Archive for dessert

Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly Shortbread Cookie Bars

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2013 by KarenElizabeth

Dinner parties at my house can be a little bit challenging, as I have a few friends with very restrictive dietary needs.  In most cases, I simply end up preparing a variety of dishes, making sure that each guest has at least something available for them to eat.  But on occasion I’ll try to make a dish that’s for everyone — and that’s where a creation like this one comes in.



It’s gluten-free, so my 2 friends with gluten intolerances can eat it.  It has no coconut, no peanuts, no eggs, no soy, and no dairy.  It’s vegan.  And (this is important), it’s still delicious.


The Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 shot of your favourite liquor or liqueur (I used brandy)
  • 1-1/2 cups rice flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder (check to make sure it’s gluten-free; most are)
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of your favourite type of jam (I used apricot) for topping


The Prep

Preheat your oven to 350 F, and line an 8 x 12 baking pan with parchment paper (this is important because sticky, baked-on jam is very, very annoying to clean up).

In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and shortening.

Add the rest of the wet ingredients (except for the jam) & mix well.

Add the dry ingredients (adding in 2 stages is recommended to prevent rice flour from “poofing” everywhere while you stir).  No need to worry about overmixing, since this is gluten-free: just try to get a nice, even texture.  The resulting dough will be very soft and crumbly.

** Note – if you want to make your shortbread into individual cookies or shapes, refrigerate it for 30 minutes to make the dough a little bit easier to work with.  For cookie bars, though, this is unnecessary.

Press the dough into the bottom of your baking pan to create an even layer.

Spread jam over the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes in the middle of the oven.  The cookie bars are done when you start to get some delicious-looking caramelization at the edges of the jam layer.

When you first take the cookies out of the oven, they will be VERY soft.  Use a butter knife to divide them into bars, then pop the whole thing into the fridge or freezer to cool down before attempting to remove them from the pan.  Once the tapioca flour sets up, they’ll be a nice, slightly-crumbly shortbread texture, but until then they’ll be a bit of a fall-aparty mess.



To change it up a bit, try adding nuts or a streusel topping on top of the jam layer, or drizzle melted dark chocolate over the finished cookie bars.

To make easy, round cookies instead of bars, try using a muffin tin (or mini-muffin tins) — press a bit of dough into the bottom of each, then top with jam.  Paper muffin-liners will help with preventing any sticking.

To make a thicker, layered bar, try using an 8 x 8 pan instead of an 8 x 12, and divide the dough in half.  Press half into the bottom, top with jam, then add the other half of the dough, and  top with more jam.  Increase the cooking time by a few minutes to ensure even cooking.


Oh, Fudge!

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

I might as well get this out of the way right up front:  I am a fudge snob.  I grew up close by to two absolutely fabulous candy stores that made homemade fudge (Mill Creek Chocolates in Port Elgin, and The Tobermory Sweet Shop, where I also spent a summer working).  As a result, I find most fudge (especially the storebought stuff) to be a poor imitation of the “real thing”.  Real fudge is creamy, melty, and so sweet that even as a small, sugar-driven child I had a hard time eating more than a teensy piece.

So you can probably guess that when I make fudge at home, it’s good stuff.  No sweetened condensed milk here.  No marshmallow fluff.  No microwaving.  No powdered sugar.  Just awesome.

Now, to make fudge properly, you really, REALLY need a candy thermometer.  Digital is best, of course (mine cost less than $15 and has been SO worth the investment).  There are dozens of “tricks” out there for how to tell when your fudge has reached the proper stage (most common being the ‘cold water test’), but 90% of the time you’re going to end up with over- or under- cooked fudge if you’re not going by temperature, because things like the ambient humidity and the temperature of your ‘cold’ water are going to affect matters.

