on this fancy-schmancy gizmo made by Chef’N Corporation. You push it into the strawberry, let go of the button and twist. It worked great! But I learned it is better if you remove the sepals first (I found out that’s what the little green leaves on the top of the strawberry are called.).

What a deal.  Hulling was now a piece of cake!  (Shhh…  Quiet.  My little Cake Boss may hear.)

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The recipe called for whole strawberries.  But because the strawberries I bought were so freaking huge, they looked like bowling balls in the pie crust.  While I didn’t know if it was taboo or not but I decided to cut the strawberries in half.  I was worried that all that juice would leak out and make the crust feel like you were biting into a sponge.

(I cheated again and got pre-made crusts; it really shrunk big time after baking as you can see in the picture.  I will endeavor to make the crust from scratch next time.  Oops.  Someone stop me from trying that, please.)

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Well, aside from the glaze not becoming transparent enough and the incredible shrinking crust, the pie turned out tasting great.

I will write a scathing letter of complaint to Cook’s Illustrated.  They did not consider that old berry-brained former mechanics like me would actually try to follow their recipes.

I will also write a letter to President Obama and have him execute another Executive Order to change the law – that Cook’s Illustrated must write their recipes so that old former mechanics will understand.

But why complain.

I will just go to Marie Callendar’s next time and buy a strawberry pie for $8.99.

Classic Pound Cake From Scratch


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Classic pound cake from scratch. A secret is the temperature of the unsalted butter.

So my little Cake Boss wanted to bake something with me…but what?

The funny thing was she told me the only dessert she really liked from my repertoire was the Strawberry and Almond Frangipane Tart.

Really.

Hmmph.

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Just a smartphone photo…and before the little Cake Boss started to fold in the cake flour.  It looked as if Mt. Vesuvius erupted in our house.

So we decided on Classic Pound Cake…sans the lemon glaze.  She didn’t want it.

…Darn.

Per the Cook’s Illustrated recipe I decided upon, the secret apparently lies in the temperature of the butter and eggs as well as using cake flour.  Do I dare say it sounded easy..?

It did…until I remembered I wasn’t baking it…alone.

I forgot I worked for the household Cake Boss.  Silly me.

Well, she plowed through it… at a eleven year old’s pace, that is.

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Before she added the egg mixture…

The ingredients used were:

  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour (7 ounces), plus extra for dusting pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (8 3/4 ounces)

We followed the Cook’s Illustrated bible as best we could… And you know what? It domed wonderfully!

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It domed wonderfully…! And I had to guess on the doneness as I had no wooden skewers. Afraid to have a soggy under-baked creation, I overbaked it by about five minutes… Boo-boo.

After it cooled and nearing midnight, we got to sample her creation.

Oink oink! It was really good!

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So now, I have another addition to my man-kitchen dessert repertoire… and the little Cake Boss didn’t fire me. She nearly did after I put together her Classic White Double-Layer birthday cake. She had demanded I even off the domed tops…which I did not… and I should have listened to the very experienced little Cake Boss. 😦

But I survived to bake another day.

Homemade Double-Layer BD Cake (Kinda-Sorta)


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In case you haven’t figured it out, my daughter is on the left.

My just-turned eleven old daughter had her third 11th birthday party.

That’s right.  Third one.  LOL

And, with the stuff that’s been going on our family life, I decided to try and make a “classic white double-layer birthday cake with raspberry filling and butter cream frosting” for her – from scratch.

Key word: “try”.

And dang, that’s long name for a cake, isn’t it?  Mary Poppins would be pleased.

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My two oldest celebrated Brooke’s 11th birthday a week earlier during her real birthday.
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That’s my beloved Green Bay Packers t-shirt… Oh, and my four great kids.

This ol’ mechanic thought he could throw this cake together easily…  You know, like if I was Major Nelson with Jeannie at his side.

And I wish I did have Jeannie.  Only for her blinks, of course.

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Most of the key ingredients. By the way, I use old medicine cups that came with children’s medicines to pour in extracts.  They even have markings on the side.

I followed the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  Its recipes are proven battle plans for old mechanics that are easy to follow with predictable results.

