Jenn Gin Cookies: An attempt to bring the happy back to the hour.

The funtastic start to the long weekend quickly took a turn by Saturday night when I started having some psychologically deflating side effects from the high dose of Prednisone I was put on last Wednesday. I had forgotten how intense this level can be and ended up feeling awful on Sunday. By Monday, I needed something to get me back on the positive mental track and since gardening out in the heat was out of the question, I went to the other space where I can always find something to invent, experiment with, or edit— my kitchen.

The drive to edit doesn’t stop when I leave the office. I’ve realized that it infiltrates most of my life. From the high-walled, razor-wired personal stuff to the blatant spray painting of an antique chandelier, I’ll make a tweak if I see fit.

Baking is not immune to my editorial revisions, to be sure. As I’ve said many times before, I can’t seem to follow recipes to the letter. It must be some sort of mental block. Or I’m just too damn stubborn.IMG_20170529_131438_897

So when I needed a pick-me-up on Monday, I searched the kitchen to see what I could create from what was on hand. I knew I needed a dessert for the Greek family Memorial Day dinner, so I first gathered up the basics of flour, sugar, and butter. Found three limes that were leftover from a gin and tonic weekend…and then it hit me—new cocktail cookie! I already knew a good iced-lemon cookie recipe, so I decided to adjust it into a liquored-up treat.

20170529_132811I always like a splash or two of whiskey or bourbon in a pie, and I’ve done a cookie with tequila, so gin seemed like the natural next step in editorial experimentation. Starting with the original recipe, I changed the call for lemon zest and juice to lime, added a big dousing of gin and an extra egg white (because it was there and needed to be used). I’m no chemist, and I barely math, so this was risky and I knew it. But it felt right and I was starting to feel better myself. The dough came together nicely. Perhaps a bit sticky, but the taste was spot-on. Sweet tart scrumptious. As with the lemon cookie recipe, it was hard not to sit there and just eat all the dough raw. I controlled myself and rolled out tablespoon-sized clumps onto the cookie sheet.

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While those sticky, little dough balls were in the oven, I whipped up the icing for their tops. Knowing the liquor in the dough would mostly bake off, I decided to bring back the full strength in the icing. Powdered sugar, lime zest, lime juice, and gin—what could go wrong?

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Nothing. Nothing went wrong with that. It was delicioso! Meanwhile, the dough balls were puffing up into what looked like wee biscuits. It was bizarre and I wondered if it was the addition of the gin or the extra egg white. Either way, they were looking almost fancy and I was getting excited. The previous day’s pains and discomforts were melting away as this new baking adventure was coming together.

Ding! The cookies were done, out da oven, and onto a cooling rack to set a bit before drizzling with the icing.

The smell was like the feel of summer evening drinks with a sweating glass pressed cool against a hot brow.

20170529_140426.jpgOnce they were cool enough to drizzle, the idea of a drizzle wasn’t enough anymore. I coated those biscuity looking babies to the hilt. I mean, why not? They ended up sitting in puddles of ginny sweet goodness and it was glorious to gaze upon.

The final cocktail cookie had a texture that carried the heft of the glaze well and the combination felt just right. The full-force gin in the icing gave it a kick that everyone was surprised with but enjoyed…especially my coworkers. What? *Clears throat*

Moving on…the pick-me-up experiment is going down in the books as a success, and I’ve named them Jenn Gin Cookies. Gin and tonics are restricted to a glass no longer!

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Jenn Gin Cookie Dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 stick of unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg (plus one egg white if you want to do what I did)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Gin

Gin Glaze:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lime zest

1/3 cup fresh lime juice with a big splash of Gin in it

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and zest in a bowl. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and lime juice, gin, and combine. Finally, add in the flour mixture gradually with the mixer on low.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until golden on the edges. About 15-20 minutes depending on your dough ball size. Be sure to flip them halfway through.

Let cool completely and then “drizzle” with the glaze. They should set for about an hour before devouring.

Bottom’s up!

 

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Pi(e) Day: the most wonderful day of the month.

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Today was an obvious choice of a day for me to make a pie. I don’t math, but I do know what pi means and since I’m pretty all right with letters, I knew that adding an ‘e’ would really level up this day. *insert Link opening a treasure chest music here* Also, I can’t remember the last time I made one, which is true sadness.

