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Arabic Style Savory Pies 6

Posted on September 30, 2012 by Sahar

Just about every cuisine in the world has it’s own version of savory pies.  The Latin World has empanadas; Austrailia has Meat Pies;  Great Britain has Pasties and Scotch Pies; India has Pakora.

And, in the Middle East, they have Fatayer (فطاير), Sfeeha (صفيحة), and Sambousek (سمبوسك).  They can be eaten as mezze or as part of a main meal (the way I like to do it).


A Primer:

Fatayer are baked triangle-shaped pies that are usually filled with cheese or spinach.

Sfeeha are open-faced pies usually with a meat topping, but other ingredients can be used as well.

Sambousek are essentially half-moon shaped pies that can either be baked or fried.  They usually have meat or cheese filling.

And they are all delicious.


For my post, I’ve made the Fatayer and Sambousek.  I used spinach in the Fatayer and lamb in the Sambousek.  No frying, though.

And now, on to the recipes.

The Ingredients

The spices. (L – from top clockwise) Black Pepper, Allspice, Cinnamon, Salt;
(R) Sumac


The pies in these recipes use a yeast dough.  I generally don’t proof my yeast (although I probably should).  I just pay attention to the expiration date on the package and use my yeast quickly.  However, if you want to proof, here’s how you do it:

Fill a measuring cup with 1/4 cup of warm (95F – 105F) water.  Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, then 1 package of the yeast. (Yeast loves warm temperatures and food.  Hense the warm water and sugar. It’s basically a fermenting process.) Let the yeast dissolve in the water (you may have to do a little stirring to accomplish this).  Set the measuring cup aside in a warm place and let the yeast do its thing.  If it begins to bubble and rise, then it’s good.  If the yeast does nothing, then either your water wasn’t the correct temperature or your yeast was bad.

There is a spice I use for the spinach filling that you may not be familiar with: Sumac.  Sumac can generally be found growing wild throughout the Middle East.  It’s “berry” has a thin skin and flesh surrounding a very hard seed.  These “berries” are ground down to make a powder.  Sumac has a tart, slightly astringent, almost lemony flavor.  Look for sumac that is brick red to dark burgundy  in color and is an even grind.  You want it to have a bright scent.  If it smells like dirt, don’t buy it.  It’s old.

Don’t go and pick berries off a sumac plant if you see one.  It’s most likely “poison sumac”.  Just buy the dried ground in the store.

Sumac is used for Zaatar (a spice mix that also has thyme, sesame seeds, and salt), in kebabs as a seasoning, on vegetables, eggs, in meat dishes.  It’s a ubiquious spice in the Middle East.



Pastry Dough

6 c. all-purpose flour

1 package yeast

1 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

2 c. warm water (95F – 105F), more if needed


I prefer to mix my pastry dough by hand.  However, if you like to use a mixer or a processor, by all means, do so.

1.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.

Dry pastry ingredients

Add the olive oil and mix it in.

Adding the olive oil

Add the water.

Adding the water.


Now, mix throroughly.  You want to have a dough that is slightly sticky.  I’ve found that it’s all right if it isn’t perfectly smooth.  However, you want to work the dough as much as possible without having to add any additional water or flour if you can.

Trust me, it will come together.

(Apologies for the following photos. I didn’t stop to “pose” while Husband was taking them, so they’re a little blurry. But, I think you’ll get the point.)

Mixing the dough.

Mixing the dough. In the beginning there will be a lot of dry compared to wet. Keep working the dough.

The dough is coming together. I haven’t added any additional flour or water.

The dough has come together and the bowl is fairly clean. Which is what you want.

2.  Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can do this in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a flat surface. Or, if you’re using a mixer, use the dough hook.

3.  Pour a little additional olive oil to grease the bowl.  Place the dough back in the bowl and rub a little olive oil over the top.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm placce to rise.  About 2 hours.

4.  Meanwhile, make the fillings:


Spinach Filling for Fatayer

1 1/2 lbs. spinach (I like to use baby spinach.  I don’t have to trim the stems or chop it)

1/4 c. sumac, or to taste

1 tbsp. salt or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed


1.  In a very large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.

The spinach filling mixture.

2.  Pour the spinach mixture into a large colander and place the colander over the large bowl.  The spinach will basically (chemically) cook as it sits and release moisture.  The colander allows the excess moisture to drain away.

Toss the spinach occasionally.  Because it’s essentially cooking, it will wilt.

The colander sitting in the bowl. This will allow any moisture to drain off as the spinach sits.

The excess moisture from the spinach mixture after about 2 hours.


And you may ask the questions: Well, why do this in advance then? Why not wait until just before making the pies before mixing the spinach?

Because, wilting the spinach and allowing it to drain will get rid of any tannins in the spinach and will make it easier to fill the pies bacause you don’t have to contend with leaves flying all over the place.


Meat Filling for Sambousek

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (I like to use an 80/20 grind. I find it has more flavor)

1 sm. onion, minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste


1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion has softened, about 3 – 5 minutes.

2.  Add the meat and continue cooking until it is cooked through and there is no pink left.

3.  Add the spices and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Cooking the meat filling.

4.  Put the meat filling into a large strainer or colander and allow any fat to drain off.  Set aside and allow to cool.

The fat after the meat has been drained. Gross, but, there it is.


5.  Prepare several large baking sheets (I usually do 4) for prepping and baking.  Line the baking sheets with heavy duty foil (saves on clean-up later) and then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Set the pans aside.

The prepared baking pans

6.  After 2 hours, the dough should be ready for forming.

The dough after the first rising.

Punch down the dough and knead it until it forms a smooth ball.

Punching down the dough to start releasing the excess air. Plus, it’s fun.

Folding the dough over on itself. I’m kneading and releasing the excess air.

The dough after kneading. Almost back down to its original size.


Now, take the dough and pinch off roughly golf ball -sized pieces and shape them into balls.

Pinching off the dough to form smaller balls for the pies.

Take each piece of dough and begin tucking under the edges to form a smooth ball of dough.  Well, as smooth as you can make it.

Forming a ball of dough.

Tucking under the ends.


Lay the balls of dough on one of the baking sheets as you finish them.  I generally keep them about 1″ apart.

Laying the dough on the tray.

Cover the try with plastic wrap and set aside to let the dough rise again.  About 30 minutes.

A finished tray of dough.

The dough 30 minutes later. This is the reason you keep them 1″ apart.

7.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  Have a rack in the center of the oven.

8.  Now, to form the pies.  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. (Don’t over-flour.  It will make the dough harder to work with when you form the pies.) Take one of the balls of dough and place it on the board.  Roll out the dough into a roughly 4″ – 5″ circle.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Not exactly round. More like an amoeba shape. But, you get the point.

Fun tip:  I have also used my tortilla press to make the dough circles.  Just line your press with plastic wrap first.


9.  Fill the pies.  For the fatayer, place roughly 2 – 3 tablespoons of the spinach filling in the center of the dough (you’ll basically need to eyeball this measurement).

Placing the spinach on the dough.

The spinach on the dough. I like to spread it out a bit. Make it into, normally, a rough triangle shape.

Now, to form the pies:

Begin by taking the left side of the circle and folding it over at an angle towards the center, forming a partial peak at the top.

Folding over the dough to form the pies.

Take the right side and repeat the process.

Folding over the right side

Fold the bottom side over towards the center, forming the triangle.

The final side folded over.

Now, pinch the seams closed.

Pinching the seams closed.

The finished pie.

Lay your finished pies on a baking sheet.

Many finished pies.

Note:  As you get further down into the colander, you’ll want to squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the spinach.  While the spinach on top may not have as much moisture, gravity is doing its work and drawing the moisture down and, of course, the bottom will have more than the top.


To fill the Sambousek:  Roll the dough out as you would for the Fatayer.

Spoon roughly 2 tablespoons of the meat filling over 1 side of the dough.  Be sure to leave about 1/4″ of dough uncovered on that side for sealing.

Filling the Sambousek.

The meat filling for the Sambousek.

Fold the empty side over the top and cover the filling.

Folding over the dough.

