Sour Cherry Pie with Whole Wheat Pâte Brisée: We Survived

“White meat is for wusses.”  This is what my brother said at the Thanksgiving table last week. It is entirely possible he was clutching a drumstick at the time. 

This past holiday was not for weaklings.  We had a 16-pound hen turkey that my eighty-eight year old grandmother lugged up from her basement freezer. We debated on just how drunk Frank Sinatra sounded in his holiday record with Bing. And my little cousin quietly (okay, not so quietly) tried to plot a Monopoly coup when I secured hotels on both Boardwalk and Park Place.

It was a take-no-prisoners kind of holiday.  And I was well aware that the pie had better deliver.  Luckily, no one took the pie pan and heaved it out the window.  It was quite good, actually.  In fact, I do believe I’ll likely live to make pie again. 

The whole wheat pâte brisée was purely accidental.  It was my second attempt at making this Thanksgiving's pie crust.  It's best not to get into the first attempt details.  Let's just say it ended in some pretty unfortunate pastry carnage.  I don't want to implicate the bread flour, but it knows what it did.  

As for the sour cherries?  No one in their right mind likely has them right now.  They were collateral damage from a freak farmers' market "accident" this summer.  At the time I desperately needed over fifty dollars worth of sour cherries to, ahem, store in my freezer. 

These mistakes made for a lovely pie.  An “I can absolutely eat this for breakfast” kind of pie.  And lunch.  And dinner.  It was a take-no-prisoners nutty, flaky, cherry-filled pastry.  And it certainly made itself at home with the rest of the holiday.

Sour Cherry Pie with Whole Wheat Pâte Brisée


Pâte Brisée Crust
Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang 

1.75 cups white whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp sugar, plus additional sugar for dusting
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp whole milk, plus 1 additional tbsp after the pie is filled

Cherry Filling
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups whole sour cherries, pitted 
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Crust Instructions:

To made the crust, use a kitchen aid with the paddle attachment or handheld mixer and mix together flour, sugar and salt for about 10 seconds or until combined.  Scatter the butter over the top of the flour and mix on low speed for about 1 minute or until the butter is about the size of pecans and the flour holds together when you pinch it.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolks and 3 tbsp of milk together and then add to flour mixture; mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until the dough barely comes together.  (At this point it will not look like dough, it will look like a shaggy flour mixture; be careful not to overmix it.)

Dump the flour on to an unfloured space and gather it together into a tight mound.  With the palm of your hand push the top of the mound down and out, smearing the dough as you go.  Repeat this about once or twice on each part of the dough until the butter is smeared throughout and you can see streaks of it (this should take about 6-10 smearings).  Gather up the dough and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap.  It needs to rest at least 4 hours (or up to 4 days) in the fridge before it is ready to be used.

Pie Instructions:

When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to soften slightly to make it easier to roll.  Meanwhile, to make the filling, whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl; stir in cherries, lemon juice, and extracts and set aside.  

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces; on a floured surface, form 1 piece of the dough into a circle and roll it out until it is 12 inches in diameter.  (Using your rolling pin, roll the dough out in one direction instead of rolling your pin back and forth.  Pause to shift the dough ninety degrees to ensure that the dough rolls out evenly.)  Once the first piece of dough is rolled out, place it on a plate in the fridge until it is ready to be used.  

Repeat your rolling with the second dough piece.  Then, roll this dough round gently around your rolling pin and then slowly unroll it on to a 9-inch pie pan; gently coax the dough into the pan by pushing the edge of the dough so that it slides into the bottom of the pie pan and then press the dough gently into the bottom of the pan.  Let the excess dough hang off the sides of the pan.

Pour the filling into the middle of the pie pan, dot with 2 tbsp of butter. Roll the other dough round loosely around your rolling pin and unroll it on top of the filling.  Trim the excess dough so that it is 1/2 inch from the lip of the pie pan, using a knife.  Crimp the top and bottom crust edges together.  Cut about eight 2 inch slits into the top pie crust.  Brush the top crust with 1 tbsp of milk and sprinkle with sugar (about 1 tbsp). 

Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes; reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for about 50-60 minutes longer.  Check occasionally to make sure the pie edges aren't browning too much; cover them with foil to prevent further browning, as necessary.  The pie is done when the crust is golden brown and the cherry juices are bubbling.  Let cool on a wire rack, about 4 hours, before serving.

Yields one sweet pie

-I combined a few different recipes to come up with this one, including this one from Bon Appetit. I wanted to use Chang's pâte brisée because I "get" how she explains pastry.  And, let's be honest, this was a high stakes pie mission.  Chang uses all purpose flour for her crust.  If you want to do a whole grain crust you'll want to use pastry flour, otherwise just use regular flour.  The crust turned out great, whole wheat and all.

-If you are using frozen cherries, you can heat your cherry filling ever so slightly in a pan just until the cherries soften.  You don't want the mixture to be hot, nor do you want the cherries to still be frozen when you pour it into the pie pan.

-The instructions for this recipe are a bit intense.  I know.  And for this I am sorry.   


Pecan Bars: A Prelude to Thanksgiving (And Tribute to Pat Benatar)

Thanksgiving.  It's coming.  I'm doing most of the cooking this year.  And I just got off the phone with my mother.

Most everyone that cooks has a bête noire in the kitchen.  I can talk turkey all day long.  Cranberry sauce?  Bring it, New England.  Dinner doesn’t scare me.  But pie?  Pie terrifies.  This is the first year I’m attempting it.  The pie conversation with my mother went something like this:

Me: “I’m making the pie crust tonight.”
Mom: “That’s nice, honey.”
Me: “I was psyching myself up for it on my walk home.”
Me: “I was humming “Eye of the Tiger.””
Mom: “How about “Hit Me With Your Best Shot?””  “I saw Pat Benatar this summer.” “So I can say that.”

This was the pie pep talk I precisely needed to have.  We’ll see how it all goes down.  But for now: fire away.

For those that want to forgo the whole potential pie disaster—or for those that simply don’t get jazzed by Rocky Balboa or Pat Benatar—these bars are a lovely substitute for pecan pie.  I was lucky enough to attend a Cook’s Illustrated cocktail party a few weeks ago.  They served wonderful broiled shrimp with coriander and lemon, Spanish tortilla with garlic mayo, chocolate pots de crème, and what looked to be fairly innocent pecan bars. 

The bars are simply beyond. They have a slightly salty edge with a dose of bourbon that helps to prevent them from being too sweet, as can happen with pecan pie.  Cook's Illustrated was gracious enough to share their recipe with me.  And for this, I will be forever thankful.  Since making them, they’ve inspired a few OMGs, some cursing about having to wear spandex, and a vague kidnapping threat.

So consider making the bars as a prelude to Thanksgiving.  Or as pie backup.  Just in case.  Regardless of how the pie turns out, it’s nice knowing that these little numbers are ready for action.  As for the pie?  Put up your dukes, let’s get down to it.

Pecan Bars


1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup (I used brown rice syrup)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp bourbon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
About 1.5 cups whole pecans 


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Liberally butter an 8 inch square pan.  Pulse flour, sugar, chopped pecans, salt, and baking powder in a food processor for about 5 pulses; sprinkle butter on top and pulse about 8 more pulses, until the mixture looks like course cornmeal.  Pour the mixture into your buttered baking pan and press it down evenly with the back of a measuring cup.  Bake until the crust begins to brown and you start to smell it, about 20-24 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the filling combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, bourbon, vanilla and salt in a large bowl to dissolve the sugar; whisk in the egg.  When the crust is done, pour filling over crust; sprinkle with pecans and bake until the pecans start to brown (about 25-30 minutes) rotating the pan half way through.

Let the bars cool completely before cutting and serving.  