When discussing what kind to make, Yvonne, who knows I always bring them into work for taste testing, said any kind but blueberry because that would turn her teeth blue. So to me that meant it was definitely going to be blueberry. Luckily for her, blueberries weren’t quite in season yet, so they were still ridiculously priced. The strawberries and raspberries were on sale and to add in a color and texture variant, I threw a pack of blackberries into the cart. A lemon for fresh juice and I was ready.20170314_192753.jpg

Shockingly, I actually planned ahead for this day and made my dough the night before. I’ve seriously mastered that pie dough, yo. As seasoned bakers already know, the quality of butter makes ALL the difference in it coming together. When I got home from the store, I rolled out half of the dough and pressed it into the plate.

The dough went back into the fridge while I prepped the filling. Sweet, sweet berries, come to momma. I cut the strawberries into 20170314_193128.jpgdifferent sizes and left the blackberries and raspberries whole. A bowl of beauty. The recipe I loosely followed called for adding granulated sugar, lemon juice, and salt to the berries. I cut the sugar by about a quater cup and added in an overflowing tablespoon of good quality maple syrup. Once that was mixed, add in the thickener, flour, and then it was time to get the other half of the 20170314_192702.jpgdough out of the fridge to roll out for the top crust. I knew I wanted to do something to represent pi, so I stared at the rolled out dough and contemplated how to do it without just doing the pi symbol. The problem is that I’m still an amateur with creative pie lattice tops. The brainstorming resulted in an idea I thought I could handle, so I filled the plate with the berry delicious filling and got at it. After some serious finangling, I finished my top and popped that heavy baby into the oven.

About an hour later, my gooftastic Pi Day pie was done. As usual, it was juicier than I’d like it to be. I think this happens because I usually add more fruit than the recipes call for, I can’t abide a sunken belly, and then forget to compensate with more thickening agent.

Do you see my pi representation?

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The taste testers were pleased—the pi pie disappeared with a quickness. I did get a slice and I have to admit that regardless of the slightly pooling liquid, the taste was spot on. Not too sweet or too tart. I’ll mark it as a success and make yet another note to watch the thickener when making fruit pies.

I didn’t get a “pretty” picture of a cut piece, but here’s a jank one with sliding crust on a Target brand generic paper plate because we can’t care about everything…

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Pie Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar (I used slightly less)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-1 tablespoon pieces (I used Kerry Gold)

1 1/2 cups cold water

Put the cold water into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup with a spout and handle. Set into the freezer. Measure out the flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and salt, then the butter pieces. Lightly toss them until they are coated and then take handfuls of the mixture into your hands, pressing the butter into the flour between your fingers until it’s incorporated and the butter pieces are pea to walnut size.

Next, get the water from the freezer and drizzle it in for a count of about five seconds. Then toss it like you’re tossing a salad. Don’t knead. Keep doing that with the water until you can put together a small ball of dough, toss it in the air, and when it lands in your hand it stays together. At this point, make two thick discs of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to three days.

Pie Filling:

5-5 1/2 cups of mixed berries of your choice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 heaping tablespoon maple syrup

2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of salt

1/4 cup flour (or more if you add extra fruit)

2 tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter cut into small chunks

1 egg white for wash

Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix the berries, sugar, syrup, lemon juice, and salt together. Taste and adjust to your preference. Stir in the flour and set aside while you roll out the top crust. Pile the fruit mix into the dough, dot with butter, and then add your version of the top. Brush on the egg white wash and heavily sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Middle rack for 15-20 minutes, with an edge protector. Then turn oven down to 375, rotate pie, and bake for another 35-45 minutes. Take the pie edge protector off for the last 10-15 minutes.

Cool on wire rack for at least an hour and then devour.

 

 

Sunday Pie Day: Deep Dish Peach

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Today, I officially added pie making to my list of therapeutic activities. I’m not a huge sugar/dessert fiend, I prefer salty/savory foods on the whole, but pie is an exception. If there is a pie around, I will eat it. Regardless of type or time of day, pie trumps cakes, cookies, ice cream, or any other sweet treat for me.

This is only the sixth pie I’ve made, being new to baking, but I’m addicted. I like the way the process slows me down, forces me to be patient. I’ve always loved cooking for the creativity and flexibility of it. You have to keep moving, keep dishes timed and rolling, instinctively knowing measurements because you don’t have time to dilly dally with all that. Working in restaurant kitchens taught me almost everything I needed to know, but it definitely did not teach me patience. Baking is showing me how to slow things down and still be creative.