Press and then pinch the seam closed.

Pressing the seam closed.

Pinching the seam closed.

The finished pie.

Lay the finished pie on the baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough and filling.

Many finished pies.

10.  To bake the pies:  Bake the pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  I like to bake mine for 10 minutes, turn the baking sheet, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Now, especially with the Fatayer, some of the pies may come open during baking.  It happens to me all the time.  Don’t despair. Consider them a cook’s treat.  Also, even though you have do doubt worked diligently to remove as much moisture as possible from the spinach, some will remain.  Occasionally, the moisture will cause the spinach to break through the bottom of the Fatayer.

To remedy this,  either make larger balls of dough when you form them after the first rising (roughly somewhere between golf ball and baseball-sized; the dough for the pies will be thicker, but you will have fewer pies); or, simply roll the dough thicker to make smaller pies.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it. It’ll still taste great.

Hey, it’s homemade.

The finished Fatayer.

The finished Sambousek.


The pies can be eaten either warm or at room temperature.


Enjoy! Sahtein!












Why parbake/prebake the crust? 0

Posted on May 31, 2012 by Sahar

As an addendum to my previous post, I wanted preemptively answer any questions that my readers may have about par/prebaking the crust for Key Lime Pie.

Pie crusts for creamy/custard pies are generally par/prebaked because:

1.  Because the filling for the typical creamy/custard pie filling is very high in moisture, this helps keep the crust crispy & flaky. Not soggy.

2.  Since creamy/custard pies are cooked at a lower temperature to keep the filling from overcooking, this ensures that the crust is cooked through.

3.  Creamy/custard pie fillings typically have cooking times of less than 45 minutes.  A par/prebaked crust will, again, ensure that the crust is done.  Especially on the bottom.

4.  Some creamy/custard pie recipes require no baking of the filling.  Par/prebaked crusts are necessary since the filling isn’t cooked.


I hope this answers any questions any of you may have.



Key Lime Pie (with a bonus at the end!) 0

Posted on May 31, 2012 by Sahar

Key Lime Pie is the ultimate symbol of food from Florida. Specifically, the Florida Keys.  No one really knows when the first Key Lime Pies were made or who made them since there’s no documentation.  However, according to historians, the most likely candidate is a ship salvager turned millionaire named William Curry.  He had a cook known only as Aunt Sally.  She supposedly created the pie in the late 19th Century.

Other historians believe that fisherman off the Keys, off to sea for long periods of time, created the pie as a way to help preserve their supplies, especially eggs.

Sweetened condensed milk was used because, until the Overseas Highway was built in 1930, there was a lack of fresh milk, ice,  and refrigeration on the Keys.  To this day, it is the key to making the pie so creamy.

The other main ingredient is, of course, key limes.  The key lime tree is native to Malaysia and most likely arrived in the Keys in the 16th Century with the Spanish explorers.  They are about the size of a golf ball with a yellow-green skin.  Their juice is sweeter than the more common Persian limes.

As a fun little political aside, in 1965, Florida State Representative Bernie Papy, Jr. introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied against anyone advertising Key Lime Pie that isn’t made with key limes. The bill didn’t pass.

(Some historical information from


Now, to the recipe.

The Ingredients


Of course, the purist, like Rep. Papy, would say that the only true Key Lime Pie is made with fresh key lime juice. And they would be right.  However, many of us don’t have access to fresh key limes, or, if we do, the time to juice & zest about 20 – 30 to make this pie.

I use a combination of fresh lime juice and bottled key lime juice.  The most common brand of key lime juice is Nellie & Joe’s.  However, if you can find fresh key limes, and have the time to prepare them, by all means, use them.

Another question is what kind of crust to use: pastry or graham cracker? My own personal preference is pastry.  More specifically, cookie.  Which is what I do in this recipe.  And, because the crust recipe here is essentially a cookie recipe, it isn’t going to behave like a regular pie crust.

Meringue, whipped cream, or plain?  Again, it’s up to the baker.  I like meringue.  It’s also most likely the original topping since heavy cream wouldn’t have been available in the Keys before the 1930’s.  In this recipe I use an Italian Meringue.  It’s made with a hot sugar syrup as opposed to granulated sugar.  It makes an excellent, stable meringue that is almost reminiscent of a fluffy cake frosting.

One more thing.  True Key Lime Pie doesn’t have green food coloring.  The color of the pie should be a light yellow-green color.  If you see a pie that has a fluorescent green hue, walk away.  It’s most likely a pre-made mix.

Also, I prefer a more tart pie than many people.  Many of the key lime pies I’ve tasted really put the emphasis on sweet rather than lime.  I feel I’ve remedied that here.  It’s more of a sweet-tart flavor.


Shortbread Cookie Crust

2c. (9 oz.) all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. citrus zest (optional)

1/2 c. light brown sugar

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened


Key Lime Filling

2 cans sweetened condensed milk (don’t use non-fat. Yuk.)

3 egg yolks

1 1/4 c. lime juice (I use a combination of fresh Persian lime & bottled key lime in this recipe. However, you can use all fresh of one or the other)

2 tbsp. lime zest


Italian Meringue

1 1/4 c. sugar

1/2 c. water

2 tbsp. light corn syrup (keeps the syrup from “sugaring up” or solidifying)

6 egg whites, room temperature

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (if you don’t have this, it’s all right.  However, it does act as a stabilizer for the whites)


1.  Make the crust: Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl.  If you’re using the zest, toss that into the dry ingredients as well.

Weighing the flour.


Zesting the limes. The Microplane is a perfect tool for this. It takes off the outer peel while leaving behind the bitter white pith. If you don't own a Microplane, go get one.


The dry ingredients and zest mixed together.


2.  In a mixer bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.

The butter & sugar in the bowl.


Beating together the sugar & butter.


You want a fluffy, aerated mixture. This will help with the texture of the crust.


3.  Turn the speed down to low and gradually add the flour mixture.

Adding the flour to the butter & sugar


Keep mixing until the flour is completely incorporated.


4.  Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a slightly flattened disk.  Wrap the dough tightly in the plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator, and chill for at least 3 hours.

The dough ready for the refrigerator


Note: At this point, you can simply use this dough for cookies.  Delicious.


5.  After you’ve let the dough chill, take it out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 15 – 20 minutes to let it soften slightly.  When you roll out the dough, you want it to be firm but not rock-hard.

Dough ready for rolling.


6.  Unwrap the dough and lay it on a floured surface and lightly sprinkle the top with more flour.  Alternately, you can sandwich the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap.

7.  Roll the dough out, starting from the center and working out to the edges.  Turn the dough a 1/4 turn each time you pass the pin over it.  This will help make a more even thickness as well as, especially if you’re using a floured surface, keeping the dough from sticking.  Use more flour if you need to, but try to use as little as possible.  Too much flour will make the crust tough and dry.

Note:  Again, remember, this is a cookie dough.  It is not going to behave the same way as a regular pie dough.  Because of the high butter content, this dough will get very soft, very fast as you work it.  If the dough cracks while you’re rolling, just press it back together.  If you give up on trying to roll it out (and believe me, I have a couple of times), you can simply take pieces of dough and press them into the pie plate.  Trust me, though, the results are worth a little frustration.

Getting ready to roll the dough.


8.  When you’re done rolling, take a 9-inch pie plate and measure the dough.  There should be approximately 3 – 4 inches of extra dough around the outer edges of the pie plate.

Measuring the pie dough.


9.  Now for the fun part.  Carefully flip the dough onto the pie plate and shape the dough into the plate.  Trim any dough overhanging the edges to a 1″ overhang. (if you don’t have any overhang, it’s all right.) Use whatever scraps you have to patch up any holes, tears, or spots and the edge that are a little short of dough.

Save the scraps for cookies.

Getting ready to flip the dough


A not entirely successful flip


If your dough looks like this after you've flipped it into the pie plate, don't despair. All will be well.


After a little repair work. See? I told you it all comes together.


