Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie!

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Few things make me happier on an annual basis than rhubarb season.  Maybe strawberry-rhubarb pie is old-fashioned, but there’s something about the almost cloyingly sweet juiciness of ripe strawberries paired with the crunchy tartness of rhubarb that sends me over the moon.  I love to bake, I love dessert….but I don’t love things to be TOO too sweet.  So when spring finally arrives after what feels like an endless New England winter, and that first time I walk into the produce section of my local grocery store and am greeted with a bin of rhubarb….oh man, there are no words for my joy.

Pair this with the fact that Adam loves pie – and I mean, most people like pie, but he LOVES pie – and I knew today that I wanted to surprise him and bake up a scrumptious pie while he was at work.  Plus, let’s face it, I just really wanted to eat pie.

The “recipe” I use is cobbled together from various recipes I’ve looked at for strawberry-rhubarb pie along with some trial and error from things I’ve tried over the years, some which worked, some which didn’t.

I personally make my own crust, although for those less dough-inclined, this pie could be so super super simple with a store-bought crust – and they’re not bad nowadays!  (Disclaimer: I use store-bought pie crust dough when making chicken pot pie for a quick weeknight dinner.)  I’ve also gone through various crust recipes over the years – for a looooong time I stayed with the recipe my aforementioned middle school Home Ec teacher, Mrs. Dobos, gave us.  But the one I use now was recommended to me by my mom, and is adapted from a Food Network blueberry pie recipe.

For the crust (2-crust pie): 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (the original recipe calls for shortening, but I’m religiously a butter girl)
1 egg
2 Tbsp water
1/2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  For this I use my trusty pastry blender but two butter knives would work fine.  (Note: Many people – including my mom – will just throw this in the food processor for ease, and it definitely works, but I have this weird thing where, when I’m making dough, I like to do it by hand and throw some love into it.  Cheesy.  I’m aware.)

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In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and vinegar until blended.  Pour it into the dry dough mix and stir lightly with a fork, and then roll up your sleeves and get your fingers in there.  Mix it together and knead lightly until the whole thing forms a neat smooth ball.

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Then divide it in half and roll it out, just like normal.  What I’ve also done in the past is roll the entire ball out into one large circle/oval, piled the filling in the middle, and folded it up around the edges like a rustic crostata (do a Google image search for “rustic crostata” to get the idea.)

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling:

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One container of strawberries
About a pound of rhubarb
Zest and juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup tapioca  (If you’ve never bought tapioca before, you find it in the baking aisle.  You don’t taste it in the final product but it sucks up the moisture, similar to cornstarch, and prevents the pie from being a liquidy mess.  Strawberries are juicy.)
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Preheat your oven to 425.  Chop up the strawberries and rhubarb into about quarter-inch pieces.  Throw into a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and zest, the sugars, and the tapioca.  Stir.  (Note:  The sugar will make the rhubarb more palatable, but the pie will still be tart.  If you like your pie a little sweeter, up the white sugar to 1/2 a cup.)
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You should have your crust rolled out by now, so just pile the filling into the bottom crust, and layer the second crust on top.  Make sure to slice some vents for the steam to escape.
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Bake your pie at 425 for 20 minutes, and then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is nice and golden brown.
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Slice and, most importantly, enjoy!
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It’s That Time Again – Birthday Cupcakes!

My boyfriend Adam loves cupcakes.  This is nothing earth-shattering – a lot of people love cupcakes.  It is, however, convenient that he’s dating ME, because I for one love to bake cupcakes.  We’re closing in on his birthday, for which he has requested that I bake him – surprise surprise – cupcakes, but I haven’t decided yet exactly what kind to make.  He loves peanut butter more than most other things on this earth – maybe more than anything besides me – so I may go that route, but I’ve still got a couple of days to decide.

But I thought in the interim I’d revisit the cupcakes I made for him last year.  It may be not as much as he loves peanut butter, but he loves bourbon.  He’s not a big drinker, but bourbon is his liquor of choice, so I found a recipe on a blog last year that inspired me to make him Chocolate-Bourbon Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting.  The result was unbelievable.  So so delicious.  We were only a month into our relationship at that point, and I think he figured he’d hit the jackpot with me.

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The recipe that inspired me came from alisoneats.com, who in turn had adapted her recipe from one on Smitten Kitchen for Chocolate-Stout Cake, but it was Alison’s recipe I used, with a few tweaks.  She made her own caramel to swirl into the frosting, a la Ina Garten, but I was lazy and running out of time, and used jarred caramel sauce (like Smucker’s) from the ice cream topping section of the grocery store.  I don’t think I sacrificed any flavor whatsoever, and the frosting certainly tasted homemade.

Also, yes, warning, there is a lot of butter in these cupcakes.  Not a low-fat treat.  Definitely an indulge-yourself-on-your-birthday treat though!

Chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes (adapted from alisoneats.com)

1 cup bourbon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two muffin pans with paper liners.

Bring the bourbon and butter to a simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add bourbon-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Fill cupcake liners ¾ full and bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Caramel Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup caramel sauce

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners sugar and vanilla. Mix in the caramel sauce. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and use remaining caramel to drizzle on top.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt if you like – I didn’t, but it could add a nice extra dimension of flavor and some texture!

St. Patrick’s Day Part 2: Irish Soda Bread

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Before yesterday I don’t think I’d ever actually eaten Irish soda bread.  Being half Italian, a quarter Spanish, and a quarter mish-mash, this food was not exactly tradition in my house.  But still on my kick of making Irish food for my Irish boy on a (questionably) Irish holiday, I thought – once again – why not!  I had seen recipes before, all of which seemed to have a lot in common with my favorite scone recipe, so I figured it was worth a shot, and fairly confident it would turn out okay.  My baking experiments hardly ever let me down.

So I turned to Google – put “Irish soda bread” into the search bar, and the first result that turned up was from FoodNetwork.com, an Ina Garten recipe, with over 150 reviews and 5 stars overall.  Not too shabby.  I like Ina, the way she cooks, and her philosophies on food, so I figured her recipe would be as good as any.

Warning: if you attempt this, the recipe says the dough will be very wet.  This is a gross understatement.  They should say that the dough will stick to your hands like wet cement.  Also that if you own a dough scraper, you should have it out and ready BEFORE scraping the dough out of your mixing bowl.  Also, if you happen to have a boyfriend sitting around while you bake (note: husband, wife, girlfriend, roommate, child will all work sufficiently), you may need them to sprinkle more flour on your dough so you don’t contaminate the whole container with your sticky fingers.

That being said – stick with it (no pun intended).  This recipe turned out deliciously.  Just the right amount of tang and sweetness, neither one overpowering the other.  I would definitely make this again – although I would find my dough scraper next time.

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Ina Garten’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe (from FoodNetwork.com)

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.  Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.