Sunday, November 24, 2013

Buttermilk Chess Pie

       When I was a kid, My Grandfather used to come down to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving with us. During one of his visits, my dad, sister, grandfather and I were driving in the car, and we got into a discussion of everyone's favorite types of pie. (For the record, mine was apple with crumble topping at the time.) Dad and Hattie listed theirs and finally Grandfather named "Chess Pie." Much to Grandfather's disappointment, none of us had even heard of Chess Pie. We inquired as to what it was and Grandfather explained "It is like pecan pie, without the pecans." To this, my Dad responded, "So you mean it is just the goop?" At this moment, my Grandfather become endearingly indignant, and in a deep tone spoke the voice of a wise pie sage, "It is so much more than just goop, Scottie." The three of us of course burst out in laughter.
       Although it was the pie my Grandfather named as such an ultimately tasty treat many years ago, I only just now bought my large jug of buttermilk and went home ready to experience this pie. From when I finally looked up what was in it-cornmeal, eggs, lots of delicious buttermilk, and some bright citrus- I knew Grandfather had been right to take such a tone with us. It is so much more that just goop.
       It is a lusciously gentle lemon custard, just slightly and pleasantly textured by a small amount of cornmeal. The filling is reminiscent of a southern grain style pudding which is then baked inside a perfectly, flakey, buttery crust. The buttermilk gives the classic smooth, buttery, goodness so characteristic of its presence in baking. However, the biggest and most welcomed surprise was the top of the custard. Instead of being soft and pudding like, the sugar and cornmeal form an extremely thin sugar top crust. Therefore, when you first tap your fork down over the top to sink in, there is the smallest and most satisfying crunch. This is the Southern pie the majority of America still needs to find out about, because it is just gosh darn delicious. Thank you Grandfather for being the sage of pie eating, even when your younger generations were clueless!
Very slightly adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day


1 9-10" unbaked pie crust (I used Back in the Day's but pick your favorite)
4 TBSP (1/2 Stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 C sugar
4 eggs
1 TBSP all purpose flour
2 TBSP yellow cornmeal
1 pinch of fine sea salt
3/4 C buttermilk (low-fat)
1 TBSP lemon juice
Zest of 1/2 of an orange and 1/2 a lemon

Oven Temp: Start 350 (first 10 minutes), down to 325 (last 45-55 minutes)

1. Roll out your pie dough to a 12" round and place it into a greased 9" baking dish. Cut off the excess piecrust and poke the crust with a fork. Allow the piecrust a final rest of an hour in the fridge.
2. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter with a hand mixer (or paddle attachment in your stand mixer) until it is light and fluffy.
4. Add in the eggs in, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.
5. Add the flour, cornmeal, and salt and beat on low until just incorporated.
6. Add the lemon juice, buttermilk, and zest and mix to combine.
7. Remove the crust from the fridge, pour in the mixture and bake at 350 F for the first 10 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 325 and continue to cook for 45-50 minutes, until the filling is set.
8. Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cook for at least 2 hours at room temperature before cutting.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pumpkin Cake Squares + Baked Spice Cream Cheese Frosting

        I know I am a little late pumpkin excitement. October has already passed and peoples initial "gee-wiz its back!" has long been replaced by dreams of stuffing, turkey, and most importantly, pecan pie. Today though, I denounce the end of the thrill of pumpkin to bring it back because I am just not done with it. Not even pumpkin in particular, but the winter squash family. Oh my goodness, butternut squash is what I want warm, melting in my mouth on the daily right now; and I am not the biggest fan of stuffed vegetables, but an acorn squash, filled with cranberries, wild rice, and some nuts is enough to drive me into autumnal bliss without even seeing the outdoors. 
       I considered mixing up the squash in this recipe for a funkier note (and that is totally allowed), but I realized, I had not had one of the ultimate combos of the season yet. I had not combined pumpkin with cream cheese and you best be darned, I am not letting November go by without eating those two together. I mean really anything you give me an excuse to put cream cheese icing on, I will; but paired with spices and pumpkin-tangy, sweet, warm, and rich in deep was time. I broke out the cream cheese, while the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger awoke my nose. I broke into the bag of semisweet chocolate morsels (and admittedly, did nibble on two or three), while the pumpkin called my name from the cabinet.
       These squares were made as my second dish to the La Veta weekend (I mean what is a weekend in the mountains without a freshly baked treat making you want to wiggle your feet in thick socks in happiness). These cake squares are the type of thing you cut into, take a small piece while talking to your friends and feeling the comfort of the flavors find your taste buds. All of a sudden, you find yourself having gone back for another one...and a third. The pumpkin gives the cake deep moisture, and takes away any overly sweetness. It works to balance a warm spice mix and stand up to their powerful notes. The cream cheese baked on top has a sweet touch that sinks down onto the cake and adds a milky mouth feel. It provides the cake an additional moist topping without the overt sweetness sometimes present in frostings. Instead of overpowering the pumpkin cake, it all simply balances together in a wonderful bite of pumpkin-cream cheese bliss Sigh...feel free to take me back to the pumpkin squares now...and for that matter I wouldn't mind returning to La Veta.  
Makes 1 9x13, or 2 8x8 

