Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Image: Laura Messersmith

It should come as no surprise that I’m pretty obsessed with pie – both the making of pie (and all the adventures that ensue) and of course the eating of pie (the best part.) As peak summer produce season draws closer and closer I’ve been dog-earring my copy of Four and Twenty Blackbird’s and plotting my next pie adventure like a cartoon villain. Not a terribly villainous villain, unless bringing dessert wherever I go in the name of “sharing” is considered wicked. I tried the sisters Elsen’s pie crust recipe this time around – the use of cider vinegar was intriguing – and since I’ve always been a fan of all-butter pie crusts this one is my new go-to.

The filling recipe by Chef Hugh Acheson, my favorite Top Chef guest judge, combines strawberry and rhubarb with just a hint of spice from the black pepper. Strawberry and rhubarb come into season around the same time and are a classic example of “what grows together goes together.” A perfect blend of sweet and tangy all in a portable, buttery package. These hand pies are made to be shared; preferably while picnicking on a sunny day in the park.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Image: Laura Messersmith

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies (yield 16 pies)

All-Butter Crust Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup ice cubes

Crust Instructions:
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the diced butter pieces and toss lightly to coat with the flour mixture. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain. Take care not to over blend.

In a large measuring cup, combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the butter and flour, and blend with a rubber spatula until it is fully incorporated.

Continue adding more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the spatula or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough just comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.

Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine. Discard any remaining ice water mixture.

Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the flour time to absorb the moisture and relax. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Filling Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
7 ounces strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
5 ounces rhubarb, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pinch kosher salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar in the raw

Filling Instructions:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the strawberries and rhubarb and cook until soft and jam-like, 6–8 minutes. Stir in sugar, vinegar, pepper, lemon juice, and salt; cook 3 minutes more until the mixture thickens. Cool to room temperature, then cover and chill at least 30 minutes before using.

Assemble and bake the pies: On a lightly floured surface, roll dough 1⁄4 inch thick and use a large, round biscuit cutter to cut out 14 rounds. Gather the scraps and re-roll to create the final 2 rounds.

Lay the disks of dough out on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Place 2 tablespoons filling in center of each disk of dough. Whisk the egg in a bowl, brush edges of the dough with the egg wash and fold in half over the filling. Press the edges together and crimp with a fork to seal. Chill 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Using a fork, prick tops of pies; brush tops with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake pies until golden, about 20 minutes; let cool slightly before serving.

Re-written and very lightly adapted from All Butter Pie Crust by Four and Twenty Blackbirds (pg. 207) and Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies by Chef Hugh Acheson via Saveur.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Surprisingly, yes! I used a large mixing bowl, 2 quart sauce pan, 2 rimmed baking sheets, pastry cutter, rubber spatula, rolling pin, 4 inch fluted biscuit cutter, 2 tablespoon cookie scoop, pastry brush, dry and liquid measuring cups and spoons, and parchment paper.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies | Image: Laura Messersmith

Strawberry Shortcake Scones

Strawberry Shortcake Scone

If you’re a tennis fan, then you’re probably well aware that Wimbledon begins today. I enjoy watching from time to time, but with only the loosest grasp of the rules and a sketchy knowledge of the players involved I can’t really consider myself especially invested in the sport. What I am invested in is a sporting tournament that has a long-standing traditional dish. That part is definitely in my wheelhouse, and according to the Wimbledon librarian, strawberries and cream have been associated with the event since 1877.

Trust the British to make a genteel sport even more refined, and frankly what better way to celebrate summer than with time spent outside in the fresh air accompanied by a summery treat? And, can you think of a purer distillation of English cooking than a scone studded with bright red strawberries?

So, in honor of lawn tennis played on grass courts, and as part of my continued efforts to bring you an enormous amount of butter and fruit based baked goods this summer, may I present: Strawberry Shortcake Scones.

The more I bake, the more I realize what a difference a little buttermilk, yogurt, or cream can make toward a tender, moist crumb. In this case, slightly sweet ricotta cheese fills that role and helps these scones tip their cap at the American strawberry shortcake, while maintaining their cream-tea bonafides.

Strawberry Shortcake Scone

Strawberry Shortcake Scones (yield: 12 scones)

Ingredients:
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
2 1/2 cups, plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 large egg
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta, bought or homemade
1/4 cup, plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If it's a very hot day, chill the baking sheet and keep any ingredients in the refrigerator when they're not in use.

