Just Pie

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Just pie.  Jest pie.  Jess pie?  Chess pie?!

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The origins of the name of the (unquestionably Southern) chess pie are shrouded in mystery.

Some believe that it’s called chess pie owing to a transformation/translation of “Just Pie” by Southerners’ drawls.
“Just Pie” comes from the pie’s similarity to pecan pie, minus the pecans.
The filling is gooey, sweet, and dense, but free of distracting additions.
It’s really just pie.

Alternately, some think that the name is derived from the fact that this pie saves very well– there is no fruit to mould, or uncooked dairy or eggs to go rotten– so it could be saved for a very long time in a pie chest.
A pie chest is a piece of furniture used to store pies and other food and keep them safe from vermin (and greedy children!).
Pie in chest= chest pie = chess pie.

I guess we’ll never know the true beginnings of the name, but honestly, who cares?! It’s pie.
It’s goooood pie.

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There is something so nostalgic and sweet about Southern desserts.
I thought I’d share a few recent ones from other blogs to get you inspired.
I know I’m crazy inspired and impressed by all these other talented bloggers.

Joy’s Bourbon Pecan Pie with Dark Chocolate blew my socks right off.
It reminds me of my pie that I deemed “the best ever.”
(Which, for the record, is still a stance that I am adamant about.  Go make it.  NOW.)

Beth’s amazing Beet and Goat Cheese Red Velvet cake for Valentine’s day is, without question, the most beautiful bundt/tube cake I have ever laid eyes on/drooled over.
I am continually awed by Beth.
She and her photographs make me want to pack up, move to Tennessee, and start wearing raw denim and drying herbs.
A true marvel of talent, this lady.  Honest and truly.

Speaking of red velvet, did you see this article?
It caught my attention in the Dining section of the NYT and hooked me.
It’s always intriguing to know the origins of your food (chess pie, I’m lookin’ atchu.)

Less on the sweet side, but just as delicious and homey: Tim’s dense Cornbread from Josey Baker Bread is being bookmarked for next Thanksgiving.
And by next Thanksgiving, I mean next week.
Or whenever I can get my grubby paws on some kamut flour.

Laura’s Lattice Top Strawberry Pie… No. Words.
Those photos! Simply breathtaking.  This is by far the most beautiful post I’ve seen in a long time.
I’m so glad she’s back from her short reprieve! Fabulous, fabulous work.

And how about Cindy’s Triple Chocolate Buttermilk Bread?!
Anything with buttermilk immediately connotes comfort cooking (read: Southern cooking) to me.
Buttermilk + butter + chocolate + chocolate + chocolate= comfort.  It’s a tried and true combo.
So dark and dreamy.

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This chess pie starts out with a perfect, flaky flaky all-butter crust.
I like to make my pie crusts by hand, smashing each little frozen butter cube into a sheet, rubbing the flour and sugar between my palms, getting a feel for the dough and all.
It’s folded a few times, rolled out thin, crimped and docked and weighted down, baked for a few minutes just until golden, then filled to the brim with custard.

The coconut custard (chess) filling is based on cream of coconut– you know, the thick, sugary glop they put in piña coladas?
I accidentally purchased some (ah, the perils of breezing over labels) and discovered that it is akin to sweetened condensed milk: thick, creamy, sweet.
I had a few tablespoons of desiccated coconut left in my pantry, and a cup or so of buttermilk.

Thus, this too-sweet cream of coconut mistake was elevated with brown sugar, cornmeal, buttermilk, coconut shreds, butter and coconut oil, and plenty of eggs.

The resultant pie is creamy and sweet, with the perfect amount of egginess and coconut flavor.
The smooth custard is a good foil for the buttery crust, and when topped with powdered sugar and extra toasted coconut, it’s a real treat.  You don’t need much else.
I suppose you could add a dollop of whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and no one would object.
But this pie is a-ok with being eaten on its own.

Just pie is just fine.

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Also, pie, previously:
(Pie highlights? Pie-lights?)