The real difference between a high-quality homemade fudge and most of the stuff you’ll find out there these days is the sugar crystals.  A really good fudge should be creamy, not grainy.  Getting the temperature and the ratios of the ingredients just right will help to keep your sugar crystals smaller.  The waiting time between boiling the mix and stirring the mix also helps — any crystals that start to form too early (usually along the top, where cooling is faster) will be broken up and re-absorbed during the stirring.  You could, of course, just spend 15 or 20 minutes stirring your fudge after cooking to inhibit crystal formation, but that’s a LOT of work — better to wait while things cool down a little, and then get to the stirring when it’s really needed.  One final trick: I also use a small amount of corn syrup, in addition to the sugar, as corn syrup is liquid at room temperature and this will help to improve the texture.

My basic vanilla fudge has only five ingredients:

  • 3 cups white sugar (you can use brown, but it gives a different flavour)
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 1-1/4 cups whole milk or light cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

And that’s it.  Put it all into a pot over medium heat, and stir until it reaches a boil.  Then stop stirring.  Put your candy thermometer into the pot and just watch while the temperature climbs to 240 degrees Fahrenheit (should take 3-5 minutes).  Remove the pot from the heat, and then wait.  Don’t stir it yet.  Give it time to cool down to somewhere between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit (this will take 15 minutes to a half hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen).  Then you can start stirring.  Stir and fold the mix over on itself until it looks opaque and is becoming quite thick (about 3-5 minutes, depending on just how vigorous your stirring is).  Pour the mix into a pan (an 8×8 for shorter, wider squares, or a bread pan for taller slices).  It should be thick enough that you’ll actually need to press it down into the pan; it won’t flow easily into all the corners.  Let it cool down completely (put it in the fridge to make it firm and easy to slice), then wrap it to prevent moisture loss.

This recipe gives you a delicious, plain, simple fudge — but it’s only the beginning.  There are so many variations on plain old vanilla fudge, and with a little creativity you can create your own mixes, too.

For a chocolate fudge, use only 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and add 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder.

For a peanut butter fudge, use only 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and add 1/4 cup of peanut butter.  If you’d like a “crunchy” version, stir in peanuts once the mixture has cooled after boiling, just before you pour it into the pan.

For a maple fudge, just replace the corn syrup with maple syrup.  You can reduce or leave out the vanilla.

For a coffee fudge, either add a shot of freshly-made espresso to the mix, or dissolve a tablespoon of instant coffee granules in a tablespoon of hot water and add that.  You can add coffee to a chocolate fudge to get a nice mocha flavour, too.

For a peppermint fudge, just replace the vanilla extract with peppermint extract.  Same goes for any other extract — try orange, rum, anise, almond, or coconut!  For seasonal peppermint fudge at Christmas, add crushed-up candy canes to the mix once it has cooled down after boiling, just before you put it into the pan.

For a pumpkin pie spice fudge, reduce the vanilla to 1 teaspoon.  When the mixture has cooled to stirring temperature after boiling, add 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice and blend well.  Alternatively, you can use other spices — cinnamon works nicely all on its own, or try adding chili powder or ginger to a chocolate fudge for a hit of the unexpected.

One of my personal favourites is chocolate with peanut butter swirls, which is achieved by first making chocolate fudge as described above.  Just before pouring the mix into a pan for the final cooling, add a couple tablespoons of peanut butter.  Give it a quick swirl, then put the mix into the pan and get the pan into the fridge before the peanut butter gets a chance to melt.

Another excellent option is rocky road fudge, which can be made with either vanilla or chocolate fudge as a base.  As with the peanut butter, wait until the last moment to add nuts, marshmallows and chocolate chips — quickly swirl them in, then get the mix into a pan and into the fridge for cooling.

Feel free to experiment with other flavours, and tell me in the comments what you’ve tried!  I’m thinking of doing a chocolate fudge with pretzel pieces, next — or possibly maple with plain popcorn mixed in.

Accidental Awesome: Marshmallow Pie Recipe

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

I’ve been experimenting with sponge cakes lately.  I love how light and fluffy they are, just from the eggs having been thoroughly whipped before use.

On Friday I made this delicious lemon poppyseed cake, with a sweet lemon glaze.  It came out beautifully, and I ate three servings in a single sitting because it tasted so great.  I’ll definitely be making this one again, and I’ve saved the recipe for future reference.

