I made that!

PreThanksgiving Day Pie Camp – Part 1

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja by brandi on November 8, 2009

Every year, right around this time, something wonderful takes place. My friends gather for OUR version of Thanksgiving – without the family squabbles, awkward conversation and mediocre food. We call it PreThanksgiving, the idea being to celebrate right before everyone shuffles off to their families. I’m the proud owner of a giant deep fryer, which is where John shows the turkeys what’s what. Friends show up bearing delicious side dishes (people in San Francisco can COOK!) and before the night finishes there will be at least 2 and if we’re lucky all of the following events: an impromptu dance party, a food fight, kings cup, a piñata, a flip cup championship and music performances of songs written about each other.

My role in all of this: the pie, of course. I fancy myself a bit of a pie ninja, so there’s pressure to deliver something special each year. I usually make 3 pies: a pumpkin pie, a nut pie and a fruit pie. This year my pumpkin pie was the wild card, a pretty complicated construction consisting of 3 layers of pumpkin custard, crème fraîche whipped cream and a pumpkin caramel mousse.


First step: roasting a pumpkin. Pretty simple, I just sliced it in half, scooped out the seeds, placed it cut side down on a tray with a bit of water and let it roast until it was soft (about an hour). Then I scoop out the flesh from the skin, purée it and let the water drain out.


Then there’s my crust. I don’t make pie too often, since I get kinda geeky with it and my crust alone is a bit of effort. I’m a firm believer in baking the crust all the way through, to avoid any soggy pie unpleasantness.


While the crust was cooling I prepared my first layer, the pumpkin custard. This recipe (Sherry Yard, 2 for 2!) called for pumpkin purée, spices, sour cream, egg and cream.


I baked the custard in the crust until it set.


I let that cool and then whipped some cream, crème fraîche and maple syrup until it was pretty stiff. I spread that on the custard layer and popped it in the fridge to chill while I got to work on the 3rd layer.

whipped cream

I started by making a caramel.


I mixed spices, brown sugar, pumpkin purée and gelatin into the caramel and let it cool.


Then I whipped up some meringue and cream, folding each into the caramel mixture to form the mousse.


I topped the pie with the mousse and let it chill some more in the fridge. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the slice, so you can’t see all the pretty layers (another reason to make it yourself!). Once unveiled, this pie didn’t stand a chance of surviving PreThanksgiving Day intact.



Pumpkin custard layer:

Dough for 1 (9-inch) pie crust

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup  pumpkin puree

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons brandy

– Roll out pastry into a 12-13 inch circle, transfer and center into 9 inch deep dish pie pan. Trim edges and place in freezer for 20 minutes.

– Line with foil, fill with weights (dried beans) and then bake in 400 degrees oven for about 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown and look set. Lower temperature to 350 and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes, until fully baked. Set on wire rack to cool.

– Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the brown sugar, pumpkin, sour cream, heavy cream and brandy.

– Pour the mixture into the springform pan on top of the cooled pastry. Cover the pan with buttered aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set, about 1 hour.

– Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature.

Whipped cream layer:

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup creme fraiche

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons maple syrup

– Combine the heavy cream and creme fraiche in a large mixing bowl and beat until it starts to thicken and swell. Add the sugar and maple sugar and continue beating until stiff.

– Spread in an even layer on top of the pumpkin custard and refrigerate.

Caramel pumpkin mousse:

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 cup sugar

4 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin

3/4 cup plain pumpkin puree

3 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 tablespoons sugar

– Place  2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir, then let it sit for 1 minute.

– Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger in a mixing bowl. In a heavy saucepan, combine the 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and the lemon juice and cook over high heat until the mixture turns a caramel color.

– Remove the caramel from the stove and stir the brown sugar mixture into it. Add the softened gelatin and stir to dissolve. Whisk in the canned pumpkin and set aside to cool.

– Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

– Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they foam. Add the cream of tartar. Continue to beat, adding the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar in a slow, steady stream. Beat until the egg whites are stiff and shiny, about 2 minutes.

– Lighten the warm pumpkin mixture by folding in one-third of the beaten egg whites. Pour the remaining egg whites over the top and carefully fold them into the pumpkin mixture using a rubber spatula. Fold in the whipped cream.