Makes about 16 bars

-Cook's recommends laying foil down (and greasing the foil) to help remove the bars when the time comes.  Lazily, I just buttered the pan and hoped for the best.  While the first bar was a little tricky to remove, my bars came out just fine.  And so I'd say the foil is up to you.

-I had the brown rice syrup leftover from an ice cream project I'll blissfully be sharing in a few weeks. I used the Lundberg brand because I'm not a huge fan of corn syrup as a general rule.  Baker's choice.

-In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't have a square pan and so I used a round one and just cut squares out of it.  It was absolutely fine (and this allowed for bar scrapes).

-Many thanks to Cook's Illustrated.  And a happy Thanksgiving to all.


By Chance, Spiced Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping

This banana bread happened by chance.  I was hungry for comfort.  I had gone to the market to make roast chicken and ended up with a bunch of bananas in my bag that did not belong to me.  I believe in things like that.  I took it to mean that I desperately needed banana-related baked goods in my immediate future.

As a general rule, I’m not good at anticipating banana bread.  You have to buy bananas and then get comfortable with them sitting quietly, turning into what look like intensely spotted yellow and brown giraffe necks.  I just can’t get relaxed about that sort of thing.  But I can get relaxed about eating banana bread.  So I let them ripen.  And then got to work.

This bread has since been slathered with warm memories.  I made it for a trip I took with some friends to the Adirondack Mountains.  On Saturday morning, we stood around the camp kitchen island and sliced off bits while we chatted and the coffee pot worked overtime.  As we reduced the bread to a mere nub, my mother flipped enough pumpkin pancakes to feed a forest of lumberjacks.  

We laughed a lot that weekend.  We tasted wine from a local winery called Montezuma, tried on fur hats, talked about hot cinnamon-sugared donuts, and visited quite possibly the most quintessential general store on the East Coast.

We also enjoyed our fair share of banana bread.  And so I’ve begun think of this recipe as living in the company of warm friends and brisk mornings.  It’s spiced with cardamom, ginger, and allspice and the crunchy cinnamon sugar crust just begs to be paired with a good cup of coffee and a companion or two.  It’s a fairly new recipe to me, but it already feels seasoned. It’s just that kind of bread.  The kind that makes you thankful for good friends and overripe bananas. 

Spiced Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping


The bread
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground if possible)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
(Plus butter and additional flour for the loaf pan)

The topping
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2.5 tbsp packed dark brown sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, and salt.  In a large bowl, combine the banana, eggs, oil, honey, and water.  Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and stir until combined.  Pour the batter into the buttered and floured loaf pan.

In a small bowl, mix the topping ingredients; sprinkle the topping on top of the batter.  Bake for about an hour or until a toothpick or cake tester comes about clean.  Cool the bread in its pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes and then remove the bread from the pan.  (Run a knife along the edges of the pan to loosen it; it may take some gentle coaxing and slight side tilting to remove the loaf, but you should be able to do it without losing much of the crumb topping.)  

Yield: 1 loaf

-The cardamom really comes through in this loaf.  It's a nice change of pace from a standard banana bread and goes well with the crunchy cinnamon topping, but feel free to leave it off if you aren't keen on the spice.

-You may be inclined to forgo the topping, but it really makes the bread and moves it one step closer to coffee cake.  And this is a very, very good thing.

-This is a version of a version.  Molly Wizenberg attributes this recipe to Bakesale Betty and Bon Appétit.


Channel Your Inner Fancy: Eat Parker House Rolls

Black wide-framed sunglasses and buttery leather elbow gloves.  Maybe throw in a string of pearls.  Not the images you had in mind for dinner roll consumption?  These are not just any doughy dinner companion.  These are Parker House rolls.  And they just call for fancy.