10.  Tuck under the overhang around the edges. (If you have any.  The most important thing is that the crust is as even a thickness as possible.).  Finish the edges as you like.  Use a fork to prick a few holes in the crust and place it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Pie crust ready for the freezer. Freezing the crust will help to keep it from melting & burning in the oven when you par-bake it later.


11.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease a piece of foil or parchment paper on one side with spray.  Set aside.

12.  Take the pie crust out of the freezer, place it on a baking sheet, and press the foil or paper down into it.  Fill the foil or paper with pie weights (i.e. dried beans, lentils, or rice) and place the pie crust in the oven.

Raw crust filled with pie weights ready for the oven.


13.  Par-bake the crust for 30 minutes.  Take the crust out of the oven, carefully remove the foil or paper and the weights.  Wrap the edges in foil, if needed, and bake an additional 8 – 10 minutes.

Note:  There will be a bit of melting of the crust, especially the outer edge.  It’s inevitable given the fact this is cookie dough.  When the crust comes out of the oven, it will be very soft and fragile.  Hence, the cookie sheet.

Finished par-baked crust


14.  Take the crust from the oven and let it cool completely.  At this stage, of you like, once the crust is cool, you can carefully wrap it in plastic and place it in the refrigerator.

15.  While the crust is cooling, you an make the filling.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up.  Add the condensed milk, lime juice, and zest.  Whisk until you have an even, well combined mixture.  The filling will thicken upon standing.  Set aside or cover and refrigerate.

Egg yolks & lime zest.


After adding the lime juice


After adding the sweetened condensed milk. Yummy stuff.


16.  Once the crust has cooled completely, wrap the edges in foil (to prevent any further browning)

Wrapped edges.


Carefully pour in the filling.

Ready for the oven.


Place the filled pie on the baking sheet (if you haven’t done so already) and put the pie back into a preheated 350F oven for 35 – 45 minutes. If your oven has a hot spot, and most ovens do, rotate the baking sheet about halfway through the initial baking time.

The center should be a bit wobbly when you take it from the oven.  It will firm up as the pie cools.


Note:  This is a very important thing to remember.  When you are making ANY type of cream pie, you must pay attention to the baking time & doneness of the filling.  I didn’t the first time around when I was making the pie for this post.

I had workmen in my house that day and became distracted.  So, here is what happened:

What you don't want to see. An overcooked cream pie.


The overcooked proteins have basically squeezed out all the liquid causing the filling to separate.


So, what you’ll end up with, if you aren’t paying attention, is essentially sweet-tart scrambled eggs.  And I’m fairly certain none of you will be going for that.  The pie will still taste good, but the texture will be, well, funky.

Eat the pie yourself or dress it up and give it to someone you don’t like very much.

Here is what you want to see:

A smooth, creamy pie


Let the pie cool completely.  (I usually cover it once it’s cooled and place it in the refrigerator overnight.)


17.  Make the meringue: Separate the eggs using the 3-bowl method (see my blog post “Mom’s Favorite” on how to do this).  Place the egg whites & cream of tartar in a mixer bowl and set aside.

Egg whites & cream of tartar ready to go.

Make the sugar syrup:  In a medium saucepan, mix together the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil.

Sugar syrup getting ready to boil


18.  Once the syrup reached 240F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage):

Syrup at 240F


begin whisking the egg whites on high speed until they are frothy:

Frothy egg whites.


19.  Once the sugar syrup reaches between 245F & 250F (firm ball stage), remove the saucepan from the heat.

Syrup at 250F. You don't want it to get any hotter than this or the whites will too stiff to work with later.


Turn the mixer down to medium speed.  CAREFULLY AND SLOWLY pour the hot syrup into the whites, avoiding the whip.

Carefully pouring the sugar syrup into the whites.


(A hot syrup burn is really, really painful.  There’s a reason pastry chefs call this stuff napalm.  Do not give this to the kids to do, be sober, and pay attention.)

Once you have poured in all the sugar syrup, turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and continue whisking the whites until they are firm and shiny.  The bowl should be just warm to the touch when they’re done.

Whisking the egg whites after all the syrup has been added


The finished egg whites. These could be used as a cake frosting at this point.


20.  Turn your oven on to broil (you may want to take a rack out) or have a torch ready to go. I usually set my oven on “Broil” setting and turn the temperature to 450F.

21.  Pile the meringue on top of the pie.  Spread it all the way to the edge of the crust and smooth or spike it out as you like (there will be A LOT of meringue).

An almost comical amount of meringue.


Ready for the oven.


Place the pie in the lower part of the oven and let the meringue brown.  Watch it carefully, though.  It can burn quickly.  About 60 – 90 seconds is all it will take.

If you have a torch, brown the meringue with that if you like.  You can direct the heat more directly and make the browning more even.

PIe! Yummy!


A cross section. It was really, really good.


Store any uneaten pie, covered, in the refrigerator.  It’ll keep for about 3 – 4 days.




P.S.  Remember what I said about saving the scraps for cookies?

1.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Have your oven preheated to 350F.

2.  Roll out the leftover dough into a 1/8 – 1/4″ thickness, depending on how crunchy or soft you like your shortbread cookies.

3.  Cut the cookies out into your desired shape.

Cutting out cookies


4.  Place the cut cookies onto the baking sheet about 1″ apart.  If you like, sprinkle them with a little turbinado (raw) sugar before baking:

Ready for the oven


5.  Bake the cookies for 8 – 10 minutes.  Depending on the thickness and how brown you like them.  Turn the baking sheet about halfway through the initial cooking time.

6.  When the cookies are done, let them cool slightly on the baking sheet then transfer to a rack.  The cookie yield depends on how much leftover dough you have and how thick you make the cookies.

All done!




















A Pie Primer 0

Posted on May 15, 2012 by Sahar

Pie. Something everyone seems to love. They can be sweet or savory. Snack, main meal, or dessert.  And, I have no doubt many of us have eaten pie for breakfast more than once. Especially during the holidays.

Pie in form or another has been around for millennia.  The original pies had crusts that were several inches thick that were simply used as cooking vessels.  The crusts weren’t actually eaten.  Historians say that the roots of pie can be traced back to the Egyptians of the Neolithic Period, around 9500BCE.  These early forms of pies were essentially free-form made with oat, wheat, rye, barley, and filled with honey baked over hot coals.

The first pies were called “coffins”, meaning basket or box.  They were savory meat pies with tall, straight-sided sides with tops and bottoms.  Open crust pies were known as “traps”.  These were baked more like what we now know as a casserole and were made with meats and sauce.  Again, the crust itself was the cooking vessel and was inedible.  A tradition of these early pies was carried on by the Greeks. Historians believe that the Greeks actually originated pie pastry. The pies during this period were made by a flour-water paste wrapped around meat; this served to cook the meat and seal in the juices.

The Romans, sampling the delicacy, carried home recipes for making it (a prize of victory from a conquered Greece). The wealthy and educated Romans used various types of meat in every course of the meal, including the dessert course. According to historical records, oysters, mussels, lampreys, and other meats and fish were normal in Roman puddings. It is thought that the puddings were a lot like pies.

English women were baking pies long before the settlers came to America. Pie was an English specialty that was unrivaled in the rest of Europe. Two early examples of the English meat pies were shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. Shepherd’s pie was made with lamb and vegetables, and the cottage pie was made with beef and vegetable. Both are topped with potatoes.

The Pilgrims brought their favorite family pie recipes with them to America. The colonist and their pies adapted simultaneously to the ingredients and techniques available to them in the New World. At first, they baked pie with berries and fruits pointed out to them by the Native Americans. Colonial women used round pans literally to cut corners and stretch the ingredients (for the same reason they baked shallow pies).

Pioneer women often served pies with every meal, thus firmly cementing this pastry into a unique form of American culture. With food at the heart of gatherings and celebrations, pie quickly moved to the forefront of contests at county fairs, picnics, and other social events. As settlers moved westward, American regional pies developed. Pies are continually being adapted to changing conditions and ingredients.

(Some historical information from


A few notes on making pie crust: Pie crusts are fundamentally easy to make.  However, they are also one of the most seemingly complicated recipes to master.  There are so many things that could keep you from pie crust success: overworking the dough, a crust that shrinks when baked, a crust that isn’t flaky.

