Monday, November 14, 2011


There was a movie out in the 60’s called “The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner,” and I have to admit that I don’t quite understand the title. While I’m not exactly a long-distance runner, I do run short distances, most often on the treadmill. When I run early in the morning in a mostly empty gym, I never feel alone. Everyone I’ve ever run with or know is inside my head and I turn to these people to accompany me on my runs. (More about those who accompany me at a later date.)
I’m sure there are people who would say there is an aspect of loneliness that a baker experiences as well. Most of us usually bake early in the morning before anyone else is up and around. The kitchen, be it in a home or in a professional setting is quiet at that time. The buzzing of a florescent light or the gentle hum of the refrigerator can be heard and nothing else. Once again though, I would have to disagree with the assertion of loneliness. When I am in the kitchen I am surrounded by anyone who has ever taught me or dined with me in the past--those whose lives are so intertwined with mine and with whom I’ve shared many memorable meals. I often think back on those meals and how the food and drink enhanced (or hampered) that experience and possibly our lives.  My mom is always watching over me as I measure, mix, and roll. She is there as I handle the soft dough--pulling and stretching--or pour out the smooth batter and scrape the bowl clean. I hear her voice in my head as well--her instructions and her encouragement in her Hungarian accented English. At times her mom is there also. (I envision it to be a lot like that scene in one of the "Star Wars" movies when all the elders of yore are standing around, looking down knowingly.) Even though we’ve never met, I feel as though I knew my grandmother, and the stories I’ve heard about her cooking skills were a big part of my growing years. Through the horrors of the Holocaust, and in the years that followed, my mom was still able to conjure up her wonderful memories of happy times in the kitchen. We were a food family, always. The recipes and stories, and the history behind them are all with me in the kitchen.
Hungarians love their desserts, and as paradoxical as it sounds, my mom was a better cook than a baker. Her homemade coffeecakes and cookies were wonderful, but she would really rather buy her sweets than make them. Seven-Layer cakes, cream-filled Napoleons, and Lemon Meringue Pie were her favorites. In a pinch, a Drake’s Fruit Pie would do the trick. They came two to a bag and she would eat one (always with a cup of coffee), fold the bag over the second one and place it on the counter for later. Her favorites were the cherry and lemon. These fillings were cloyingly sweet (sorry Drake's) and had a gelatinous texture to them. I think if Mom had tasted the Pop-Tarts from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook she would not be able to restrain herself by eating just one. The recipe for the pastry below is Joanne’s. It is a traditional pie dough using egg yolks for some added richness. I have added my own apple filling. I know it wasn’t Mom’s favorite, but the apples here in New England are so flavorful this time of year  (I used Stayman Winesap--a red, very crisp variety), that I think she would have loved it regardless.

Homemade Apple Pop-Tarts
(adapted from Joanne Chang) 
Makes about 18 ounces dough, enough for 8 pop-tarts or one 9-inch double-crust or lattice-top pie

1 3/4 cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks / 228 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold milk
Apple Filling
3 medium apples, diced into 1/4” cubes 
2 oz. unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider, preferably local

Cinnamon Glaze
1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons water
1/4 tablespoon cinnamon

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the dough: Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top. Mix on low speed for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, or just until the flour is no longer bright white and holds together when you clump it and lumps of butter the size of pecans are visible throughout.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk until blended. Add to the flour mixture all at once. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the dough just barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

Dump the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, then gather it together into a tight mound. Using your palm and starting on one side of the mound, smear the dough bit by bit, starting at the top of the mound and then sliding your palm down the side and along the work surface until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the dough comes together. Do this once or twice on each part of the dough, moving through the mound until the whole mess has been smeared into a cohesive dough with streaks of butter.

Gather up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and press down to flatten into a disk about 1 inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Make the filling: Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Melt the butter in a skillet  with the vanilla bean and seeds. Add the apples and sugar and cook until apples soften. Add the cider and cook over medium heat until liquid thickens into a glaze. Allow filling to cool before using.
Assemble pastries: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it in half. Press each half into a rectangle. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Using a paring knife, lightly score 1 rectangle into eight 3 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles (about the size of an index card).

 Spoon 2 tablespoons of the Apple Filling in a mound in the center of each scored rectangle. Lay the second large dough rectangle directly on top of the first. Using fingertips, carefully press down all around each fruit mound, so the pastry sheets adhere to each other.

Using a knife, a pizza roller (easier), or a fluted roller (easier and prettier), and following the scored lines, cut the layered dough into 8 rectangles. Place the rectangles, well spaced, on a baking sheet.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are evenly golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

Make the glaze: While the pastries are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You should have about 1/2 cup. (The glaze can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. If it becomes too thick or hardens, add a teaspoon of cream and stir.)

When the pastries have cooled for 30 minutes, brush the tops evenly with the glaze. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the glaze to set before serving.

The pastries can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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