malted “forever” brownies

We’ve made it to bake number 44 from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person. The latest recipe we tackled from the Bars & Cookies chapter of the book was a super decadent one—the Malted “Forever” Brownies.

Lauren’s Take

Hello hello! Finally we make it to the highly anticipated malted “forever” brownies!

Ever since Claire released the video of her making this recipe, I (as well as many other people in my life) have been excited for this recipe to come up. I’m not a huge chocolate fan, as you already know…but there’s something about a fudge-y, chewy brownie alongside a big glass a milk that I can get behind.

This is a very simple recipe—but takes a bit of time to get everything to cool as Claire instructs. Otherwise, it is a “throw everything into a bowl, mix it up, and bake” kind of recipe. The biggest challenge was finding this elusive malted milk powder. I had never heard of it before. My only experience with the word malt is beside the word liquor, but I knew that couldn’t be it. After many texts with Julia and some Googling, I discovered/was told that Ovaltine is malted milk, and my local grocery store had the specific non-chocolate flavoured, malted milk one! I was so excited when I got home from the store with this massive jar of malted milk…I became less excited when I realized we only need 2 tablespoons for the recipe. If anyone in the Ottawa region loves malted milk and would like a massive jar of Ovaltine, hit me up.

Anyways, in terms of the recipe, you mix cocoa powder with hot water, then add vegetable oil, butter, and semi-sweet chocolate, whisking until smooth. Then the brown and white sugars are added, along with eggs and vanilla. This makes a super smooth and shiny batter. Then the dry ingredients of flour, salt, and least we forget, malted milk powder are whisked in until combined. The rest of the chocolate is now mixed in. I used milk chocolate chips, rather than cutting up a bar.

The mixture is poured into a foil covered 8×8 metal pan and baked in the oven until the mixture is dry but still soft to the touch. After over-baking my cookies slightly last week, I was really nervous about doing the same with the brownies. After 25 minutes, the top felt dry but still looked a tad wet, so I left it for another minute or so and then took them out.

I did as instructed; I let them cool for 1 hour at room temperature in the pan, and then placed the pan in the fridge to cool for another hour. When I removed them the dough still felt quite soft and there were pieces in the centre that seemed really gooey. So I do think that I did under-bake them slightly. Either that, or I didn’t allow the brownies to cool long enough to allow the chocolate chip pieces to re-solidify? Not sure. Either way, after cutting I placed all the brownies back in the fridge overnight to firm up even more.

The next day, the brownies had some together better. They are SO chewy and fudge-y (which may be because they are undercooked but yolo). I added flaky salt on top, which I find really helps to balance the rich chocolate flavour. I don’t know if I taste malted milk per say, but I do think it adds to the creamy quality of the brownies for sure. Pretty solid brownie recipe I gotta say. If I do make them again though, I’d bake for longer. 4 stars!

Julia’s Take

I don’t think you’d find many people out there who say they don’t enjoy a good brownie. Although they aren’t in my regular rotation of baked goods, sometimes nothing hits better than a super chocolatey, decadent brownie. Claire calls these “forever” brownies because she claims they are the only brownie you’ll ever want to eat ever again. With this kind of hype, you can bet I was excited to give them a try.

Although Claire offers a few variations in the book (mint, nuts, whole grain), the original recipe is “malted” because it calls for the addition of malted milk powder. Apparently this is not as common or easy to find in Canada as it is in the US, and after searching high and low for this ingredient (grocery stores: nothing; bulk food stores: nothing; online: unavailable or ridiculously expensive), I came up empty handed. I’d heard from some fellow dessert people that Ovaltine can work as a decent substitute since there is malt in the ingredients; the recipe only called for 2 tablespoons’ worth so I figured for just that, Ovaltine should work just fine.

The batter comes together easily and quickly—such a nice turn of events with this chapter after a laborious summer making pies and tarts. The ingredients are what you’d expect—cocoa powder, but bloomed first with boiling water (apparently this makes the chocolate flavour really come through), butter, oil, semisweet chocolate, egg, vanilla, brown and granulated sugar, and then eventually AP flour, the Ovaltine in my case, and a touch of salt. Once the batter is whisked together, Claire calls for some roughly chopped pieces of milk chocolate to be folded in. I decided to use Maltesers instead of regular milk chocolate to ramp up the malt flavour.

The batter is poured in to an 8×8 baking dish lined with foil and the brownies bake for just under 30 minutes. Besides the addition of malt, the other distinguishing factor in Claire’s recipe is the rest time—1 hour in the pan and another hour in the fridge. She says this helps create a chewier texture.

These brownies were SO good and absolutely lived up to the hype. I definitely veer more towards a chewier vs. cakier brownie, so these were right up my ally. They are fudgy without being overwhelmingly sweet, and the Maltesers were absolutely the right call—you get that extra little hit of chocolate in every bite with a hit of that special malt flavour. I can see why you’d never want to have another brownie ever again. 5 stars for me again this week!

Next week, we’ll be baking up the Pistachio Pinwheels. See you then!

cinnamon sugar palmiers

It’s bake number 43 this week! The Bars & Cookies chapter of Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person got off to a bit of a shaky start, but boy oh boy has it stepped up over the last few weeks. This week, we made Cinnamon Sugar Palmiers!

Lauren’s Take

Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone! Besides continuing to be thankful for my family, friendships, and the work I get to do every day, I have added something else to the list this year. This year, I am extremely thankful for rough puff pastry. I mean, the flakes, the butter, the way it is crunchy yet also melts in your mouth?! I don’t know about you, but I feel real lucky that rough puff has come into my life.

The bake for this week was the Cinnamon Sugar Palmiers. I had never made or tried palmiers before, but I was excited when I saw we’d be using rough puff pastry! I had a 1/2 recipe left from the summer when we made the Peach Melba Tart. My pastry had turned out so well that time, that I couldn’t wait to see it in action again!

Since I already had the pastry done from before, this was a super fast bake to organize. I left my pastry at room temperature to thaw out, and then placed it into the fridge until I was ready to bake. Then I made the cinnamon sugar. The recipe calls for Demerara sugar, but I only had dark brown sugar so I used that. You combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt to make the sugar mixture. Easy.

The rough puff is rolled out into a 12×10 inch rectangle. I placed some of the sugar underneath the pastry and then brushed egg wash all along the top of the dough. I then sprinkled and pressed about half of the sugar on top of the pastry, pushing it down with my rolling pin. I then rolled up the dough to make the palmiers.

I started by marking the middle of the dough and rolling each section tightly towards the centre, getting two identical (or at least decently identical…) rolls of dough. I then put the dough on its side and firmly pressed the two rolls together, brushed the outside the egg wash, sprinkled more sugar on the outside, wrapped the log in parchment paper, and placed it in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Once the dough felt firm but not frozen, I took it out of the freezer, cut off the edges of the log, and cut the rest into 16 equal pieces. The pieces of dough looked so beautiful with the swirled design and the dark cinnamon sugar! I laid each cookie onto the baking sheet, giving each one some room to grow, and baked!

I began to smell the cookies after about 15 minutes of baking. When I checked in the oven, there was definitely a lot of growth and caramelization of the sugar, but the dough didn’t quite look golden brown, as is indicated in the book, so I decided to leave them. I ended up baking for 25 minutes because I wasn’t getting the golden brown colour, which I think was too long. I didn’t burn the cookies, but it did seem that the sugar was over-caramelized. So, trust your nose!

I did this bake while watching Claire’s video on rough puff pastry where she makes these cookies. There were definitely some noticeable differences. Claire uses a different type of sugar, doesn’t do an egg wash, doesn’t freeze the dough before cutting, cooks them for a different amount of time…before these differences in videos versus the recipe used to stress me out and I would wonder what the right decision would be. Now, as I have become more confident in baking and trusting my instincts, I just take whatever advice I decide feels right in the moment. And I think that’s why Claire doesn’t sweat not following the recipe exactly either, because she sure does know her stuff.