Only downside was, I was left with 8 egg whites and no plan for how to use them.  Not really a problem, though — I knew I was going to have people coming over on Sunday for our weekly D&D game, and figured that I could whip up a quick batch of meringues.  Tasty, crowd-friendly, and it would be a great way to use up those leftovers.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that meringue is kind of my cooking nemesis.  No matter how careful I am to get *no* yolk or oil in there, no matter how long I whip the eggs, about 50% of the time it just simply doesn’t work.  The eggs get frothy and fluffy, but don’t turn into a nice, stiff meringue.  But with all the sponge cakes lately, I was starting to get more confident in my dubious meringueing (yes, it’s a word, I’ve just coined it) skills.  The last few times I’ve whipped egg whites for a sponge cake, they’ve fluffed up nicely, and I let myself be lulled into thinking that perhaps I’d finally found the knack.

Nope.  10 minutes of whipping, and *nothing* was happening.  My friends were due to arrive soon, and I was now without a delicious dessert to finish off the meal.

So, I scrounged around the kitchen.  My gluten-free friend was on the guest list for the night, so I couldn’t just throw in some cake flour and turn it into a sponge cake.  But I *did* have some rice flour and tapioca flour in the cabinet.  A little more sugar, a generous splash of amaretto, some cinnamon, and a thorough mixing.  In the end, this is what the recipe ended up looking like:

  • 8 egg whites
  • 1-1/4 cup + 2 tbsp white sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup amaretto
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Whip the egg whites with 2 tbsp sugar until very frothy.  Stop when you just begin to see soft peaks forming.  Add the 1-1/4 cup sugar, the vanilla extract, the amaretto, and the pinch of salt, and blend thoroughly.  Fold in the rice flour, tapioca flour and cinnamon.  Pour the batter into a well-greased 8-inch springform pan or bundt pan.  Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the oven off.  Leave it in the oven while the oven cools down — by slowing the cooling process, you lessen the chances that your pie will shrink and crack while cooling.

For visual interest, dust the pie with cinnamon before serving.

This pie has the texture of a giant marshmallow, and tastes kind of like if Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal had a baby with a unicorn.  It is quite possibly my favourite cooking experiment EVER, and it all came from screwing up meringue.

My friends have suggested alternative ways of making this (although Kenneth stresses that the original is absolutely delicious all on its own and needs no tampering).  The addition of chocolate or caramel topping, the addition of a graham-cracker crust, and the substitution of other alcohols (especially Bailey’s Irish Cream) instead of the amaretto — all of these ideas have been tabled, and will likely be tried in their turn.  If you have other suggestions, please feel free to share them — and let me know if you try this recipe yourself, and what you think of it!

I will make this again next week and remember to take pictures this time (didn’t think of it until after we’d devoured the whole thing, unfortunately).  Next time I think I’ll try a chocolate fudge drizzle on the top, because I can’t resist adding chocolate to this.

Recipe: Traditional-ish Black Forest Cake

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

My sister’s birthday is in February, and her request this year was for a Black Forest cake.  I was happy to oblige, but ran into a few problems with finding a recipe that would be something close to the Black Forest cakes we remembered from childhood.  Most of the ones I was able to find online called for boxed cake mix, canned cherry pie filling, and (gag!) Cool Whip topping instead of real whipped cream.  In other cases there were debates over what makes a “traditional” Black Forest cake — what sort of cake to use, whether or not to put kirsch (cherry brandy) in the whipped cream for flavoring, whether to use jam for the filling or a more gooey, pie-filling-like substance … it was all a little overwhelming.  Finally I gave up the search and just emailed my mom, to ask if she had a good recipe.  She got back to me with two: one from a book of traditional Ontario immigrant recipes, and another from a family friend who spent some time living in Germany.  I combined the best elements of both, and came up with something that I was very happy with.

My sister approved, too, as you can see.

