Tag Archives: Cathy Thomas Cooks

Florentine Bars from Scratch


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My bud, Chef Cathy Thomas of Orange County, CA (link here), had posted on her website a marvelous, yummy looking dessert called “Florentine Bars”.  They are a creation of one of her culinary associates, Chef Wonyee Tom, who serves them up by the dozens at her establishment in Huntington Beach, CA called “Tomgirl Baking Co.”

The topping of dried cranberries and apricots plus sliced almonds in a cream and honey based homemade caramel mixture rests upon a wonderful buttery crust… and like all of Chef Cathy’s recipes, the recipe was detailed and easy to follow.

Even I could follow them!

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To make these, the ingredients are listed below but if you home chefs want to throw together this easy recipe, I’d encourage you to visit her webpage; there’s even a video!  (You know how men are visually minded.)

Video link: http://cathythomascooks.com/2016/02/01/tomgirl-baking-companys-florentine-bar-cookies-are-unsurpassed/

The ingredients are:

Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1-1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper

Topping:
1-1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3-1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
Nonstick spray

Here are some steps I managed to take cellphone pics of:

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Dried cranberries and apricots with sliced almonds.

 

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Softened unsalted butter and sugar ready for the mixer and before egg and flour.  When I add the flour, I set the mixer on the lowest speed briefly until most of the flour is under control.  Otherwise, you will have a plume of flour dust.

 

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Dough in general shape of pan and before rolling out. I crease my parchment paper to mark the pan dimensions; it helps me roll it out.

 

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Ready for the 350F oven.

 

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Making the caramel mixture. You should smell the aroma!  By the way, Chef Tom recommends using a stainless steel utensil to stir but I don’t have one that’ll work.  I’m assuming the wooden spoon may give off infused flavors from dishes past?

 

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Mix in the dried fruits and nuts off heat. It does set up very quickly so move fast!

 

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I slice mine up into triangles when there’s still a smidge of warmth left. (ps I also cut off maybe 1/4″ off the sides for presentation… It may be the best part!)

 

Voila!  Great with coffee…or anytime!

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And as testament to the deliciousness, I had made it for the teachers and staff appreciation luncheon last Friday – and they asked my daughter for the recipe!

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Of course, I texted her the proper link to Cathy Thomas’ website.  You should check it out, too, and get on her email distribution!

http://cathythomascooks.com/

Happy baking!

My (Somewhat Edible) Apple Pie


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I wanted to take a better shot but the kids were pushing me. “Papa! You always take pictures! Haven’t you taken enough?!”

 

Well, throwing together my (somewhat edible) apple pie from scratch has become a piece of cake.  Or is it pie?

While my culinary and photographic skills pale in comparison to many others – like madlyinlovewithlife, for example – I’ve been asked about my recipe so here goes.

BTW, most of this is from Cook’s Illustrated and Cathy Thomas Cooks.

The Crust

Yes, I shuddered myself to death the first time I tried it.  When I baked my first one, it ended up looking more like marshmallows lined with the Pillsbury dough boy’s inflated life jacket but it, well, tasted OK.

But since then, I’ve lost my fear of it and since my counter-top skills are marginal, I cheat.

While there is a recipe for a two-crust pie, my Cuisinart food processor gets overloaded with the amount of the ingredients needed.  If you think California shakes during an earthquake, you haven’t experienced standing in my kitchen when the food processor chokes trying to work the ingredients which are (for each crust):

3/4 cup unbleached flour (I used Arthur’s) plus
1/2 cup held for a second add
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
6 tbsp of COLD unsalted butter sliced into six pieces
1/4 COLD Crisco all-vegetable shortening in 2 – 3 clumps
2 tbsp COLD vodka
2 tbsp COLD water

Add 3/4 cup flour, sugar and salt to food processor; pulse for a second or two to combine.  Add the still cold butter and shortening, working quickly so as to keep them from softening:

16691430755_719cdac34a_kProcess for up to ten seconds; I like to do it in several pulses.  It should look like cottage cheese curds with no uncoated flour.  Scrape sides and bottom with spatula.  Add remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse up to six times.  Empty into large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle in about 1/2 of the cold water/vodka, spreading it evenly.  Fold over the dough mixture a bit then add remaining liquid.  Keep folding mixture over until it pretty much forms a ball.  It should be pretty tacky.  Wrap up in plastic wrap and form it quickly into a disc about 4+” wide.  Refrigerate.