Pie dough, for the most part, if your treat it right, is quite forgiving.  If it tears, it’s easily patched.  You can trim it and add to places that don’t have enough dough (especially for the rim of the crust).  If the crust gets soft while you roll it, you can wrap it and place it back in the refrigerator to rest.  It’s easily frozen.

There are just a few rules to follow when starting a crust:

1.  Make sure the fat you use (lard, shortening, butter) is cold. The reason for this is that the fat doesn’t melt when you work it into the dry ingredients.

2. Use ice water.  This will also keep the fat from melting.  However, don’t use too much because your dough can become tough.  Too little, the dough won’t hold together.

3.  Don’t overwork the dough. If you overwork the dough, you’ll develop the gluten (fine for bread, not for pastry).

4.  Give the dough adequate rest time.  This allows the gluten proteins to rest and the moisture to distribute evenly in the dough.

5.  When you make the dough, you want to see bits of fat and keep it as cold as possible until you put in the oven.  As the crust bakes, the fat melts and creates steam.  The steam in the dough is what creates the flaky crust.


There will be more tips as you go through the recipe.


Mixed Berry Pie with Lattice Crust


The Ingredients



2 2/3 c. (12 oz.) all purpose flour (the best flour for pie crusts)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/2 lb. ( 2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into approximately 1/2″ pieces

5 – 8 tbsp. ice water, as needed



7 c. fresh washed berries (you can use any mix of berries you like, or just one berry)


3 bags frozen mixed berries (ditto.)

3 tbsp. cornstarch

3 tbsp. tapioca


6 tbsp. tapioca flour

1 1/4 c. sugar

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg


1/2 tsp. cinnamon


1 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp. water


1.  Make the crust:  If you are making the crust by hand, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl

Weighing the flour.


Add the butter and press it between your fingers into the flour.  You want to have little disks of butter.  Add in just enough ice water (about 5 tablespoons to start) and carefully toss the ingredients together.  You want the dough to just come together when you press it in your hand.  If the dough is dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together.

If you’re using a food processor (as I did for this recipe), pulse together the dry ingredients:

Dry ingredients pulsed together


Add the butter:

Butter ready to be incorporated into the flour


Do 2 or 3 quick pulses to break down the pieces of butter and begin incorporating it into the dry ingredients:

Butter & Flour after pulsing


You want to have pieces of butter visible.  This is what helps make the crust flaky:

The pieces of butter in the flour.


Add 5 tablespoons of the water and do a few more quick pulses.  Add more water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Again, you just want the mixture to come together:

After the water has been added


The dough just coming together after being squeezed in my hand


2.  Separate the dough into two equal pieces.  I like to weigh the dough so I’ll get the disks as even as possible:

Weighing the dough


Press the dough into disk shapes and wrap them tightly in plastic:

The dough ready for the refrigerator. Notice the pieces of butter in the dough. This is what you want to see.


Place the dough in the refrigerator and let it rest for at least 2 hours.


3.  Meanwhile, make the filling. (If you are using fresh berries, do this just before you roll out the crust; if you’re using frozen, do this about an hour before rolling out the dough.)

In a large bowl. toss the berries with the cornstarch, tapioca, sugar, ginger and nutmeg.

The berries and spices, etc. ready to mix


Berries after mixing. Now, let them sit. Stir occasionally.


Set the berries aside and let them macerate. Be sure to stir the berries occasionally so the dry ingredients are distributed evenly.  The have a tendency to settle at the bottom of the bowl otherwise.

4.  Remove one of the disks of dough from the oven and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to warm and soften slightly.  (You want the dough to be firm when you roll it out, but not rock-hard.)

Unwrap the dough and lay one disk on a lightly floured surface.  If you like, you can place a piece of plastic or wax paper over the top of the dough as well.

Getting ready to roll the dough


5.  Roll out the dough starting at the 12 o’clock position.  Roll away from you and then back towards you at 6 o’clock.

Rolling the dough.


Rotate the dough 1/4 turn.  Repeat.  By doing this, you’re making sure the dough doesn’t stick at the bottom (lightly flour if necessary) and you’ll roll out the dough more evenly.

Picking up the dough and rotating it 1/4 turn as I'm rolling


Be sure to apply equal pressure over the whole surface of the dough to keep as even a thickness as possible.  Just roll up to the edge of the dough, not over.

Rolling the dough.


Still turning the dough 1/4 turn after each pass with the rolling pin. This will also help you better gauge if you need any more flour as you roll. If you add too much, the dough can become dry and tough.


6.  Remove the plastic or wax paper (if using) from the top of your dough.  Place your pie plate upside down in the center of the dough to measure it’s diameter.  Ideally, you want the dough to extend out at least 3 inches on all sides.

Measuring the rolled dough. It's about 1/8" thickness at this point


Take the pie plate off the dough and set aside.

Very lightly flour the top of the dough.  Take the rolling pin from one end and begin to carefully to roll the dough around the pin:

Rolling the dough over the pin.


Take the pin to the pie plate, hold it over one side and carefully unwrap the dough by again rolling the pin across of the top of the pie plate. (Don’t press down on the edge of the plate.  You’ll run the risk of cutting the dough.)

Transferring the crust into the pie plate


7.  Start shaping the pie dough into the pie plate by lifting the edges and setting the dough into the plate.  Don’t press or stretch the dough.  Not only will it tear, but it will also shrink during baking.

Shaping the dough into the pie plate


Shaping the dough into the pie plate


Pie crust in the pie plate. Ready for the refrigerator.


Once you have the pie crust in the pie plate, trim the outer edges to a 1″ overhang.  Use the scraps to patch any holes or cracks in the dough.  Place the pie plate in the refrigerator to rest as you roll out the second piece of dough.

8.  Unwrap the dough and follow the same rolling instructions from Step 5.

9.  Either by eye (if you can do this, more power to you) or with a ruler (my preferred method), cut 10 strips of dough 3/4″ wide each.

Measuring & cutting the dough for the lattice top


Because I'm terrible at spacial stuff


10.  Mix the berries one more time (and you should’ve been doing this all along anyway), and remove the pie plate from the refrigerator.  Carefully fill the pie plate with the berries and dot the top with the butter.

The berries after a bit of maceration time.


Berries and butter in the crust ready for the lattice top


11.  Lay five strips of dough across the top of the pie, spaced evenly apart.  Be sure there is some overhang off the sides, especially the center.

Beginning the lattice top


Pull back alternating strips of dough and place a piece in the center:

Pulling back alternating strips of dough


Laying the top piece.


Lay the strips back down.  Again, fold alternating strips of dough and lay another strip of dough across.  Do this 3 more times.  Then, you’ll have a lattice top:

The lattice top. Almost finished.


Trim the edges back to a 1″ overhang, tuck the edges back under the rim of the pie crust and crimp the edges as you like.

All shaped, glazed, and ready to go.


Brush the crust with egg wash and, if you like, sprinkle on a little turbinado (raw) sugar or crystal (decorating) sugar.  Place the pie in the refrigerator for an hour or in the freezer for 20 minutes.

12.  Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with foil and place it in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Carefully take the pie out of the refrigerator or freezer and carefully place it on the baking sheet in the oven.  Immediately turn the temperature down to 375F.  Using the preheated baking sheet helps the bottom of the pie seal quickly.

Pie ready for the oven. The foil around the edges of the pie is an option. My oven bakes hot, so I like to use them.


If you like, you can wrap the edges of the pie with some foil to keep the edges of the crust from browning too quickly.  If the top is browning too quickly, you can place a piece of foil, shiny side up, to keep it from over-browning.

Bake the pie for 60-75 minutes.  You want to see juices bubbling from the center, that way you know the pie is cooked through.

By the way, there will be a lot of juices and this pie will be a little messy.  Hence the foil on the baking sheet.

13.  Carefully remove the pie from the oven and let cool for at least 2 hours to let the pie set up.

The finished pie. Notice the lovely juices. Yummy.







