Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When Life Gives you Lemons and Simple Syrup

I know it's a little early to be talking about lemonade.

But we were learning about cooking with sugar in class this weekend and it was on the lesson plan.

And the batch of lemonade came out with the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness that I had to share. It reminded me of the lemonade at my favorite stand on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

I'm going to be saving this recipe for the first heat wave of the season, which can't come soon enough.

The simple syrup can also be used in iced coffee so I will definitely be keeping a batch of it on hand this summer. Our instructor said it can be stored in the fridge for a while, but knowing how sweet I like my coffee, I doubt it will last very long.

Here is the recipe. You'll need a candy thermometer, but otherwise it's something easy that can be done at home.


6 fluid ounces water
1 pound of sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon water or 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

-Place water in saucepan over low heat
-Sprinkle sugar on top of the water
-Shake the pan on the stove - do not stir (a trick the instructor taught us for working with sugar)
if sugar has turned color because of impurities skim off discolored foam and cover for 2 minutes while boiling, if there are no impurities leave uncovered
-At the boiling point add cream of tartar or corn syrup
- Boil until candy thermometer reaches 230 degrees


8 oz sugar syrup
1 cups cold water
10 ounces lemon juice (squeeze lemons into a measuring cup until it reaches 10 oz)

Add cold water and lemon juice to the simple syrup. Stir. Pour over ice and serve!

You can adjust the lemon juice or syrup if its too sweet or tart. I liked the balance of our recipe and it got Jeff's approval, too!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Research: Bubby's Mile High Apple Pie

Part of my "studies" for Culinary School requires checking out some of New York City's best restaurants and bakeries to learn all the characteristics of what makes a good dessert.

Sounds too good to be true, right? But it was some of the first advice we were given in class: go visit some wonderful bakeries, bread shops and markets, talk to the owners, ask to see the kitchen and even ask if you can work there for a day to get experience.

It sounds like heaven to me!

So one of the first places I checked out was Bubby's Pie company in Tribecca. I had stumbled across "Bubby's Brunch Cookbook" by restaurant owner Ron Silver in a gift shop a few weeks before and couldn't wait to see the place.

We ended up there late in the afternoon - way past the brunch hour. So instead of trying Bubby's legendary sour cream pancakes we opted for the Mile High Apple Pie at the recommendation of our waitress. The balance of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and made it the best apple pie I've ever had. And the light flaky crust has the perfect degree of crispness. I was so impressed I bought another cookbook at the restaurant by the owner, "Bubby's Homemade Pies," and had it autographed by Silver.

From "Bubby's Homemade Pie's" by Ron Silver and Jen Bervin

The secret to make Bubby's pie “mile high” is to pile the apples higher than the tin. The apple's will cook down while baking but the crust remains sculptural, curvaceous, and high. Bubby's uses local Macouns apples from the farmer's market if available. The recipe suggests sautéing the apples in butter first. 

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie, chilled
3½ pounds apples
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on the top crust
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves


Roll out the smaller batch of pastry and line a 9-inch pie tin with the bottom crust. Roll out the remaining large ball of dough for the top crust. Rechill the pastry if necessary.

Peel, core, and slice the apples ¼ to ½ inch thick (to get about 7 cups). In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and sauté the apples for 2 to 3 minutes, until the outer edges get slightly soft. Remove from heat. In the pan, measure the sugar, flour, butter, lemon juice, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves on top of the apples, but do not stir until they are ready to go into the pie or they will get too soupy.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

When you are ready to proceed, toss the apples with the other filling ingredients. Because this pie is so tall, mounding up the apples takes a little finesse. Scrape the apple filling into the bottom crust until the pie reaches average height, then add the remaining apples by the handful, using your free hand to steady the mound.

Cover it with the second crust. Trim and crimp the crust; chill the pie for 10 minutes in the freezer. Cut vent slits in the top crust and sprinkle it very lightly with water and then sugar. Because the top crust slope is so steep, you need to flick a little water at it to keep the sugar from rolling off and caking at the crust edge when you sprinkle it on.

Bake the pie on a lipped baking sheet for 10 minutes, or until the crust looks dry, blistered, and blonde. Turn the oven down to 375°F, and bake for at least 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden brown and visible juices are thickened and bubble slowly through slits in the top crust. With a pie this high, you can expect some runoff on the tray. Test apples for doneness by poking a wooden skewer down through the open vent slits of the top crust. Apples inside should yield to the skewer with slight resistance—cooked through but not mushy. Look for thick slow bubbles where the juices pool near the edge of the crust.