Summertime is the time for fruit pies, so this Sunday pie day I decided to take on a deep dish peach pie. A few months ago, I found a recipe for a deep dish cherry pie and knew I had to try it because of the crust. It’s all about the crust for me with pies and this recipe called for a 9″ spring form pan to make the pie in. I knew it would be true love when I saw the picture of that thick, flaky crust.

It turned out to be a less than stellar experience. Hours and hours and me with little to no patience. I thought at numerous points that I would just lose it and throw the damn thing out into the yard for the critters. But it ended up being pretty darn good. By the end of it, I had made mental notes on what to do differently and knew I would attempt it again. Since peaches are now in season and abundant here in the south, peach pie it is this time around.

I used this recipe for the crust and this recipe for the peach filling (although I adjusted the sugar amount and added a secret ingredient). I recommend always reading reviews before starting a recipe. There were quite a few important changes suggested in the reviews and those were a big time help.

wpid-wp-1440348463994.jpgFirst things first, the dough. I put the dough together the night before. The dough recipe I used has a lot of butter in it, so it’s very important to chill it between each step. Prepping the dough the night before cut out one of the chill periods, which helped with the patience aspect for me. Once rolled out and pressed into the spring form pan, it went back into the fridge for at least 30 mins., but I just left mine in for as long as it took me to peel, pit, and slice the peaches.

Oh, the peaches. When using these deep dish pans, you need a lot, I mean A LOT,  of fruit to fill it up. I think I ended wpid-wp-1440348466825.jpgup with somewhere between 6-7 pounds of peaches (and probably could have used another pound easily). This is why I stick with fruit that is in season…and usually on sale. The prep of the peaches left my hands achey, but the smell of their sweetness got me through this phase smoothly.

Sugar & spices time. I cut the amount of sugar from the recipe by a quarter cup because I like the natural sweetness and flavor of the fruit to be apparent. Another change I made was to only use brown sugar instead of the mix. I added the fresh lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and a secret ingredient…I like to add a little something to each baking recipe to bring in my love of the creativity of cooking to the process.

Meanwhile, the pie crust needs to be par baked. Parchment paper and dried beans, into the oven for 15 mins. at 425 and then another 10 mins. without the beans to get the liquid on the bottom cooked off. While the par-baked pie crust cooled to room temperature, it was time to roll out the extra third of pie dough and cut it into lattice strips for the top.

wpid-wp-1440348458655.jpgWith the pie crust cooled and the lattice strips done, I pulled out the sugared & spiced peaches from the fridge, poured off a little of the liquid, and added the cornstarch. Many of the reviews said to add more cornstarch than the recipe called for, so I added two extra tablespoons. The extra cornstarch helped, but the real trick is to let the pie cool completely after baking, which is the hardest part of the process…waiting to try.

The lattice was brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with granulated sugar then in went that deep dish peach pie at 425. I put a ring of aluminum foil around the edges so they didn’t overcook and put it on the second to bottom oven rack with a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack underneath to catch any liquids that dripped out. I learned this the hard way when I smoked out the entire house with the deep dish cherry pie drippings. The recipe called for a baking time of 45 mins., but using a spring form pan, I knew it would have to be longer. I did 50 mins. at 425 and then lowered the temp to 375 for another 30 mins., taking the foil edges off at that time. These deep dish pies are heavy mofos, so be careful when placing in the oven and when taking out.

*Recommended song to play as you’re about to pull this beast out of the oven and fall in love in a big way…Big Lov

And here’s that bad boy fresh out the oven…

wpid-wp-1440357950969.jpgIt didn’t get the full recommended six hours to cool completely, but the extra cornstarch held it together pretty well. Still a bit warm on the inside and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was delicious. The amount of sugar was perfect to allow the taste of the peaches to carry their own and the crust was buttery and flaky goodness. Another pound or so of peaches would have been nice since they cook down quite a bit and there was some fall to the pie. Really need to pile the fruit above the top of the pan to start. Overall, the people were pleased.

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As summer comes to a close, hopefully soon, I’m thinking next up will be some sort of chocolate pie. The patience that is demanded from this process is good for many aspects of my life from work to writing to gardening. I am definitely a new addict to the art and science of baking. Time to start looking for the next recipe to make my own!