In a large bowl combine 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Lightly toss the diced butter in the flour mixture to coat, then using a pastry cutter, blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside in the refrigerator.

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the egg, ricotta, and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Make a well in center of the flour mixture and add egg mixture all at once, fork together until just combined. Some of the flour may not be fully incorporated. Chill the dough while you hull and dice the strawberries into 1/4" sized pieces.

In a small bowl, toss together strawberries and 1 tablespoon flour, then add to the chilled dough, again using a fork until the strawberries are evenly distributed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently fold the dough 10 to 12 times, pressing it together until dough is nearly smooth. Pat into a rectangle about 1 inch thick and cut into 12 rectangles.

Place the scones 2 inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with the additional 3 tablespoons of heavy cream and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake about 15-16 minutes or until golden brown. Slide the parchment and scones onto a cooling rack. Best when served warm.

Slightly re-written from Better Homes and Garden’s Strawberry Shortcake Scones.

Strawberry Shortcake Scone

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Actually, yes. I used a large mixing bowl, pastry cutter, 2 cup-size liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups and spoons, a butter knife, and a dinner fork. I also needed a small bowl, small cutting board, paring knife, baking sheet, pastry brush and parchment paper.

The Verdict:
The scone itself is tender and gently fluffy with a slight crunch from the coarse sugar, while the ripe strawberries add a bright sweetness that sings against the richness. To me, these scones are the epitome of summery ease – the intentionally casual shape and simplicity of the ingredients conjure a lazy morning on the porch. Definitely worthy of any Sunday brunch table or an international tennis event.

Strawberry Shortcake Scone

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Episode: “What Are Friends For?”

The Set-up: Ina is helping a friend by preparing a house-warming dinner for her friend Greg.

The Menu: Peach Raspberry Shortcakes, Mac and Cheese, Radishes with Butter & Salt

0:41 – Ina agrees with what we’re all thinking: moving is the worst. But I’d consider it if it meant a meal prepared by the Barefoot Contessa.

1:16 – I’m going to pretend that she didn’t just hate on the “blue box.” Circle of Trust time. We can admit to each other that we’re occasionally tempted by it’s electric orange hue right…?

2:44 – We begin with the Mac and Cheese, which naturally means melted butter and a cream sauce.

3:32 – Forget what I said about the blue box; this Mac and Cheese is going to be off the hook. I think there’s about 4 pounds of Gruyere and cheddar involved.

4:50 – Pro Tip #1: Add the grated cheese to the cream sauce off the heat. I have messed this up so many times and had no idea that less heat was the key!

5:25 – Ina is using cavatappi instead of macaroni because it’s more festive for a party. The idea of certain pastas being more fun than others makes me laugh, but it’s so true!

6:17 – This mac and cheese is getting a topping of sliced tomatoes and toasted fresh breadcrumbs. To be honest, I’ve never understood the whole breadcrumb thing. Why do people love it so much?

10:33 – Shortcake time! These are Peach Raspberry Shortcakes and if I’ve learned anything from Ina it’s that you can revamp a recipe just by changing one ingredient.

11:38 – Pro Tip #2: Make sure that the butter is still visible in the dough to guarantee a light, flaky shortcake.

12:46 – Am I the only one who finds shortcake dough totally impossible to work with? It’s so sticky and unmanageable!

13:29 – Apparently not, Ina says she usually gets it all over the kitchen and herself. So, now I feel better.

14:15 – In case you were wondering; Ina does collect the scraps after the first round of cut-outs and makes a second pass. Looks like she’s using the second largest of these round fluted biscuit cutters.

15:40 – Shortcakes are in the oven and we catch up with Ina’s friend Alison who’s picking up the fruit and some salad makings for the party.

16:22 – Back to finish up prep on the Radishes with Butter & Salt. Ina says this is a classic sandwich given to French children, which sounds like an urban myth, but the Internet says it’s true.

17:11 – Pro Tip #3: The baguette slices will toast better if they’re placed on a rack.

20:04 – Ina plans to serve the radishes with a compound butter of scallions, dill, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Now we’re talking!

21:18 – Back over to Alison, who agreed to take on the arduous task of making the whipped cream for the shortcakes.

22:36 – Even though it’s incredibly simple, there’s something so satisfying about making whipped cream.

23:47 – A platter of radishes, a small heap of sea salt, and the buttered tartines is arranged and now it’s time to relocate over to Greg’s.