– Carefully pour the mixture over the whipped cream layer and smooth the top. Refrigerate for 2 hours until set.

8. To serve, gently unmold the pie from the pan and set it on a plate. Garnish with additional whipped cream if desired.


Bust out those heirlooms with a Tomato Galette!

Posted in Certified Pie Ninja, I Like Salt Too by brandi on September 9, 2009

This post is a shout out to my fabulous pastry instructor and mentor: Jennifer Altman, pastry chef of Baywolf Restaurant in Oakland. One day in class she shared her recipe for a tomato galette with me, and it remains my favorite way to celebrate gorgeous summer tomatoes. Oh yeah, and it’s quite simple. Well, if you know how to make galettes…


Let’s start with the dough. You need a pastry board or a counter top that you can spread out and get messy on. Spread out your flour.


Take half of the butter (which is very cold) and use a bench scraper to cut it into the flour, tossing constantly to coat.


Once the chunks are the size of lima beans, start cutting in the other half. Keep cutting until the last batch of butter is the size of quarters. This ensures that some butter gets broken down to coat the flour, while the rest remains in large chunks that will turn into flakes. It should look like this:


Then take your ice cold water and basically “flick” it onto the flour, tossing constantly. Keep going until the flour is shaggy. It’s ok if there are still some dry bits, just make sure that it will smash into a dough when you press it with your fingers.


Then comes the fun part: you smear it. Literally. You use the heel of your hand to smear it into strips on your board. This is like pie crust magic in the making. All those large chunks of butter are now in the form of long sheets.


As you smear the butter, use your bench scraper to scrape it off the board and throw it in a pile somewhere to rest while you work on the rest.


Once finished, smash it into a plastic wrapped disk and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour. The dough should look like marble, with the butter swirled in. Spend this time slicing your tomatoes and shredding some gruyere cheese.


Once it has chillaxed, roll it into a circle that is about 1/8 – 3/16″ thick. You’ve got a lot to do to this future galette, so moving quickly is important. The longer the dough is at room temperature, the warmer the butter gets. And warm butter is a no-no in flaky pie crust land. It also makes it nearly impossible to work with.


Then spread on some good dijon mustard. Not too much, just enough to give the galette a little kick.


Then spread on a thin layer of gruyere cheese. Obviously the better the cheese, the better the galette.


Now place the tomato slices on top. Make sure you trim the edges of your dough. I usually do this before I start piling on the filling, but I forgot this time.


Now fold the edges onto the filling. Some people are into pleats, but Jennifer taught me that any time you have dough folded onto itself, it’s nearly impossible to cook it all the way through. And thanks to her I too am a fanatic about not eating raw dough. Once your galette is finished being assembled, slide it on a parchment lined sheet pan and pop it in the  freezer. This will help keep it from immediately melting into a shapeless blob when it goes into the oven.


Then you paint a little egg wash on the crust, and since it’s savory, sprinkle on a little chunky sea salt. Then bake it at 375 until it’s browned on top. Reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake until the bottom is golden brown. It usually takes about an hour total. Let it cool for 10 minutes and top it with some creme fraiche (homemade if you got it) and some basil. I like to fry the basil leaves to give a nice crunchy contrast to the gooey yummy tomatoes and cheese. Now you dig in!


A bit redundant but…Strawberry Cream Pie: Take 2

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja by brandi on April 15, 2009

I am stubborn. While my chocolate strawberry pie soup was certainly delicious, I want a pie. A pretty pie that slices and everything. It can be gooey and messy, I just want a piece of it to be lifted out of its comfy circular mother pie and onto a plate. For me. And my friends. Is that asking so much? So I’m trying again. Retaliation for Sunday’s failures. But I’m changing it up a bit. No more chocolate pudding, instead a nice pink strawberry pastry cream. I’m not too tough to go pink. Pink pie. There, I said it. I like pink pie.

It pretty much started the same as the other pie. First up, I needed to make my crust. I tend to make a lot of pie dough each time, and then portion it into chunks that I keep in the freezer. This makes it much harder to make up reasons for NOT making a pie on a whim. So today all I had to do was thaw my dough out and bake it.