This kickass-crazy-mumba-wumba-hubba-hubba-gimme-more-still-the-best-pie-I’ve-ever-made Pumpkin Spice Brown Butter Chocolate Pecan Pie.
MAKE THIS PIE.  It is all the good things, mushed into one.

This lime and honey apple pie with the cutest little crust decorations!

This arguably perfect but prissy peach pie, adapted from the arguably perfect but prissy Cook’s Illustrated.
SUMMER.  I’M COMING.

This healthy, homemade coconut-key lime pie which I almost lost a finger for.
The things we do for pie.

And there are others too, but they are deep in the archives and I don’t want to scare you off with bad photography.

Expect more pie this summer.  I am declaring this summer the summer of pie.
(…and ice cream, and tarts, and donuts, and pastry, and semifreddo, and cake…)

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Coconut Buttermilk Chess Pie

filling heavily adapted from Food & Wine
makes 1 9-inch pie

ingredients:
for the crust:
140 grams (10 tablespoons) butter, diced and very cold
210 grams (1 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) flour
1 spoonful (approximately 1 tablespoon) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
55 grams (3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) ice water, or as needed

for the filling:
120 grams (1/2 cup) cream of coconut
100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
100 grams (1/2 cup) brown sugar
heaping 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
85 grams (6 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon cornmeal
scant cup (approximately 225 mL, or 7/8 cup) buttermilk, well-shaken

directions:
Make the crust: whisk flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl.
Dump all of the butter chunks into the flour mixture and toss to coat.
Gently smash and rub the butter into the flour until all chunks are either flattened or the consistency of cornmeal; you want a variety of shapes, the largest being somewhere near pea sized.
Pour in the water and gently stir until dough comes together; add up to another tablespoon of water if need be.
Form the dough into a small rectangle and fold into rough thirds.
Pat the dough into another rough rectangle and fold into thirds again.
Repeat, patting into a rectangle and folding, then pat the dough into a disk.
Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.
Remove dough from fridge and roll out to 1/4 inch thickness; place into 9-inch pie pan and fold the excess edges over and crimp as desired.
Dock all over with a fork and line with aluminum foil.
Freeze for at least an hour and up to 10 days very well wrapped in foil and plastic wrap.
Preheat oven to 350.
Fill foil-lined pie shell with pie weights or dried beans.
Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly golden and set, then remove pie weights, dock in a few more places, and bake for 15 more minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, make filling: whisk cream of coconut, sugars, salt, eggs, and egg yolks together very well.
Melt the butter and coconut oil together and quickly whisk into egg mixture.
Whisk coconut and cornmeal into the mix, then whisk in the buttermilk.
Pour filling into hot crust and place back in oven.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until center only slightly jiggles when shaken.
Allow to cool, then freeze for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
Allow to come back to room temperature before serving; dust with powdered sugar and serve with toasted unsweetened coconut, if desired.

Deuxième

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“Great cooking is not for the faint of heart.
You must be imaginative.  Strong hearted.
You must try things that may not work.
And you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from.
What I say is true: anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.”

–Disney’s “Ratatouille

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Has it been this long, really?

How could it possibly have been this long?

Two years?

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Such a funny, dual-sided feeling, this one.
I have been writing this blog for my whole life, and, at the same time, have been writing for all of two days.
How can this be?

I have stumbled and stubbed toes, sliced fingers and scrubbed dishes; I have burned wrists and knuckles and cookies countless, have made nine thousand messes and used an entire herd of cows’ butter; I have dropped cakes and dropped things on cakes, have cried and sworn and studied and laughed on the kitchen floor.

I have planned meticulously and tasted liberally and danced in sheer delight; I have spat out failures and hoarded successes.

I have moved and survived, have mourned and celebrated, have resisted and adapted, have failed and succeeded.
I have given in and given up.
I have poured my heart and soul and dozens of cups of cream into La Pêche Fraîche.

I have closed my eyes and stuck the pan in the oven and then, terrified, let go.

