Ricotta & Wheat Pies [start of a new Easter tradition]

Ricotta & wheat pies are not an Easter tradition in my own family, but I have declared it a new tradition from here on out. They are crusted with a pasta frolla (a kind of shortbread), and then filled with a sweet ricotta filling, either adding chocolate or wheat berries at the end. My grandmother always made Sicilian Easter Rings growing up, and next year I’ll tackle those as a new project.

I made a total of 8 pies for Easter to give away as gifts and bring to the various households (both my boyfriend and I come from split families, so there’s always double to dish out) It was not a small feat considering my sad excuse for a kitchen and erratic stove. They turned out fabulous to my surprise. I used two different ricotta bases, and the version with the wheat was the general favorite. The wheat pies turned out lighter and creamier, whereas the ricotta pies were thicker and denser.

SO, I’ve adapted the recipe so that the base is the same, and you can simply add the wheat or chocolate chips at the end.

This recipe makes two pies. Go ahead and make the dough 1 full day in advance. It softens very, very quickly once you begin handling it. Make the wheat berries in advance too (takes about 1 hour or so).

Pasta Frolla- The Dough

  • 4 sticks of butter, room temp.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup water, room temp.
  • 4 cups flour

1. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

2. Add the zests, the honey, the baking soda and baking powder. Mix for about 1 minute until everything is really incorporated.

3. Add the water, beating at medium speed until you’ve created a liquid batter.

4. Add the flour and mix until you’ve created a nice little ball of dough. Do not over-mix or knead it like you would if you were making pizza dough.

5. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for a full day.

6. Prepare your pie pan with a cooking spray or grease. Set aside 1/4 of the dough for the lattice strips on top. Roll out the bulk of the dough so it can cover the pie tin/ plate (about 13-14″). Gently lift and drop the pie tin/plate so the dough settles, and then trim off the edges.

Tips:

  • Work quickly with the dough, because it begins to soften immediately.
  • Use plastic wrap above and below the dough while rolling it out, so it won’t stick to anything. Pull off half of the plastic wrap when you’re ready to place the dough, and then after you’ve folded it over the pie tin, peel off the remaining wrap.
  • If you’re going to use metal, disposable tins, either bake the pie with three of them stacked up OR place the tin on a pre-heated baking sheet. This will help it cook more evenly.

The Filling

  • 2 pounds ricotta
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of orange blossom water (optional) 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 orange
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 6 extra large eggs
  • 1 pound wheat berries (prepared) or 2 cups mini chocolate chips (both optional, depending on the kind of pie you want)
1. Prepare the wheat berries (if you’re making a wheat pie) by soaking them for 10 minutes in warm water. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the berries (as if you are making rice) and bring to a simmer. Add the drained wheat berries, along with the zest, juice and rind of an orange and some honey, brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook for about an hour, until the berries are still chewy but soft. Stir often so the bottom doesn’t burn and then drain, and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3.  Incorporate the ricotta, the two zests, the sugar and the orange blossom water.
4. Add the eggs one at a time until everything is thoroughly mixed and fluffy.
5. Fold in either the wheat berries OR the chocolate chips OR leave it plain!

6. Pour the mixture into the pie shell until it is about 3/4 full. Top it with a thin layer of pasta frolla or a lattice design. Use an egg wash and brush egg over the pie. Bake until it is golden brown, set but not too hard (it will continue cooking for a while). It took mine about 45 minutes to an hour.
7. Chill it and serve!
Tips:
  • It was a PAIN to find wheat berries. I went to Target (obviously futile), Sprouts/ Henry’s, Albertson’s and finally Mother’s Market, which of course has every random nut and flake you could ever dream up.
  • Be sure the wheat berries are cooked and ready to go before starting the mixture, because the actually filling takes minutes to stir together.
  • Wheat berries are cooked like rice, and make a fabulous breakfast. Swap out oatmeal for wheat berries!
  • If the pie is beginning to brown too much on the crust, cover it with foil.

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Pumpkin Pie Brûlée

This Thanksgiving I made 20 crème brûlées for my mom’s side of the family for our get-together. I normally just use the broiler to melt the sugar, but this time I decided to simplify it, give in and get the torch. I started going a little crazy that week with torching things and this recipe is one of those consequences.

I know it’s January and we should be putting the pie and pumpkin behind us, but I couldn’t help sharing this (very tasty) dessert. I hate to admit, but this was just a recipe on the back of an extra large vat of Libby’s pumpkin pie mix, neatly written out HERE. I won’t bore you with an exact replica of it on this blog. It’s a great recipe and a delicious pie.

BUT, now comes the fun part! Once you make the pie and are ready to serve, take out your brûlée torch, sprinkle your pie with a thick layer of sugar and let your inner pyro out!

Let the pie cool for a bit and then you have a crunchy, sugary crunch! Enjoy!

Healing Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies (& Milk)

So the story goes like this: Dhiren was sick yesterday with the “flu.” (I personally think he had mild alcohol poisoning [read: hangover] from last night’s lemon drop, wheat beer and glass of wine he ordered while out at tapas, but he insisted he had the flu…)

After pampering Dhiren with some Thai soup, liquids, a salad, coconut water and a couple thermometer readings, I decided to try something else: cherry chocolate chip cookies. I know what you’re thinking: “Cookies and illness shouldn’t have anything to do with each other. Sugar and flour are inflammatory, etc.” But when I asked him if some freshly-baked cookies would make him feel better, he lit up like a four year-old and it was too late to turn back.