2 1/3 C all-purpose flour
2 TSP cinnamon
1/4 TSP ginger
1/4 TSP nutmeg
1 dash of cloves
3/4 TSP salt
16 TBSP butter, room temp (2 sticks)
3/4 C brown sugar
3/4 C white sugar
1 large egg
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
2 TSP vanilla extract
1 1/2 C chocolate chips (semisweet)
8 OZ. cream cheese
1/2 C sugar
1/2 TSO cinnamon
2 TBSP whole milk
 *You could also double the cream cheese layer to make a thicker coat. I have not done this but I think I would the next time.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare the baking dish(es).
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, spices, and salt.
3. In a larger bowl, beat the butter to begin the creaming, then add in the sugars and continue to cream until the mixture is light and fluffy.
4. Add the egg and continue to beat until incorporated.
5. Add the pumpkin puree and vanilla and beat until incorporated.
6. Switch to a spatula or spoon and add flour in 2-3 additions until just incorporated. Fold in around the sides and bottom to make sure all the flour is mixed in.
7. Fold in the chocolate chips. 
8. Pour the batter into the pans and spread evenly with the back of a grease spatula.
9. In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, milk, and cinnamon, until well combined.

10. Scoop the cream cheese mixture over the pumpkin batter and gently spread with a knife (try not to push down to hard which will begin to mix the pumpkin and cream cheese instead of keeping two layers). 
11. Bake for about 50 minutes until the inside is fully set, an inserted toothpick comes out clean and the edges have started to brown.
12. Remove and allow the cake to cool before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Savory Bread Pudding

     My friends and I are lucky enough to get to spend some weekends together in a wonderful little town in Colorado called La Veta. Weekends in La Veta are about as happy and peaceful as you can get: not a plan in sight, except certainly a game called Z Ball, art projects, time in nature, and most definitely delicious food. As a group, we divide and conquer meals and everyone always brings tantalizing meals. It is a time of feasting, grazing, and best of all, sharing.
      Eating is wonderful, as is getting to cook, but there is a massive amount of joy that comes along with getting to feed other people. It is a small way to give them a part of yourself, your love, and your appreciation. There has been a rise in the trend of people eating on the fly, or while distracted by books and technology. However, I believe that this same rise has sparked a feeling of increased community when we do make the time to come together.
        Getting to feed a crowd is a wonderful treat because you get to share your heart with many in a moment of gratitude for each other, a warm belly, and the gifts of the earth. This recipe is a way that anyone can get to enjoy that amazing feeling. It is warm, comforting, filling, and homey. However, it is also very easy to make and a great way to feed a crowd without spending tons of money. You can serve it warm out of the oven at breakfast, alongside some fruit and a hot cup of coffee. Then the leftovers make a perfect lunch of dinner alongside a simple salad of greens.
        Bread Pudding is most often associated with sweetness, but I am telling you, a savory bread pudding will bring out a whole new meaning to this in your mind. It is cheesy and custardy bread, with thick pieces that still have some bite to them on top. There is brightness from the vegetables that add a depth of flavor as well as a balance to the heartiness of the dish. The spices add a nice pick me up, which compliment beautifully with the cheese. Sinking you teeth in feels like soulfulness and it continues on that way all the way down to your belly. I am telling you, sweet bread pudding is fine and good, but its time to give it a twist and see just what a different potential eggs, milk and bread hold together. A perfectly, messy scoop of this in a bowl is a non-pretenscious breakfast path to a person's heart. 
*Makes 1 full 3 quart (9x13) dish
3-4 baguettes
2-4 TBSP olive oil
1 small to medium yellow squash, cut into small quartered pieces
1 small to medium zucchini or mexican squash, cut and quartered
1 jalapeno, deseeded and diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 C grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 TSP salt + extra for sautéing veggies
1/4 TSP pepper + extra for sautéing
1/4 TSP chili powder + extra for sautéing
2 3/4 C whole milk
8 eggs
1 C shredded cheddar cheese

1. Dice the baguettes into rounds and then quarter them, so they are in medium-sized chunks. Lay them out for 8-24 hour to allow them to stale. You can speed up this process by putting them in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes, and then continuing to let them stale for a few hours, making sure they cool completely.
2. Preheat your pan, add the oil, then the onions, and lightly salt and pepper them. Sauté until they become translucent lightly. Next add the jalapeno, garlic, and squashes, and continue to sauté them. Finally turn off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes, mixing them so they just barely cook in the residual heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Once the veggies have completely cooled, add them and the cubed bread to a greased baking dish, mixing together to distribute evenly.
4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs; then add the milk, salt, and pepper, and whisk until combined. Finally, add the cheese and give a final whisk to mix it in.
5. Pour the mixture over the bread, cover with tinfoil, and refrigerate the pudding for 8-24 hours.
6. Remove the pudding from the refrigerator and allow it to warm up for 30 minutes; meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350.
7. Bake the pudding for 34-45 minutes, until it has fully set and the top has lightly browned.
8. Remove from oven and allow cooling for 10 minutes before digging in...and then going back for seconds.