I was ECSTATIC when I took these cookies out of the oven. First off, the dough puffed beautifully and the layers were unreal. Everyone I showed this cookie to, I kept incessantly pointing out how many layers there were because I was so proud. The cookie just looks so beautiful, it’s hard not to be impressed. In terms of taste, the dough was perfect—extremely flaky and buttery and baked well. The cookie tastes like the very center of a cinnamon bun, which in my opinion is the best part, so you can guess how I feel about the cookie. As I mentioned, my sugar tasted a bit over-caramelized in places, but overall this cookie was a hit for me. 5 stars!

Julia’s Take

Hi everyone and Happy Thanksgiving! I’m always thankful for so many things, and this year I can add this little baking community to the list. These sweet little cinnamon-y babies were the perfect fall flavour and an excellent bake for the holiday weekend.

I think we all know by now how I feel about Claire’s Rough Puff. Taking homemade puff pastry out of the oven and see all of those incredible little layers gives you a level of pride I have felt from few other things in my life. It truly never gets old!

Since I still had Rough Puff in the freezer from when I made the Peach Melba Tart a couple of months back, this was an extremely quick and easy bake. I took my pastry out of the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature for a couple of hours, then threw it into the fridge for the rest of the day. Once I was ready to bake, the pastry is rolled out into a rectangle, brushed with egg wash, and a mixture of demerara sugar (Claire’s all-time fave), cinnamon, and a pinch of salt gets sprinkled over the whole thing.

To create that signature palmier spiral, you need to roll the dough in towards the center from each side. The full log is brushed with egg wash and coated with the rest of the cinnamon sugar, making sure you are pressing the spirals together so keep things nice and tight. This is a simple enough technique, but for some reason I was a bit of a hot mess doing this. My pastry was starting to become VERY warm and soft, and the cinnamon sugar kept sticking to my hands. I was really worried by spirals were too loose but tried my best to get the mushy disaster of a “log” rolled in to the parchment paper and put it in the freezer to firm up as per Claire’s instructions, crossing my fingers that it would hold together well enough to bake.

I wasn’t thrilled with the shape of my “log” even after 25 minutes in the freezer, but it was firm enough to cut so I just went with it. Luckily, as I started to slice the roll into cookies, you could see the little spiral shape. I tried my best to re-spiral the cookies that had some slightly undone and pressed everything together as I went along. I love a recipe that’s forgiving enough to tweak and salvage as you go.

The cookies were spread out on a cookie sheet and baked for about 25 minutes. There are few things more comforting than the smell of cinnamon, especially on a cold, rainy, fall day. Even though the palmier spirals weren’t quite as tight as I was hoping for, my pastry puffed up beautifully and I was thrilled to see those beautiful little layers. One of the best things about the palmiers is how the brown sugar mixture caramelizes along the bottom while they bake.

The whole thing is just a dream combo of textures—sugary, crispy, flaky, buttery deliciousness! Such a simple, wonderful way to use leftover pastry. It’s another 5-star bake for me.

Coming up next week: Malted Forever Brownies! Wishing all of our Canadian friends a very Happy Thanksgiving!

chocolate chip cookies

Good morning everyone and welcome back! This week, we’re continuing on with the Bars & Cookies chapter and bringing you our 42nd bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert PersonChocolate Chip Cookies. A true classic, and a recipe we’ve been looking forward to trying since we got the book!

Lauren’s Take

A 5-star bake! Check back for updates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia’s Take

When I was in university, one of my roommates’ moms made the BEST chocolate chip cookies in the entire world. Every time she would go visit home for the weekend, she’d come back with a margarine tub full of them and they would usually disappear within 24 hours. No CCC recipe has ever come close for me; I requested a copy years later, have made them myself, and they’ll always be super special and comforting to me.

That said, I was excited to try Claire’s version. I have heard nothing but rave reviews of this chocolate chip cookie recipe for months now, and even before baking you can understand why: brown butter, big chunks of TWO different kinds of chocolate (milk and dark), a long chilling time to get that perfect chewy texture. It’s not hard to see how these cookies are an easy slam dunk, and I was definitely not disappointed.

I made these cookies over the course of two days. Ultimately, it’s a really simple recipe and doesn’t take long to prepare or bake, but I knew the dough was going to have to chill in the fridge for a good stretch of time and wanted to break things up for myself.

Step one was browning the butter—something that is quickly becoming one of my new favourite activities (something only someone who is baking through an entire cookbook right now would ever say…). There’s just something about that nutty aroma you get as the butter sizzles away and the milk solids start to foam and float away that is so comforting and satisfying. One half the butter is browned, it is poured into a bowl with the other half of the butter, which has been sliced into thin pieces.

The rest of the batter comes together with all the usual suspects: whisk a combination of brown and granulated sugar into the cooled butter, add a couple of eggs and some vanilla extra, and then add in your dry ingredients (AP flour, baking soda, and some salt). Once the batter is combined, the chocolate is folded in. Claire’s recipe calls for chocolate discs vs. chocolate chips (because why use chips or even standard chunks when you can be super extra and bougey and use discs? Classic Claire); the other signatures here are that half the discs are roughly chopped and the other half are left whole, and you use a combination of milk and semi-sweet or dark chocolate. This combination of textures and flavours is stellar—chocolate runs through the entire cookie without being overwhelmingly sweet.

After the batter comes together, the cookies are scooped out onto a cookie sheet—a whole 2-ounce or quarter-cup sized scoop per cookie. Monstrous! But I guess if you’re going to have a cookie, HAVE A COOKIE. I let my balls of cookie dough sit in the fridge wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for the recommended minimum 12 hours. The dough tasted unreal, so I was pretty pumped about baking the next day.

The next morning, I was ready to go. The cookies are spread out further onto a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes. They spread out quite a bit while baking, and the baking soda gives you those signature wrinkled edges.

The results were just as delicious as I expected them to be! These cookies are the dream combination of crispy edges and chewy centre. The depth of flavour you get from the brown butter and the two types of chocolate and the combo of chocolate textures is just genius. I shared these cookies with some friends, and everyone was messaging me the rest of the week asking if I still had any left. A huge hit, a new favourite that I’ll be making again and again, and absolutely a 5-star bake for me!

Next week, we’ll be busting out the Rough Puff again to make Cinnamon Sugar Palmiers! See you then.

brown butter and sage sablés

Happy Sunday! We’re back with our 41st bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person as we continue to make our way through the Bars & Cookies chapter. This week, we made Brown Butter and Sage Sablés!

Lauren’s Take

Happy fall everyone! This week we’re coming at you with another cookie recipe, and I gotta say, this one did not disappoint.

After not enjoying last week’s bake, I was nervous to once again combine savoury flavours in a sweet cookie. I also had never worked with sage before and was interested to see how the flavour would play out. But once I read “brown butter” in the title, I knew that this was probably going to be delicious! I mean, when has brown butter ever failed you in your life?

The cookies this week are called “sablés” which is a French shortbread-like cookie. Sablé means “sandy,” so the idea is to have a cookie with less sugar and more butter, in order to make something less sweet that melts in your mouth.

In general, making shortbread is super simple, but for this recipe, there were a few things that added some complexity. First, you have to make the sage brown butter, which requires a lot of patience and instinct. You heat the butter with the sage leaves and steams over low heat, until the butter foams and the leaves crisp up; this took about 10 minutes for me. You then remove the sage (saving it on a plate for later) and pour the butter into a bowl to chill COMPLETELY until it starts to firm up once again. This took a lot longer than I thought it was going to. In total, to get the butter back to a firmer, but not hard, consistency, I left it for about 35-40 minutes. Claire warns not to rush this process or to let the butter become too firm, as it will affect the milk solids in the butter.

