Whoosh! There go the holidays

I think that blazing flash of light I just saw was the holiday season whizzing by. December usually runs in fast-forward (now there’s a term today’s tape-free teens probably don’t know), but it seems worse for me this year. A big part of it was having to finish proofs and other materials for my cookbook on buttermilk, which won’t be published until fall of 2012, but nevertheless the publisher needs the stuff now.

I’m finally up for air, and plan to make the most of the remaining time. “Christmas in Connecticut” is snug in my DVR, right next to the Alastair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol.” “Christmas in Connecticut” is my new holiday fave – I love the idea that Barbara Stanwyck’s 1945 version of Martha Stewart doesn’t actually cook any recipes she writes about.

I don’t look quite as va-va-voom as Barbara, but I do bake. When fresh cranberries and oranges abound, this quick bread is my favorite. It’s easy, good for breakfast or snacks, freezes well, and I can easily “non-dairy it” for The Hub.

Cranberry-Orange Nut Bread

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter

Grated rind of 1 orange

Orange juice

1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in the cranberries and pecans.

Put the margarine or butter in a 1-cup glass measure and melt the margarine or butter in the microwave. Add the grated orange rind, then pour in enough orange juice to fill the cup. Add the liquid and the egg to the flour mixture and stir to blend. Don’t overbeat. Pour into a non-stick 8-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. Bake 1 hour or until it tests done with a toothpick.

Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove it. Let it cool completely if you want to wrap and freeze it.

 

Sky high over pie

cranberry pie by the benevolent sisterhood of pie

The Benevolent Sisterhood of Pie, having convened for our annual Thanksgiving pastry-making festivities, make this proclamation: Pie is the Official Holiday Dessert. The BSP’s current membership – the Queen of Pie, Sassy Kay and myself, plus The Hub as president and sole member of the men’s auxiliary – agreed on one sole guideline for perfect pie: Homemade crust. Yes, I have stooped to the red box in weak moments – forgive me sisters. But this year’s crusts for Thanksgiving were tender as angels’ wings and as flaky as a GOP debate. Just how good crust should be. Tasting it will spoil you for the box.

For a two-crust, 9-inch pie, here are the instructions. It helps to see someone like the Queen, who is a pie crust expert, make it. And just keep trying if the first one doesn’t work out. You’re just out flour and shortening. Also, if you’re using a deep-dish pie pan, as I do, add half again as much of all ingredients so that you’ll have ample crust. Double it, if you like.

Put 2 cups flour (the BSP likes White Lily) in a bowl. Stir in  1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Add 2/3 cup shortening. Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender until it looks like cornmeal and small peas. Don’t overwork the dough. Have a cup of ice water ready. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ice water onto the mixture. Toss it in with two knives. Be gentle and don’t mash. Repeat with up to 4 tablespoons of water, but just enough for the dough to come together without being soggy. The weather makes a difference. Humidity means you need to add less ice water. We also discovered, in a scientific comparison, that the same brand of flour kept in the refrigerator, vs. in a canister on the counter, was drier and required more water.

Turn the dough onto a piece of wax paper, put your hand under the paper and press the dough together lightly, without squeezing. Twist the paper closed and let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes.

For rolling out the dough, I found that using a pastry cloth (I ordered one from Sur La Table) is helpful. Mine also has circles for 8- and 9-inch pans. Flour the cloth and the rolling pin. A sock-like sleeve for the rolling pin (it came with the cloth) helps, too. Roll firmly but gently and smoothly. Don’t pound the dough. With it’s the right size, use a scraper to gently lift the dough and roll it partially on the rolling pin, lift it, and place it in the pie pan. Repeat the process for the top crust.

We’re in the season of red, so grab some cranberries and make this festive pie. It was a hit for the BSP this Thanksgiving. We started with a recipe from the excellent “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, N.C. and “doctored it up.” We thought the filling was so pretty that we did a lattice crust instead of a full-coverage crust. Simply cut strips with a pizza cutter and weave them across the top.

Cranberry Pie from the Benevolent Sisterhood of Pie

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

1 tablespoon flour

Finely grated rind of 1/2 of a large orange

1 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups raw cranberries

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the pie pan with the bottom crust. In a medium bowl, mash the butter, flour and orange rind together with a fork until it’s a smooth paste. Add the sugar and continue mashing to turn it into a crumbly mixture. Add the cranberries and Grand Marnier and stir together. Pour the filling into the pie pan. Top with the second crust and crimp the edges with a fork to seal, or turn under with your fingers and make a nice frill of it. If you’re doing a lattice crust, weave the strips across the top. Make 4 or 5 slashes in the top crust so it won’t explode while cooking. (Omit this if you did the lattice technique.) Sit the pan on a cookie sheet in case it overflows a little (better on the cookie sheet than your oven floor, believe me). Place in the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is brown and you can see through the slits that the filling is bubbling. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.