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And yet here I am, still standing knee neck-deep in flour and sugar and butter.
Here I am, crying as I write this post, laughing at myself and at this silly, silly little space.

For I may have doubted this blog, doubted my writing, my work, my thoughts, myself,
but oh, oh, I have loved, loved, loved.

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188 posts prior to this one.
65 about chocolate, 55 about cake (32 about “cakes”), 50 for cookies.
43 posts in which I whine, 7 rants, 22 “stupid,” 13 diva moments.

25 brown butter, 25 holidays.
19 winter posts, but only 11 each of spring and autumn, and a sad 7 spring.

7 starry-eyed dreams, 7 cases of the blues.

39 love and 38 crazy.  Coincidence?  I think not.

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I always talk whine about this, but the growth and development on this blog is remarkable to me.
Look through the archives, and the most tangible improvement– photography– is undeniable.
I won’t lie, some of the photos on this blog are downright scary.
Out of focus, underexposed, unappetizing coloring, terrible angles, lack of styling… Good grief.

However, I remind myself as I cringe, the bad photography is only a testament to my willingness to learn, to try new things, to start from nothing and improve myself.
I am proud of this blog, damn it.
I am proud of how much I have learned, both on the pâtisserie and photographic sides.

I am beyond happy to celebrate the start of a third year.
I have no intentions of stopping or slowing down.
I don’t know where this blog is leading me.  I don’t know where my life is leading me.
I don’t even know where this post is leading me, for Pete’s sake.
Right now is a volatile and dynamic time in my life, and I’m doing my best to ride the waves, blind and fearful as I am.
Nevertheless, onwards I press, keys tapping and oven creaking.
I have faith that I shall better understand where I’m headed in the future.

I have faith that one day, I’ll figure my shit out.
And I have a strong suspicion that La Pêche Fraîche will be a part of it.

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It’s true that there have been times when I have been scared or reluctant to press “Publish.”
There have been posts so raw with emotion that I worry what my readership will think of me.

But you have stuck with me, through all the painful changes and exciting developments.
You’ve borne all my typos and rants and sappiness.
You’ve continued on with me during the slowed down times– I can see you clicking around, probably hungry for fresh material, tired of stale old crumbs.  I see you.  And I appreciate you.
You’ve read through too-long and too-short posts, through my geek-outs and freak-outs.

So sometimes, goes the moral of this story, you have to let go of the pan and let the oven work its magic.

Thank you, readers, for being my oven.
Thank you for demonstrating, with your clicks and searches and comments, that it is fine for me to press publish, to let go of the pan, to reveal insecurities and intimacies to an invisible audience.
It is for you that I write LPF, and it is thanks to you that it continues to grow.

Thank you for supporting this blog, replete with sugar and silliness.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.  From La Pêche Fraîche– from me.

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A birthday–blog birthdays included– demands cake.
Cupcakes, cookies, pavlovas, pudding and custards, ice creams, etc., will simply not do.
It must be cake.  I assure you, it must. be. cake.

Last blogiversary (May 2013) I made a brown-sugar/chocolate marble cake, filled with passionfruit curd and covered in fluffy, shiny clouds of vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream.

The flavors were amazing– some of my absolute favorites– but I think the cake was left in the oven 3 minutes too long.
It wasn’t (ohhhh God, here it comes…) *moist* enough, in my opinion.

So though there have been many cakes in the last year, today’s cake demonstrates one way to keep your cakes from being dry and crumbly, in honor of last year’s semi-dry cake.

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This year’s is a 1 bowl cake.  (The frosting requires an additional pot, but whatever.)
This is a virtually fool-proof cake.

(ATTN: nerd alert. Skip to the recipe at the bottom if you don’t want to have to listen to me geek out.)

All is due to the FP FFP scheme that I have deployed here.
Fool Proof Fat Flour Paste.  Sound disgusting?  Well, yeah.