Once the butter is ready, you cream it with sugar and lemon zest (classic Claire move), using the stand mixer. Once pale, you add egg yolks and vanilla and then add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt). Once the dough comes together in the mixer, you separate it into two equal portions and create two logs of dough. The dough isn’t dry, per say, but it does have a crumbly texture to it. I used Claire’s technique to form the logs, which involved putting the dough on parchment paper and using a bench scraper to force it into shape. The two logs are wrapped in parchment paper and then plastic wrap and left to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (mine stayed in for closer to 4).

While my dough was chilling, I made the sage sugar for the outside of the cookie. You take half of the reserved, crispy sage leaves and crumble them into brown sugar. This mixture will coat the outside of the cookies.

Once the dough is ready, you roll the logs in the sugar, and cut each log into about 18 equal discs. Full disclosure, I found the sugar didn’t stick very well when I rolled it, so I patted it on throughout. And my logs weren’t the most round shape, so I had some funky looking discs, but it all worked out. When cutting, the dough was definitely easy to slice, but did keep its shape!

The discs are placed on a baking sheet and baked for 20-25 minutes (mine took 22), until the outer edge starts to become golden brown. You let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets before removing.

These cookies are SO well balanced. The lemon is not overpowering but adds a perfect kick to the sweetness of the sugar. And the brown butter and sage flavours add an amazing depth to the cookie as well.

I love the texture of the sablé and the little crunch the sugar on the outside adds. The sablés are so incredibly light and melt in your mouth, but hold so much flavour! It’s an excellent cookie and I know they’re gonna be a showstopper at Christmas! 5 stars from this baker!

Julia’s Take

Go figure that what’s supposed to be one of the simpler bakes in the book—and something I’ve made a bunch of times before (shortbread cookies)—caused me the most trouble I’ve had so far. This bake took me on a ride!

The process itself has a few fancy additions to Claire-ify it, of course, and some waiting time but otherwise it couldn’t have been simpler. I started off by melting two sticks of butter with the fresh sage until it started to brown (is there anything that smells better than browned butter?!); the sage is removed and set aside and the butter then cools until it’s starting to solidify but isn’t completely solid. I think (but can’t be sure) that this is where I went wrong. My butter was potentially a little TOO solid, which messed with the texture of the dough, but ultimately it remains a bit of a mystery.

Regardless, the cooled butter is mixed with sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest, and eventually the dry ingredients (AP flour, cornstarch, salt) until a dough forms. My dough at this point was absolutely too dry, and I should have trusted my instincts, but I know it can be a fine line with shortbread—you don’t want the dough TOO dry or the cookies won’t form properly, but you also don’t want it too wet or you won’t get that soft, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture that shortbread is known for. Since I had seemingly done nothing wrong in the 3 simple steps it took to make this dough, I decided to just go with it, formed my dough into two logs like Claire instructs in the recipe, wrapped them in parchment and plastic wrap, and let them sit in the fridge for two hours. It was definitely a little tough to get the dry mixture to form into a log, but ultimately it seemed to be holding OK, and I figured some time in the fridge would do the trick.

I was wrong. After waiting two hours, I took my logs out to slice the cookies and ended up with a huge, crumbly disaster all over my kitchen counter. The cookies would just not hold their shape no matter how thick I tried to make the cookies. At this point, it was pretty late and I was out of sage and completely defeated by the fact that I’d just spent months and months constructing the most complex and beautiful pies and tarts but somehow couldn’t master a simple shortbread cookie—so I called it for the day, determined to try again tomorrow.

The next morning, I hit up the grocery store for some more sage and went in for round two. I followed all the same steps, but sent multiple videos to Lauren of my cooled brown butter to get her intel on whether I was letting is solidify too much vs. not enough. Once I felt satisfied with where the congealed butter was it, I moved on to the other steps. After mixing the dough together, I could already tell the difference between this batch and the first; while the dough was still dry-ish, it felt more like a dough and held its shape so much better. I was optimistic!

Fast forward two hours in the fridge, and I was able to cut the logs into cookies with zero trouble. Yay! Each log is coated in a blend of demerara sugar (Claire’s fave) and the crumbled reserved sage that had been fried in the butter. This leaves a ring of sweet, crackly deliciousness around each cookie.

My cookies baked for about 20 minutes and man oh man am I ever glad I decided to try again because these babies were SO GOOD. Sage in a dessert can sound strange because it can be such a prominent savoury flavour, but it just works sooooo well in this recipe. The depth of flavour from the herb plus the brown butter and the little hit of lemon zest is amazing, and the texture is just perfect. A bit of a rollercoaster, but totally worth the ride. 5 stars from me!

Next week, we’re taking on an absolute classic: Chocolate Chip Cookies!

salted halvah blondies

We’ve reached out 40th bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person—can you believe it?! We’re getting closer and closer to the halfway point. Wow! This latest recipe from the Bars and Cookies chapter was for Salted Halvah Blondies, which used some unique ingredients and had us a bit torn on the results.

Lauren’s Take

I can’t lie friends, I’m really enjoying these one page bakes. You look at the ingredient list in the morning, pick up a few things, and are able to bake within an hour without any extreme form of pre-planning whatsoever…I mean?! As a very low maintenance person, I’ve been a big fan of cookies so far.

What I will say, regrettably, is I was not a fan of this bake at all. I already was going into it a little skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I love tahini and mid-eastern flavours, but on a dessert? I was a bit thrown to start.

What was cool about this bake was being exposed to some new flavours and ingredients, specifically Halva. Halva is a Turkish candy type thing! Quite crumbly and sweet and comes in a bunch of cool flavours! I went to the Mid-East Food Centre in Ottawa (such a clutch grocery store), and found everything I needed for this bake! I decided to get pistachio flavoured halvah because yolo.

 

The bake itself comes together very easily: mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet, and then combine. The wet ingredients portion of the recipe is a base of melted white chocolate, tahini, brown sugar, and eggs, with the halvah and dry ingredients gently folded in. The mixture becomes a super sticky and kind of firm (?) batter, that is spread into the pan, topped with sesame seeds and flaky salt and then baked.

The recipe warned not to overtake the blondies as to not dry them out, so I baked for 21 minutes. My edges were golden brown and the centre still wobbled like I was instructed. I let it cool, removed from the pan, and cut them into bars and the inside did not look cooked. It still looked kind of gummy like the batter was, but the rest was a golden brown colour? That was where my confusion started. Then I took a bite and my mouth was confused. I felt like I was chewing hummus but then I would get a hit of sweetness.

I love the idea of the flavours and the attempt at the combination, but this girl was not a fan and neither were a few taste testers. But hey, one dessert being not great out of the 40 we’ve made ain’t bad. I give it 1 star unfortunately.

Julia’s Take

I have such mixed emotions over this bake, and I’m still trying to sort out exactly how I feel about this recipe. First off, I should say that I’m not the biggest blondie fan. While I do like vanilla-flavoured anything, as well as brown sugar, I tend to find them a little overwhelmingly sweet most of the time. I was optimistic that the addition of sesame in various forms, which tends to be a savoury ingredient, would help mellow this out—and I’m assuming that was part of Claire’s thought process when she was developing this recipe (could be completely wrong about that one, but sounds legit).

As much as I miss the challenges and amazing results from the Pies and Tarts chapter, it has already been SUCH a nice break to be baking one-page bar and cookie recipes. I’ve gotten in to the habit of really coordinating my time/schedule around a Dessert Person bake, knowing it will take at least a full day to prepare my various components, and so I’ve found myself putting off the last couple of bakes wondering when I’ll have time to get to them. Then, I finally open the book and start getting ready, and within half an hour I’m all baked up and good to go. What?! How can it be? I’m convinced I’ve done something wrong because it feels too easy, and then I remember we’re in brand new territory now. I’ll take it!

