Baking With Dorie Greenspan: Thanksgiving dessert, pies, Paris and more

Holiday Kuri Squash and Apple Soup.
Nov 18, 2015

Beloved cookbook author Dorie Greenspan ("Baking Chez Moi," "Baking: From My Home To Yours," "Around My French Table" and more) answers your questions about baking, her "Everyday Dorie" column and everything else she's cooking.
This week's column: A beautiful soup to start the holiday meal, with a surprise in every bowl
This week's recipe: Holiday Kuri Squash and Apple Soup

Hello and how are you?  Me? I'm in Thanksgiving planning mode, which is always a lot of fun and little anxiety provoking -- so much to do and only one oven to do it in!

What do you have planned?  What are you most looking forward to?  Got any traditional recipes or favorites you want to share?

Let's go.

 

I would love to know your thought process..........how do you continually create new desserts? Do you ever run out of ideas?

I really don't know how to answer this other than to say that I think of food night and day – I have even dreamed about food and turned my dreams into recipes!  When you’re so obsessed (and yes, I think I’m obsessed), new ideas come to you constantly.  There are times when I'll see a savory food and think about how I can take the combination and make it into a dessert.  And there are moments when the look of something will make me think of a dessert.  I get ideas from friends, from going out to eat, from reading, from being in the kitchen so many, many hours each day and from traveling.  Inspiration is everywhere.

I love to bake and decided to try Christina Tosi's cookie recipe for cornflake marshmallow cookies. The recipe was tricky for me but I tweaked the size of the balls and the oven temp and finally got an acceptable cookie but they were kind of greasy. I did not beat the dough for the full 7 minutes as she instructs and I'm wondering if that would have made a difference in the greasiness. Have any of you tried her recipes? She says to beat for 7 minutes to keep the dough from spreading out but spreading out wasn't a problem for me.

I haven't made this cookie or tasted this cookie, so I can't be sure what Christina was aiming for. I think the long beating has to do with producing an airy and smooth texture – I've used the same technique for some cakes. Anyone out there in WaPo BakingLand have experience with this cookie?

My husband has a seriously sweet teeth - like "need dessert after every meal" sweet. I tend to buy some Chips Ahoy-esque cookies (because I don't find them tempting), but would rather make some good (tasty, but with better "real" ingredients) stuff for the cookie jar. Can you make some recommendations for stuff that's tasty, but has at least a little bit of healthy goodness (and doesn't need refrigeration)? I do do fruit crisps, but that requires making one more thing some nights.

Making dessert every night can be a juggling act, but it's easy to keep all the balls in the air if you've got homemade dough in the freezer, ready to bake.  Almost every kind of drop cookie, including "Chips Ahoy-esque" cookies, can be made, dropped or scooped into balls and frozen.  When your husband's ready for a cookie, you can bake them straight from the freezer.  You can also do this with rolled-out-and-cut cookie dough for shortbreads and slice-and-bake cookies.

 

Another alternative is to make Bundt or loaf cakes.  Cut the baked-and cooled cakes into portions, wrap really well, freeze and you'll have dessert for days.  Or cut the cake into section and defrost as needed – butter-rich cakes last for a few days at room temperature.

I made my first homemade pie crusts last weekend, which was very exciting. But, now I want to make them better. I made mine with store brand unsalted butter. I've seen recipes with European butter, lard, vegetable shortening, etc. Is there one that is better than the others? Or are they used for different types of pies?

Congratulations on joining the happy ranks of pie-bakers!  If you're looking to up your game, you can always go for a more expensive butter.  My choice would be one that's cultured – many European butters are cultured as is Vermont Creamery’s butter.  If you want to use shortening, I'd suggest you substitute just a small amount of shortening for some of the butter (maybe 2 to 3 tablespoons).  Shortening helps make the crust flakey, but it doesn't contribute anything to the dough's flavor or its capacity for browning, so you don't want to overdo it.

Hi Dorie! I made runzas last week and the yeast dough called for buttermilk. I'd love to make it without the buttermilk. Any ideas what I could sub for it? Dough: 2 pckgs active, dry yeast, 3/4 warm water, 1 & 1/4 cup buttermilk, 2 tblpns sugar, 2 tsps baking powder, 2 tsps salt 4.5 to 5 cups of flour

I don't know this recipe, but it looks as though it would work with sour cream and milk or yogurt and milk – perhaps one half yogurt or sour cream and one half milk.  I'd say you could use all milk, but you probably need the acidity you get from buttermilk and its substitutes for taste and maybe also for interacting with the yeast. 

I want to point out that the fear of baking suffered by many US bakers is caused by real failure due to higher altitudes. Most American recipes are produced in areas that are near sea level but in this day and age of internet accessibility, people from a number of places in the US (and overseas, too) find recipes that cannot succeed because their altitudes make it impossible. Atmospheric pressure and differences in the boiling point make it so even seasoned bakers have difficulties when they bake in places of higher altitudes. I wish this issue was just considered when telling readers that anyone can bake. Ideally I would love it if every recipe were tested and adjusted so that I could bake at my altitude of nearly 5000 feet, but I know this is not going to happen. I think you would do a real service to your readers if you explained that there can be baking failures that have nothing to do with the home baker's abilities but with restrictions they don't control. Thanks for considering this problem.

Thanks for this and you're right.

I traditionally like to make these cookies for the holidays. The base is a shortbread, then caramelized sugar with chopped almonds, then chocolate and crushed almonds on top. The problem I have been having is the layers never sticks. When I cut them it all falls apart. I don't remember having that problem when I started making them. Any suggestions for making that caramel stick to the cookie, and the chocolate stick to the caramel?