27:03 – The party is in full swing as Ina and Alison duck into the kitchen for the final prep. Either Alison has never assembled a shortcake before or for the purposes of the show a demo is required. I’m hoping for her sake it’s the latter...

28:39 – Ina mixes a simple vinaigrette, while Alison works on the shortcakes. I guess the demo worked because she managed to finish them off without incident.

29:53 – Dinner is served and Ina angles for an invitation to the next housewarming party. Somehow I think her presence will be required…

Final Thoughts:
Please don’t let me forget Pro Tip #1. Weirdly grainy cheese sauce has to stop right now!

Please also help me remember that a whole recipe overhaul isn’t required to add variety – just a simple tweak will do!

I’ve noticed that every time a friend of Ina’s (F.O.I.) moves into a new house they get a dinner party. Anyone think that people are moving just for the food?

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I know, I know. I’m supposed to be making pie, but in my defense the strategies for great shortcakes are closely aligned with making great pie crust. As I’ll demonstrate below, Peach Raspberry Shortcakes are a perfectly cromulent way of practicing…

Temperature – Cold ingredients, cold bowl, cold baking sheet, HOT oven. You may already know that the “fluffiness” of shortcakes depend on pockets of cold butter hitting a very hot oven and releasing steam. Occasionally Maddie’s walks interrupt work on a recipe leading to unintended, but successful experimentation. In this case, I was just about to add the cream/egg mixture when we had to head outside, so everything went into the fridge for 30 minutes including the baking sheet. I’d recommend this step anytime you have to pause or clear the decks  before the next step, especially in hot weather like we’ve been experiencing lately.

Mixing Dough – I went super low-tech with this dough – no mixer, no food processor. I diced the butter on the smaller side (~1/8”) and tossed it in the dry ingredients to coat it before using the pastry cutter. I beat the heavy cream and eggs together in a liquid measuring cup and then used a fork to “fluff” them into the flour until just moistened. It kept the texture light and helped prevent over mixing.

Whipped Cream – I’d echo the “keep things cold” advice for this stage too. Pop the empty bowl and beater attachments in the freezer 20 minutes before you want to make the whipped cream, it will help the heavy cream retain the air and whip up more quickly into a lighter, softer cream.

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Surprisingly, yes! For the shortcakes I used a large mixing bowl, pastry cutter, biscuit cutter, liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups and spoons, a butter knife, and a dinner fork. For the fruit and whipped cream I also needed a small cutting board, paring knife, medium mixing bowl, and electric hand-mixer.

The Verdict:
When has a shortcake, especially a miniature one as fluffy and butter filled as these, ever been a bad choice? Would a generous layer of subtly sweet whipped cream and juicy summer fruit change your mind? If these facts don’t sway your decision then I’m not sure what will because these Peach Raspberry Shortcakes are just lightly sweet and so easy to make ahead of time. They're perfect to bring for a dinner party or a picnic in the park. Shortcakes with berries celebrate summer like nothing else, but there’s no reason not to eat them year-round paired with any fruit you can get your hands on. I’m already plotting a fall-ish version…

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Peach Strawberry Shortcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Cocktails and Cookies”

The Set-up: Ina and her friends are shaking up cocktails and baking up cookies today.

The Menu: Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup, Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers, Blood Orange Cosmopolitans, Whole Wheat & Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits

0:44 – We’re chilling with Rob Marshall and John DeLuca again (remember them from this episode?)

1:17 – While the guys are out on the beach walking their dog Gilly, Ina is whipping up some Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup.

2:23 – Ina prepped the ricotta ahead of time since it needs a little while to strain, but we get a re-cap of the process.

3:08 – She’s really not messing around with this breakfast, the ricotta gets a topping of maple syrup toasted almonds, fresh berries, and a slice of brioche.

4:31 – While Ina plates the ricotta she clues us in on how cool and successful Rob and John are – their movies include Chicago, Nine, and Into the Woods.

5:44 – Breakfast is served while they scheme their plans for the rest of the day – one of which involves a wicker picnic hamper full of boozy cocktail ingredients. Well played, guys.

8:12 – Time for the cookie part of the show and it turns out that the “cookies” are actually special Whole Wheat & Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits for Gilly. One lucky dog to be sure.

9:25 – Aaannd, here’s why I love Ina. Her favorite descriptor for a messy plate is a ‘dog’s breakfast’ and now she jokes they’re “finally making [one].”

10:40 – Ina takes even dog biscuits seriously and these were overwhelmingly selected by dogs the clear winner in a blind taste test vs. boxed cookies. I guess I should make some for Maddie soon…?