The idea here is that by creating a paste of the flour and fat, you coat essentially of the fat particles with starch particles.
Following this observation, then, it becomes clear that all of the starch particles are associated with fat particles, which prevents them from forming too much gluten when moistened.
Adding sugar in the form of cane sugar and milk sugar (lactose) further inhibits gluten formation.
Since all of the ingredients are thoroughly beaten together, the batter is completely homogeneous and the dry ingredients are very evenly distributed, preventing pockets of dryness or bitterness where flour or baking soda didn’t fully incorporate, and making over-beating cake batter a thing of the past.

Once moisture is added, some gluten forms, which maintains the structure of the cake.
Plenty of egg whites are added, since they contain albumen, a structural protein, that help enhance the gluten structure, ensuring the cake is sturdy, not crumbly.

Basically, by preventing too much gluten from forming, we ensure the cake is very tender and fine-crumbed, and since the fat particles have been evenly suspended in starch, as they melt, they create a very moist, soft cake.

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In sum total: this cake is a tall, four-layer beauty, with a base of malted milk cake, redolent of nutty malt and laced with a hint of salt, butter, and buttermilk.  The crumb is fine, tender, and soft.

The frosting is sweet and salty vanilla Italian meringue buttercream, glossy and fluffy, swaddling the cake in buttery goodness.

Finally, and most importantly, 39 ( and exactly 39) handfuls of sprinkles are thrown, haphazardly, at the cake.
The pattern that results is organic in shape but very much artificially dyed and flavored.

Sprinkles are just so happy and fun and bright and colorful and they, along with the pink frosting, make this cake so damn twee.
Once I pull out that 1 pound jar (no, I am not kidding), there’s no stopping me.
The soles of my shoes have been tracking sprinkles everywhere since I made this cake.
I may have gotten a tad bit out-of-control.  Just a tad, though.
{Send help.}

Joyeuse anniversaire, La Pêche Fraîche!

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“I did then what I knew how to do.
Now that I know better, I do better.”

–Maya Angelou 

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Malted Milk Birthday Cake
makes a 4 layer 6-inch cake or a 2 layer 8- or 9-inch cake

ingredients:
for the malted milk cake:
340 grams (2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) all purpose flour
50 grams (5 tablespoons) cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1 teaspoon kosher salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
100 grams (8 tablespoons) shortening
350 grams (1 3/4 cups) granulated sugar
60 grams (heaping 1/2 cup) malted milk powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
3 egg whites
120 grams (120mL, 1/2 cup) buttermilk, cold
240 grams (240mL, 1 cup) water, cold

for the vanilla Italian meringue buttercream:
6 egg whites
3 drops (1/8 teaspoon) white vinegar
350 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar
big pinch kosher salt
90 grams (6 tablespoons) water
660 grams (6 sticks, 1 1/2 pounds, 3 cups) butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
drop red gel food coloring, if desired

to assemble:
sprinkles!

directions:
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 4 6-inch pans or 2 8- or 9-inch pans.
Place flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.
Add in the softened butter and shortening a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until a flour-fat paste forms– it will be thick like cookie dough.
Stir together the sugar and malted milk powder, then add to the flour paste, stirring slowly at first, then beating until fluffy.
Whisk together the vanilla, egg, egg whites, buttermilk, and water, then add to the batter, stirring very very slowly at first, then increasing speed to beat at high speed for 30 seconds.
Batter should be thick and creamy; if it is a tiny bit curdled, don’t worry about it.
Pour into prepared pans and bake for 35-38 minutes, until springy in the center and a tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely, then trim and level as needed.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: place egg whites and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To assemble the cake, stack layers with 1/2-2/3 cup frosting between them.
Use about 1 cup of frosting to crumb coat and level out the cake; freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Finish the cake with the remaining frosting as desired, and add sprinkles to your heart’s content!

Soie

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Time and patience change the mulberry leaf into silk.

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I have to come clean with a recent addiction.

I am hooked on The Sopranos.
It finally happened.  I started watching, and now I can’t stop.
Season 3 and still going strong.

