It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust not the filling. It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust…

Well, the filling is important too.  But in this post, just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on crust.

And a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks.

The following things top my list of fears: sharks, bears, spiders, making pie crust and fake hair pieces (don’t ask).  If I were ever to get caught in the storyline of Stephen King’s It, the fear scenario would include me in a mall with hundreds of those hair-piece kiosks while being chased by a bear toward a fountain filled with sharks as I tried to make a pie crust.  I don’t know where the spiders would fit in but they’d be there.

I’m proud to say that over the summer I conquered one of those fears.  And it isn’t the one about the fake hair.

During baking class we spent a week on pie crusts.  While we’d already learned the important “cutting-in” technique that combines the butter into the flour (snapping the butter and flour with your finger-tips), it was the discussion of pie-crust philosophy that helped make things click in my brain.

Butter is good for flavor.  Shortening or other 100% based solid fat is good for flakiness.

The deal with butter is that it isn’t 100% fat.  It also contains water.  Generally speaking, the higher quality the butter, the lower the water percentage.  Water plus gluten (by way of flour) equals chew.  So the goal with pie crust is to optimize both flavor and flake.

Which is where the vodka comes in.  And, I don’t just mean the cocktail I suggest you drink while making pie crust.  I’d heard about people who incorporated vodka into their pie dough and asked about it in class.  The instructor explained that the alcohol works as a sort of drying agent and the vodka is tasteless when it bakes-off.  So, the theory is that by replacing some or all of the water in a recipe with vodka the flakiness of the dough is potentially heightened.

This, I had to try.  I  replaced half of the water with vodka.  And went 100% butter.

The results of the trial were successful.  Always one to follow the scientific method,  I tried it several more times across the summer, all with consistently flakey and tasty crust.

Even the next day.

The other thing that has helped to eliminate my fear of pie crust is that I’ve gotten over whatever prejudice I had in my head about using the food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  Pie crust is pretty easy by hand.  It’s a snap with a food processor.

So my friends, do not fear those holiday pies!

Soundtrack: Do I really need to spell it out?

Pie Crust

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

this makes a double crust


  • 2 1/2  (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 TBS (1 pound 4 ounces or 5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen
  • 1/4 C (2 ounces) vodka, chilled (I keep a bottle in the freezer for this and the impromptu Moscow Mule)
  • 1/4 C ice water


  1. Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined.  If you decide to go old school and do this by hand, whisk together ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Scatter butter in processor bowl and pulse  until butter cuts-in and is reduced to pea-to-lima bean size.  You want visible pieces of butter.  If doing by hand, using the tips of your fingers only, snap the butter into the flour, shaking the bowl every once in a while so that the larger pieces rise to the top.
  3. Sprinkle-in all of the vodka and half of the water, pulse so that the dough starts to come together.  If the dough is dry, add-in the remaining water one TBS at-a-time until the dough barely holds together–it’s okay if you have crumbly pieces you don’t want an actual dough.  If doing by hand, sprinkle vodka and half the water over the flour-butter mixture and, using clean hands, gather the dough together, working gently adding in the remaining water as needed.
  4. Whether working by hand or processor, dump dough out on to a floured surface.  Split it in half and  push each half into a 4-inch disk (still okay, in fact it’s good if the dough barely holds together.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling-out and proceeding with your pie.





Scalloped Butternut Squash(es)

Inspiration for this recipe came on what turned out to be the only coolish October day we had in Los Angeles this year.  I was day dreaming about a particular butternut squash lasagna that we never seem to get around to making (probably because it feeds about 20 while exactly 2 people live in our house).

One thing lead to another which had me thinking about taking advantage of the unique shape of the butternut squash; specifically the long, solid neck.  It seemed to me that thinly sliced and arranged, butternut squash, with its quintessentially autumnal flavor, could be an attractive Thanksgiving side dish.

So I experimented.  One evening.  Which hopefully explains the awful lighting in these photographs.

And, while the aesthetic didn’t come out quite as planned (I had hoped the cheese and bechamel sauce would sink into the dish once again revealing the rosette…alas, not so much), it tasted fantastic. Topped with a sort of streusel of hazelnuts, bread crumbs and nutmeg, this rich side dish would pair delightfully with roasted turkey or other light meat (we ate it will grilled pork chops…also delightful).

Of course you could make this like a more traditional scalloped dish, by layering the squash horizontally in between layers of sauce and cheese.  By, why be normal?

Scalloped Butternut Squash(es)

The recipe below is based on arranging everything into a nine-inch quiche dish.  Go ahead and 1.5X or 2X if using a regular 9X13 casserole dish.


