Lemon pi in the sky

IMG_0972BSMbanner_baked-150Being the son of a retired math teacher, I suppose that, naturally, 3.14 – or “Pi Day” – should be a day of mathematical celebration for me.  Though I was a decent math student in school and my day job is a good 95% involved with numbers and math, thankfully I don’t have to deal with the ubiquitous pi all that much.  Plus, you know me all too well:  I choose, instead, to celebrate “Pi(e) Day” by savoring something sweet and homemade, involving a delicious filling tucked between two buttery, flaky crusts.  While I missed actually having my pie on Pi(e) Day this year, plans were quickly set in motion to make this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings treat, Lemon Shaker Pie from Baked Elements, the Friday after!  I honestly think pie should be enjoyed every day, so really, what does it matter?

I personally adore making pie.  Next to ice cream, it’s probably my favorite dessert to put together.  I don’t find it daunting in the least – it’s actually very relaxing and therapeutic to me… yes, even putting together a potentially troublesome dough and rolling it out for the pie pan.  I don’t say that to sound smug – I realize it can seem challenging to even the most polished of bakers.

IMG_0963In my experience, many folks find the crust the most challenging part, but here’s the thing: practice truly makes perfect, and once you find a good pie crust recipe, stick with it.  Follow the recipe, keep your ingredients cool and don’t overwork the gluten in the dough. Keep the dough light.  Make it your own.  Use it every single time you put together a pie.  After a while, you can whip that pie crust recipe up in your sleep.  I can attest that Baked’s all-butter pie crust is indeed a good one.  I used it, as suggested, for this recipe, but only because – after last week’s vegetable shortening-laden recipe – I figured I would skip my great aunt’s tried-and true-pie crust recipe which does, indeed, contain shortening, but is the BEST pie crust ever (and yep, I’m keepin’ it to myself!).

I also adore lemons – if they didn’t give me such troublesome acid indigestion from eating too many lemon-laden treats, I would eat them all the time (I know, TMI… sorry!).  The guys at Baked promised that this particular pie is a glorious venture for the lemon lover, so I was happy to dive right in and see how this pie turned out.

I’ll start out by saying that the very first step may discourage you.  Indeed, if you like lemons, you will find this pie to be a little bit of a labor of love with a wonderful payoff at the end.  First off, plan well in advance, as you need to thinly slice 2 lemons and let them macerate in sugar for 48 hours.  The process of letting them sit in a bowl on your counter and macerate isn’t the troubling issue – if you’ve ever attempted cutting lemons on a mandoline, you know that’s the agonizing step I’m referring to!  Baked recommends chilling the lemon beforehand to help it slice better, but I still ended up with rather ragged, torn strips of lemon rather than beautiful, thinly-cut rounds. I suspect this may have largely been due to the annoying little lemon seeds that stuck in the mandoline blade as I was slicing the lemons, causing the lemon as a whole to almost skitter across the blade and slice unevenly.  Add to this the fact that mandolines terrify me.  I am way too accident-prone to have my fingers near open, sharp blades like that.

Once the lemons are sliced, you will add all of them to 2 cups of sugar, which quickly becomes thick and syrupy… don’t panic if your sugar doesn’t remain ‘dry’, as I did at first.  Baked also suggests that, prior to tossing the lemon slices in the sugar, a quick blanching of the slices removes some of the lemon’s bitterness and chewiness from the rind/pith.  I plunged my lemon slices into the boiling water to blanch them, only to open my freezer and discover we were out of ice to make an ice bath to complete the blanching.  Again – I stress the importance of being duly prepared ahead of time (something I am often really, really bad at). I ended up tossing the slices into a bowl of cold water, which quickly turned warm… kind of defeating the whole point of the blanching.  Ah well.  Onward.

After the 48 hours of sugared lemon ‘bathing’, the next interesting step was removing the lemon slices/strands piece by piece from the lemony syrup and layering them on the unbaked, bottom crust of the pie.  It’s a messy, sticky, somewhat meticulous process which you can probably skip, and just mix the whole lot – slices and all – together with the eggs, butter, cornstarch, salt, flour, and the syrupy lemon sugar for the filling.  Pour all of this into the pie crust, and it will bake up into a delectably tart lemon curd-like filling beneath a golden crust sparkling with a scattering of crunchy raw sugar.

IMG_0981After baking my Lemon Shaker Pie, I let it cool completely before popping it for an overnight in the refrigerator.  As noted in the recipe, this is really a pie that benefits from being eaten cold, as it slices and serves up beautifully and cleanly when chilled, and the cold also seems to complement the piquancy and tartness of the lemon filling.

IMG_0978How best to describe the taste of this very unique pie?  I would say it’s similar to a lemon meringue pie, but it really isn’t (mostly because it’s just missing that pillowy meringue, obviously).  Thankfully, it wasn’t as overtly tart or acidic as I imagined it would be, but it is definitely a LEMON-spotlighted pie through and through, and lemon fanatics, like yours truly, can rejoice.  Think of it perhaps as a lemon bar baked up in a pie; that’s possibly the most apt description I can come up with!  I loved it, though my true verdict is still out on the chewy lemon slices.  The texture is a touch distracting at first.  You will amazed that you are actually eating whole lemon pieces, but if you sneak a quick nibble of one of the slices after macerating them in sugar for two whole days, you will be amazed at how remarkably candy-like they are.  They reminded me a lot of jellied fruit slices you might find in an old-time drugstore.  Suggested pairings for this pie include a good cup of black coffee, or mounds of fresh whipped cream to cut the sweet/tartness, but I opted to eat a piece on its own.  And boy, is it good.  It satisfies my lemon craving two-fold, and the bright citrusy taste has me hoping fervently that – please, dear God, please – spring will be just waiting around the corner!