Then I brushed it with melted chocolate, so that once cooled,  it would protect my crispy crust from the ooey gooey pinkness coming it’s way.


Then, the pinkness. My plan was to blend some pureed strawberries into a thick pastry cream, so I needed to get my berries ready. I made a compote by cooking chopped strawberries with some sugar for 7-8 minutes.


I let that cool down, then pureed it and strained out the seeds and chunky bits.

Then I made a pastry cream, a really thick one (I said I want a slice…).


And then I swirled in my pureed strawberries.


And poured it into my pie shell!


Man, that is pink. I popped the pie into the fridge to firm up a bit before tossing on some sliced strawberries.


And now I wait. Tonight I will devour you and all your pinkness!


1 pie shell

2 oz good dark chocolate

2 ¼ cups milk

1 vanilla bean

7 egg yolks

¾ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

3 TBSP flour

3 TBSP cornstarch

12 oz strawberries, hulled and chopped

¼ cup sugar

2-3 pints strawberries, hulled and chopped

2-3 TBSP sugar

1 cup cream

1 TBSP cream

– Blind bake pie shell. Cool.

– Melt chocolate. Brush onto inside of baked pie shell.

– Put milk in pot. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into milk and bring to an almost boil. Let steep for 20 minutes.

– In another pot cook 12 oz strawberries with ¼ cup sugar for 6-8 minutes. Cool and puree.

– Mix sugar, salt, flour and cornstarch, Whisk in egg yolks.

– Temper milk into egg yolk mixture.

– Pour back into pot and cook, stirring constantly until thick and bubbly. Taste to make sure cornstarch is cooked.

– Blend strawberry puree into pastry cream.

– Pour into cooked pie shell.

– Let sit in fridge for an hour to set.

– Macerate 2-3 pints strawberries with 2-3 TBSP sugar. Pour over filled pie.

– Let sit in fridge for a few hours.

– When ready to serve, whip cream with 1 TBSP sugar and spread onto pie.


Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja by brandi on April 12, 2009

Are you ready to get messy? This post is a reminder that we all make mistakes. And as long as those mistakes still taste good, who really cares? I do, because I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t think anyone else at dinner tonight did.

This pie is a spin on a family tradition. In the south, chocolate pudding pie is king. Every family has their recipe, and of course, everyone thinks theirs is the best.  I’ve made this one for years, and I’m pretty confident it’s a winner. Traditionally, in my family, it’s just a crust, some chocolate pudding and some meringue. I like to wait for strawberry season so I can throw some strawberries on top. Today I traded out the meringue for some whipped cream.

It all started out like any other pie: with a perfectly baked flaky pie crust. Crust so flaky I could see the butter boiling in the translucent flakes when I pulled it out of the oven.


Then I smeared in some melted dark chocolate. The melted chocolate forms a shell to protect the crust from the wet filling. I’m a bit of a crust Nazi, you won’t find any soggy crusts in my kitchen!


Once the chocolate covered crust spent a enough time in the fridge for the chocolate to firm back up, I poured in some chocolate pudding. This is where I started getting nervous. I had made the chocolate pudding an hour earlier, so it should have firmed up by then. But it didn’t. Ouch. I thought “maybe it just needs a little more time in the fridge…” I had my suspicions. I was pretty sure I had gone a little light on the flour that thickens the pudding. But denial is a powerful thing.


So I let that hang out in the fridge for a few hours, to get nice and firm. Except it didn’t get nice and firm.It’s possible that it was a tad thicker than earlier, but firm it was most definitely not. But what was I supposed to do? I had dinner guests and those dinner guests wanted PIE. John’s mom was in town and I was hoping to throw down with some mad skills. I don’t just make pudding pies EVERY DAY. And this ain’t no JELLO pie either! So there was no turning back, so I just went with it. I dumped the strawberries on and watched them sink like titanic wreckage into the depths of my beautifully, glossy chocolate goo.


I figured I might as well own it, so I whipped up some cream to throw on top as well.


I was prepared for a structural failure. When it’s time to be presented came, I placed it ever so gently into a baking pan. We all ooohed and aaahed at it’s beauty. And then I crushed it with one quick slice of the pie trowel. We ate in bowls, and eventually ended up just digging into the pan with our spoons. It wasn’t pretty, but I have to admit, it was mighty tasty. And even submerged in a sea of chocolate soup, my crust was fantastic.