Mom’s Favorite 0

Posted on April 30, 2012 by Sahar

Angel Food Cake has always reminded me of my Mom.  Why?  Because it’s her favorite.  Because it’s something that makes her happy. Because it’s something seemingly delicate yet strong.

Her mother made it for her birthday every year with chocolate sauce.  If I happen to be with  Mom on her birthday, I always make Angel Food Cake.

I also like it because it’s delicious.  It tastes a little like toasted marshmallows to me.


Some food historians believe that the Angel Food Cakes were likely baked by African-American slaves in the early to mid 19th Century, since making this cake required a strong beating arm and lots of labor to whip the air into the whites.  Angel Food Cakes are also a traditional African-American favorite at post-funeral meals.

In “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book, and Companion for Frugal and Economical“, published in 1871, has a recipe for “Snow-Drift Cake”. A similar recipe appears in 1881 in a book by Abby Fisher, the first Black American woman and a former slave from Mobile, Alabama, who recorded her recipes in a cookbook called “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc.”. Her book has a cake recipe named “Silver Cake”.

The Original Boston Cooking School Cook Book” by Mrs.D.A. Lincoln published in 1884 had a recipe for “Angel Cake” mentioning the name for the first time. In Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 updated version of the “Boston Cooking School Cook Book“, she uses the same recipe and calls the cake “Angel Food Cake.”

(some historical information from Wikipedia)


There is the school of thought that Angel Food Cake was so named because of it’s lighter color and texture.  It is suitable for the Angels to eat.  On the other hand, it’s slightly more decadent counterpart, Devil’s Food Cake, is darker, richer, and is considered more sinful. Exactly what the Devil would eat.

It reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s statement, ” Angel food cake is the white cake, but the devils food cake is chocolate. When are we going to wake up as a people and end the lie that white is better than black?”

I just had to add that.  It’s always stuck with me.


Once again, now to the recipe:

Now, to be honest, an Angel Food Cake isn’t for the cake-making novice.  There are so many things that could, can, and will go wrong if you don’t have the confidence and expertise when you bake.

Hell, things could still go wrong even if you do have plenty of baking experience.  I can tell you that with all sincerity.


Angel Food Cake Ingredients


1/2 c. 10x, or Confectioners, sugar

1 c. Pastry Flour (I admittedly use bleached in this recipe.  Just this recipe)

10 ea. Egg Whites (be sure they’re room temperature)

1/2 tsp. Cream of Tartar

2 tsp. Vanilla or Almond Extract (be sure to get pure extract, not imitation flavoring)

1 c. Granulated Sugar


1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.

2.  Sift together the 10x sugar and the pastry flour.  Set aside.

The sifted 10x sugar & pastry flour


When you measure out the pastry flour and 10x sugar, be sure to use the scoop & sweep method of measuring (see “Baking the Perfect Biscuit”, 12/18/11).  Otherwise, your cake runs the risk of having too much dry ingredient weight and you’ll deflate the whites and end up with a heavy cake that won’t rise.

2.  In a large mixer bowl, pour in the egg whites.

The 3-Bowl method of separating eggs.


There is a kind of art to separating eggs.  When you want egg whites, that’s all you want, egg whites.  Any additional fat (i.e. yolks) in the whites will keep them from potentially reaching full volume. Hence the 3-bowl method for separating egg whites.

You break the egg into one bowl.  If the yolk isn’t broken, you carefully lift it out of the bowl  and place it in the second bowl.  Then you pour the white into the third bowl.  If the yolk breaks, you pour the whole egg in with the yolks.  If there is any yolk left in the first bowl, wash it out or get a clean bowl.

By using this method, you’ll always have pure egg whites ready for your cake.

Cover the yolks and use them for something else.  Like a very rich omelet or lemon curd.


3.  The next thing you want are for your egg whites to be at room temperature.  This allows for the proteins in the whites to relax and allow the strands to be broken so they will incorporate more air as you whip them.

Add the whip attachment to your mixer (or break out your hand mixer).  Add the cream of tartar to the whites (this helps with the stabilization of the whites as you whip them).  Begin beating the whites at medium-high speed until they form soft peaks. Add the extract.

Just starting to whip the egg whites.


Frothy stage.


Almost to soft peak stage. Notice how the whites are becoming shinier and the bubbles are getting smaller.


Egg whites at soft peak stage. When you pull the whisk or beaters out of the whites, there will be a distinct peak, but it will bend a bit. And the egg whites are still soft.


4.  Continue whisking the whites until they form stiff peaks.

Egg whites beaten to stiff peaks. The whites will have a bit of a shine and the peaks will stand straight when you pull the whisk or beaters out. The whites will also feel almost heavy.


When you get to still peak stage, you want to be sure not to over beat the whites.  If you do that, the whites will begin to separate.  The whites will dry and the liquid will seep out.  There is no saving it.  You have to start over if this happens.


5.  Lower the speed of the mixer to low and slowly pour in the granulated sugar.  You don’t want to put all the sugar in at once because you want to give the whites a chance to dissolve the sugar and mix in more evenly.

Incorporating the sugar.


Raise the speed again to medium-high and continue beating the whites until they become stiff and shiny.  Again, take care not to over beat.

The beaten, sweetened egg whites. Just lovely.


6.  Carefully turn the whites out into a large, shallow bowl.

The egg whites in the bowl. You have to be careful when transferring because you don't want to deflate the whites.


Sift the reserved flour and 10x sugar mixture in 1/3rd’s over the whites and fold the dry ingredients into the whites.

Folding is a method of mixing that is much more gentle (if done properly) that will keep the deflation of the whites to a minimum.  Because the millions of air bubbles in the whites are what make the cake rise (hot air rises), you want to deflate them as little as possible.



Folding: Step 1


To fold the dry ingredients into the whites, Step 1:  Take a rubber spatula and put it into the center of the whites.

Folding: Step 2


Step 2: Slide the spatula underneath the whites and begin to bring it up the side.


Folding: Step 3


Step 3: Bring the spatula up over the tops of the whites and fold the whites back down into the center.  Turn the bowl a 1/4 turn and repeat until you have all of the dry ingredients incorporated.  Try not to over mix. Be as gentle as possible.



After the dry ingredient have been folded into the whites.


7.  Carefully move the batter into an ungreased Angel Food Cake Pan:

2 pieces of an Angel Food Cake pan: The Bowl and Chimney/Base.


The pan together. The chimney is to help with more even baking of the cake. This cake pan belonged to my Great Aunt Arlene.


There are two main reasons you don’t want to grease the pan: a) because you don’t want any fat to impede the rising of the whites; and b) the whites will use the dry pan to hold on to and even use it to climb up the sides of the pan during baking.


The cake ready for the oven


8.  Bake the cake for 35 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched on top.

Cake fresh from the oven. The top will have a slightly crispy texture.


9.  As soon as possible after the cake is taken from the oven, invert the cake pan onto a narrow-necked bottle (a wine bottle is perfect).  This will help keep the deflation of the cake to a minimum (by keeping it it from collapsing under it’s own weight).  There will be some deflation as the cake cools no matter what because as the air in the cake cools, the lighter hot air dissipates and the heavier cool air takes its place.


Cooling the cake over a rather nice merlot.


Leave the cake in this position until it is completely cooled.


10.  When the cake is completely cooled, run a knife around the outer edge of the cake to help release it from the bowl of the pan.  Pull, carefully, on the chimney and pull the cake out.



At this point, you can do one of two things to finish releasing the cake: a) Run a knife around the chimney and around the base to release the cake; or, do what I do, and, b) simply run a knife around the center and cut pieces off as needed.  Then I store the uncut cake in the pan and cover it.

Wish Mom was here right now.


Sorry about the lighting. My bulbs seem to be a little yellow.  I swear the cake is white.

This cake, by the way, is excellent with chocolate sauce and strawberries.  Mmm…











Happiness is Cake! 0

Posted on March 04, 2012 by Sahar

Cake.  The very word softens even the most sour of dispositions.   Cake is a constant in our lives.  We eat it for celebrations, holidays, and for after dinner dessert.  It’s the treat we give ourselves when we reach a goal in life.  It just makes us happy.

