Pie Primer: How to Make Pie Crust

Pie dough primer

Hunger is a good motivator. In high school, I taught myself how to make pie crust because it would guarantee that I’d get to eat pie.

It’s funny to think about someone like me experiencing a growth spurt. I’m 5’2 on a good day; I’ve never woken up with the kind of leg pain that my taller relatives experienced as they shot a foot or so above me. But in high school, I was hungry all the time, packing two sandwiches for lunch because one wouldn’t be enough to dull the pangs that came calling every hour. This was the kind of eating behavior of someone who was destined to be 6’2.

Being a soccer-fanatic-always-in-motion tomboy had something to do with it, but my hunger also had a lot to do with how much I loved food. It wasn’t just the eating; it was the making. I was in awe of food that I didn’t know how to make. When a girl in my high school class said she had spent the weekend baking pie, my first thought was that she must possess incredible baking talent. My next thought: could I learn how to bake pie, too? 

Yes, of course. The first hurdle I had to get over was the idea that pie crust is impossibly difficult to make. My mom always stuck to crisps and crumbles and pies were the domain of the inimitable SandyB of blueberry pie fame, which is one of the reasons pie took on such a mythical place in my dessert imagination. There are many ways to approach making pie, and all good ones have merit.

There are also countless ways to screw up pie, too, and through the years I’ve made nearly every mistake. Getting comfortable with pie dough takes practice, but not an insurmountable amount. Like any dough, you get a sense of what it’s supposed to feel and look like at certain stages, cutting out the need to follow a recipe. I have made off-the-cuff pie in rental cabins and friends’ apartments using wine bottles as rolling pins and the results have always been edible, if not downright delicious. Being able to pull this off is much easier than my high school self would have believed. There aren’t any secrets. You just need to have some common sense and a near-foolproof formula for pie dough in your back pocket.

Here, how to make + master pie crust: [click to continue…]

Summer = Blueberry Pie

blueberry pie
Most people I know love apple pie above all other fruit pies. When I was little and we lived in the southern Philippines, apples were hard to come by. So the expat community got its fix by seasoning sliced, underripe mangoes with cinnamon and sugar and baking them in pie crust. That’s how much Americans missed their American pie: rather than do without, they got resourceful. Or just plain faked it.

[click to continue…]

How to Use Radish Leaves

Radish greens
Root-to-stalk cooking is not a new idea. Tara Duggan even has a book out on the subject. A few years ago, I wrote about how this way of reducing waste in the kitchen had even trickled into desserts, with pastry chefs using as much of the fruit (and vegetable) as they could. Kady Yon made use of carrot peels by crisping them up for a dessert garnish. The carrot tops also became garnish. Kim Schwenke went whole-pumpkin, thinking of all the things she could do with the skin, pulp, and seeds. And Patrick Fahy infused custard with apricot and cherry pits.

Grocery stores don’t always provide the best produce for root-to-stalk cooking. Sometimes beet greens are mangled by the time you get them home. That can be the case with radishes, too, with the leaves stuck together, on the verge of turning to slime. But maybe it’s because it’s early summer, or I’m hitting the store at the right time, but lately the greens have been anything but mangled or old. The radish greens (pictured above) were stunning. And they tasted good, too—nice and bright. How could I throw them all away?

So I didn’t. Instead, I [click to continue…]

Candied Brown Butter and Cocoa Hazelnuts

brown butter candied hazelnuts

One of the amazing things about egg whites is that you can freeze them for a year and they’ll be OK. Actually, they might even be better than OK. I learned this from Mindy Segal, who pointed out that old egg whites make better meringues than fresh-outta-the-shell egg whites. She said it’s even fine to leave whites at room temperature overnight before using them as long as the room isn’t too warm.

This was good news, because I had a few baggies of egg whites in my freezer left over from the times I needed only the yolks to make citrus curd or cookies when testing recipes for Cookie Love. (BTW, if you have extra egg whites, freeze them two at a time in plastic sandwich bags. Whites from large eggs are roughly 30 grams each, so if you have a bunch of egg whites frozen in a block, use this measurement to weigh out the whites needed for the recipe.) For the past year, they had become buried behind more captivating ingredients, like teff flour, sesame seeds, and walnuts. It was time for me to do something about the situation.

Figuring out what to do next was the easy part. Flourless, a naturally gluten-free baking book by Nicole Spiridakis, has a lot of ideas that I’ve been wanting to try out, and [click to continue…]

Whole-Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies

gluten-free chocolate chip

gluten-free, whole-grain chocolate chip cookies

Like a lot of people who have been baking with ancient grain, gluten-free, or any sort of flour variety that can be filed under “alternative,” my freezer is full of bags sealed with twisty-ties from the bulk bins. Some of it was accumulated over the past year from impulse shopping, and—not gonna lie—it’s a little out of control. But it has allowed me to do a fair bit of baking experimentation in an effort to clean house. [click to continue…]

Kumquat Marmalade

When I was testing recipes for Cookie Love last year, I needed to make a marmalade with kumquats for kolachkes, Polish cookies. The problem was that kumquats, a spring fruit in Northern California, were already out of season (this was July).

Fortunately, I had a lucky break. After telling Rebecca, a baking enthusiast, that I couldn’t find any more kumquats at the market, she said she could climb a tree in her backyard and pick the fruit that were hanging over her fence. So not only were the kumquats fresh-from-the-plant sweet, they were also free. (I owe you one, Rebecca.)


This year, while I didn’t have to test any specific kumquat recipe, it was still hard for me to pass them up [click to continue…]

Smashed Cucumber Salad with Garlic and Chiles

smashed cucumber salad
Foraging may be all the rage among fancy chefs, but in Hong Kong, foraging takes on a different significance.

Or so Alvin Leung wants you to believe. “I don’t understand why chefs want to forage for vegetables and herbs,” he told the audience at last week’s Worlds of Flavor conference as he stared down the crowd through blue-tinted glasses.

“In Hong Kong we forage for handbags. I foraged over in Hong Kong and I was arrested for shoplifting.”

Leung, raised in Toronto, is the mind behind Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, where he serves X-Treme Chinese Cuisine (his words). He also says he makes Frankenstein food, funky stuff. He finished the plate he was demonstrating on stage by slamming a fat daisy in the center. He found the flower while foraging in the Napa Valley—at a cemetery. Or so he claimed.

Leung’s presentation was one of many at the CIA’s annual conference held at the culinary school’s Greystone campus in St. Helena. [click to continue…]