Cookbooks. I’ve been collecting them for a few years now as my taste buds have grown-up, and I love them. The beautiful pictures, the inspiration they ignite in me… The problem though, is that I don’t use them nearly enough. Of the 8 or so that I have (and I understand that is not many by anyone’s standards), I have probably consulted them only a handful of times in as many years. It’s so easy to get caught up in a pattern of repeating the same recipes week after week, as our lives get busier and busier. I am all too guilty of this, and while its no excuse, that’s life.
So, when By Way Of asked me to break into my cookbooks and offer a testimony to the recipes they offer, I couldn’t wait to get started. To be a contributing member of what these ladies are sharing is super exciting to me, and I hope you all enjoy.
And so here I am. With just a few books, but hundreds of recipes, I hope to expand my world of cooking and baking while trying my best to follow a full recipe. Spoiler alert: I’ve strayed on Day 1.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman
I received this book from a dear friend for my last birthday. Noticing my interest and borderline obsession with sharing Deb’s decadent recipes, this was a most perfect gift. Opening this gorgeous book for the very first time, this is the page that greeted me: peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce (Page 235). Yep, you read right. Bourbon. Hard sauce.
Now being that I made these pretties in late October, peach season had ended here in the north. None too worried, I grabbed a variety of apples at the local farmer’s market and set to work.
Full disclosure: I have never made a piecrust in my life. (Except that one in 8th Grade Home-Ec, but for some reason that just doesn’t count to me.) Deb’s piecrust recipe - page 226 - is exactly how it is named: all butter, really flaky pie dough, and it was a cinch even when made completely by hand. She tells of her trials while developing her perfect pie dough, and concludes, “The only thing standing between you and the golden flaky pie dough of magazine pages, the kind that puffs up like mille-feuilles in the oven, is butter size and temperature management…” So I took those words to heart and made sure my butter stayed cold. A hand-held pastry blender was the recommended weapon of choice, but being my first pie dough attempt in 15 years (gross) I used two knives instead - a trick mentioned by my lovely sister - and sliced at the butter until the pieces got quite small and I moved on to crumbling and mashing with my hands. It took a few extra trips to the freezer to manage the warmth my hands added to the mixture, but was absolutely worth it. I even divided the dough into two to chill though her directions say to put all the dough together for 2 hours for the dumpling recipe. In the end I cut an hour of chilling time out of the equation, so I’d say I won this round.
With the dough rolled out and almost ready to go - chilling again in the freezer - the rest of the recipe took only minutes. Coring the apples, and mixing up the filling happened while the blender (and my faithful assistant) took care of the hard sauce that I added more than double the bourbon to (ok, it was rum)dd. I added more confectioners’ sugar to compensate for my heavy hand, but in hindsight don’t think it was necessary. Once my dumplings were assembled, I tossed them back into the freezer one last time for about 5 minutes rather than the recommended 30 to chill that butter again. The result was near perfection, :sigh: and relief that there were only 6 for I don’t think my hips would forgive me, not that we agree on many decisions I make anyway. C’est la vie.
1 recipe All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough
3 large peaches (or other seasonal fruit of choice)
1/3 cup (65 grams) light or dark brown sugar
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
few fresh gratings of nutmeg or a pinch of ground
1 tablespoon butter, cut into 6 pieces, kept cold
1 large egg, for glaze
4 tablespoons (55 grams or ½ stick) butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (95 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
Roll crust to a 12-by-18-inch rectangle, and divide into six 6-inch squares. If dough gets too soft or warm while you’re rolling it, continue to the square stage, but then transfer the squares to a parchment lined baking sheet and chill them in the freezer for a couple minutes, until they firm up again.
Halve peaches, and cross your fingers that you’ve gotten freestone ones, because it makes life much easier. Remove pits, scooping a little more out of the indentation with a melon baller or knife, so that there is more room to pack the filling.
assemble the dumplings
Mix brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a little dish. Spoon 1 lightly packed tablespoon on top of each peach, smooshing as much of the sugar mixture as you can into the center. Dot the top of each with a piece of the cold butter. Center a peach half, cut side up, in your first pastry square. Bring corners up to meet each other over the center- if it feels tight, or as if you’re short of dough, make sure that the dough underneath is flush with the peach curve; it tends to get slack- and seal the seams together, pinching your fingertips.
Arrange peach dumplings in a battered 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Whisk egg together with 1 teaspoon water to form a glaze. Brush glaze over the tops and exposed sides of dumplings. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until pastries are puffed and bronzed on top.
While baking, make the hard sauce. Beat softened butter, confectioners’ sugar, and bourbon until smooth. Scrape into a serving dish. When pastries come out of oven, dollop each (or at least the ones that will not be served to children) with a heaping spoonful of the hard sauce, and serve pastries with the sauce melting over the sides.