During Antiquity, the first known cakes were more bread-like and sweetened with honey, nuts, and dried fruits.  According to food historians, the ancient Egyptians were the first people to show evidence of advanced baking skills. The round cakes we know today descended from these ancient cakes. Breads and cakes were made by hand and typically shaped into round balls and baked on hearthstones or in low shallow pans. The dough naturally relaxed into rounded shapes.

Ancient breads and cakes were usually used in religious rites. They were formed into special shapes, according to the ceremony. The rounded shape typically symbolized the cyclical nature of the seasons, life, the sun & moon.

The English word cake can be traced back to the 13th century. The word cake comes form ‘kaka‘, an Old Norse word. (Norsemen [Vikings] were rather frequent, if unwelcome, guests to Brittania from the 8th through 11th Centuries.  They took a lot, but the left a lot behind as well.  Language and food being two of those things.) Medieval European bakers made fruitcakes and gingerbread that could last for many months.  A necessity due to the lack of refrigeration and the purely seasonal nature of cooking and available ingredients.

The precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe during the 17th Century. This primarily due to better & more reliable ovens and ingredients, such as white sugar and spices, were easier to obtain (at least for the upper classes). At that time cake hoops–round molds for shaping cakes that were placed on flat baking trays–were popular. They could be made of metal, wood or paper.  As time progressed, baking pans in various shapes and sizes, became readily available to the general public.

The term “icing the cake” comes from the first icing recipes. These were usually made with the finest available sugar, egg whites and flavorings that were boiled together. The icing was poured over the cake then returned to the oven. When the cake was removed from the oven, the icing cooled quickly to form a hard, glossy (ice-like) covering. Many cakes made then still contained dried fruits (raisins, currants, citrons). It was not until the Victorian era that the cake as we now know it (made with white flour and baking powder instead of yeast) became popular.

(Some historical information from

Commercial cake mixes have been around in one form or another since the 1920’s.  But, they reached the height of popularity in the 1950’s when quick & instant foods became popular with housewives.  Cake mixes are easy, mostly foolproof, and inexpensive.

However, there’s really nothing like making a cake from scratch.  If you simply follow a few guidelines, there’s nothing that can stop you from making a delicious show-stopper.

To begin with, you must use quality ingredients.  If your ingredients aren’t quality, all your work will be for nothing.

Flour: For cakes, cake flour is best.  It’s what’s called a “soft wheat” flour that has a low gluten content (about 8%).  Using cake flour creates a much lighter, moist cake.  It is generally available in 2-pound boxes and comes in both bleached (i.e. Swan’s Down) and unbleached (i.e. King Arthur).  Because cake flour has a tendency to clump during storage, you must always sift it before using it in a recipe.

I prefer to use unbleached because, well, it hasn’t been treated with bleach.

You can use all-purpose flour in a cake recipe, but because it is a heavier flour, your final cake may not be as moist.  If you must use all-purpose flour, one trick to making the cake lighter is to sift the flour 3 times and then use the scoop & sweep method to measure it (see recipe).

 Butter: Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, always use unsalted butter.  If you can, use European or European-style butter.  Commercially available American butters must have a minimum of 80% butterfat, while European and American made European-style butters have a minimum of 88% butterfat.  The amount of butterfat does make a difference.  It results in a richer, more flavorful cake.

Do not substitute margarine or light butter in a cake recipe.  Margarine can be unreliable in a recipe and is completely lacking in flavor.  Because it’s not a natural product, it is in many ways, less healthy than butter.  Light butter contains only about 50% butterfat, with the rest made up with moisture, gums, stabilizers, and emulsifiers.  It is not recommended for cooking or baking.

Eggs:  Unless a recipe specifies otherwise, the eggs called for are always going to be large eggs.  A large egg is exactly ¼-cup.   And, like with any ingredient, fresher is better.  Check the expiration date on the carton.  It makes no difference whether you use white or brown eggs.

Salt:  I generally use kosher or sea salt in my recipes.  They are minimally processed and have no additivesTable salt (i.e. Morton’s) has additives that help to keep it from clumping.  These additives can add a bitter flavor to what you’re cooking, however.  So, save table salt for the table.

Baking Powder:  Be sure it’s fresh.  (See my previous post on how to test baking powder.)

Extracts:  Always use pure extracts.  These are distilled from the essential flavors of vanilla beans, flowers, nuts, and coffee.  Artificial, or imitation, extracts are usually made with ingredients like petroleum and coal tar.  Not very appetizing.  Plus, imitation extracts have a fake approximation of the flavor you’re trying to enhance in your baked goods and can potentially ruin the flavor of your recipe.


A Few Cake Troubleshooting Tips:

1.  Be sure all your ingredients are at room temperature.  This will help your cake batter blend into a more even mixture.  However, when it comes to butter, do not use melted unless specified in a recipe.  Melted butter separates and can make your cake greasy.

2.  When you cream together the butter and sugar, be sure that it becomes a light, fluffy mixture.  The added air helps to make the cake lighter, and produces a less dense cake.

3.  Be sure that the eggs are added one at a time and the batter is thoroughly blended after each egg.  Otherwise, your cake will be dense and flat.

4.  Be sure you use the correct size pan for your recipe.  Too much batter in the pan, the outsides of the cake overcook before the middle is done.  Too little batter, your cake can overcook and have a crispy crust.

5.  Make sure you adjust your oven temperature so your cake will cook evenly and thoroughly.  *Remember, oven temperatures in recipes are for the ovens used to test the recipe.  Everyone’s ovens cook differently.  You know whether your oven cooks hot or cold.

6.  If you have more than one cake pan in the oven at a time, be sure the pans are not too close together.  Otherwise, they will bake unevenly because there’s not enough hot air circulating around the pans.

7.  If your oven cooks unevenly, and most ovens do, about half way through the baking time, rotate the baking pans, and/or, if you have more than one pan, switch racks.

8.  Always let the cake cool completely before adding any frosting or decoration.


(Some of the above information comes from In The Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley)


Now, on to the recipe.

In this cake recipe, I have a rather unusual ingredient, coconut milk.  Since this is a coconut cake, I wanted to take the flavor to the next level, so to speak.  Since coconut milk is heavier, viscosity-wise, than whole (sweet) milk, this does result in a slightly denser cake.

Coconut Cake

The Ingredients


2 c. cake flour (preferably unbleached – it can be found everywhere now)

1 tbsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt (use sea or kosher salt, not table salt)

3 eggs

½ c. butter, softened (unsalted., please If you can use European style butter, even better)

1 ½ tsp. coconut or vanilla extract (use pure extract, not imitation)

1 ½ c. unsweetened coconut milk (not coconut water or Coco Lopez)



3 c. sweetened flake coconut (if you want a little less sugar, use unsweetened flake coconut)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened (do not use low- or non-fat, please)

2 tbsp. butter, softened (see above)

1 c. powdered sugar, sifted

1 tbsp. unsweetened coconut milk (see above)

1 tsp. coconut or vanilla extract (again, see above)



Make the Cake:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour either 2 9-inch round cake pans or 1 12 x 18-inch baking pan.  Set aside.


The prepared pan. I opted for a single layer cake because it's easier.


Note: My Preferred way to measure the flour for cake is to pour some flour (not necessarily measured) into a bowl.  I aerate the flour and then scoop the flour into a dry measure (looks like a scoop or dipper).  Do not tap the measuring cup to pack the flour. This will make a heavy, dry cake. Once I have filled the cup with flour, I simply sweep the excess off the top.

Scooping the aerated flour into the dry measuring cup.


When scooping the flour into the cup, do not pack it down. If you do, it will result in a heavy, dry cake.


After measuring the flour, simply sweep off the excess flour. Do not tap or shake the cup to pack it down.


2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

3. In a large bowl or mixer bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Butter and sugar creamed together.


4. Add the eggs to the butter & sugar, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one. (The best way to accomplish this is to break the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and then pouring the egg into the butter & sugar.  This will prevent the risk of dropping eggshells into the batter.)

After the eggs have been added to the butter and sugar.


