7 Pie Crust Tips for the Holidays

From crisp apple to seasonal mincemeat, thousands of holiday cooks will scramble to create the perfect pie for the dinner table. Thanksgiving and Christmas are popular occasions where pies become an important part of the festivities. To enhance the look and taste of your pies, consider the following tips for the holidays.

1. For a Flaky Crust

Thanks to pockets of fat in the dough, a pie crust develops its flakiness. A pastry blender or two knives that cut into the fat will help achieve these results. The dough should still have some pea-size pieces. It is important to handle the dough as little as possible with your hands. Another way to create a flakier crust is to substitute ice-cold sour cream or heavy cream for the water in your recipe.

2. Buttery and Tender Crusts

If you are interested in making a tender pie crust, use lard and shortening. If you want a buttery flavor in your crust, use half lard or shortening, and replace the other half with butter.

3. Refrigeration

For the best results, try refrigerating all of your ingredients (even the flour) before making the dough for your pie crust.

4. Easy Rolling

To make rolling the pie crust dough easier, chill for 30 minutes.

5. Spice Up Your Pie Crusts

Adding nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon to pie crust dough will enhance the overall flavor.

6. Choice of Baking Dish

The baking dish you select for your pies will affect the end result of your pie crust. Pyrex glass pie plates are a good choice because it evenly conducts heat and lets the bottom crust of the pie bake all of the way through. When using a glass pie plate, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Also, do not oil or grease your pie plates. Aluminum pie pans do not cook evenly and if you must use – try using two.

7. Egg Washes for a Better Appearance

When you’re looking for a shiny crust, use a pastry brush to apply an egg wash to the tops of your pies. For every egg, only one teaspoon of liquid is required. A few combinations to consider include combining a whole egg and salt for a shiny crust; egg yolk and cream for a shiny, dark crust; and just plain ol’ egg white to achieve a pale, crisp crust.

How to Prepare Nuts for Desserts

Nuts often play an important role in preparing, flavoring, and garnishing some of your favorite desserts. From pecan cinnamon rolls to syrupy baklava, many recipes call for different preparations of nuts. Sometimes, you must remove the skins from nuts to prevent a bitter taste in your desserts. Toasting nuts also releases their natural flavor and adds crispness. Below you will find a few ways to prepare nuts for desserts:

Skinning Hazelnuts and Brazil Nuts

Spread the hazelnuts and Brazil nuts on a baking sheet. Toast in a pre-heated oven set to 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. This will dry out the skins. After removing from the oven, wrap the nuts in a rough tea towel and rub until the skins are removed. You can pick off any remaining bits of skin still on the nuts with your fingers.

Skinning Almonds and Pistachios

You will use a process called blanching to skin almonds and pistachios. Place the nuts in a bowl and cover with boiling water for two minutes. Drain the water and let the nuts slightly cool. Squeeze or rub each nut with your fingers to remove the skins.

Oven-Toasted Nuts

To toast nuts for a recipe, spread nuts on a baking sheet, and place in a pre-heated oven set to 350 degrees. Toast until they turn a golden brown color and smell ‘nutty.’ Occasionally stir the nuts.

Fry-Toasted Nuts

Place nuts in a frying pan, but do not add any fat or oils. Toast the nuts over moderate heat until they turn golden brown. Stir constantly and watch carefully because the nuts can easily scorch.

Grinding Nuts

For recipes that call for finely chopped nuts, a nut mill or clean coffee grinder will come in handy. It is suggested to grind a small batch of nuts to achieve an even texture. Do not overwork or you will turn the nuts into paste. Some people have used food processors to grind nuts, but it’s a bit harder to get even results. A downfall is the risk of overworking the nuts into a paste. Try grinding the nuts with some of the flour or sugar called for in the recipe to avoid this mishap.

8 Tips for Cheesecake Makers

The history of cheesecake is one traced back to ancient Greek times before the Romans embraced the dessert after their conquest of the city. Over the years, the sweet treat comprised of soft, fresh cheese has been sweetened and topped with sugar, nuts, fruit, glazes, and chocolate sauce. If you wish to enjoy cheesecake in the comforts of you own home – perhaps the following tips can ease the process and improve the outcome:

1) Testing for Doneness

Avoid overbaking your cheesecake by testing it for doneness at the minimum baking time range. To test for doneness, do not insert a knife because the hole left behind could turn into a large crack. Instead, gently shake the cake. If it jiggles, return the cheesecake to the oven for more baking.

2) Prevent Cracking

To prevent cracking, there are a couple of things to do. After adding eggs to the filling, gently beat, and then stir in the remaining ingredient by hand. If you beat too vigorously, too much air will cause the cheesecake to “puff up,” fall, and then crack. When baking, situate a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to prevent cracks in your cheesecake.

3) Low-Calorie Cheesecake

If you’d like to make a cheesecake with fewer calories, use light cream cheese instead of regular.

4) New York Style Cheesecake

If you are interested in making a New York-style cheesecake, expect a dessert with a lot of heavy cream. Typical ingredients include cream cheese, eggs, and egg yolks, which add richness and smoothness to the filling. It is typical to bake the cheesecake in a special springform pan measuring 5 to 6 inches tall. To vary the texture and flavor, consider using cottage cheese and lemon. Other suggestions include adding strawberry sauce or chocolate sauce to a basic cheesecake recipe.

5) Is It Done?

It’s OK if the center of your cheesecake is soft when you first remove it from the oven. This is normal and as the dessert chills, the center will become firm.

6) Cutting Cheesecake

Use a wet knife to better cut cheesecakes and make sure to clean the knife after each cut.

7) Storage

Cheesecakes will keep for up to three days if they are covered and refrigerated.

8) Freezing Cheesecakes

If you are unable to eat all of your cheesecake, you can freeze leftovers in an airtight container or heavy foil. Plan on eating a whole cheesecake within one month or consume individual slices within two weeks. When serving frozen cheesecake, loosen the covering and thaw a whole cheesecake in the refrigerator for 24 hours or allow slices to thaw at room temperature.