This one was super simple. The dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) are mixed together in a bowl. The wet ingredients (white chocolate, butter, tahini) are melted down and combined over a double boiler, and then the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla are whisked in. Then you gently fold in the dry ingredients and the signature ingredient for this bake—some crumbled halvah. I’d never heard of halvah before coming to this recipe; I learned it’s a Middle Eastern confection that is often sesame based but comes in a variety of different flavours. It sort of looks like firm tofu and crumbles up in a similar way. I wasn’t able to find any in the stores in North Bay, but tracked some down online.

The batter felt more like a dough to me in many ways—it was thick and sort of really held together as you folded it, rather than moving loosely like a liquid would. I love the beautiful, rich golden brown colour it became as I combined all of the ingredients and there was no mistaking the smell of the sesame. Once the batter was spread evenly into the pan, the whole thing is sprinkled with sesame seeds and some flaky sea salt, and then into the oven it goes. The recipe says to bake for 20-25 minutes; I went with the full 25 and they were fully baked through but not dry.

Ultimately, I’m just not sure how I felt about the taste. I did like it—the balance of sweet and savoury was what I was hoping would be achieved with this flavour combination. I didn’t find it veered too much in one direction vs. the other. I really love sesame, so that appealed to me, and the little flecks of salt you get once in a while were perfect. But I just didn’t find myself dying to grab another one. I don’t think I could eat more than one at once, and I think that’s just because the flavour profile was so distinct. I definitely did enjoy the taste and texture though, so I would give this bake 3 stars overall!

Coming up next week: Brown Butter and Sage Sables!  

marcona almond cookies

It’s Bars and Cookies time! A brand new chapter of Claire’s Saffitz’s Dessert Person, and we’re kicking it all off with our 39th bake from the book, the Marcona Almond Cookies.

Lauren’s Take

Hello! With the feeling of fall and a new season in the air, so comes pending excitement of the holiday season and Christmas baking!

The very well-timed and completely unintentional benefits of baking this book in order is that we have started the “Cookies and Bars” chapter during the fall which means lots of already prepped Christmas baking! (I’ve already started to set aside some room in my freezer). My plan is to save about 6-8 cookies from each recipe for the holidays and have the most diverse and impressive spread my family has ever seen (until they go to Julia’s house which will have the same spread).

The chapter starts off with a simple, quick and familiar recipe—Almond Cookies! For the life of me, I could not find the Marcona almonds Claire asks for in the book, so I just chose to use regular almonds instead. These almond cookies, or at least a version of them, are a staple at any Italian holiday, ceremony or large gathering, so it was fun to make something I have such fond memories of.

 

It was so refreshing going from multi-step, multi-page, multi-freakout bakes, to a one-pager where you just mix everything and then bake. You simply put almonds, almond paste (which I made myself again), salt, sugar, vanilla, and eggs in the food processor and combine together. You then put the sticky mixture into a piping bag, and pipe out 24 1.5 inch diameter cookies on a baking sheet. The cookies are brushed over with egg yolk, and an almond is then placed in the centre of each. Then pop ‘em in the oven for 10-12 minutes (mine took 11 to be exact) and there ya have it!



These cookies are chewy and have a great almond flavour if that’s your thing. Simple, fast and delicious, but nothing over the top amazing about them. I give them a 3! (And yes, 6-8 of them are happily sitting in my freezer awaiting the holiday season).

Julia’s Take

 

After a pretty technical and challenging chapter working through Pies and Tarts and learning about so many different types of dough, pastry, mousses, creams, caramels, crumbles, and more, it feels nice to be moving on to this new chapter which, I’m sure will have its learning moments as well, but is sure to be a bit more straightforward and less time-consuming than the last few months have been!

We definitely got off on a very easy foot with the Marcona Almond Cookies. The whole process took maybe 40 minutes max, and that’s being generous. It’s also taking into account the fact that I made the almond paste myself, like I did for the Quince Tart a few weeks ago. If I hadn’t had to do that, these cookies could have probably been fully prepared and baked in 25 minutes or less.

 

Since the process was so simple, there isn’t a whole lot to say! Everything comes together in the food processor; I made the almond paste first—which is just a combination of almond flour, powdered sugar, salt, egg white, and almond extract—and since almond paste was just going right into the cookie dough, I didn’t even have to bother with cleaning the equipment before moving on to the next step. Less dishes is always a big win for me!

The dough is almost like more of a thick batter in my opinion, and is a combination of blitzed up almonds (the recipe clearly calls for the Marcona variety, which are supposed to be a bit richer and fattier, but I couldn’t find any so I went with regular blanched almonds to at least have a similar look), the almond paste, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. It blends up smoothly in the food processor within a couple of minutes, and then you can form your cookies. Claire says you can use a pastry bag to pipe them, or just use a regular scoop; again, I’m all about minimizing the clean up, and pastry bags can be such a pain, so since I was feeling particularly lazy when making these cookies, I just used a tablespoon and scooped out my cookies into relatively uniform little mounds.

Each cookie gets a bit of an egg wash on top, and then an almond is pressed into the centre before they bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Could literally not be easier. Part of me felt like I was cheating out of a bake and couldn’t possibly have done all I needed to because I’ve become so accustomed to long wait times, multiple techniques and components, and frantically checking the oven to see if something is going according to plan.

The cookies weren’t anything life-changing, and I didn’t expect them to be, but they were still a delicious little treat. They’re very similar to an Italian almond cookie called Amaretti which we grew up having in our family; they’re a staple at weddings, and our mom will often make them at Christmas or for other special occasions as well. They have a great chewy texture just like Claire’s cookies, and the almond flavour really comes through. Overall, I’d give this bake 3 stars and am excited to get going on this new chapter of the book!

Coming up next week: Salted Halvah Blondies!

peach melba tart

We’re coming to you this week with our 37th and 38th bakes from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person: another Foundational Recipe checked off, the Vanilla Pastry Cream, which is used to create the grand finale of the Pies and Tarts chapter, the long-awaited Peach Melba Tart!

 

Lauren’s Take

 

Julia’s Take

When I tell you I’d been looking forward to making this tart since I got the book, I am not exaggerating! First off, the flavours sounded immediately appealing (peaches and raspberries are two of my very favourites!) and the photo just looked so gorgeous in the book, it popped off the page. Once we started this little baking project and began following along with other Dessert People working their way through the book, I heard nothing but rave reviews of this recipe. FINALLY, it was our turn to try the tart that everyone seemed to love so much.

The base of the tart is Claire’s Rough Puff, which we’d made a couple of times already—for the Apple Tart and for the Tarte Tatin. For something that seemed super intimidating when we first came up to it, I couldn’t love it more now and could probably make it without really using the book. While I was really happy with my results previous times, for whatever reason (type of butter? Temperature? Just general improvement in skill level?!) the pastry turned out sooooo much better this time. I was working on this tart during a super busy almost-time-for-start-of-the-semester, meeting-filled work week, and while in preparation mode for a hectic weekend with out of town visitors and our other sister’s bridal shower; thank goodness for long pastry rest times, because I was able to prep, refrigerate, and bake the pastry in between meetings and errand running. The flaky layers were just next level. I don’t think anything will ever be as thrilling as pulling homemade puff pastry out of the oven!

The next component of the tart was the Vanilla Pastry Cream, which came together really quickly stovetop with eggs, sugar, vanilla, and eventually some butter which is whisked through at the very end once your custard comes off the heat. I used Vanilla Bean Paste, which was a slightly less expensive option that still gave me those pretty little black flecks of vanilla scattered throughout. Sometimes aesthetics matter, you know?