Repeat for second batch.  Chill for about an hour.

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Wrapped up dough for crusts.

Pie Filling

For the pie filling, I use my friend and bona-fide chef Cathy Thomas Cooks tried and true recipe but with a tablespoon of lemon juice thrown in:

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tbsp (or to your liking) lemon juice
Pinch salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg

As in her recipe, I use five of those luscious, good-sized Granny Smiths you can buy at Costco.  If you buy them at a supermarket, you may have to use a bit more than six.

BUT!

Since I feel more at home with a screwdriver instead of a knife (and because I cherish having ten fingers), I take the man’s way out of peeling.  Voila!:

Frankly, if you make more than a few apple pies a year, you’d be crazy not to have one. LOL

Anyways, after peeling, core then cut into quarters lengthwise; then, cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  Place into LARGE, deep mixing bowl.  After doing all five, pour in lemon juice and filling mix, using spatula to coat.  (Note: per Cook’s Illustrated, the browning of the cut apple slices is harmless for this short period.)  Set aside and quickly before your own Little Cake Boss sticks a finger into the bowl to steal a lick.

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If you’re real good at peeling and cutting, you can do this after you roll out the dough and while it is being refrigerated.

I’m not. 🙂

Rolling the Dough

The fun part – and where I get to cheat!  I got the idea from Cook’s Illustrated and modified it a bit.

If the dough has been in the refer a while, you may need to let it rest for a bit; you’ll never be able to roll it out.  But don’t wait too long.  It needs to be cold.

Now the cheating.  Instead of your bare counter top, lay out a sheet of parchment paper, about 15″ long.  Dust liberally with flour.  Place one disc on center, again dusting the top generously, then cover with a similar length of plastic wrap.

16069136274_5c2d1564dd_kTake your aggressions out – nicely.  Evenly pound the disc a bit with your roller to get it started:

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Evenly pound disc to get it started.

While it may take a little practice, quickly roll the dough out to a little more than 12″ in diameter (Hint: the plastic wrap is just a 1/8″ shy of 12″).  I do like the tapered maple wood roller recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.  The dough should look like this.. Well, yours will likely look better:

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Place on flat baking sheet and put in refrigerator.  Repeat for other crust.

Now turn on your oven to at least 450F (My Breville only goes up to 450F).  Put in a baking sheet to preheat it.  It helps brown the bottom of the crust in the Pyrex pie dish.

Also, whisk up one egg white for a wash.

Putting the Pie Together

You gotta work fast but this is the fun part.

The fruit of your labor.  I know.  Bad pun.

I use the parchment paper/plastic wrap approach as I can never flip the dough onto my roller with the scraper without it falling apart and needing dough surgery…  So…  I use the plastic wrap to flip the dough onto my roller like so:

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Dough flipped onto the roller. Easy!

Then just lay it onto your Pyrex pie dish.  Gently press down on the dough onto the pie dish (especially the corners and sides) while supporting the outside portion of the dough with your other hand.  REFRIGERATE once again for at least ten minutes to keep the dough chilled.  Otherwise, it becomes a tacky mess.

After chilling, remove the dish from the fridge then pour in the apple slices.  You will need to use your fingers to move the slices around to make a nice mound.

16069152964_f151c4125d_kRemove the other refrigerated dough from the fridge and do the same thing to lay it across the roller…but laying it onto the filling is an adventure each time.

Working quickly, trim the excess dough off the pie, leaving maybe 3/4″ all around.  Roll the edges under each other while pressing down against the lip of the pie dish.  Continue around the circumference.

I’m definitely not good at it either but with your right thumb and index finger forming a V, press the dough with your left index finger into the V to “flute” it.  I think that’s what you call it.

You’re almost done!  Brush on the egg white onto the top and the edges.  Dust with sugar if you like then make four slits radiating out from the center.

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Put the pie in on top of the preheated cookie sheet then turn down the temp to 425F.  Turn the pie after 35 minutes then lower the temp down to 375F.  Important!

Bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes or until browned. Set onto cooling rack.

Can you hear it a-sizzlin’?  From one of my earlier pies:

Cool for at least several hours and enjoy!