5. Add the flour mixture and coconut milk, alternating between each addition, to the butter mixture.  (Alternating the wet & dry ingredients makes a more thoroughly mixed batter.) Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl often.

The finished batter.


6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).

Batter in the prepared pan. Be sure it is evenly distributed.


Bake the cake for 30 – 35 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the pan(s) for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack and let it (them) cool completely before frosting.

The finished cake. The holes in the top are where I tested it for doneness.


7. Make the Frosting: In the same 350F oven, toast the coconut in the oven on a large sheet pan until it is golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Stir every 2 – 3 minutes to be sure the coconut browns evenly.  Remove the coconut from the oven and immediately take it off the sheet pan and place it on a cool surface.

Mmm... Toasted coconut.

8.  In a mixer bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth and creamy.  Mix in the powdered sugar, coconut milk, and extract.  Mix well.

Finished frosting right before the coconut is added.


Stir in 2 cups of the toasted coconut.

 9.     Spread the coconut frosting on the cooled cake. Take the remaining 1 cup of toasted coconut and press it into the top and sides of the cake.

The final, frosted cake. I put the cooled cake back into the same baking dish.


Cake, Anyone?


By the way, this cake would be excellent with some tropical fruit salad on the side or some chocolate drizzled over the top.  Or, just eat it as is.





Baking Soda & Baking Powder. A Primer. 1

Posted on February 22, 2012 by Sahar

A friend asked me over the weekend if I knew the real difference between baking soda and baking powder.  I replied that it was a very good question.  I know that they both react with liquid, acid, and heat to cause whatever baked goods they’re in to rise.  I also know that if you use too much baking soda in a recipe, your food will taste like soap.

But beyond that, I must admit, I never gave the difference much thought.

Well, now I have and I’ll share the answers to this question.

As always, I have turned to one of my all-time favorite books on baking, In The Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley (Artisan Books, 2001).  If you don’t own this book and you enjoy or even simply interested in baking and making desserts, then, by all means,  buy a copy.  The first half of the book talks about method, ingredients, equipment, method, and technique.  The second half is all about recipes.  And they are wonderful.

All the following (paraphrased) information is from Ms. Daley’s book (pp. 194-7).

Baking Powder & Baking Soda


Baking powder and baking soda are what are known as “chemical leaveners”.  These are used when the recipe isn’t suitable for a natural leavener (i.e. yeast) or mechanical methods (i.e. creaming, beating or whipping).  Chemical leaveners (when fresh) also provide a much more reliable method of leavening.  Many recipes with chemical leaveners also use some form of mechanical leavening, to ensure a lighter, more tender result.

Baking Soda: Baking soda is commonly used as a leavener in baked goods such as cakes, quick breads, and cookies.  It has no leavening power on its own and must be activated by the presence of acid and liquid.  These elements together help the baking soda release carbon dioxide in the form of air bubbles which helps the baked goods to rise.

Acids with the power to activate baking soda include cream of tartar, buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, molasses, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, citrus juices, or even non-alkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed).  In some cases, although there is a moderately acidic ingredient in a recipe, it may not be acidic enough or a large enough quantity to provide the necessary leavening.  Honey, light brown sugar, and cocoa may sometimes fall into this category.  If this is the case, then baking powder is added to the recipe as well to provide the necessary leavening.

Baking soda releases carbon dioxide quickly once it is mixed with a liquid in the presence of an acid.  So, be sure that the baking soda is mixed thoroughly with the dry ingredients before the liquid is added, pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake immediately.  If too much time elapses, the carbon dioxide will dissipate and your recipe may not rise fully at all or not at all.

If you replace a non- or low- acid ingredient for an acidic ingredient in a recipe, you must replace introduce another acid (i.e. lemon juice or vinegar in sweet milk) or add baking powder to the recipe to achieve leavening.

A secondary function of baking soda is to neutralize acidic ingredients.  For this reason it is sometimes used in recipes with a high proportion if ingredients like buttermilk, lemon juice, or other sour flavors. If you replace sugar with a large amount of an acidic sweetener, such as honey, molasses, or barley syrup, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the recipe, even if it is the principal leavener.

The substitution ratio for baking soda to baking powder is 1:4.  This means, for every 1 teaspoon of baking soda substituted, you use 4 teaspoons baking powder.  However, baking powder will not neutralize the acidic flavor of some ingredients.  So, the final product may taste more acidic than you like.

Baking soda will last 9 to 12 months when properly stored in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container (especially if you’re going to use it for baking).  To test the potency of baking soda, combine equal quantities of soda and vinegar.  If it bubbles vigorously, it’s good.

Be sure not to use the baking soda you use to neutralize the odors in your refrigerator or freezer.  Since baking soda absorbs odors, it could be a rather rude surprise.

Testing the baking soda. Equal parts baking soda & lemon juice


Baking Powder:  Baking powder was originally a mix of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a moisture absorbing starch (usually cornstarch),  and tartaric acid (cream of tartar).  When introduced to liquid, the mixture releases carbon dioxide that produces air bubbles which leaven your baked goods.  However this mixture, called “single action” baking powder, releases its carbon dioxide as soon as it is mixed with liquid.  Unless you move quickly, the baking powder will lose its potency and your recipe won’t rise properly or at all.

Almost all commercially available baking powder now is called “double acting”.  This means that the baking powder reacts both with liquid and the heat of the oven. This type of baking powder gives the baker a little more time without compromising the finished product.  However, it is still best to get the recipe in the oven as quickly as possible.

The tartaric acid in the original baking powder has been replaced with two different acid salts; most commonly monocalcium phosphate and sodium aluminum sulphate.  However, adding aluminum to baking soda is controversial.  it is best thought to be avoided as a foodstuff and some people feel that recipes that use large amounts of baking powder, like biscuits, can have a metallic taste.  Additionally, there are some who cannot tolerate any amount of sulphates.  Many bakers also feel commercial baking powders don’t produce as delicate a product.  You can find in some health-food and specialty stores aluminum-free (or non-alum) baking powder.  However, it tends to be expensive and doesn’t keep well.  But, many bakers prefer it.

Ms. Daley has a recipe for a make it yourself at home baking powder: for every teaspoon of baking powder called for in a recipe, combine 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch.  Blend well and use immediately.  It loses potency with prolonged storage.


Ingredients for homemade baking powder. Many serious bakers prefer homemade baking powder to the commercial brands.

testing the homemade baking powder. Equal parts powder mix and warm water.


Baking powder, when stored properly, will last up to a year.  Keep it in a cool, dry place.  To test the potency of baking powder, place 1/2 teaspoon in a small amount of warm water.  If it fizzes and bubbles away, it’s good.

Testing the commercial baking powder. Equal parts baking powder and warm water.


Hope this helps.  Happy baking!


Baking the Perfect Chicken Breast 0

Posted on January 06, 2012 by Sahar

Chicken.  For the last 60 years, it has been the most popular meat in America.  And no wonder.  It’s inexpensive, easy to prepare, and, most important of all, delicious.

Chicken hasn’t always been a food for the masses.  Up until World War II, chicken was primarily grown on small farms and were used, not for food, but for eggs.  Chicken was generally only cooked when the hens could no longer lay eggs or the roosters became too old.  Chicken has been called the “Gospel Bird” because Sunday was the most frequent day it was eaten.  The pastor or priest would come over to the house for Sunday dinner and would be offered the best piece.  After mass food production was developed during World War II, chicken became readily available to most Americans; inexpensive, and the most popular protein in America today.

Now from the history lesson to the cooking lesson…

I’ve said in many of my cooking classes that chicken is one of the great blank canvases of the culinary world.  And boneless, skinless chicken breast is the blankest of all canvases.  They have little flavor on their own, can be easily overcooked and dry, and, most important for many people, have little to no fat.  They are easily the most popular part of the chicken.

You can remedy most of the shortcomings of boneless, skinless chicken breast with a few simple steps.  Marinating them for several hours, or up to overnight, will help with flavor.  Using a little olive oil will add fat without ruining whatever diet you may be on.  But, if you overcook the chicken, all of the flavor you add won’t make a bit of difference.

