A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

As it turns out, mercifully, all I had to do was make dessert for the Thanksgiving holiday this year. So, instead of giving you a lot to read – everyone’s time is short around the holidays it seems – I hope the pictures (along with some witty and helpful captions) will speak for themselves.

Pink Lady Apple Galette The ladies getting ready for action. I ended up using the peeled ones. Pâte brisée dough topped with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, fresh ground nutmeg and a dash of salt. I think I added some allspice as well. And maybe ground cloves. I forget. Anyway, it’s up to you – add any spices you want!Layer the apple slices over the dough, brush them with melted butter, sprinkle some sugar on top and fold the dough over the apples. I’m giving myself some props on that design, but next year I think a turkey design is in the cards. Yes? No?Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, and, voila! The French answer to good, old-fashioned American pie. (What? We shouldn’t include the French in our Thanksgiving celebration? Now that’s not nice. We have much for which to thank the French…when it comes to dessert, anyway.)

Pecan Pie, Anyone?
Correction, all-American pecan pie straight out of the Joy of Cooking cookbook. It doesn’t get any easier or classic than that, people. (Okay, fine, if you are from the South, you might take offense to this statement, but I don’t have a grandmother’s grandmother’s recipe, so Joy of Cooking it is.)

Last, but not least…Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake. Bourbon. Pumpkin. Cheesecake. Really, need I say more?

Wait, one last thing.

Cookies and Chocolate Mousse

Correction, make that vanilla bean sugar cookies and dark chocolate mousse. Don’t you just love how good those sound together? Well, they were good together, and I have Thomas Keller (of Bouchon and The French Laundry fame) and his recipes to thank for it. Actually, I have my friends, Shelley and Brett, to thank because they suggested we focus solely on the recipes of Thomas Keller for dinner club this month.

Great idea! Except if you know anything about the venerable Mr. Keller, you know that his recipes can veer toward the detailed, and sometimes, complicated end of the cooking spectrum. But, I had neither the time nor inclination for detailed or complicated as I set about deciding on the dessert I would bring. I wanted simple and easy. I mean, really, isn’t that what we all want from life? It’s already busy and involved. I don’t see any reason to make it more so. Not to mention, I have yet to find that there is an undisputable correlation between complication and time consumption and a superior result. The greatest joys in life are often the ones that come about in the most carefree and unexpected ways.

I don’t own any of Mr. Keller’s esteemed cookbooks, so I harnessed the power of the internet to find some of his dessert recipes that wouldn’t require a lot of time, far in advance or last minute preparation, or a laundry list of ingredients. Enter dark chocolate mousse and vanilla bean sugar cookies from his book, Bouchon. If my dinner club friends read the recipes, I think I’m going to lose a lot of street cred when they realize just how easy it was to make these sweets.

The beauty of both recipes is they can be made the night before. (No one has to know this, though.) In fact, the mousse needs to refrigerate for at least eight hours and the sugar cookie dough needs to be refrigerated for a few hours until it is firm enough to slice. So, since you really do need to make them somewhat in advance, why not make them the night before and spend the day of the party focusing instead on your outfit?

If you’re worried that people will think you just threw something together last minute or didn’t try too hard, do what I did and up the presentation factor. Remember, packaging sells the product. I bought cute little four ounce Bell glass jars and put the mousse in the jars for individual servings. I then plated the jars on antique plates from my grandmother and placed a couple of the sugar cookies alongside. It brought out the rustic, yet sophisticated, theme that is present in much of Keller’s cooking and at his restaurants and bakeries.

All in all, the two together made for the perfect dessert for the perfect ending to a fabulous meal with great friends. Because life shouldn’t be complicated.

In Season: Apples

Sometimes in life it’s better to be uninformed. The lack of knowledge allows us the freedom to make decisions differently than we might make otherwise. Sometimes these decisions have disastrous results, sometimes they have serendipitous results. Such was the case when I decided to make this recipe for apple pie bars. I only glanced at the recipe as I was wooed by the title and the picture, but I assumed it would be a simpler version of apple pie…in a bar form. Generally, bar recipes are easier and less time consuming (think brownies and blondies). I was also drawn to this recipe because bars are portable and bite-sized. I could have apple pie without the fuss and this sounded like the perfect recipe for that, I thought. Well, not so fast, sister.