Making the Cake

For the cake portion, I used the recipe from mom’s book of traditional recipes.  It’s a chocolate sponge cake, which I felt would better hold up to being soaked with cherry brandy.  It’s not as moist as some other cakes, but if you apply the brandy properly (read: use lots!) that’s really not an issue at all.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 4 eggs, separated (the recipe calls for small, but I used medium because my grocery store doesn’t carry small)
  • 4 tbsp warm water
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup corn starch
  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare an 8-inch springform pan or two 8-inch round pans (if using round pans, I suggest lining them with parchment paper to make it easier to lift the cake out afterwards).

Separate the eggs so that the whites are in one mixing bowl, and the yolks are in another.  To the yolks, add the warm water, and whisk until foamy.  Add the 2/3rds cup sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, cinnamon, and salt.  Whisk together for a couple of minutes, until everything is thoroughly combined and there are lots of little bubbles in the mix.

Using an electric mixer or whisk that is clean and free of any oil (this is important!), whip the egg whites until they are foamy.  Sprinkle in the 2tsp of sugar, and continue to beat the eggs until stiff peaks form.  Remember: the fluffier you can get the eggs to be, the fluffier the finished cake will be!

Gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mix, then sift the flour, cornstarch, cocoa, and baking powder over top and fold in.  Mix very gently until the mixture is just barely blended together — overmixing will pop all those little bubbles you worked so hard to make in the eggs.

Pour the batter into the pan(s), and bake for 30 minutes (slightly less if using two pans — they’ll cook faster if they’re thinner).  A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean.

Once the cake has cooled down a little bit, you can slice it in half (or into 3 layers, if you’re feeling adventurous).  A piece of unwaxed dental floss works well for cutting — just saw it back and forth and work your way patiently through the cake.  Once the cake is cut into layers, you can add the cherry brandy — sprinkle it on a little bit at a time, until the cake is fully saturated.

Let the cake sit and cool down completely while you prepare the cherry filling and whipped cream.

Making the Cherry Filling

Since it’s February, I had to buy frozen sour cherries — fresh just aren’t available right now.  Frozen are preferable over canned, since they don’t have anything added to them, but if canned are all you can get, then just work with what’s available.  In a pinch you can resort to pre-made canned cherry pie filling, but homemade always tastes better.

This is the same filling that I use for making cherry pies, but I only made a half-sized batch, as you don’t really need a whole pie’s worth of filling for this cake.  Double this recipe if you want to make a pie with it.

  • 2 cups sour cherries, pitted and drained (reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/6 cup flour
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract

In a saucepan, combine the 1/2 cup of cherry juice with the sugar, flour and salt.  Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continuing to stir, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and almond extract, and then add the cherries.

Cool this mixture down completely before using it on your cake, or it will melt the whipped cream.

Making the Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is easy stuff to make from scratch, and I always prefer the homemade stuff to the stuff that comes in a can.  When making a black forest cake, you ALWAYS want to do your whipped cream from scratch, because a) you can add cherry brandy to the whipped cream for flavour, and b) you can add a pinch of gelatin or cream of tartar to stiffen the cream and stop it from gooshing out between the cake layers.

Combine a cup of whipping cream with a teaspoon of sugar, a splash of cherry brandy, and a pinch of unflavored gelatin or cream of tartar.  Whisk or beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Putting it All Together

Once the cake and cherry pie filling have cooled completely, you can assemble your black forest cake.  You can use either two or three layers of cake — three looks fancier, but otherwise it makes little difference.

With two layers, you’ll want to put both cherry pie filling AND whipped cream between the layers.  With three, you’ve got an option: you can either put cherries in one of the spaces and whipped cream in the other, or use a combination in both.  You might need to make a bit of extra whipped cream, if you choose the latter, but avoid the temptation to overfill: you want this to taste like cake, not like whipped cream with occasional bits of cake in it.

Once your layers are stacked up, coat the entire cake in the remaining whipped cream.  Shave two squares of semi-sweet chocolate using a cheese grater, and pat these chocolate shavings onto the sides and top of the cake, leaving a ring of white around the top edge.  Place maraschino cherries around the top edge (I like to use one per slice).  Store the cake (covered) in the fridge until serving, so that the whipped cream won’t get droopy.