  •  1.5 lb butternut squash (find one with a nice long neck…it’ll make your peeling and slicing job easier)
  • 1 ounce of roasted hazelnuts, skins removed
  • 1 piece day-old bread made into crumbs (or 1/4 C of pre-made bread crumbs)
  • 2 TBS shredded parmesan romano cheese (use the good stuff)
  • 1/2-1 tsp ground nutmeg (or use fresh and microplane)
  • 1 tsp either dried sage or italian seasoning
  • 2 C whole milk
  • 5 TBS butter
  • 4 TBS flour
  • 4 ounces shredded gruyere cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place half-sheet into oven.
  2. Butter a 9-inch quiche dish
  3. Peel butternut squash (I prefer to use a pairing knife).  Cut the squash in two just above the bulb.  Halve both the bulb and the neck longwise.
  4. Slice each half into very thin half-moons.  I used a mandolin for this but you could also slice by hand. Set aside.
  5. Chop hazelnuts.  In a small bowl, combine hazelnuts, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, nutmeg and sage (or italian seasoning). Combine gently with fingers.
  6. Warm the milk in a small sauce pan.  Don’t let it boil.
  7. In a heavy-bottomed medium sauce-pan, melt the butter.
  8. Add in the flour and whisk constantly for about 3 minutes (until the flour no longer smells raw).
  9. Pour the milk into the flour mixture in a stream whisking the entire time.  The mixture will attempt to seize up during the first cup and then begin to loosen as the second cup is added.
  10. Bring sauce to a simmer, whisking and allow to thicken (2-3 minutes).  Remove from heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now you are ready to assemble.

  1. Cover bottom of quiche dish with sauce (about 1/2 C) followed by a thin layer of cheese (1/3 of the cheese)
  2. Starting at the outside, arrange butternut squash slices dome-side up overlapping.  You may want to start with the larger, hollow slices from the dome.  Continue overlapping the pieces as you work your way toward the center.
  3. Carefully pour the remaining sauce over the top of the butternut squash.  Be sure to distribute it evenly so that it gets in all the nooks and crannies.
  4. Top with remaining cheese and hazelnut mixture.
  5. Pull heated half-sheet from oven, place quiche pan in the half-sheet, cover with foil and reinsert everything into the oven.
  6. Let bake with foil on for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove foil and bake from 30 more minutes until the top of the dish is golden brown and sauce is bubbling.
  8. Allow dish to sit for 15 minutes before serving (to allow the sauce to thicken).


Cake Apple

I ran across this recipe on Sunday morning while perusing Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

Simple and rustic, the batter in this recipe serves only to keep the apples together.  Dorie suggests using a variety of apples and, so I did, throwing in a granny smith, fuji, braeburn and even a honey crisp.

The only spring form pan I have is fit for a giant at about 10 inches.  For a deeper cake, I’d reccommend going with an eight-inch pan.

Perfect with a scoop of ice cream or drizzle of cream anglaise and caramel sauce, this gateau would be lovely for Thanksgiving.  Or a brunch. Or, just because.  One word of caution: this cake is so full of apples that the moisture begins to transform this baked good into a pudding by the next day.  So, I think it is best served that same day it is baked.

If you like this, you might like these

Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie Cake

Misanthropic Hostess Apple Pie

Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake

as appeared in Around by French Table by Dorie Greenspan


  • 3/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 large apples of mixed variety
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 3 TBS dark rum (or sub-in 1 TBS vanilla extract)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (omit if not using rum)
  • 8 TBS (1 stick) unsalted butter melted and cooled


  1. Center rack in oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Butter 8-inch springform pan.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set springform pan on top of baking sheet.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Peel and core apples.  Cut into 2-inch chunks.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until foamy.  Pour in sugar and whisk for a minute to blend.  Whisk in rum and vanilla.
  5. Whisk in half the flour mixture until just incorporated.  Whisk in butter.  Repeat these two steps with the remaining flour and butter.
  6. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold-in the apples making sure each piece of fruit is covered in batter.
  7. Scrape mix into prepared pan and push around the apples until you have an evenish layer (evenish is Dorie’s word…this is why I love her so much).
  8. Slide the pan (still on the baking sheet) into the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife, inserted deep into the center, comes up clean.
  9. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Carefully run a blunt knife around the perimeter of the cake and remove springform, making sure to open it slowly so that no apples stick to it.



Gobbla’ Cobbla’

I know this week’s post is a little late.  You can blame our wonderfully generous and thoughtful Thanksgiving hosts for that.  TD and I had planned to spend Thanksgiving hiding out and attempting the invention of what is sure to be a holiday classic (bah!).  But, we got invited someplace better (much, much better), and so, our Thanksgiving cooking plans had to wait a day.

Here is how this all started.  We were hanging around one afternoon (probably watching college football) when the idea of putting an entire Thanksgiving dinner into a single vessel arose.  Could it be done?  How would it work?  What about layering strategies?  Of course, once we’d thrown down the guantlet, we had no choice but to respond.

Now, before we go any further, you all know I’m solid on the Thanksgiving meal front right?  You know 99% of the time everything is made not only from scratch, but with the best ingredients.  Right?  Right?  So, you’ll forgive me for what you are about to witness (and maybe, just maybe, you’ll try it with your leftovers).

