30 before 30: B’stilla

B'stilla

I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to put b’stilla, a Moroccan chicken pie, on my 30 before 30 list. Before putting it on the list, I’d actually only eaten it once – at Aziza, as a part of an overall fantastic, multi-course meal. I think I was mostly intrigued by the idea of putting together a savory, delicately layered pie, which is something I’ve never really attempted before.

B'stilla

B'stilla

This pie involves so many pure, beautiful ingredients: fresh herbs, bright spices, enough butter and powdered sugar and cinnamon to give the dish a rich and complex taste.

I also appreciate the fact that this recipe got me to branch out, ingredients-wise. This was actually the first time I’ve ever purchased and cooked boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Traditionally, I’ve been a bit afraid to branch out much beyond the breast of the chicken, so I was grateful to be pushed out of that shell.

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

We experienced a couple of snafus. One: the stovetop mixture, before going in to the pie dish, just wasn’t thickening as much as I would have liked, and I worried about overcooking it, so I think the end result wasn’t quite firm enough. Two: the pie had been baking for at least 15 minutes past the recommended baking time, and the top still wasn’t as crisp and brown as it should have been; I wanted to give it more time, but we were starving and it was late and I just wanted to be done. Despite this, however, this b’stilla was really delicious. I would definitely consider making it again, for a special occasion or a weekend that begs for a longer cooking project.

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

I didn’t stray at all from the recipe I followed, so I won’t dictate it here. Here is the recipe source: Bon Appetit, via Turntable Kitchen.

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

Doing what I can: Peanut butter cream pie, for Mikey Perillo

Peanut butter cream pie

I do not know Jennifer Perillo. I do, however, read her blog. Her story, as of just a few days ago, is heartbreaking.

There is little anyone can do when a loved one suddenly dies, so Jennifer asked that her friends and readers, if they so desired, make a dish that was one of her late husband’s favorites: peanut butter cream pie.

Peanut butter cream pie

I wasn’t planning on making the pie. I’m not really a part of this massive food blogging community – this blog is just a fun little outlet for me. But I watched today as my Google Reader exploded with posts featuring gorgeous variations of peanut butter pie – all for Mikey, and for Jennifer, even if the blogger had never met either of them. I followed the #apieformikey trending topic on Twitter. I was blown away at the giant wave of support within this online community.

I found myself reading Jennifer’s story and holding back tears. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would feel if any of my loved ones – my boyfriend, my mother, my father, my sister, my friends – just disappeared from my life at the drop of a hat, with no warning. I can’t even fathom it.

Peanut butter cream pie

So I came home from work today and I made the pie. It’s chilling in the fridge as we speak. Maybe we’ll dig in when we get home later tonight; maybe we’ll wait and bring it to a friend’s BBQ tomorrow. Either way, the pie will be consumed with people I care about – we will enjoy  the pie and each other’s company, and that is the whole point.

Peanut butter cream pie

Peanut butter cream pie, for Mikey. You can read more about Jennifer and see more peanut butter pie blog posts over at the Tomato Tart.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie with lattice top

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

Something magical happens when you mix sour cherries with sugar and lemon juice.

Wait, let’s back up. First, we need to talk about sour cherries.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

Apparently, fresh sour (a.k.a. tart) cherries are not easy to come by, at least in the Bay Area. While markets will have piles of fresh, sweet Bings and Rainiers ready for the taking, it is much less likely that the same markets will have fresh sour cherries available. Instead, sour cherries can be found canned, frozen, or dried, and if you’re lucky, at your local farmers market. A friend informed me that she usually gets sour cherries from a farmer selling at the Civic Center market; however, this summer, due to wackier weather, this farmer didn’t have any for the selling.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

I have very little experience making pies (the last time I made an apple pie, I forgot to peel the apples first), so I wasn’t sure how I should proceed. Should I just make the pie with sweet cherries, adding more lemon juice to mimic the traditional tartness? Should I just wait until next summer and try my luck again? My sister (a pie-making guru if there ever was one) made a pie with sweet cherries and said it wasn’t that great, and I didn’t like the idea of waiting until less than a month before my 30th birthday to complete this portion of the 30 before 30 project.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

So where to get sour cherries now? Alemany Farmers Market didn’t have any. We called Rainbow Grocery, and they didn’t have any. Should I look for the canned variety? I wouldn’t even know where to start, and using canned cherries seemed to go against the whole point of this project.

So we turned to Berkeley Bowl, and lo and behold, tart cherries were in stock! The cherries had been shipped in from Washington in 2 pound plastic containers – the exact quantity that I needed.