And enjoy!  Black forest cake is a little bit labour-intensive to make, but it’s definitely worth the work.  Nom-nom-nom.  Delicious.

Gluten Free Jam Cookies

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

It’s the winter solstice (or rather, it WAS the winter solstice yesterday), with all of the various holiday celebrations that come along with that.  ‘Tis the season of food, and especially of baked goods — a situation that my friend with a gluten allergy laments, since he can no longer eat most of the deliciousness being prepared at this time of year.

Fortunately, there are people like me around who are always willing to try a new recipe.  And I think I’ve hit on a winner with this one:  a gluten-free cookie that isn’t supremely crumbly, doesn’t require a dozen different kinds of flour, and actually tastes pretty darn good.  You’d hardly know they’re gluten free at all, and that’s exactly the way I like it.



The Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup rice flour (brown or white)
  • 1/4 cup sticky rice flour (look in the Asian food section of your grocery store)
  • 1 cup ground nuts (I like almonds or walnuts, but use whatever you like)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey, maple syrup, or corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • jam (whatever kind you like best)


The Prep

Mix together the dry ingredients, then add the oil, honey, vanilla and egg.  Blend thoroughly.  The dough will seem kind of thin — more like a muffin batter than a cookie dough, really.  But that’s okay, it’s expected to be that way.  Chill your cookie dough for at least an hour or two in the fridge to make it easier to work with.

For the next step I like to work on a surface dusted with rice flour.  The dough is kind of sticky, and this makes it simpler.  Use a teaspoon to pick up spoonfuls of dough, one at a time, and drop them onto your floured surface.  Use your hands to roll the dough into a ball, and then transfer the ball to a cookie sheet.

Once all of your dough balls are prepared, use your thumb to make an imprint in the center of each one.  Fill this indent with jam (for today’s batch of cookies I used elderberry jam, but that’s just what I happened to have in the fridge — any kind of jam is delicious in these).

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.  This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies, and can easily be doubled if you want to have more.


Apples! A Few Quick Solutions to Apple Season

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Apples!  Delicious, nutritious, and (due to a food allergy) they make my mouth feel as though I’ve been drinking bleach.  Not to worry, though!  I can still enjoy apple season just as much as the next North American goth kid, with only a few extra steps involved, because cooking renders the apple proteins harmless (and defenseless against my ravenous nommings, just like a fruit should be).

Whether or not you need to cook your apples to destroy their evil allergy-powers, the following recipes are fast, simple, and delicious ways to cook up those bushels upon bushels of apples that are so plentiful at this time of year.


Whether it’s a topping for pork roast, a side-dish, or a snack in its own right, applesauce is definitely a classic (try having a bowl of apple sauce with a big wedge of aged cheddar cheese on the side — it’s such a good combo!).  And it’s so, so easy.  Just peel, core, and slice one large or two small apples for each person you want to serve (if you’re feeling lazy, you can skip peeling and just chop the apples up quite small, but you’ll end up with a chunkier sauce that way).  Put the apples into a pot along with a bit of water or apple juice (enough to cover the bottom of the pot by about an inch), a pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of cinnamon*.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  After five minutes, the apples should be nice and soft.  Mash them up with a fork or potato masher, and you’ve got delicious apple sauce!  You can serve it right away, or make a big batch and keep it in the fridge.  If you’ve got a boiling water canner you can even jar it up and save for later, but I find that apple sauce is so easy to make and apples are so readily available, there’s no reason to store it.


Baked Apples

Baked apples are a personal favourite of mine, and easily made in the microwave, oven, or toaster oven.  They’re kind of like inside-out apple crisp, and they look very pretty when served in a little saucer, covered with whipped cream or drizzled with caramel sauce.

