General

These two cake recipes will help you take your mind off things

These two cake recipes will help you take your mind off things

It was the best pies… it was the worst pie. But if I’m being honest, even a bad pie is pretty good.

I hope Charles will forgive Dickens the liberties I took in the opening of this column. Dickens wasn’t talking about pie, of course. He described the era of the French Revolution, a time full of excitement and fear… a time when everything in life seemed to be at stake.

In other words, a time not so different from ours.

I don’t know about you, but between Congressional and Supreme Court hearings (not to mention the ongoing presence of COVID-19), life seems to be changing at a breathtaking pace today. It’s hard to keep up, and it’s hard to stay positive at times.

Let’s be real. I’m not saying that a good piece of pie will make a huge difference in someone’s life. However, it will give you a moment to slow down and catch your breath and cut yourself off from the world for a while.

There’s just something about cake. Baking it is purifying. Rolling out the dough and seeing it bubbling in the oven is soothing.

Then there’s the smell. Oh, the smell. When you bake cake, your home fills with the most delicious scents.

It looks a bit like Xanax in a crust, but of course it tastes a lot better. Especially if you add a little ice.

In fact, playwright David Mamet — a man I rarely agree with when it comes to politics — said it best when he wrote, “Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”

Luckily we often have cake this time of year. We are in the midst of summer cake season. Seriously, walk through the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning and you’ll be blown away by the raw ingredients of pie almost everywhere you look.

It’s like a firework of flavor. blueberries! Rhubarb! Strawberries! Cherries! They all wait for you to take them home, stir in a little (or a lot) of sugar and spices, then slide them between two layers of dough.

Do you see what I mean? catharsis!

Unfortunately I only have room for a few recipes below. Rest assured, however, there are many, many ways to make a pie. All it takes is the right ingredients and a little imagination.

Soon you will have the best pies… and… that’s it. Because, like I said, even a bad pie is pretty good.

pie crust

It all starts with the right pie crust, of course.

I’m not saying this one is the best. However, it is one that I have come to rely on. That’s because it’s simple, it’s forgiving, and it tastes good.

It’s easy because you mix it in your stand mixer (although you can do it by hand if you don’t have such a machine). It’s forgiving because it combines shortening with butter. The shortening makes the dough easier to work with, while the butter gives it flavor.

The recipe comes from the good folks at King Arthur Flour.

ingredients

  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • 10 tablespoons butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 8-10 tablespoons water, cold

Mix the flour and salt in your mixer (or by hand). Beat in the shortening. Then beat in the pieces of butter. Don’t beat them until they’re gone into the batter, though. You want a few larger pieces to be visible. Now add the water. Start with 4 tablespoons and then mix. Then add the remaining water spoon by spoon, whisking briefly between each addition. You want the dough to be wet enough to hold it together without it becoming pliable. I usually add all 10 tablespoons, but use your best instincts here.

Divide the dough in half. Press each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. Place in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling.

To blind bake your crust

Each of the pie recipes below calls for a blind-baked crust. “Blind Bake” simply means baking the crust halfway through. This will help firm it up for the wet filling you add when making the pie.

What do I need?

  • Aluminium foil
  • Dried beans or pie weights

Once you’ve rolled out your crust and pressed it into the 9-inch pie plate, you’re ready to bake.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Press a piece of aluminum foil onto the surface of your crust. Pour in the dried beans (I only keep dried beans for baking cakes. You can use them multiple times). Bake the crust for 12 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and let the crust cool before filling.

Cherry Pie With Almond Crumble

One of my favorite pies this time of year is a cherry pie. There is something about cherries that is so summery.

I use tart cherries because they are in season now and because they have just the right tartness to add complexity to the pie. However, you can also use sweet cherries. You just need to use less sugar when making your cake.

This recipe is from Smithen Kitchen.

ingredients

1 (9-inch) pie crust, blind baked as above

For the almond crumble:

  • ⅔ cup oatmeal, finely ground in your food processor
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup almonds
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

For the pie filling:

  • 1 cup sugar (use ½ cup if using sweet cherries)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2¼ pounds fresh cherries, pitted or 2 pounds frozen cherries

To make the crumble:

Grind the oats fine in the food processor. Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and almonds. Grind them until the nuts are coarsely ground. Mix in the melted butter (you may want to do this last step by hand if you want bigger chunks of crumble).

To make the pie filling:

Combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and kosher salt.

To bake your cake:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper (this will protect the bottom of your oven from spills).

Pour your filling into the blind-baked crust. Sprinkle the almond crumble evenly over it. Place on your prepared baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Let the cake cool completely before slicing it.

Lemon blueberry pie

This recipe caught my eye a few months ago. I like the combination of lemon and blueberry. They just seem to bring out the best in each other. Plus, the two layers of lemon and blueberry looked beautiful together in the recipe photos. I had to try.

It is more labor intensive than most cakes because you have to make and bake several layers. I’m also wondering – although I haven’t tried it – if you can replace the lemon layer with pre-made lemon curd. That might be something to try in a future bake.

The recipe is from King Arthur Flour.

ingredients

1 (9-inch) pie crust, blind baked (see instructions above)

For the Streusel topping:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the lemon filling:

  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
  • 1½ tablespoon cornstarch

For the blueberry filling:

  • 3 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ tablespoon cornstarch

To make the lemon filling:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the melted butter in a mixing bowl. Mix in the lemon juice, salt, sugar, cornmeal and cornstarch. Beat in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is blended. Pour into your blind baked pie crust.

Bake for 25-28 minutes until the filling is almost set (it should wiggle a little in the center; that’s good, because it will continue to bake after you take it out of the oven). Don’t turn off your oven!

How to make the blueberry filling:

Place the berries in a 2-quart saucepan. In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt and cornstarch. Stir this mixture through the berries. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries run out of juice. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Then carefully spoon the filling over the lemon layer. (Don’t bake at this point, though).

To make the streusel:

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Melt the butter and add the vanilla. Pour over the flour mixture and toss with a fork to form irregular crumbs. Sprinkle the streusel over the blueberry layer.

Bake (still at 375 degrees) for 15-20 minutes, or until crumbs are lightly browned.

Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Then cool well before slicing.