I wouldn’t have expected myself to enjoy it as much as I do.
The complexities and fine details are what make HBO shows so great, and seeing as The Sopranos arguably started this vein of television (plot intrigue, very nuanced characters, lots of action and violence and detail), it is no exception.

It’s so bad.  I can sit and watch 3 episodes in a row and forget where I am.
It is an incredibly immersive show.

(In other Rachel-TV-addiction news: watching this and this and now this makes me want to cry and pee myself because I cannot wait one minute longer for Season 4 of Game of Thrones.  I. Am. So. Fucking. Impatient. Excited.
Currently reading A Sword of Storms… and… I just can’t even any more.  GEORGE.)

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Anyways, let’s talk panna cotta.  A true Italian masterpiece.
Panna cotta = “cooked cream.”
This delightfully simple dessert originated in Northern Italy, and consists of cream, milk, and sugar being cooked together with a touch of gelatin (fish bones, in ye olde days, but, um, ick).
The resultant custard is softly set and light on the tongue, each spoonful melting to nothing.
It’s fast, easy, versatile, impressive and a great make-ahead dessert.
I clearly have nothing but good to say about panna cotta.

A note: a good panna cotta should be smooth and silky, not gelatinous or rubbery.
Especially panna cotta that won’t be turned out of its mold.
It shouldn’t be too firm: this is not Jell-O, people.  Thank god.

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Since panna cotta has no eggs to dull the flavor, it’s a great foil for fruits, nuts, and other flavors.

This panna cotta is made with buttermilk, which cuts the cream and sits super clean on the tongue.
It adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, so that the base itself has some personality, and the dessert isn’t all about the toppings.
(I’m looking at you, fro-yo.)

You can let your imagination run wild; the flavor of the pudding itself is only slightly tangy, and not overpowering in the least.
While it’s refreshing on its own, I have a million and one ideas of toppings or mix-ins.

Here, I’ve topped each panna cotta with a splash of thick, round Grade B maple syrup, sweet and earthy,
a few fresh, plump, tart blackberries,
a smattering of crunchy, nutty pepitas,
and a hefty sprinkle of Maldon salt.

A few more ideas: add chopped fresh peaches to the base before it sets, then top with caramel and pecans and more thinly sliced peaches.
Stir some melted white chocolate into the base, top with pomegranate seeds and chocolate ganache.
Zest a lemon into the base, top with honey, hazelnuts, and raspberries.

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While we’re talking about addictions, I also need to mention Maldon sea salt.
It’s been a craze for a long time, but I never felt the urge to give into the fad.
I refused that little white rock box during many a grocery trip.  Then one day, I gave in.

And thus did it begin, my love affair with this stupid salt.
I put it on everything, from chocolate to broccoli.
I love the crunchiness; I love the pure sea flavor; I love the look of those flakes.

You saw it on these tarts and these chocolates, and now, here, on panna cotta.
A little dusting of salt can truly make the difference between a blah dessert and a lively, exciting one.

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How amazing are these little teacups?

I purchased them from a girl who lives in my house, at our house auction.
I fell in love at first sight and was willing to outbid anyone who dared go against me.

They are seriously precious; the color palette could not be more my aesthetic.  (Seriously, just take a look at my Pinterest color board.)
In addition, I love that they’re different sizes and shapes.  So dainty and adorable!

I want to (re)learn how to throw, so that I can make more plates and cups and cake stands… Oh my.
This cannot be good.

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Buttermilk Panna Cotta
adapted from Donna Hay
makes 4 small ramekins
2 teaspoons gelatin
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
pepitas, maple syrup, berries, flaky sea salt, to garnish

directions:
Mix the gelatin with 2 tablespoons of the cream and set aside to bloom.
In a small saucepot, combine buttermilk, heavy cream, and sugar.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent a skin from forming.
Remove from heat and vigorously whisk in the gelatin, ensuring that all of it dissolves.
Pour into molds and set in the fridge until firm, at least 2 hours.
Garnish with berries, a splash of maple syrup, and a sprinkle of pepitas and flaky sea salt.