The most complicated part of making a baked apple is cutting out the core.  You don’t want to cut all the way through the apple, or you’ll make it impossible for all the gooey goodness to get held inside.  You just want to scoop out most of the core, leaving about a half-inch “floor” on the bottom to hold everything in.  Think of it kind of like carving a pumpkin — cut a circle around the stem with a paring knife, then use a spoon to scoop downwards and take out the core and seeds.  You’ll want the hole to be about an inch wide — enough to make sure you’ve gotten out all of the core and seeds, but not so wide as to be cutting out all of the delicious apple flesh.

Once you’ve made your little apple “bowls”, it’s time to fill them with crumbly goodness.  Mix together equal parts brown sugar, uncooked oats (I prefer large-flake oats, because they retain more texture than quick oats, but use whichever you have on hand), and raisins or nuts (or a mix of both).  1/3 cup of each gives you enough to fill four large apples.  Add in a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of cinnamon*, then fill your apples.  Top each one with a teensy bit of butter or margarine (a half-teaspoon is enough).

If you’re baking these in the oven or toaster oven, you’ll want to add a little bit of water or apple juice to the bottom of the baking pan, just to help keep things from drying out.  If you’re doing it in the microwave you don’t need to worry about that, since the microwave doesn’t dry things out the same way.

Bake covered at 350 degrees for a half hour, or in the microwave at medium-high for five minutes (depends on your specific microwave; it may take some testing to get the timing right).  Serve immediately with whipped cream, ice cream, or caramel sauce (or all of the above).


Apple Crisp

This one’s my dad’s favourite, and was usually the dessert he’d whip up whenever he was in charge of dinner.  He and I share the same allergy, so it was one of the few ways he ever got to eat apples, and he became an expert at making this particular dish.

Peel and slice four large apples.  Lay the slices in an 8×8 baking dish (use a bit of butter to grease up the dish if you’re not using non-stick).

In a bowl, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour (I like to use whole wheat), 1/2 cup oats (like with the baked apples, I prefer large flake, but quick oats will do), a pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of cinnamon*.  Spread this over the top of the apples.  Cut up 1/2 cup of cold butter into small chunks and spread these evenly over the top of the crumbly layer.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the top begins to turn golden brown.  Serve immediately with whipped cream, ice cream, or caramel sauce.


*Other spices you could use are allspice, cloves, nutmeg, or even pumpkin pie spice, but cinnamon is my usual standby here.  Feel free to get crazy and add whatever the heck you like, though — you could probably add ginger and chili powder and have it come out pretty delicious.

Recipe: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Easy Lattice Crust

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Pie is one of my favourite things to bake, so it always surprises me a little when I hear that people are afraid to take the plunge and try making their own pies from scratch.  Crust seems to be the main sticking point, and many otherwise capable bakers will succumb to evil temptations and use (shudder) store-bought pie crusts for their creations.  Besides being more expensive than scratch-made pie crusts, store-bought pastry tends to come out heavier and less flaky than the real thing.  It also tends to be loaded up with preservatives and other unnecessary nonsense.

So cast aside your fears, I’ve prepared for you a little step-by-step tutorial on making an easy, delicious pie crust … from scratch.  I even took pictures along the way.

Preparing the Crust

This particular pie crust recipe is the first one that I ever attempted on my own (many, many years ago when I still had to stand on a stool to reach the counter), and I find that it’s a really good standby for most sweet pies.  It’s not my favourite for savoury pies, but it does get the job done in a pinch.  Best of all, it only uses a few ingredients, and takes very few steps to prepare.

To begin, measure out 1 cup vegetable shortening and 2 and 2/3rds cups all purpose flour into a large mixing bowl.  Add to this a pinch of salt, then grab two butterknives.  Holding one knife in each hand, cut repeatedly in opposite directions across the bowl.  Your objective is to cut the shortening into the flour (rather than stirring) — this is what will provide that lovely, flaky texture at the end of things.