Third component: the poached peaches! I’d picked up some fresh, in-season Niagara peaches from the grocery store the day before so the timing of making this tart couldn’t have been better here in Ontario. The poaching liquid is mostly white wine and sugar, with some vanilla and lemon juice/rind for additional flavouring. As the peaches slowly simmer away, the liquid turns into this beautiful pink colour and the smell is just amazing. Definitely hang on to that poaching liquid when you’re done—it’s like liquid gold! The book says you should be able to easily peel your peaches once they’re poached and have fully cooled; I don’t know if it’s because I’d poached mine the night before and put them in the fridge overnight while the poaching liquid was still kind of warm, or if it’s because my peaches weren’t as ripe as they could have been (remember, I HATE mushy fruit), but they were not that easy to peel. Ultimately, it didn’t affect the texture and they sort of looked pretty with the peels still on, so I left them as-is.

Some of the poaching liquid is reserved and mashed up with fresh raspberries to create a sauce and with that, you are all ready to assemble! What was nice about this tart was, once your pastry is baked and cooled, it doesn’t require any more oven time. The pastry cream is spread in a thick, even layer over the puff pastry; the peaches are placed in rows on top of the cream, and then the whole thing is drizzled in the raspberry sauce. Wow, is the finished product ever impressive; there are few things I’ve made in my life that have made me as proud as this one did.

I cannot say enough good things about this tart. How can you not absolutely love this?! The flaky puff pastry was perfect; the pastry cream had the most amazing vanilla flavour and was silky smooth; the peaches not only looked gorgeous but were so soft and delicious, not only from their own peachy ripeness but from the subtle flavourings of the poaching liquid; and then the little bursts of raspberry add an amazing colour and additional pop of tartness and freshness. SO SO SO SO SO GOOD! A 5-star bake without a doubt and the most epic finish to what’s been such a fun, challenging, and delicious chapter of the book!

Next week, we’re moving on to a brand new chapter and will be kicking off Bars and Cookies with Claire’s Marcona Almond Cookies. See you then!

apple and concord grape crumble pie

Happy Sunday everyone! Another week and another recipe from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person in the books. This week was bake number 36 and our second last one from the Pies and Tarts chapter. We bring you Claire’s Apple and Concord Grape Crumble Pie.

Lauren’s Take

Hi again friends! Can you believe we’ve hit over 2000 followers on our Instagram this week?! Just two simple girls and a cookbook—who knew! Very happy to have everyone here! This week we went back a tad to return to one we had skipped previously—Apple and Concord Grape Crumble Pie! An interesting concept for a pie if you ask me… many components and flavours that I wouldn’t normally consider to put together.

The main challenge this time was finding Concord grapes. Fortunately, it seemed that almost every other lawn in Ottawa had a vine filled with grapes; unfortunately, stealing is illegal. Julia was visiting Ottawa last weekend and we went to a local market that had baskets and baskets of beautiful Concord grapes! My grandma used to have some in her garden and I hadn’t tasted them since I was a kid, so the flavour brought back lots of happy memories.

The actual assembly of this pie was not too complicated but a tad time consuming to prep the fruit as outlined in the book. You need to make and parbake the all-butter pie crust and the crumble. I used the buckwheat variation as recommended in the book (tip for any Canadian bakers, Bulk Barn is your stop for all your buckwheat needs). My pie was still flaky and delicious by man oh man did it sink significantly. The only reason I can find for this was the extreme humidity I was living in all week. Luckily this pie had the crumble topping, so it didn’t matter too much that the sides of my pie crust were virtually nonexistent.

Once your crust is parbaked, you create the filling. The first aspect of the filling is the thin apple slices mixed with cinnamon, lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Make sure all the apples are coated evenly and then let this mixture sit in order to let the apples absorb the flavours.

Then you make the Concord grape mixture. For this part, you have to peel each Concord grape, saving the peeled skins for later. I thought this was going to be more time-consuming then it was—and don’t get me wrong, it was still totally tedious, but didn’t take as long as I thought. And I know you may want to skip this part, but you really shouldn’t if you want to get a good amount of Concord grape flavour.

You put all of the grape flesh into a sauce pan and simmer, breaking down the grapes. You then strain this mixture into a bowl with your reserved skins and sugar. You also add any juice that has collected in your bowl with the apple slices. Then this whole mixture goes back on the stove to reduce down. Once it’s gotten thicker and more syrupy, you remove from heat and combine 3 tablespoons of the mixture with cornstarch in a separate bowl. This makes this beautifully coloured and extremely thick slurry, which you add back into the saucepan with everything else to thicken your grape mixture even further.

This completed grape mixture gets poured over the apples and everything is mixed together to make your filling. Then it’s easy: filling goes into the pie crust, crumble goes on top of the filling, and the pie goes into the oven. Really make sure to pack down your crumble topping so it becomes more of a layer of the pie rather than just a sparse crumble on top.

 

 

The pie bakes first for 30 minutes with foil on top, and then another 40-50 minutes without the foil on to brown the crumble. In total, I needed to bake mine for about an hour and a half to get the mixture bubbling and the crumble browned.

So this a definitely a hefty pie; cutting a slice is no small feat because there are just tons of layers. But the cross section of this pie is beautiful! Such a bright, pink-y colour, and the layer of apple slices is so aesthetically pleasing. And the taste? This pie is a masterclass in texture for sure. You get the crunch of the crumble mixed in with the softness of the filling, and then the crispness of the apple comes in with the flakiness of the pastry. It really hits every note. And the balance of the tartness of grapes with the sweetness of the apples is also delicious. Definitely an excellent pie! 4 stars from this baker!

Julia’s Take

It felt like it had been aaaaages since I’d done a bake from the book when I went to go make this pie. I’d made the Blueberry Slab Pie over two weeks ago, purposely making it at the very start of the week since I was going to be heading out of town to see friends, only for us to then skip a post that weekend due to hectic schedules. Cue two more weeks going by after that before I finally got into the kitchen yesterday morning and brought out my copy of Dessert Person. It was a gloomy Saturday after a long night the night before—the perfect day to make a pie in my opinion!

Lauren and I had skipped this recipe a few weeks back since Concord grapes weren’t in season yet so I was glad to circle back to it now as we approach the end of this second chapter. I can’t remember if we mentioned it in last week’s post, but we were actually together in Ottawa last weekend; knowing that Concord grapes may be a little tricky to find here in North Bay, we figured it was a great opportunity to check out some of the markets and see what we could track down. Luckily, one of the produce stands had a TON of them so we picked up a basket each and I brought them back to North Bay with me to put them to good use. I actually have a bunch leftover after making this recipe, so it may be time to make some jam! Our grandmother grew Concord grapes in her garden, and our mom always made the most delicious jam with them every summer. It’s one of those quintessential childhood flavours that will always stand out in my mind. Like Lauren mentioned, I don’t think I’ve had this variety of grape since the days of hanging out in her backyard, and all those memories definitely came flooding back with the taste.

This was not a difficult recipe, and yet somehow it still took me literally ALL DAY to make this pie. I started off with another round of the Flaky All-Butter Pie Dough, with I think I’ve made more than a handful of times now this summer and can now make without having to look at the book. While the dough sat in the fridge for 2 hours, I started prepping the elements of the filling. I peeled, cored, and sliced my apples which then get mixed with a blend of flavourings (the classic combo of brown sugar, lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, salt) and sit aside to release juices. Then it was on to the grapes. I fully intended to skip the step of peeling each individual grape, because it seemed ludicrous to me, but after talking to Lauren—who had made the pie a few days before me—and hearing that it actually wasn’t that difficult, I decided I better not doubt Claire’s method and went for it. It is definitely time-consuming, but not as painful a process as expected. It sounds like the combination of flesh, juices, and skins is the best way to get the most out of that concord flavour, and separating/re-mixing rather than straining parts of the grape out is the best way to accomplish this. Who am I to question Claire?!