But they forgot to consider my age and my (poorly) man-equipped kitchen this time.  Unthinkable.

This time, two (and a half) things went wrong while making the cake:

1.  As I didn’t have a flat beater for my KitchenAid stand mixer, the cake flour/butter mixture couldn’t get “crumbly” enough.  I believe this kept the cake from properly rising while baking.  (Well, there were three things that went wrong: it was overbaked by a couple of minutes.)

2.  I over-whipped the frosting, making it REAL tough to spread…  It was worse than cold peanut butter.  But it tasted just fine.

And while no fault of the recipe, I ran out of frosting; because the cakes had domed too much, there was a gap around the circumference my belly could have sneaked through.  I ended up shoving a LOT of frosting in to fill the gap.

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Smuckers raspberry preserves over the almond-buttercream frosting. Spread from the inside to just short of the edge. It’ll squish out.

Since Brooke has gotten hooked on “Cake Boss” (darn fake reality shows), she has become an eleven year old expert on how to frost and decorate cakes.  She was “lovingly critical” on how the frosting was being put on…a little after midnight.  “Pa-paaah! I told you.  You should have cut off the domes.  It’s too high now so you’ve got a HUGE gap!”  (My oldest, Robyn, is probably snickering to herself, “Haha.  Now you know what its like!)

You have no idea how close I was to being fired by the household Cake Boss, let me tell you.  But since it was after midnight (yes, she was still up), I would have received double-time.

For a cake stand, I had to improvise.  The cake was first placed onto the bottom of a 9″ springform pan.  Then that bottom was placed on top of a 9” Pyrex pie dish which was atop a mixing bowl.  Complicated.  Pain to use.  But I did it.  Frustratingly.  With the Cake Boss still cracking orders to boot.

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Anyways, the girls ate it.  They said it was good.  I made sure they said that.

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Brooke’s four closest friends.

Below, you can see the HUGE gap between the layers I was nearly fired over.  Admittedly, the gap (all the way around the cake) measured about an inch:

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So now I know better next time.  And I did order the right flat beater and a revolving cake stand.

But the 11 year old Cake Boss is still here.

I have a great idea.

I should join the baker’s union.

They would keep me from being fired.

A Former Mechanic’s Almond Frangipane Tart


Well, this former mechanic got his greasy hands back into the kitchen.  No explosion, either.

Strawberry and Almond Frangipane Tart

Another Cathy Thomas Cooks recipe, it was relatively straight forward.  Didn’t need a wrench.  Please click on the link for the recipe (since people seem to be asking).

Small kitchen appliances are rather skimpy in my kitchen so I had to improvise – my coffee grinder in place of a food processor.

Didn’t have a food processor so I improvised… A guy’s perogative.

I did find the pie weights to be a great tool.  Lucky I had some in my toolbox…not.  Went out and bought a bag.  You know – a guy thing.  A tool for every job.

A close up… Sorry about the tin foil but I only had one plate.

One of my best pals passed away so I made his widow a tart for Mother’s Day.

For the single guys out there…  The gals at the office love it.

(Cathy Thomas has some neat recipes on her website, too!)

Tiramisu – Mechanic Style


My young years as a mechanic were some of the most fun in my life.

Working alongside veterans of the US Army’s most decorated unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made it so much better.  If you haven’t heard of that heroic combat team, you will be surprised.

Anyways, I didn’t do much cooking then.  Can’t figure out why I started either.  Old age.  Too many gasoline fumes, perhaps.

But one of my most requested deserts is my homemade Tiramisu.  Never mind gasoline fumes…  The rum fumes will disperse all the oxygen molecules and you will get high. Just kidding.  About getting high.

The only ingredient not shown here is VERY strong coffee.  Even Dean Martin would have diluted it.

Tiramisu ingredients. The bottle was empty, by the way.

And no mockery of my serving plates and dishes for I have none.  Remember, I am a former mechanic.

One batch finished for a party.

Another batch for a neighbor’s party…  Adult party.

Like my Pyrex?

I don’t recall any pecks on the cheek, though.  Hmmm.