The (now Omni) Parker House hotel here in Boston was first founded in 1855.  It is the oldest continuously running hotel in the States.  And it’s famous for its past regulars, including literary heavyweights like Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow and presidential chums like Grant, FDR, and JFK.  Jack proposed to Jackie there.  Arguably, their rolls make the hotel just as noteworthy.  

I am well aware that recipes for Parker House rolls are everywhere.  I recently stumbled across a recipe in a family heirloom: The White House Cookbook, published in 1894.  The cookbook has a stunning portrait of the “bride of the White House,” Frances Tolson Cleveland; glassware placement instructions for stately government dinner receptions; and a recipe for Parker House rolls. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the "one half cupful of fresh yeast," nor was I feeling adventurous enough to wing approximating a piece of butter “the size of an egg,” as the recipe suggested. Luckily, Harvard Common Press had graciously sent me the New England Home Cooking cookbook.  And it has a lovely recipe for Parker House rolls.  (Albeit, a recipe with a tad more butter.) Believe me, the extra is worth it.  It's an easy way to add a little luxury to your day.

I also added parsley bits and little flecks of sea salt on top of the rolls, which I borrowed from the John Dory restaurant in New York.  They serve a version of Parker House rolls that accompany a platter of raw shellfish.  Some may scoff that this recipe is not “traditional.”  I’m not certain that even the Parker House recipe published in The White House Cookbook in 1894 is traditional or that Harvey Parker himself would know the difference. 

What I do know is that these rolls are exquisite.  Buttery, luxurious, and absolutely worth making.  They may be a bit old school.  But they’re classic.  And they’ll make any occasion a little more special.  No playboy marriage proposals, presidential dinners, or soft leather gloves necessary.  

Parker House Rolls
Adapted from New England Home Cooking by Brooke Dojny


1/4 ounce regular rise yeast ( 1 package)
1/4 cup hot tap water (about 110 degrees)
1.25 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
11 tbsp unsalted butter, melted (plus additional for brushing rolls)
3-5 cups flour (or more as necessary)
1 egg yolk
2 tsp kosher salt
oil for greasing
2-3 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
a few pinches of fleur de sel (optional)


Combine yeast and hot water in a small bowl; set aside until yeast bubbles (about 10 minutes).  Combine milk, sugar, melted butter, 2 cups of flour, egg yolk, and salt in a large bowl (or the bowl of a kitchen aid with a dough hook attachment).  Add yeast mixture into bowl and stir well.  Add 1 cup more of flour and knead by hand or by dough hook (5 minutes by machine with the dough hook or about 10 minutes by hand).  The dough should get smooth and elastic; continue to add more flour until the dough is soft and workable (not sticky).  Transfer to a bowl greased with oil.  Cover and let rise until it doubles in size (about 1.5 hours).

Lightly oil 1-2 casserole dishes (depending on the size of your dishes)  Punch the dough down and divide into 2 pieces.  Take 1 piece and roll the dough out until it is about 3/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface.  Using a 2-3" biscuit or cookie cutter (or the inside of a small glass or coffee cup, if necessary) cut out rounds of dough.  Take the sides of each round and pinch them together at the bottom, so that each round becomes slightly more circular and ball-like in shape (roll the dough a bit with your hands to smooth it out, as necessary).

Place the dough rounds on your greased casserole dishes no more than 1/2 inch apart.   Repeat with the second half of the dough.  Combine any remaining scraps and repeat again.  Brush the tops of the rolls with additional melted butter and top with parsley and fleur de sel, if desired. Cover loosely and let rise for about an hour.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake rolls until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.  Transfer rolls to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 20 rolls

-These rolls freeze brilliantly after they have been cooked and cooled.  

-They are also so good that they'll be making an appearance at my Thanksgiving.  Move over mashed potatoes.  

-Parker House rolls are often folded in half before baking.  You can certainly do this if you wish.  I like my rolls straight up.

-Side note: one of my favorite things about the hotel is that it is supposedly haunted.

-Random aside: check out my work on the November/December issue of Talking Writing, an online literary magazine.