11:37 – Uh-oh, the guys’ dough looks better than Ina’s and she’s getting competitive. Do not try to joke her down on her own show!

12:49 – A pause in the action for a moment to clean up, and I suspect they may have taken a nip of the cocktails already because this is an epic mess and they’re giggling like 14 year old girls. Yeah, I’m jealous too.

13:11 – Seriously, they’re sword-fighting with the rolling pins now. Who else thinks a food fight is about to break out?

14:06 Ina is too crafty, she’s cutting the dough out in bone shapes, egg washing them, and sprinkling the tops with oatmeal.

18:22 – Onward to cookies for human beings in the form of Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers and they actually are almost the same process as the biscuits.

19:50 – Ina explains to Rob and John that jalapeño peppers are very hot, especially if you leave in the seeds and ribs/membranes.

20:43 – John reveals an aptitude for rolling dough into logs and it’s jokingly suggested that he may have been a bread baker in an earlier career.

21:15 – A little Knife Skills 101: saw the blade back and forth to let the edge do the work, rather than just pressing straight down.

22:57 – Prepare yourself for the most adorable taste test ever as Gilly gets a first bite of her dog cookies.

23:14 – Now there are treats for the humans as the crackers come out of the oven They really do look crunchy and golden, mmmm.

26:26 – The booze hamper has been unpacked and Step 1 of Blood Orange Cosmopolitans is to “measure 2 cups of vodka, and you’re done!”

27:43 – Followed by another cup of Cointreau, and after that just 2 cups of blood orange juice and 1/2 cup lime juice. Which means someone is going to nap under a table later.

28:35 – Next Rob whips out the most massive cocktail shaker I’ve ever seen, which Ina immediately claims as the perfect size for the number of cocktails she needs. I bet that thing holds 2 liters, easily.

29:49 – The blood orange cosmos are a gorgeous color, like a Lilly Pulitzer pink went clubbing in neon. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere….

Final Thoughts:
Maddie rarely benefits from my cooking efforts, perhaps a little love of the home-baked variety is in order?

I love the idea of making a pitcher of drinks ahead of time just shake with ice and no need to measure them out one at a time. Brilliant!

Don’t try to tell me that there was no off-camera sampling of those cosmos.

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’ve made a savory version of Ina’s homemade ricotta cheese before, but I was intrigued by the idea of having a sweeter Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup version for a morning meal. I also couldn’t resist the lure of almonds candied with maple syrup, especially maple syrup crafted by Merle Maple Farms (a company that's been run by family members on my mom's side for more than a century) and so here we are.

Ricotta Cooking – This seems intimidating until you’ve done it a time or two. I’d recommend using a larger pot than you think you’ll need. The milk/cream mixture needs room to bubble up, giving it space to do so means it won’t be all over your stove. Second, milk goes from zero to sixty when it’s coming to a boil, so watch like a hawk as soon as you see the first small bubbles form. Third, after the vinegar is added the mixture does look pretty terrifying, but trust the process – it works!

Ricotta Straining – I’d highly recommend setting-up the cheese cloth, sieve, and straining bowl before you start. Again, use a larger set than you think you’ll need – it’s far better to have extra space.

Maple Syrup & Almonds – As with the boiling milk, the almonds bear watching while they’re toasting in the pan. Mine turned golden brown after about 3 minutes. Something else to note: the maple syrup bubbles up quite a bit when it hits the hot pan (I used the Grade A Medium Amber in case you're curious), not to overflowing but more than I expected!

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, especially because this recipe comes together in stages. For the ricotta I used a large sauce pan (4 quart), large fine-mesh sieve, liquid measuring cup, rubber spatula, large bowl, and cheese cloth. To make the toppings and finish seasoning the ricotta I used a small sauté pan, large bowl, measuring spoons, a small cutting board and a paring knife.

The Verdict:
For me, Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup walks that line between sweet but not too sweet perfectly. The honey and vanilla push the ricotta toward mascarpone in flavor – slightly sweet, but still a hint of mild, creamy cheese – an excellent back drop for bright berries. The true revelation though: those toasty, nutty, rich maple almonds. OMG. Borderline an ice cream topping, but in small doses they’re the perfect note of indulgence. I naturally gravitate toward anything you’d typically put syrup on, but if you’re more of an omelet person like Mike, I’d skip this one.

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Breakfast Ricotta with Berries & Maple Syrup | Image: Laura Messersmith