The grape flesh/juice cooks down for a while, is then strained out to remove the seeds, and then combined with the reserved skins and some sugar. This then returns to the stove and cooks down further. I thought it was strange to add skins back in to the fruit, thinking they really wouldn’t break down much and you’d be left with an odd texture, but it really does somehow blend together nicely into a beautiful looking, deep purple, jammy looking mixture. Once it’s reduced and nice and thick, some of the grape mixture is combined with cornstarch to make a very thick slurry-type substance, which is added back to the grapes to thicken the whole thing up even more. This ultimately will help your filling set nicely.

By this point, my pie dough was ready, so I took it out of the fridge, rolled it out, did the recommended fold for extra flakiness, and put it back in the fridge for half an hour to rest. This little window of time was when I prepped my crumble topping (told you there were a lot of steps and that it literally took me all day…). Claire recommends the buckwheat variation of her All-Purpose Crumble Topping recipe so I decided to go with that, figuring that the earthier flavour of the buckwheat flour would be pairing really well with the fruit. The crumble sat in the fridge while I moved on to prepping and parbaking my pie dough.

My crust parbaking and cooling was the perfect opportunity for a quick kitchen clean-up and a shower (I’d been in the kitchen for close to 4 hours by this point…). After I got out of the shower, my crust was ready to be filled. The grape mixture is combined with the reserved apple slices until everything is fully coated; I loved the vibrant pink-ish purple-ish colour that this all turns into thanks to those concord grape skins! It’s easy breezy from here: fill your crust with the filling, top with your crumble (make sure it’s really packed down well), cover with foil and bake (30 minutes with the foil and then another 45 or so without until everything is brown and crisp). The pie then sits at room temperature for 2 hours to cool and set.

I had a friend over for dinner that night (a go-to taste tester throughout this baking project), so she was over when the pie was ready to slice into. It was fun getting to try a bake for the first time with someone else and get those immediate reactions. We both really loved this recipe! The pie dough turned out perfectly flaky—the first few times I made this dough, I added too much water, making the crust too tough to cut through, but I have definitely mastered it now! The colour and layers of the filling were so pretty and the balance of flavours was amazing—who knew apple and grape could taste so good together?! And the earthiness and texture of the crumble on top was perfect. What an amazingly balanced and delicious pie. It’s a 4-star bake for me!

Next week, we wrap up the Pies & Tarts chapter with the long-awaited Peach Melba Tart!

blueberry slab pie

We’re back after taking a week off with our 35th bake from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person. This latest recipe from the Pies and Tarts chapter is the epic Blueberry Slab Pie.

Lauren’s Take

Hello and happy weekend everyone! Despite the intense heat and humidity in the air right now, there is also that quintessential August feeling of the summer being almost over. And with that, the end of fresh fruit and warm days, so it was nice to be able to bake a very summer-y dessert to commemorate that! And what says end of summer like a nice slice of blueberry pie?

This pie is a beast. When you first glance at the recipe, it doesn’t seem to be that big of a task but then there are a few hints that really allude to the monstrosity… namely that it “feeds 24” and the casual “1.6kg of blueberries” listed in the ingredients. I mean, 1.6kg?! Just wild. I was really praying that this bake would turn out because I would have to give a lot away and wanted it to be worth people’s while. Initially, I was a bit nervous because Claire classifies this bake with a difficulty level of 4, but in all honesty, it truly isn’t that difficult. The hardest part is ensuring you have a large enough work space to roll out these monster pieces of dough, but otherwise, it was fairly simple to put together (as long as you can find 1.6kg of blueberries—clearly I’m still not over that).

The first part of the bake is to make two batches of the pie dough. The dough for this recipe is essentially the same as her other pie dough recipe, just a lot more of it and A LOT of butter. You think 1.6kg of blueberries is a lot, well try 6 sticks of butter…which is what this recipe calls for. You combine the flour, sugar, salt, and butter together in a food processor and then slowly add water and mix with a fork/by hand until the dough holds together. This step is repeated twice (because even a large food processor can’t handle this much dough at once!), and then you are left with two large pieces of dough, which are wrapped and chilled in the fridge for at least two hours.

Once the pie dough has chilled, the real fun of rolling begins. No word of a lie, I had my ruler out and was meticulously measuring to make sure I got these pieces of dough to the appropriate size! One piece of dough you roll out to about 18 by 15 inches and cut it into 1.5inch wide strips that are about 15 inches long. I got about 12-13 strips from my dough. Once the strips are cut, you place them back in the fridge to keep chilled. Then you roll out the other piece of dough, which will be for the bottom of the slab pie. This piece is rolled even larger, I believe I did it to about 21 by 16 inches or so. You then carefully place it in your sheet pan, which should be 18 by 13 inches, leaving an inch or so of the dough overhanging.

The oven needs to be pre-heated to 425 degrees, and Claire recommends baking this pie on the lowest rack in the oven. I lined my oven rack with aluminum foil as suggested in the book to prevent any burning from spillage while baking. A tip that Claire gives is to put ANOTHER 18 by 13 pan in the oven while it is pre-heating, and then places your sheet pan with the pie INSIDE the sheet pan in the oven. Now, I do believe this is a great tip, but lord knows it was hard enough for me to find one massive sheet pan, never mind two! So I just baked my pie directly on the oven rack and it worked out fine! No soggy bottoms here friends.

After the pie dough is rolled out, you mix your filling, which was very simple. In a LARGE bowl (and it needs to be large because, remember, you got pounds on pounds of blueberries), you mix your berries with sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and the spices. In this recipe, Claire uses cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. I was intrigued by this blend, since it is very much gives me a pumpkin-pie vibe, but I followed the recipe.

You pour the filling into the sheet pan and even it out all over. Then you brush the overhang of the pie dough with egg wash, and press your chilled strips of pie dough across the filling and into the border. Claire describes placing them on a diagonal in a zig-zag pattern, but you could really do whatever you want, as long as it’s covered. I made sure to place the strips fairly close together but still had spots where you could see the filling pop through. I did end up having two strips left over as well. Once the strips are placed and pressed, you cut off the extra dough and fold the overhang back overtop and press down again. Then the whole pie is brushed with egg wash and covered with Demerara sugar (I was generous here, but not as generous as Julia usually is with Demerara sugar 😉). Then, you bake! One of the hardest parts of this bake was lifting this beast into the oven, so take your time and be careful!

The pie bakes on 425 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes, and then the oven is reduced to 375 degrees for the remainder. I baked the pie for another hour and 35 minutes after turning the oven down to ensure a nice golden crust and bubbly filling. I didn’t end up having any spillage in the oven from the filling which was nice. The crust baked beautifully and the design with the sugar on top made it beautiful to look at.

After letting it chill for an hour, it was time to cut into it and try it! I don’t love warm fruit pie, so initially I wasn’t a huge fan. The filling felt too soft and the spices made it taste like pumpkin pie which confused me. I did really love the pie dough, but overall wasn’t a huge fan. Then, the next day, I was getting praise about this pie from people I had given it to, so I decided to take another stab at it, and I liked it quite a bit more. The filling is more set, the spices don’t seem as overpowering, and overall, it feels well balanced and flavoured. I’m still not 100% sure I agree with the spice combo here…I think maybe just cinnamon and cardamon would have been a better choice, without adding the ginger. I also think you could add more lemon funnily enough, since I find Claire is usually too heavy-handed with the citrus, but I think when you’re making a pie large enough to feed a small village, you can be a bit freer with flavour.

So overall, not my favourite pie, but it does get better with age for sure. Definitely a really nice recipe to have if you need to bake something for a large gathering. And the pie dough is never a disappointment as per usual. 3.5 stars for me!