I made my normal chocolate chip cookie recipe, and just added a cup of reconstituted dried cherries. Cookies and milk  have always been an all-time favorite dessert of mine. While I love tiramisu, crème brûlée and elaborate pastries and cakes, nothing is quite as nostalgic as a freshly baked cookie dunked in a neon plastic Ikea cup full of milk and a twisty straw. Plus, I LOVE summer produce. Plums, cherries and nectarines are some of my favorite fruits and we live right around the corner from two of the best farmer’s markets in Orange County. I eat them all summer long and have them constantly in the fridge and counter. I’m always looking for new ways and uses for seasonal produce (even if it is dried, seasonal produce), particularly if they involve butter.

Well, these were amazing.

Needless to say, Dhiren felt better.

I’m willing to admit that I think his miraculous recovery had more to do with the liters of liquids, coconut water and rest he got, but I think the cookies mended his spirit.

One last dessert (for now…)

I’ve been whipping up way too many desserts lately, and it’s gonna stop. Yesterday I taught the boyfriend how to make brownies. We made a 9×9 round pan of them, and they were shamefully gone by the following morning. They were probably the best brownies I’ve had in years, but no– this honeymoon from health has to come to a stop for a while. I’ve noticed an unwelcome change in circumference and so I think I best lay off the dessert recipes in exchange for the healthy ones. BUT, before we delve into weeks of healthy eating, let’s have one more indulgence: Affogato, otherwise known as the adult version of a root beer float.

Make about 1/4 cup of DARK & BOLD coffee or espresso. I used a cloth tea strainer filled with finely grounded espresso bean and piping hot water, and it worked like a gem. Then pour that over a high-end vanilla ice cream or gelato and top with whipped cream if you have it lying around (or make it yourself if you’re feeling especially snazzy!)

It tastes better if it’s in a Morris cup too… none of this pretentious martini glass BS that you get in Italian restaurants.

Enjoy! Next up: healthy dinner, a special guest entry AND for an off-topic post, how to give yourself a rockin French manicure at home.

crème de la crème brûlée

I decided to make crème brûlée today, despite my better judgment. It’s not that it’s a horrible dessert for you, aside from the crippling cholesterol of 8 egg yolks, 3 cups of heavy cream and a cup of sugar… Back in the day I used to make crème brûlées for staff at my old high school, charging them $50 for a platter. I used to get a lot of raves over my crème brûlée, but not having made it in two years I wondered if I still could produce a decadent batch. Back then I used to use The Joy of Cooking recipe, but since I couldn’t find my good ol’ JOC I used Parisian chef Paule Caillat‘s recipe, sans real vanilla bean because TJ’s didn’t have it. You need 7 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3 1/2 cups heavy cream, 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, brown and white sugar for the sugar coat.

The endeavor was in short, sloppy.  I am a REALLY messy and impatient cook, which is something that must change because it makes the process chaotic and difficult. My small kitchen was filled with a day’s worth of dishes and all the pans and ramekins I needed were dirty. Odd papers, books and groceries cluttered the island, and stains from last-night’s pasta dish still clung to the counters. I should have prepped like real chefs do, but instead I just started separating egg yolks like crazy. I even forgot to cover the separated egg whites and they fell over in the fridge. It was a mess.

Crème brûlée is really simple though it has a lot of steps. People get intimated because it has three accents and is often listed in overpriced restaurants. In short:

1. Separate egg yolks from egg whites and save egg whites for a healthy scramble the next day.
2. Beat the yolks with sugar.
3. Heat up the cream with vanilla in a large pot until hot, but don’t let it boil. Pour the cream carefully and gradually into the egg mixture and whisk it together.
4. Let it sit for 15 minutes to an hour t let the flavors fuse together.
5. Put into a water bath of hot water.
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 350. It should be firm around the edges, but jiggly in the middle.
7. Let stand at room temp. for 15 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours until cold and firm (this dish is best cold- not lukewarm, in my opinion)
8. When ready to serve, sprinkle with a combo. of brown sugar and granulated sugar and then place in the broiler for one or two minutes, close to the heat or flame. Alternatively, you can torch it with one of these.
9. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes to cool off.

I am about to undo three miles of walking and a group yoga session from this morning, but it’s totally worth it.


A cookie is worth a thousand… calories?

I’ve finally mastered the art of the chocolate chip cookie after countless unreliable, burnt batches these past few months. I always thought that a perfectly crafted cookie was the result of finely measured ingredients and… luck. I never knew how to get consistently delicious, evenly-baked cookies. Well I’ve learned the secret, and it only cost $21 at Target: an AirBake sheet and an oven thermometer.

My Dad was the first one to suggest that I buy an oven thermometer. I guess I’m naive; when the oven said it was cooking at 350, I assumed it was actually cooking at 350. So I tested the oven at 350, and I came back and it was actually at 450! I was probably a little too excited about the discovery. (We now realize that we’ve been scorching our pizzas at a whopping 575 degrees each time… no wonder the fire alarm used to go off every time we made pizza…)

The AirBake sheet is AMAZING. The cookies are evenly baked and not burnt on the bottom. Everything I could ever hope for.

Here’s what I did to make an incredible cookie, tested three times for quality control:

The recipe is stolen from here.

1 cup butter (room temp.)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar packed down
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla (I use real vanilla- none of this fake imitation stuff)
2 1/2 cups flour (modified from 3 cups)
1 tsp baking soda mixed in 2 tsp of hot water
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups of chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (USE AN OVEN THERMOMETER!)

2. Cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Add the water with the baking soda along with the salt. Stir in flour (do not over-mix) and fold in the chocolate chips, and nuts. Drop a tablespoon amount on the pan (I greased the AirBake pan).
3. Bake for 15 minutes (check it often, but try not to open the oven because it’ll cause the temp. to drop)
4. Eat and/or share them with others.

PS: I’ve had three cookies while writing this entry.

Here’s a hilarious video to round-off the cookie segment. Notice how uncomfortable Martha is… LOVE IT!


“You know what? Me have no idea what you talking about.”