Lemon pie lovers, take on the belated Pi(e) Day challenge and bake up this unique pie today by following this link… I promise you will enjoy it:

Lemon Shaker Pie

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

Next week: Chocolate Peanut Butter Fondue (Heads up that I may be skipping this one… It’s nothing too fancy, though I’m sure it’s delicious.  Pretty much a chocolate peanut butter ganache.  However, I don’t usually make something like a fondue unless I am having a party and next weekend, I don’t have plans for one!)

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Malt manipulation

IMG_0947BSMbanner_baked-150If there’s one thing I gotta say for those Baked boys when it comes to me and my tastes, they must practice some kind of baking wizardry with their recipes from time to time.  I’m usually pretty staunch when I do not like a particular ingredient – and while I could type out the entire list for you (it’s long because – surprise! – I’m picky), I won’t; suffice it to say that MALT is on that list.  However, a couple months ago, those Milk Chocolate Malted Pots de Creme weren’t all that bad.  And this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment, Malted Milk Sandwich Cookies – a photo of which graces the cover of Baked Explorations, along with Salt and Pepper Sandwich Cookieswas one I initially balked at, only to wind up surprisingly pleased with the end result.  It had MALT in the title – how on earth could I like it? Blech!

For the record, this is my first Baked cover recipe I have baked! Everything in me wanted to shriek when measuring out 3/4 cup malted milk powder into the dry ingredients, but I forged ahead.  If there is anything I’m steadily learning in baking, it’s that sometimes you can appreciate certain ingredients with time, usually baked into desserts in unique ways that either mask the flavor, or enhance it in a way more pleasing to a typically fussy palate like – ahem – mine.  Another ingredient I have actually grown to enjoy is coconut, though I’m not quite sure I could chow down on a ton of coconut macaroons or a piece of coconut cake yet, and I actually prefer it toasted and crunchy.

IMG_0935The dough to these cookies is rather unique, as during the creaming of the butter, sugar, brown sugar, and eggs process it seems to resemble – and taste like – your standard chocolate chip cookie dough.  The recipe is turned into something a little different by the inclusion of the malt and a bit of sour cream – I suspect to give the cookies a little bit of tang.  The dough itself is quite sticky, and you will definitely want to keep it chilled, as the recipe suggests, for 3 hours – only using small pieces of it while rolling it out, keeping the rest in the refrigerator.  I found that I had to work quickly, flouring the board I was rolling the dough out on several times, as the dough warms and becomes soft and sticky rather quickly.

Once baked, I couldn’t resist biting into a cookie to see what I would think of the taste.  The dough, on initial taste, definitely had that nutty malt flavor, but I was surprised that I was nonplussed by it.  The cookies themselves are delicious.  I baked each batch for the full 12 minutes mentioned in Baked’s recipe, yielding cookies with a crispy bite to the edges and a slightly chewy center.  They tasted warmly of butterscotch to me, more so than malt.  Being a huge butterscotch aficionado, this was a definite plus.

IMG_0945The filling recipe starts with – EEEK! – a whopping 5 ounces of vegetable shortening, which I confess always makes me squirm a little.  Using highly hydrogenated fats in my baking is not something I like to make a practice of in the slightest, but I suppose as this cookie is somewhat modeled after the Oreo cookie, I can see what they were hoping to achieve here. I found that, a bit contrary to what the recipe said, my shortening and butter (both at room temperature) did not become completely smooth when mixed together until the gradual addition of the powdered sugar, so don’t worry if your fats do not homogenize right away.  I feel that the little kiss of rum suggested is essential in rounding out the definite initial taste of shortening in the filling, so even if you are not a fan of booze in your recipes, you might still want to add it.  If you’re a complete teetotaler, well… yes, leave it out!  I used dark rum and it was fine (I wasn’t about to run out to the liquor store for 1 teaspoon of light rum).  For the sake of expediency, I favored using a pastry bag to pipe the filling onto my cookies, but you can certainly spread the filling with a knife or offset spatula.

IMG_0940I found these cookies, overall, quite delightful!  They are a wonderful, sturdy enough cookie to pack up and take to gatherings, as folks always seem to be impressed by your baking prowess when you present them with a good sandwich cookie.  The soft filling is a nice, pleasing complement to the crunchy, buttery cookie, though I must warn you – it does squidge out of the sandwich cookie a bit at first bite.  These cookies also beg to be paired with a nice, cold glass of milk.  I was happy to see that I had some plain, unfilled cookies left, as I prefer to just munch on those – or maybe fill them with a good homemade vanilla ice cream?  Hmmmm…

Baked, you surprised me again.  While I’m not about to run out and buy several boxes of malted milk balls, I have to confess that you’re slowly converting me to malt.  Masterful manipulation, guys. (I don’t think you can quite practice that magic on me with pistachios or peanuts, however… that’s an incredibly LONG shot.)

Bake your own malt-licious cookies by following this link:

Malted Milk Sandwich Cookies

…and please do visit the blogs of my Baked Sunday Mornings comrades.  It’s always wonderful to see how everyone fared with the recipes week after week!

Next week: Lemon Shaker Pie

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