Julia’s Take

Welcome back everyone! It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks over here as I wrap up my summer holidays. Lots of social time and out-of-town visits means I’ve been spending very little time at home (a welcome change after pandemic lockdown life!) and very little time in my kitchen, so our Blueberry Slab Pie was put on the back-burner. But it feels good to be back in action—although I am definitely not ready to go back to work already.

This recipe was HEFTY and the amount of ingredients it called for was no joke. So many cups of flour. So many pounds of blueberries. The six sticks of butter especially left me shaken. SIX STICKS! I was surprised Claire listed this pie as a difficulty level four because other than the measuring out of ingredients (and the heavy lifting) it was actually a really simple recipe to put together. I had set aside an evening to bake this pie last week since I knew I would be out of town for the majority of the upcoming two weeks, and while I thought I’d budgeted out my time well, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. I started out by making my dough in the morning. The ingredients are exactly the same as the Flaky All-Butter Pie Dough that we all now know and love so well; the only difference was that—since there was so much of it for this recipe—it came together in two batches in the food processer (one batch for the bottom of the pie and one batch for the strips on top), and we skipped the folding step. Once I had my dough mixed up, I let them sit in the fridge for the rest of the day while I met a friend for lunch and did a bunch of running around.

By the time I got home around 4:00, my pie dough was ready and I could get started on the filling and assembly. I had promised my neighbour I’d go over for a quick glass of wine to wish her Happy Birthday. Little did I know I would not actually return home until 11:30. So when a girl gets home late and has had a few glasses of wine but a pie needs baking, she bakes the pie.

 

 

Luckily, there wasn’t too much work involved in finishing things up. My bottom layer of pie dough was rolled out and placed into the 18×13” pan; the filling came together with tons of blueberries (I used fresh ones which are in season in Ontario right now!), sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest, vanilla, and a spice combo of cinnamon, cardamom, and ground ginger. From my understanding, cardamom and ginger are NOT common in blueberry pie, but we all know our girl Claire LOVES her cardamom. Honestly, I’m sure some people are hit and miss on these flavours, but personally I thought it was such a unique and delicious spin and I really loved the smell of everything as it all came together.

The filling then gets poured into the bottom layer of dough. My top layer had been cut into 1” strips (not my neatest or most mathematically correct work, to be honest—see time stamp on when I started this pie and just imagine how alert I probably was…) but once I placed everything on top of the blueberries it looked fine. The slab pie ultimately has a bit of a rustic feel to it anyway, so this worked out in my favour. Note to self: don’t start croquembouche at 11:30pm after a few glasses of wine.

The whole thing probably came together in half an hour, so then the hardest part was really just trying to stay awake while the pie baked for almost two hours. Claire provides a couple of suggestions to help with the baking: first, cover the bottom oven rack with tin foil in case there’s spillage (I did do this, and my oven came out unscathed), and also put a second pan in the oven to preheat, which the pie can then sit in while it bakes to help with the crispiness of the bottom. I didn’t have a second 18×13” pan so I skipped this step and my results were still fantastic! I almost fell asleep several times, but by 1:30am I had a beautiful, bubbly, crispy blueberry pie sprinkled with demerara sugar (my new favourite thing. See: Sour Cherry Pie). My favourite part of this bake was definitely the smell of the spices that filled up the house; it was sort of like summer and fall coming together—kind of appropriate for end of August and almost-back-to-school/work vibes.

I gave away the majority of this pie: big pieces were dropped off to friends the next morning on my way out of town, and I also brought a WHOLE bunch of it to the friends I was staying with down in Southern Ontario. Everyone really loved the flavour. It wasn’t my favourite thing from this chapter; if I’d just had this pie on its own, I may have felt differently, but compared to some of the epic pies and tarts we’ve had over the last few weeks, this one felt just sort of “meh” to me. Similar to many of the loaves and single layer cakes we made, this pie did get a lot better as the temperature came down and it set a little more. Absolutely delicious, but not necessarily life-changing. It’s a 3.5 star bake from me!

Join us next week as we make the second-last recipe from the Pies and Tarts chapter—the much-anticipated Peach Melba Tart!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

quince and almond tart with rosé

Welcome back friends! Reunion week has come and gone and we’re back with another long-distance, side-by-side bake this Sunday. Since we’ve made the Flaky All-Butter Pie Dough so many times already, this latest recipe from the Pies and Tarts chapter allowed us to check off just one new one from Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person. Bake number 34 on our journey was the Quince and Almond Tart with Rosé.

Lauren’s Take

We’re almost done pies and tarts! Which is equally exciting and bittersweet. Pies and tarts has been such an excellent chapter and it has been very comforting being in my baking sweet spot. Nonetheless, change and challenge are good things and I look forward to the different desserts ahead.

But while we’re still in pies and tarts land—this week we made the Quince and Almond Tart! I learned a few things this week from this bake:

  1. I pronounce quince way too fancy and incorrectly so every produce grocer had no idea what I was saying (I have since learned the correct pronunciation).
  2. Almond paste is super expensive to buy and very easy to make yourself, so just do that.
  3. I have become a master at the Claire Saffitz pie dough and I am not ashamed to say it proudly.

The main snag we hit this week was neither of us could find quince. Julia gave me the suggestion of using Asian pears instead so I went with that! Julia suggested adding lychee to get a closer flavour match; I had considered adding some pineapple juice to the recipe to get the quince flavour Claire describes but forgot, so I ended up just doing a rendition of this recipe using Asian pears instead. They worked out super well and I was really pleased with the taste. So don’t fret if you can’t find quince!

This recipe involves four elements that are each slightly time consuming, so I opted to make all the elements on one day, and then assemble the tart and bake the next day. The first is to make either the pie dough or rough puff; I chose to use the pie dough and please see point #3 to see how I feel about that 😉

The next thing I did was make the almond paste, which again, was very easy to do. You simply mix almond flour, powdered sugar, egg white, and almond extract in the food processor until it comes together and chill. Easy and delicious.

Then I made the poaching liquid and poached the pears. This poaching liquid smells amazing and I was very tempted to just ladle some out and drink it like mulled wine. It’s a combo of rosé wine (full bottle cause that’s how we do), sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, and star anise. Once the sugar has dissolved, you remove from the heat and prepare your pears. To do this, you peel the skin away, core them and slice in half…and keep all these discard pieces in a bowl (this will lead to a magical moment, stay tuned). Once your pear halves are ready, you put them in the liquid, topping up with water until the fruit is submerged. Claire recommends putting a piece of parchment paper and a small plate on top of the liquid to keep the fruit under the liquid. I did it because I’m a purest, but I don’t know if it’s the most necessary thing!

My pears poached for about 25 minutes to get to a good level of tenderness. After you remove the pears, you add your reserved pear skins and cores to the fluid and bring to a boil. This was the most magical discovery of the book so far; the natural pectin from the fruit MAKES THE LIQUID INTO A JELLY. I’m sorry…what?! Mind blown. You reduce this mixture until it is thick and bubbles are slow to pop; the book says 20-25 minutes but it took me about 40 minutes to really get there. I think it may have been because I had to add quite a bit of water initially to cover the fruit. You then strain this liquid, discarding the solids. You should get about 2/3 cup of liquid; mine was slightly less and you can totally get away with that. You leave this mixture in the fridge to chill and become a jelly, letting the pectin work its magic!

The next morning, I had all my components and was ready to assemble! This recipe is basically tarte tatin with pears so it was comforting to already know the techniques. In the cast iron, you layer the chilled jelly, thin slices of Asian pears, rolled out almond paste, and your pie dough. And then bake until golden brown!

The flip of the cooked tart was a lot less terrifying this time so worked out super well with very little spillage. Leftover jelly glazes the warm tart after being removed from the oven and then you’re done! The result is a tart with the deepest golden colour and shiny top! It looks so inviting and beautiful.

