Monday, December 27, 2010

219 through 222. Three Holiday Pies

Holidays are all about traditions and getting together with family and friends. This month, we had the chance to have a Hanukkah-themed dinner party with our good friends, Travis and Jodi, a pre-Christmas lunch with my family, and Christmas dinner with my wife's family. For each of these celebrations, I made a pie from The Book.

Cranberry Walnut Tart (p. 786). Ever since I made Potato Latkes for the first time two years ago, my wife and I resolved to celebrate Hanukka every year, we liked them that much. I thumbed through the Jewish cookbooks at Borders to come some menu ideas for building a meal around latkes. One of the Hanukka dinner menus I found suggested a cranberry walnut tart for dessert. I have no idea whether it's a traditional Hanukka dish, but I'm glad I made it anyway. This tart has a shortbread-like crust of Sweet Pastry Dough (p. 791).* The filling is a less-cloying cousin of pecan pie, with chopped fresh cranberries cutting through the sweetness and giving the tart a beautiful, jewel-studded appearance. This tart was delicious with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (I like Brigham's). I'll make this one again, for sure.
Date Cooked: December 11, 2010
Rating: A

Mincemeat Pie (p. 766). When I was a kid, we always went to my Aunt Connie's house for Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes were good, of course, but I always looked forward to the pies. Aunt Connie always had the whole array: apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat. Mincemeat pie, with its assertive spices, slight sourness, and its off-putting name, is hardly appealing to most kids, but, for some reason, I loved it. I've been celebrating Thanksgiving with my wife's family for years, so it's been a long, long time since I've had a mincemeat pie. I decided to make one for my family's pre-Christmas lunch. The mincemeat is a rich and spicy combination of chopped Granny Smith apples, golden and dark raisins, dried currants, sweetened with dark brown sugar and punched up with a good glug of brandy, some lemon and orange zest, and nutmeg and allspice. The traditional recipe calls for beef suet in the mix, but, thankfully, The Book gives the option of substituting butter, which I did. (I don't know whether Aunt Connie used suet in her recipe...I'll have to ask her.) I made the filling a week ahead of time, since it needs at least three days in the refrigerator for the flavors to come together, and can keep for up to three months. The finished pie was just as good as I remember it being (even if I used a store-bought pie crust ... don't tell Ruth Reichl). I may have re-kindled an old tradition.
Date Cooked: December 5, 2010
Rating: B+

Maple Syrup Pie (p. 773). The Book says that this pie is a traditional French-Canadian recipe. My wife and I are both of French-Canadian descent, but none of our relatives had ever heard of this pie before. No matter, I decided to make this pie for the Christmas dessert buffet and discover part of my cultural identity. The best way to describe this pie is that it's pecan pie without the nuts and with a bold shot of maple flavor. The filling is light brown sugar, eggs, heavy cream, melted butter, and dark amber maple syrup (I used pure Canadian syrup for the full effect -- and because that's all they had at the grocery store). As the filling cooks, a thin, crisp maple-candy-like crust forms on the top, and underneath it's all gooey goodness. The word "sweet" can't even begin to describe this pie. The Book suggest serving it with a dollop of creme fraiche on top. This is not optional, since you need something to cut the intense sweetness, or else this pie would be overwhelming. I liked this pie, and I'm glad I made it, but I don't think that I'll make it again any time soon.
Date Cooked: December 24, 2010
Rating: C

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