You’re finished cutting when the largest chunks of shortening are about pea-sized, and the whole mixture looks crumbly, like so:

At this point it’s time to start adding water.  You want to use cold water, so the shortening doesn’t melt, and add it a tablespoon at a time.  Depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen, you’ll probably end up using 6-8 tablespoons of water in total.  Use a fork to lightly “toss” the water in, rather than mushing everything together with a spoon.  You’ve got enough water when the mixture looks kind of raggedy, and there aren’t any dry crumbs floating around the bottom of the bowl, like so:

Now all that’s left to do is to gather your dough into a ball (handle it as little as possible to prevent melting the shortening), cover, and pop it into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so while you prepare the filling.  Cold pie crust is easier to roll out later.

Preparing the Strawberry Rhubarb Filling

This is my grandmother’s recipe, so none of the measurements are particularly exact.  You can use equal amounts strawberry and rhubarb, or more of one and less of the other.  You can add more or less sugar to get a sweeter or more tart pie.  You can even use different berries besides strawberries (raspberry rhubarb is pretty darn delicious), or simply do a 100% rhubarb pie.  It’s all up to you.

In general, here’s what I use:

  • 4 cups rhubarb, washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • pinch of cinnamon

Mix this all together in a large bowl, and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  This lets some of the juice come out of the fruit, so that you can judge how juicy your pie is going to be.  If you wind up with a lot of juice sloshing around in your mixing bowl, you can leave some of it out when you add the filling to the crust — this will prevent the pie spilling over and making a mess of your oven.

Putting it All Together

Take your dough ball out of the fridge and divide it in half.  Return half to the fridge so that it can stay cool for now.  On a well-floured surface (I like to use my large wooden cutting board, but you can just use the counter if you prefer), roll out the bottom crust of the pie to about 1/4″ thick.  Make sure it’s about 1″ wider than your pie plate on all sides.

Getting your pie crust into the pie plate without tearing it can be a bit of a tricky business.  Having your crust well-chilled before rolling it out definitely helps.  If you rolled your crust out on a cutting board or pastry board, you can simply set your pie plate on top of the crust, upside-down, then flip the whole thing (board and all) right-side-up in one smooth, swift motion.  If you don’t have a large cutting board, the easiest method I’ve found is to use your rolling pin.  Fold the crust gently over top of the rolling pin, then lift it carefully over top of the pie plate.

If, despite your best efforts, you end up with a hole or two in your pie crust, just use a bit of milk or cream to “glue” the crust back together, and press it into place with your fingers.  Once the pie is baked, nobody will be able to tell the difference.

Pour your pie filling into the bottom crust, then retrieve the remaining half of the dough from the fridge.  You can just roll out a top crust the same way you did the bottom, and lift it carefully on top of the pie with your rolling pin, but I prefer to get a little bit fancy here and do a lattice crust.  It’s very little extra effort, and always seems to be appreciated by the pie-eaters (especially those who aren’t aware of just how easy this is).

Before you put your top crust on, you’ll want to cut up about 2tbsp of cold butter or margarine into small chunks, and sprinkle these around the surface of the pie.  This will melt and meld with the filling during baking.

To create a lattice crust, roll the dough out to about 1/4″ thick, at least as wide as the pie plate, then cut into strips 1/2″ to 1″ wide.  Take the two longest strips and lay them across the top of the pie in an X, thusly:

Then add more strips in an over/under pattern.  Leave little gaps between the strips so that your filling will show through and look all pretty.  Here’s a few shots of my lattice crust in progress:

Once you’ve got the whole top of the pie evenly covered, tear off the excess crust from the edges.  You’ll end up with a ragged looking edge:

Which I like to roll up so that it looks more clean and finished:

Finally, I like to brush the crust with a little bit of milk or egg wash, and sprinkle white sugar over the top to create a nice bit of texture and colour.

Pop your pie into a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until the crust turns all nice and goldeny-brown.  Let cool, and enjoy the deliciousness.

Leftover Crust

You’ll probably have a bit of leftover crust after making the lattice top.  Pop this into a freezer bag and it will keep in the freezer for a couple of months.  Small amounts of crust are great for making a quick batch of tarts.  Or you can just roll the crust out to about 1/4″ thick, dip in egg wash, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and make yourself some little cookies (they’re great with coffee).