This tart tastes great—so many layers and textures and flavours. The pie dough was super flaky because I’m a champion. The almond layer is very rich and savoury, and the poached fruit with the jelly has a sharpness and sweetness to it. When the components balance well, it’s a perfect bite. My only qualm is I think I should’ve used less almond paste or done a thinner layer because it did tend to dominate the flavours. But otherwise, it is delicious, not too heavy, and a pretty ideal summer dessert. 4.5 stars for me!

Julia’s Take

Back to individual baking this week! Honestly, if there was a recipe to tag-team with a baking buddy, this would have been a good one because there were so many steps, pauses, techniques. Alas, Lauren is back in Ottawa and I had to ride solo again on this one. I broke the process down over a couple of days which helped, but it still took a long time to bring together this seemingly easy recipe—partially cause of the instructions in the recipe itself and partially my own doing.

There were four basic components to this tart: the Flaky All-Butter Pie Dough, the almond paste, the poached fruit, and the fruit/wine jelly. I made basically all of these the day before, left them in the fridge overnight, and then put the whole tart together the following day. The pie dough was a real highlight for me with this bake; I have loved Claire’s recipe every time I’ve used it so far but I have noticed that, even though it always comes out flaky and delicious, it’s always a bit tough to cut through with a fork. After reading some tips from fellow Dessert People on Instagram (shout-out to Karen if you’re reading this!) and after making the dough with Lauren in person last week, I realized I was probably adding too much water—so I resisted the temptation this time and my pie crust has NEVER turned out better! One of the best parts of this project has been noticing a gradual improvement in my skills, knowledge, and confidence as a baker and this was a top moment.

Once the pie dough was ready and chilling in the fridge, I moved on to the poached pears. Now, you might be thinking: “This is called a quince tart. What is quince and what’s with the pears?” Well, I had never heard of quince in my entire life but apparently it’s a pear/apple hybrid that has some tropical undertones. They are native to Western Asia/Eastern Europe, and remain quite hard which I guess is what makes them appropriate for slow, long cooking processes like poaching. From the description in the book, it sounds like Claire is a big fan but there was no way I was finding this ingredient in my small northern Ontario city, especially in the summer, so I had to get creative.

I decided to sub the quince for Asian pear which, to me, would have that similar apple slash pear vibe and a good enough crispness to maintain its integrity during the poaching and baking process. I also decided to add some lychee juice to the poaching liquid since I’d heard that the tropical hints in the quince flavour were similar to lychee. Never having tried quince, I have no idea if this worked; I’d love to try the true-to-the-recipe version of this tart and compare the flavour to what I got, but I don’t see that happening so I’ll just say I’m brilliant and I nailed it 😉

The poaching liquid is made up of a full bottle of rosé wine (I’d actually bottled some myself this summer so I was able to use that!), sugar, a cinnamon stick, star anise, the rind and juice of a whole lemon, vanilla, and in my case of course, the lychee juice. The pears are peeled and cored, cut in half, and then simmer in the liquid for about 25 minutes until softened. Water is added until the pears are just covered as well. Having read that quince is very tough, I was worried about my pears over-poaching so I veered on the side of slightly firmer; I was able to poke through the flesh easily but they still had structure to them. At this point, you need to turn off the heat and let the pears sit in the liquid for a little while until the liquid cools from hot to warm. After THAT, the pears are removed from the liquid and the pot is brought back up to a boil. That was a common theme with this recipe: heat on, heat off, heat on, heat off. Was it necessary? Probably not. But who am I to argue with Claire.

Speaking of unnecessary steps, the recipe says to place a circle-shaped piece of parchment paper over the pears and place a small plate on top to make sure the fruit remains submerged in the poaching liquid the whole time. Did this actually make a difference? I’m not so sure. It was hard to see how much the liquid was actually simmering and how soft the pears were getting, so I took everything off about halfway through the poaching process and they still seemed submerged enough to me. For anyone reading this who plans to make this recipe, I’d say save yourself the piece of parchment and don’t bother with this.

As you bring the poaching liquid back up to a boil, all of the reserved pear skins and cores are added back in. I really loved this aspect of the recipe! I thought it was so cool that what would be considered the “waste” was actually reused and served an important function. Since the skins of the fruit have natural pectin in them, boiling them in the liquid helps to thicken it and ultimately turn it into a jelly. How amazing is that?? Is it just me that nerds out on this stuff?

This stage is where I ran into some snags, friends. Like the dough and the pears, I decided to finish up the jelly component the night before—but it did not go according to plan. I added the skins, brought everything up to a boil, and let it go for about 25 minutes like the recipe called for. Important warning: DO NOT WALK AWAY. I’d looked at the liquid once or twice and noticed it was turning into a syrup so I went on my merry way and waited for the timer to go off. Eventually, I started to smell something burning. Do not ask me how it went from zero to 100 so quick, but the liquid had reduced WAY too much and the bottom of the pot had completely burnt. There was still syrup though, so I naively thought: this could still work. I strained my syrup, put it in the fridge, and hoped for the best. Later that night, I found a dark brown, sticky, almost completely solid mess—aka not the pretty pink soft jelly you’re supposed to have, so I tossed it and went to bed.

Day two (told you that was an involved bake): I hit up the grocery store first thing to buy more pears and went through the whole poaching/reducing process a second time. I kept an extremely close eye on it, kept the heat slightly lower, and stirred very often. After 45 minutes, I had something that was maple syrup consistency, strained, and left it in the fridge to cool for about an hour. When I went to check on it, it was jelly! Success! And so cool.

The last component I had to worry about was the almond paste. Apparently this is actually different from marzipane, and after looking around it was clear that I would NOT find this in the grocery store and it was shockingly expensive to order online. I remembered reading that another Dessert Person had made her own using a recipe from Wild Wild Whisk; it looked easy and I already had all the ingredients so I just went for it. It only takes about 5 minutes—add almond flour, powdered sugar, salt, an egg white, and some almond extract to a food processer, blend until smooth, and then wrap and store in the fridge until firm and ready to use.

FINALLY, I was ready to assemble. Spread most of fruit/wine jelly into bottom of cast iron skillet lined with neutral oil and parchment—done. Cut poached pears crosswise and create pretty design over top of jelly, slightly overlapping—done. Roll out almond paste into 9-inch circle and carefully place over pear slices—tricky, but done. Roll out pie dough into 10-inch round and place over the other tart components, using a spoon to tuck in the sides just like you would for a Tarte Tatin—done. Cut some slits into the dough to help release steam, and then bake. Similar to some of the other pies and tarts, this one bakes at 425 for the first 20 minutes, and then at 350 for the rest of the bake time. It comes out golden brown with the jelly bubbling up around the edges.

You’d think at this point, the hard part is over—but no. We have another adrenaline-inducing hot skillet over the sink flip a la Tarte Tatin here. A tad stressful but otherwise successful flip and reveal. The remainder of the jelly gets brushed over the fruit and wow is this tart ever pretty!! The pink glossiness of the jelly, the rose design of the pear slices, and the curled up edges of pastry all make for such a unique and appealing finish. I also loved how thin and delicate this tart was—it all looked so elegant.

In terms of flavour, it wasn’t like anything else I’d had. I was SO happy with how my crust turned out—perfectly crisp and cut like a dream. The flavour and texture of the pear was great and, I don’t know if I was just imagining it, but there was definitely a touch of tropical. You don’t get an outright flavour of “wine” but there is something slightly sweet, subtle, and aromatic about the glaze thanks to the rosé and poaching spices, and the layer of almond adds a nuttiness that pairs so well with the fruit. The first bite was surprising, and I liked it more and more as I continued to eat. I’m not sure I’ll be itching to repeat this whole process again any time soon, but it’s a tart I’d happily eat again. 4.5 stars!

Only three recipes left in the Pies and Tarts chapter! Join us next week for the Blueberry Slab Pie.