The bad news. My biggest gripe about the recipe is that the alleged preparation time is one hour. Unless you are an octopus or have a flying monkey for an assistant, I have no idea how you can prepare the recipe in one hour. In fact, as the clock was ticking by, I became rattled and turned into a crazy person. I was racing around my kitchen, trying to beat the clock, just so I could reassure myself that I do know what I’m doing in the kitchen. It looked like a baking crime scene when it was all said and done. I would say allow a good hour and a half or more to get the recipe together.

Now, the good news. If you are looking for a different take on apple pie and you have the time, inclination and low enough cholesterol level, and decide to make these apple pie bars, you will be rewarded. Imagine your house smelling like heaven. Because, as you know, if there is a heaven, it smells like still warm, baked apple pie.

But that’s not all. Despite the fact that there are close to seven sticks of butter in the recipe (but just don’t think about that, okay?), the apple pie bars aren’t particularly rich or heavy, yet a little goes a long way. The serving size is two-inch squares, which is the perfect size for a snack or dessert, especially with a tiny scoop of, say, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams salty caramel flavor. I used a pan smaller than the one called for in the recipe, but I still got 40 bars from the pan. From that I gave nice little gifts to three neighbors, two small gifts to friends and Todd and I enjoyed them for dessert on two separate nights (and one of those nights we had a guest over to have dinner). Pretty good haul if you think about it. I think the bars are also a genius idea for a get together. I like the fact, too, that they will last for four days at room temperature in an air tight container or they can be frozen for up to a month. Give some away, enjoy some for a few days and save some to munch on over the month. A win-win situation, really.

The recipe calls for using boring Granny Smith apples. I used a mix of four varieties: Eastern, Gala, Granny Smith and Stayman. The three varieties other than the Granny Smith are fairly sweet. I think using all Granny Smith apples would have made the apple mixture lean toward the tart side, especially since the recipe does not include much sugar to sweeten the apples.

By the way, do you know how many varieties of apples there are in the United States or the world? Me either, until now. According to my always-accurate Google research, there are approximately 2,500 varieties grown in the U.S. and approximately 7,500 varieties of apples grown world-wide. 2,500 and 7,500, respectively, people. That is a lot of damn apple varieties. However, sadly, only 100 varieties are grown commercially and one of the “best” that is grown is Granny Smiths? What the heck? If, purportedly, 100 varieties are grown commercially, why, then, do we rarely ever see more than about five or so varieties at the grocery store and maybe only 10-15 at the orchards? Where are all of these apples? Seriously, where are they? I want to know. I’m talking to you, Mr. Commercial Apple Grower.

Sorry about that. Back to cooking notes. The shortbread dough for the crust was stickier than other shortbread doughs I’ve made, so I put it in the refrigerator for about fifteen minutes prior to baking. I baked the crust in a 375 degree convection oven. Oops. Evidently the crazy person who happened to look like me and who was doing the baking forgot that when using convection the temperature should be adjusted down, usually about 25 degrees. Thankfully, sanity returned and I cooked the crust for only 17 minutes, instead of the full 20 minutes. Everything was alright, although maybe slightly overbaked. The fact that the dough was a bit thicker due to the smaller pan size probably worked in my favor here, too. For the topping, I substituted pecans for the walnuts. There was about a cup or so of leftover topping, which was due in part to the smaller pan size, but other reviewers commented on having leftover topping as well. I’m figuring out a use for it, though, don’t you worry. I’m not letting butter, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts go to waste. No way.

So, despite my whining about the time investment, and my momentary lapse in sanity at times while making these, I think the recipe is worth the effort. Of course, now you’re fully informed, so who knows what might happen when you make them. Let me know…and let me know if you know where all those apples are.