So, here are some rather large boneless, skinless breasts.  They will vary in size depending on the brand (Tyson, etc.), whether the chicken was raised conventionally, or is organic or free range:

Trimmed boneless, skinless chicken breasts


You want to trim the breasts of any bone fragments (usually rib) , cartilage (from the keel bone) , and excess fat (usually found on the underside of the breast closest to the thigh and outer edge).

Now, a great way to add some flavor and moisture to the chicken is marinating.  In this illustration, I marinated the chicken in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  But, you can use any flavor combination you like.

Another favorite in our house is a marinade of ground cumin, salt, and olive oil.  It’s Provençal. And it’s delicious.

Marinade & Chicken Breasts


I like to take a zip bag, usually a gallon size, put in the chicken and pour in the marinade.  Massage (for lack of a better word) the bag so the marinade completely coats the chicken.  Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can, close it, and then place it in the refrigerator. (If you have a vacuum sealer, now is the time to use it.)  I like to marinate the chicken at least 8 hours.  Perfect for doing before you leave the house in the morning.

Be sure to thoroughly clean the counter and utensils when you’re done.  This will prevent cross contamination.



Chicken all ready to marinate


When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with non-stick spray.  Place the breasts on the sheet, leaving space in between the breasts.  I also pour the extra marinade over the chicken.

Chicken ready to go into the oven


I do an initial baking time of 20 minutes.  After the initial cooking time, I use an instant read thermometer to check if the internal temperature is 140F.  (When you use the thermometer, insert  it into the thickest part of the breast.  Be sure not to touch the baking sheet.)  If it’s not, I’ll put the chicken back in the oven for 5-minute increments.  It’s rare that it takes longer than 30 minutes for chicken breasts to cook.  If you have hot spots in your oven, rotate the baking sheet halfway through the cooking time.

If the chicken breasts are cooked above 140F, they become dry.  And that is what you are trying to avoid.

140F. Correct temperature for chicken breasts.

140F. Correct temperature for juicy chicken breasts.


The minimum safe temperature for hot foods is 140F.  At that point most bacteria is dead.  However, most food safety sites recommend poultry be cooked to 165F to kill all salmonella.  If this is something that concerns you, cook the chicken to 165F.  The cooking time will increase to 30 – 45 minutes.  But, the chicken will be powdery dry.  It’s up to you.

Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes once you’ve taken it out of the oven.  This will allow the juices to settle back into the meat.


Juicy boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Rested and juicy boneless, skinless chicken breasts


Dinner! Chicken Breast with Wild Rice and Edamame


During the warmer months (which in Texas is 8-9 months of the year), I’ll serve the chicken with just a large salad.  When the temperatures are cooler, I’ll serve it with a starch and a vegetable.


Hope this was helpful.  Enjoy.


Building the Perfect Biscuit 4

Posted on December 18, 2011 by Sahar

I’m from the South.  Or more accurately, Texas.  One of the things we love to eat here are biscuits.  Big. flaky, slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside biscuits. We eat them for breakfast with cream gravy & sausage, with stew, soup, and, with a little extra jam or honey, for dessert.  They’re a magical thing.

As  a bit of background, the word “biscuit” comes from the French words, “bis cuit”, meaning “twice baked”.  These are not, however.  That is, if they’re done properly. Biscuits fall under the heading of “quick breads”.  Meaning, breads that use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening as opposed to yeast.

Lovely fluffy, flaky, slightly crispy on the outside, biscuits


The most common problem when folks make biscuits is that they come out rather tough.  There are several reasons for this:

  • Too much flour was used.  This happens when the flour is packed into the cup measure instead scooped (see below).  As a result, more milk must be used to get the correct consistency.  By then, the dough is too heavy to rise properly and has been overworked.
  • The dough is overworked.  This makes a tough biscuit.  You’re not making a loaf of bread.  A light touch is necessary. (Also, see above.)
  • Old baking powder was used.  Check the date on the can.  If it’s expired, throw it it out and buy fresh.
  • The shortening or lard has been over mixed into the dry ingredients.  You want to have bits of shortening or lard visible.  As they melt in the heat of the oven, the bits melt and help to make the biscuits flaky.


Now, I’ve been using a recipe that I found, in all places, Texas Monthly Magazine.  From October 1984.  It’s a wonderful recipe.  It captures all that is good in a biscuit recipe: simplicity,  love, and deliciousness.

Here’s the basic recipe:

2 c. all-purpose flour (You can use whole-wheat if you like; but why would you want to?)

1 tbsp. baking powder (Be sure not to use baking soda. Otherwise, your biscuits will taste like soap.)

1 tsp. salt (I generally use kosher.)

1 tsp. sugar (I just use white.)

1/3 c. shortening, cut into small pieces (You can also use lard.  I will confess to using butter-flavored shortening occasionally.)

1/2 c. milk, more if needed (Whole milk, please. I’ve also used buttermilk.)

1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (Yes, this is necessary.)


The recipe instructions from Texas Monthly begin with:

“Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Then walk out into the backyard and take slow, deep breaths for 15 minutes, cleansing your mind of all distracting thoughts.  Remember that you are merely the instrument through which the biscuits will find expression.”

Excellent advice.


Before I get to the nuts and bolts of the recipe, a tip: be sure to have your ingredients, especially the flour, shortening or lard, and milk, cold. If you can, chill the bowl, too.  This will help keep the shortening or lard from getting too soft as you mix.

Also, I don’t find it necessary to sift the flour.  I do what is called a scoop & sweep method: Take a large spoon, aerate the flour in the container, scoop the flour into your DRY cup measure (the one that looks like a scoop) and sweep off any extra.  Do not shake or  tap the cup to pack the flour; otherwise, you’ll end up with too much flour and a heavier biscuit.  You really don’t want that.


1.  Line a heavy baking sheet with foil.  Brush the bottom of the sheet with some of the melted butter.  Set aside.

2.   In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  (I like to use my hands for this step.  But, you can use a fork.) Add in the shortening or lard.

Ready to incorporate the shortening

3.  With either your hands, a pastry cutter, or a fork, mix the shortening into the dry ingredients.   Do not make it a homogenous mixture.  You want to have pieces of shortening in the dough.  (The pieces of shortening will melt in the oven and create the layers.)  The mixture should look shaggy.

Pastry Cutter


mixing with the pastry cutter


Mixing with a fork


Mixing with hands

4.  Add in the milk (measured in a wet measure; the one that looks like a glass with a handle).  Again, with either your hands or a fork, toss the flour and milk together until just mixed.  The dry ingredients should be moistened, but not soggy.  Add in milk, if necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, if there are still dry ingredients in the bowl.  Try not to over mix.  Again, the dough should look slightly shaggy.  Press the dough together in a slightly flattened ball shape.

lovely, slightly shaggy, biscuit dough

5.  At this point, let the dough rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  Have a lightly floured surface ready.  Take the dough and either press or roll it out to a ½” – ¾” thickness.

3/4" thickness.

6.  With a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or anything that comes to mind, cut out your biscuits.  Carefully press the remaining dough together and cut more biscuits.  You’ll inevitably end up with an oddball biscuit.  Embrace that.  You should have 6-8 biscuits depending on the size and thickness.

7.  Place the biscuits on the baking sheet at least 1” apart and brush the tops with butter.  You don’t want the sides touching; that’s just not right.  The slightly crispy outside is necessary.



Lovely old biscuit cutters from my great-grandmother.


Biscuits before baking. Already buttered up.

8.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes.  If you oven is anything like mine, you’ll have a hot spot.  Go ahead and halfway through the baking, turn the baking sheet.  You want the biscuits to be a light golden brown.

9.  Enjoy!

Lovely finished biscuits


Flaky, soft, slightly crispy biscuits. You want a slightly creamy colored inside.


A final word about ovens.  They all cook differently, so when you see an oven temperature in a recipe, it is based on the oven where the recipe was tested & developed.  You know whether your oven cooks hot, cool, or is perfectly calibrated.  So, adjust the temperature if needed to achieve biscuit success.







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