Cool the pie completely before cutting, at least a few hours. Serve it at room temperature. Store the pie uncovered at room temperature, up to 3 days.

Bubby's All Butter Pastry Dough
From "Bubby's Homemade Pies"

An all-butter crust takes finesse to mix and handle because butter gets soft quickly at room temperature. Keeping a butter crust cold takes more attention, but pays off in flavor and flakiness. Its versatile flavor complements and accentuates other flavors in much the same way that a pat of butter and a pinch of salt do in the filling.

For 8- to 10-inch double crust
or 12-inch single crust:

5 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
11-1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Measure out the water for the crust (with a bit of extra water in the measure in case you need a touch more) and then add ice cubes. Chill it in the freezer.

Measure out the flour (unsifted) by leveling off dry measuring cups, and add the flour to large bowl. Add the salt to the flour and give it a quick stir to combine evenly.

Use cold butter, measure out the amount you need, and then coat the cold, solid stick with the flour in the bowl. Using a dough scraper or a long butcher knife, cut the butter lengthwise in half, and then lengthwise in quarters, coating each newly cut side with flour as you go. Dice the butter into 1/4 inch cubes (or 1-inch sticks if using a food processor). Break up any pieces that stick together and toss them all to coat them with flour. (If it is a warm day, chill this mixture briefly in the freezer before continuing.)

Hand Method: Using a pastry cutter, press the blades through the mixture, bearing down repeatedly like you would to mash potatoes. Repeat this gesture until the largest pieces of fat are the size of shelling peas and the smallest are the size of lentils (none smaller). Do not get over-enthusiastic here: this size range makes for excellent flakiness. Rechill if necessary.

Food Processor Method: Add the flour, salt, and butter mixture to the food processor and pulse it a few times. Do not use the continuous ON setting for pastry. To get the fat to cut in evenly you must stop and angle the entire food processor to give its contents a jostle by shaking and tilting it every couple of pulses. Pulse the mixture until the larger fat pieces are the size of shelling peas and the smallest fat pieces are the size of lentils. Do not overmix. Watch closely—it typically takes less than 10 quick pulses to get there. If you have a few bigger chunks of butter in a mixture that is otherwise perfect, dump the mixture into a large bowl and cut the bigger chunks down to size by hand with a pastry cutter so that the whole mixture remains consistent for flakiness.Transfer the fat and flour mixture to a bowl and chill it. Do not use the food processor to add the water to a pastry crust. Always mix in the water by hand.

When adding the water, begin with a fully chilled flour and fat mixture and ice cold water. Be judicious, even stingy, with the water. Do not add all the water at once; it must be dispersed into the mixture incrementally. Add water two or three tablespoons at first, quickly tossing the mixture with your hands after each addition with light upward motion to distribute the water evenly throughout it. Work the dough as little as possible.
Continue adding little bits of water at a time. When there are no floury bits anymore—just little comet-like cobbles that don't quite cohere—slow down and sprinkle or flick water in at this point. One drop can make the difference and bring it all together. The balance can shift quickly from crumbly to wet. You might need a touch more water. The pastry should be just a little bit tacky when you touch it.

To test the dough for consistency, lightly pat together some dough the size of a tennis ball. If the ball crumbles apart or has lots of dry-looking cracks in it, the dough is still too dry; let it break apart. Add a drop or two of water to the outside of the ball and work it just a little. If it holds and feels firm and supple, mop up any remaining crumbs with the ball—if they pick up easily, the dough is probably wet enough. If they fall back into the bowl, you might need a touch more water to pull the dough together. The pastry should be just a little bit tacky when you touch it.

Wet dough may seem easier to work, but because the extra water overdevelops the gluten it makes a really tough crust. If your pie dough is stretchy (glutinous) and quickly retracts when you roll it out, chances are you have added more water than you need and your pastry is overworked. If your dough is quite sticky, soft, and wet, it is better to pitch it and start over.

Dough can feel like it's holding together because the butter is melting. If at any point the dough ceases to feel cool to the touch or the butter pieces feel melty, soft, and warm, put the whole mixture in the freezer until it's cooled down again—about 10 minutes. It's impossible to gauge the water ratio accurately if the fat is melting into the flour.

For double crust, divide the dough into slightly uneven halves and shape each half into a ball—the larger of which will be for the bottom crust, the smaller ball for the top. Cover each ball tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least half an hour to relax and slow the gluten development and rechill the fat. In practical terms, this cold rest makes the dough easier to roll out.