Since we weren’t  doing an entire turkey this year, we began with a slow-cooked turkey breast half. I just added 12 ounces of chicken stock, a split head of garlic and some aromatics.  When all was said and done, this half produced about a pound of shredded breast meat.

While the breast was cooking, we also mashed a couple of potatoes and made a package of stove-top stuffing (per TD’s request).  To add some flavor to the chicken breast, I sauteed some onion, carrot, mushrooms and a little celery.  Do this part or skip it, your choice.  To top it off, we added about 2 cups of prepared turkey gravy.

We knew that the only way a one-dish Thanksgiving would work was if it could be removed from the pan in a relatively neat manner.  Insert a crescent-roll dish liner here.

Two-and-a-half packages of rolls provided casserole-dish coverage, Frankenstein style.  Of course, the reason we all love crescent rolls is their light and flaky texture.  This wouldn’t have worked here, so I blind-baked the whole thing for about 15 minutes.

The rest is about assemblage.  First layer: turkey and gravy.

Second layer: mashed potatoes.

Finally, we topped it all off with stuffing.

Because everything was pre-cooked, the entire dish needed only about 30 minutes in the oven. During this time we assembled our minimal sides.  Some charred brussels sprouts for green.  And of course, the cranberry sauce.  We’re purists like that.

At this point, we had no idea if this was going to work.  So, we started drinking.

The drinking helped, but you know what?  I think we pulled it off!

The crescent roll crust kept everything orderly and while this wouldn’t work for people who need their food options separated, TD declared it Methodist-lady hot-dish appropriate. And, our third dinner guest, sitting just off camera to my right, seemed very interested.

In all seriousness though, this is a pretty handy way of using up holiday leftovers.  If you assemble everything in a freezer-safe dish, wrapped it up tightly and froze it, I bet you could just defrost and reheat say, about February.  Just a thought…

We called it the Gobbla’ Cobbla’ (because suddenly we’re from Boston).  And really, there is no recipe.  If using leftover, just use what you have.  If assembling from scratch, here is what we used to fill a 9X13ish casserole dish.

Gobbla’ Cobbla’


  • 1 lb cooked turkey (light meat, dark meat shredded or cubed, whatever your fancy)
  • Mashed potatoes from 2 large potatoes (I’d say about 3 cups)
  • 1 package Stove-Top stuffing (you know, I’d never had the stuff until now)
  • 2 C turkey gravy
  • 2-3 packages crescent rolls
  • Whatever else you think would go well with this hot mess of ingredients (sweet potatoes, rice, green breans).


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Oil the casserole dish and line with crescent roll pieces.  Be sure to fuse any weak seams.  Line un-cooked crust with parchment and fill with either pie weights or beans.  Bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove beans and parchment, bake for another 5-7 minutes, until the bottom is just baked.
  2. In a large pan, combine turkey and gravy.  Gently heat to combine (add in desired veg).
  3. Once the crust is out of the oven, eyeball the volume of the dish you have to work with.  Then, add each of the three filling ingredients accordingly.  We distributed the ingredients equally.  You may decide to alter the ratios depending on preference for certain Thanksgiving side dishes.
  4. Once assembled, bake in the over for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Enjoy.




You know it must have been a bender when…

…you black-out that apple cake you made.  Apples!  I’m talking about apples…what did you think I was talking about?  So frenzied and absorbing has my baking with apples been in the last few weeks that I actually forgot about this apple cake.

This is the last apple recipe.  I promise.

I have to admit, what first drew me to this recipe was the opportunity to shred things with my food processor.

The shredded apples get set aside for a bit in a colander.  Then, you get to abuse them further by squeezing them with a towel.  In addition to being incredibly satisfying, the shredding and squeezing helps to remove excess liquid (yeah, I know, also known as apple juice).

This is a spice-based cake.  Cinnamon, all-spice, clove, nutmeg and because I couldn’t resist, just a touch of cardamon.

The batter is substantial.  The apples form a sort of matrix that locks-in the moisture.

The cake would be lovely if you just stopped here.

But why?  The glaze comes together with brown sugar, butter, a bit of whipping cream and lemon.

Let it bubble for a while.

And then douse the cake in it.

The flavors in this cake taste like autumn to me.  Rich, complex and nearly irresistible a la mode or a dollop of gently sweetened whipped cream.

This cake would also make a nice edition to Thanksgiving dinner (and you could easily make it ahead…bonus!).

Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

just slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2007



  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamon
  • 1 3/4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, coarsely grated
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325F. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray. Sift flour and next 6 ingredients into medium bowl. Drain grated apples in strainer. Using hands or kitchen towel, squeeze out excess liquid from apples. Measure 2 cups grated apples.

Using electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars, and lemon peel in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice. Beat in flour mixture. Mix in grated apples. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze:
Stir all ingredients in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium; whisk until glaze is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Invert cake onto rack set over baking sheet. Using small skewer, pierce holes all over top of warm cake. Pour glaze over top, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more. Cool cake 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.