Best Ever Browned Butter Pecan Pie

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja, Southernness by brandi on January 28, 2009

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve got pecans falling out of my freezer every time I open the door. Since I need some of that space back, it’s time to start making some pecan pie. I have a special place in my stomach for pecan pie. So overwhelmingly sweet, not really high up on the culinary ladder, but still…there’s just something about it that makes me so happy. Then again, not to toot my own horn, I make a mean pie crust.


I already had some dough left over from Thanksgiving in the freezer (it’s like a clearance sale in there!), which really simplified the whole pie making experience. I have kind of a laborious dough making process (I’ll share another time, though if you’re a friend I’m sure I’ve already forced you to listen to me explain in great detail) and just THAT part can take me all day. But back to here and now…


I roll it out and shape it into a fluted quiche tin (a Tartine move that I’m especially into right now). I send it on a gluten vacation in the freezer for a bit and then bake it for always seems like forever. And then I stare. And stare. I think pie dough is the only thing that I stare at longer than meringue.


I know what you’re thinking: “Brandi, where the f*ck is the pecan pie filling?”. In due time my little pie-lings. A soggy crust makes me weep, and the only way to avoid that is to crisp that dough beforehand. So while it cools I make my filling. I like a browned butter and maple filling, because…well, because that’s what I like. I fill it up and bake it until it’s set.

And then I stare some more.


Now I go to the beach to keep from tearing into it before it’s had time to cool and finish setting. To be continued around 3pm.

It’s 3pm.


It was so worth the wait. Thank you Jennifer, Kevin, Mindy & Nir for coming over and helping me eat it. I wouldn’t still be thin without you.


1 single crust pie pastry

4 oz unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 vanilla bean

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

– Roll out pastry into a 12-13 inch circle, transfer and center into 9 inch pie pan. Place in freezer for 20 minutes.

– Line with foil, fill with weights (dried beans) and then bake in 400 degrees oven for about 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown and look set. Lower temperature to 350 and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes, until fully baked. Set on wire rack to cool.

– Using a shiny skillet or saucepan to melt the butter over medium heat. Stir butter and keep an eye on it as you wait for it to brown. You want the butter to be a good dark brown, but you need to catch it before it burns. Use your nose as your guide, it well smell nutty as it begins to brown. Once browned, transfer butter to a bowl to let cool slightly.

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use fingers to rub seeds from vanilla bean into brown sugar, breaking up any clumps. Combine eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Whisk well to blend. Add the browned butter and whisk again until evenly combined.

– Place the nuts in the cooled pie shell and pour in the filling.

– Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake until the filling, including the center, is set, 35 to 40 minutes. Rotate pie 180 degrees about halfway through. When done, the pie will have puffed slightly and developed cracks around the perimeter.

– Transfer pie to a wire rack and let cool thoroughly.

A little late, but…Pre-Thanksgiving Day Pie Extravaganza!

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja by brandi on December 14, 2008

Since alot of us go away to be with our families on Thanksgiving, every year my friends get together a couple of weeks before to celebrate with each other. It’s a great big pile of different family traditions and recipes. I, of course, make pies.


Getting my trashy on with a the good old Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe. I promise, I don’t normally bake things out of cans. I also promise that it was organic pumpkin.


Turned out a very pretty pie. I do love pumpkin pie.


Sleepy pie (AKA Hazelnut Espresso Pie).

Pie Workshop

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja by brandi on December 2, 2008

Jimmy mentioned he was looking to learn some tips on making good pie. Naturally I couldn’t resist a day of pie making and wine drinking. We made a 4 pies: 2 apple (1 with a laminated crust and one with a regular crust), 1 banana cream & 1 lemon meringue. Here are some photos of the apple, since the others were more…well, they had good personalities.


Rolling the laminated dough.


Shaping the dough.


Filling the dough with apples.


And there she is, our apple pie. There’s something about the process of making pie that makes me feel like I just gave birth to something precious. Not too precious to eat, but definitely worth staring at lovingly.