So, back to the pie.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

This pie was amazing. I mean . . . I’m basically speechless. I’ve never had homemade, classic cherry pie before, and this was truly unreal. The crust is buttery, flaky perfection (despite the fact that I overbaked it). And the filling. Oh, the filling. Sour cherries mix with sugar and lemon juice and some cornstarch (for thickening), and the result is just heavenly. If you can find fresh sour cherries, I can’t recommend this enough.

Cherry-hunting aside, making this pie was fairly easy. It takes a while to pit all the cherries (I highly recommend a cherry pitter), and making/shaping the crust is a precise process, but otherwise it’s not back-breaking or overly complicated. And the finished product is more than worth it. Times ten.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

I used two recipes for this pie: Cooks Illustrated’s pie crust (which uses both butter and shortening for taste and texture, respectively), and Bon Appetit’s sour cherry filling (via Lottie + Doof).

I will dream of this pie every day until I can get sour cherries once again.

INGREDIENTS:

Pie crust
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Sour cherry pie filling
Adapted from Bon Appetit/Lottie + Doof

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Milk (any kind), for brushing on top

INSTRUCTIONS: 

Make the pie crust first, since the dough has to chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and assembling (and you can use the chill time to pit your cherries). For the next few steps, I used a food processor, but they can also be done in a bowl with either a pastry cutter or two knives or just your fingers.

Add the flour, sugar and salt to the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix together. Take your butter and shortening out of the fridge and cut into small (1/4 inch or so) pieces. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture in the food processor, and pulse 5 times to incorporate. Repeat the same steps with the shortening. You want the mixture to resemble very coarse cornmeal. Note: I ended up with a mixture that had butter/shortening chunks that were slightly larger than small peas, as opposed to the Cook’s Illustrated instructions – since I didn’t want to overmix, however, I just went with it. The crust turned out wonderfully, regardless.

Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water into the mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula (add 1 more tablespoon if the dough isn’t coming together). Using your hands, shape the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch wide disks (I forgot this step), dust with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

After chilling the fridge, remove the dough from the refrigerator and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Make the filling. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl, then gently stir in pitted cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside while you roll out the dough.

Roll out the smaller disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic wrap (this is optional; I certainly found it easier to use the plastic rather than roll out directly on the counter) into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish, and trim the edges to 1/2 inch length (I forgot to do this, and just ended up with some extra crust – no big deal).

Roll out the larger disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic into a 12-inch round. Using a pizza cutter, knife or pastry wheel (I used a pizza cutter), cut the round into 10 equal long strips (about 3/4 inch wide strips).

Give the filling one last stir, and gently pour into the dough-lined pie dish, mounding slightly in the center, and dot with the butter pieces. Follow these helpful instructions for arranging the strips on top of the filling to form the lattice. Fold the bottom crust over the ends of the strips and seal together all around the pie. Use a fork to crimp the edges. Brush the lattice pieces with a little bit of milk, then sprinkle with sugar (around 1 tablespoon).

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet (because the filling will spill out, and the baking sheets prevents a big stinky smelly mess in your oven). Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. If the crust starts to brown too quickly, drape foil lightly over the whole pie until the end (I didn’t check mine soon enough and my crust was already a bit too brown, but it still came out great).

Once the pie is finished baking, remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Resist the urge to cut into the pie before it’s finished cooling; as the filling cools, it thickens up into the perfect pie consistency that’s worth waiting for.

First Prize S’Mores Pie

S'mores pie

What we wanted to do? Make the following: First Prize Pies S’Mores Pie. What was required? A stand mixer, for the homemade marshmallow topping. What don’t either of us have? A stand mixer. Because stand mixers are wonderful but flippin’ expensive. D’oh! The recipe was shelved, at least for the time being.

However, a weekend of house-sitting at my parents’ place up in Sonoma County presented a) lots of time relaxing around the country estate, and b) my mother’s stand mixer. Huzzah!

The result? The pie pictured above, which looks a little burnt* – but trust me, it was delicious. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say that it was one of the most delicious pies I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. And we made it ourselves!

And for the proverbial icing on the cake (or marshmallow topping on the chocolate ganache, if you will): it really wasn’t very difficult. The hardest part was getting the timing right, and exercising patience while the water, gelatin, and corn syrup mixture did its thing – i.e., balloon into irresistibly gooey marshmallow topping.

*The burn marks on our pie were the result of attempting to “brulee” the top of the pie, which should be done with a propane torch or butane creme brulee torch, of which we had neither. So we stuck it back in the oven to broil for just a minute or two, as instructed, and left it in for about 30 seconds too long. C’est la vie.