The tree is up. The radio stations have all switched to round-the-clock Christmas tunes. Eleanor has a holiday-themed collar. And, we’re finally feeling that notorious New England chill in the air. Eleanor and I spent our morning cuddled up on the floor next to the radiator. So I’m jumping on the wintery band wagon and decking the crap out of these halls (more pics to come).
I’ve rounded up a few of my standby holiday baked goods as well as some new additions I’ve tucked into my recipe reserve for future occasions. I’ll be posting these finds over the next week or so, so check back for updates. But, lets start at the beginning, or rather the bottom.
The base for most of my baking projects (including past ones like these mini apple pies) is my family’s not-so-secret pie crust recipe. Memorize this recipe and you’ll be set for life. True story.
Not-So-Secret Pie Crust:
2.5 cups flour (any kind will do- just remember that wheat flour won’t be as delicate or flaky)
1 cup – that’s two sticks – UNSALTED butter (chilled, preferably frozen)*
5-10 tbs vodka from freezer
1 tbs sugar
spices or herbs
*Never, never, ever use margarine or anything that comes in a tub to make crusts. It simply wont work. Come to think of it, just don’t use it ever. First of all, margarine is plastic, and plastic does not make flaky crusts. If you are worried about your weight, then eat a smaller slice of pie. If you want something spreadable, make your own butter. What? Yes, make your own damn butter. Simply put a pint of whipping cream in the food processor with a pinch of salt (tiny pinch, you can always add more later). Let the machine run until the cream has passed the whipped cream stage and the last bit of milk has separated from the fat (takes only 10-15 mins). Pour off excess liquid or put butter solid in a piece of cheese cloth and wring out over sink. Put everything (cheese cloth and all) in a small seal-able container and store in fridge. Stays smooth and spreadable for a couple of weeks. No churn, necessary.
Back to the crust…
1. Pulse flour, salt, and butter in the food processor until the mixture looks like crumbled corn bread.
2. Slowly add a tablespoon of the “frozen” vodka to the processor and pulse a few times. Keep adding a tbs at a time just until the mixture comes together. Do not use any more liquid than necessary.
So why the vodka? Well, water makes more gluten connections than desired in a flaky tender crust and it takes longer to cook out in the oven. Vodka evaporates more quickly, doesn’t create the same gluten issues (vodka doesn’t make it gluten free, dork), and doesn’t leave any trace flavors. Keep the vodka in the freezer and it wont melt the butter. For those of you who are not in the alcohol-know, vodka doesn’t ever freeze solid in the freezer, it just stays nice and chilly.
3. Pour out contents of food processor onto cutting board or clean surface and hand-mash into two even sized discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour (double wrap and tin-foil for the freezer for longer storage).
This recipe makes two roughly 9 inch pie crusts or multiple mini pie crusts for muffin-tin baking experiments.
So now that you’ve made your crust, you can double up recipes and make several to keep in the freezer (next to your Tito’s) for surprise guests or late night pie hankerings. Check back later this week for stuff to put in the crust and a few other holiday treat ideas.