Thank You and Farewell

Everyone, thanks. Some part of me thought a site redesign could somehow paper over my fundamental lack of time. It just goes to show the lengths we’re often willing to go to kid ourselves. The girls are getting frighteningly large and need me for all the usual pre-teen and a pre-pre-teen things: homework, family dinners, sport practices and games, and frequent, urgent talks off the emotional ledge. Mrs. Pastry can only do so much.

The site will stay up as long as there’s an internet, so don’t worry about it going away. All the recipes, tutorials and other mumbo-jumbo will be here indefinitely (the URL is paid up for five years and I’ll keep paying it, plus hosting). Use it and feel free to take anything you’d like from it (content, photos) for projects of your own. Credits are welcome but not required.

This has been a whole lot of fun. Please do not feel you need to comment on this post. So many of you wrote such kind and flattering things when I announced my hiatus this summer. I’ll apply all that here, to my official goodbye. I am a very blessed man and I thank you all for nearly ten years of work and reward. Must go. The girls are digging potatoes in the garden and need me to turn over the dirt.

Cheers, love and peace to all,

– Joe


Torta Della Nonna Recipe

Gina de Palma is the reigning queen of Italian sweets (her book Dolce Italiano belongs on every baker’s shelf) so whenever I get a request for something Italian, I go to her first. Her recipe for torta della nonna is straight-up traditional, but when you combine it with her trademark citrus-infused pasta frolla, it’s something of a show-stopper. You’ll need:

1 recipe pasta frolla
16 ounces (2 cups) whole milk
2 3-inch long strips fresh lemon zest
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
2.5 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) sugar
4 egg yolks
pinch kosher salt
1.25 ounces (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon soft butter
2.5 ounces (1/2 cup) pine nuts, toasted and cooled


Pasta Frolla Recipe

Pasta frolla is the Italian version of pâte sucrée. It’s slightly fluffier than a French tart crust, a little more tender and a bit little less sweet. One can easily be substituted for the other, however it’s the subtle differences that often make the difference between a so-so pastry and an extraordinary one. I’ve long been an admirer of Gina de Palma’s version, and am very pleased to present it here. You’ll need:

12.5 ounces (2 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
2.5 ounces (1/3 cup) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
freshly grated zest of 1 lemon or a small orange
6 ounces (3/4 cup) butter, cold
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces (1/4 cup) heavy cream, room temperature


Self Rising Flour: What is it Good For?

Once I thought: not much. And even until very recently I made my biscuits by blending canned baking powder with White Lily all purpose flour, which is the same stuff just without the pre-blended pop. My assumption has always been that it’s safer to use canned leavening as you never know how long your bag of self-rising flour has been on the shelf (after several months the baking powder starts to lose its potency).

That turned out to be Yankee thinking. The few times I bought White Lily in Chicago I was disappointed. But when you’re that far north of Mason-Dixon line what can you expect? Here in Louisville you don’t have that problem. The stuff moves off the shelves at a very brisk clip so you’re practically guaranteed a fresh bag. The one exception to the rule is the little 2-pound bags, which I made the mistake of buying just after I arrived here. No real Southerner would ever one of those. I deserved what I got.


A Short History of Self-Rising Flour

Reader Ted (from Canada) writes:

I was over at the Guardian newspaper reading recipes by Nigel Slater, and it struck me that I very very often see that the English use self-raising flour in their baked goods. But I think we use it that much in North America…maybe a bit in your southern states, but here in Canada…..…I know I can buy it in the stores, but I can’t think of a recipe I’ve seen in a Canadian publication in the last 20 years that’s used it. What happened when we all crossed the Atlantic?


Making Chicken Pot Pie


Casserole under a crust is what pot pie is, really. I take back what I said about stew. The ingredients are mostly cooked when they go into the pot/pan then stuck together with a binder. So technically the filling is more closely related to a pudding than a pie. But why split hairs? Pot pie is awesome, let’s leave it at that. Make yours by collecting your ingredients and preheating your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Why do you cook a roux?


LOVE that question, reader Molly. Indeed, a mixture of melted butter and flour should in theory have plenty of thickening power just the way it is. Why bother to cook it? The primary reason is texture. An uncooked roux yields a thick sauce, but one that has a vaguely mealy mouthfeel. That’s the result of the flour granules in the mix, which are big enough that they register on our tongues. The result is sometimes described as a “starchy” taste. A few minutes’ exposure heat causes the flour particles, which are nothing more than bundles of stick-like starches, to start shedding molecules. As that happens they reduce in size to the point that we can no longer detect them.


What’s the deal with egg prices?

Will they come down anytime soon? So asks reader Ellen. Sadly the answer is: no time soon. The North American avian flu epidemic isn’t in the news much these days, but it’s still raging. That’s the main factor underlying the price spike, but there are others. A lot of industry folks blame McDonald’s for buying up shell eggs for their “real egg” biscuit sandwiches, but there are a lot of other players out there competing for shell eggs (even if breakfast is an all-day affair at Mickey D’s these days).