I make a chocolate-covered caramel candy and had non-stick problems for years until I discovered the wipe-down trick.  When the caramel is completely cool and set, wipe it down gently with a moist paper towel, blot it dry and then pour over the chocolate.  Chocolate won’t stick to a wet surface or one with excess butter, so wiping the caramel down first knocks out these impediments to sticking.

 

I wish I had a similar trick for getting the caramel to stick to the cookie, but I don't.  Bakers and candymakers, please pipe up if you've got a good tip.

What stops me from weighing is that almost all recipes that I see only give measurements in cups, etc. Do you think that's changing?

Sadly, I think it will be a long time before recipes are routinely written with weights as well as volume measures.  However, if you prefer to weigh your ingredients, you should create a conversion chart for yourself.  List the weight equivalents for 1 cup of flour, 1 cup sugar etc and before you prepare a recipe, jot down the weights you'll need.  If you’re working from a printed recipe or a book, write the weights on the page, so they'll be there the next time you make the recipe.

I am in charge of thanksgiving desserts for 20 people this year. By the time we get to dessert, most folks just want a small piece of something and coffee. I am making your sour cream pumpkin pie (always a hit) am thinking of two more desserts. Perhaps something with fruit, like your fruit crumble from this summer (but perhaps with different fruit?) and something chocolate. Do you have any suggestions? What do you traditionally have for thanksgiving dessert?

Like you, I make my Pumpkin Sour Cream Pie for T-giving. I'm so glad you like it - thank you.  I also make an apple pie, although a crisp is a great alternative.  Finally, I do a cake, usually the All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake that has apples, cranberries, pumpkin and pecans.  The recipe is from Baking From My Home to Yours - I've linked to it.  And just because enough is never enough at Thanksgiving, I'll do brownies or chocolate cookies or truffles or a chocolate ganache tart so that there's something chocolate to close the meal.

RECIPE: All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake 

I've been experimenting with all-butter pie crusts, but they seem to be melting in the oven, so I end up with butter dripping into the oven. Also, when I pre-bake the crust it shrinks. I'm using Land-o-Lakes unsalted butter, but I've also tried Kerrygold with the same problems. Do I need to go back to shortening crusts? Thanks!

I've had this problem too.  The issue is not the butter, but the proportion of butter to flour.  In other words, it's the recipe. Over the summer, I made a double-crusted blueberry pie for my Everyday Dorie column and I re-worked my regular pie crust to make it all butter.  I like the crust and I like that it doesn't 'melt'.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Dorie Greenspan’s Blueberry Pie

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan’s Blueberry Pie

Can you make a recommendation or two for something that I can fill our cookie jar with that will last for at least a few days AND have at least one healthyish ingredient? Some of my family have MAJOR sweet teeth. I find cookies at least a little safer (for me) than making bars or something that I can have "just a little bit more" of. P.S. I think the custard squares on on the list for tomorrow's dinner!

I hope you and your family enjoyed the Custardy Apple Squares!

Dorie Greenspan's Custardy Apple Squares

RECIPE: Dorie Greenspan's Custardy Apple Squares

As for cookies with at least one "healthyish" ingredient, there are oatmeal cookies, of course, and granola cookies and cookies with wheat germ or whole wheat flour. I find that 'safe' cookies are small cookies. If you have a cookie you love, but don't want to eat a large portion, make the cookie just as you always would, but make it smaller – a lot smaller.  You can play the same trick with bar cookies and brownies – cut them bite-size.  Or cut freeze the bars or brownies, cut them (straight from the freezer) as you need them and cut them bite-size.

In addition to starting in a very hot oven, have you ever tried cooking with just lard? I find I have a more consistently flakey crust with just lard.

Thanks for this.  No, I've never made an all-lard crust, but I'll put it on my to-do list.

I tried your spiced plum cake, and the flavor was really good but it ended up not being done in the middle. My springform pan is 9-1/2" so I thought it might be done a little early, but it wasn't done at 23 or 26 minutes. After 30 minutes the tester came out moist but without batter, so I thought it was done, but the center fell and was not baked. The only problem I can think of was the eggs; one was a farmer's market egg that was noticeably bigger than the two large eggs from the supermarket. I think my oven temperature is ok, since other baked goods are usually done on time or a little early. Any thoughts?

Spiced Plum Cake

RECIPE: Spiced Plum Cake

Hmmm, I'm not sure what went wrong, but I don't think it was your lovely farmers market egg (unless it was truly and exceedingly large). I'd say that you could have ended up with a little more moistness than usual if your plums were super-juicy or if you used a lot of fruit.  But I don't think that would explain the center falling and being unbaked.  I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't.

Hi, Dorie! I just got a sourdough starter via mail a little over a month ago and have been baking like mad since. My only complaint is my crumb seems to be a little too wet. I suppose the solution would be more flour? Or not enough steam is escaping during baking -- do I need to cut deeper slashes? Also, I'm planning to try to make a whole wheat sourdough loaf. I haven't had much success with regular WW loaves (too wet, too dense), even when add in some vital wheat gluten. Any suggestions for making a successful WW sourdough loaf?

I am not the breadbaker in the family, but my husband has been making beautiful country loaves with whole wheat flour (not entirely whole wheat) from the Tartine Bakery book.  The bread is 75% hydration, which can be hard to handle and which might lead to a wet (gummy) loaf, but the Tartine method gives the dough a lot of time to absorb the water.  My husband bakes these free-form, but I have a friend who is turning out gorgeous loaves using the Tartine method of baking the bread in a Dutch oven.

 

One of the few things I've learned about big, moist, whole grain loaves made with sourdough (levain) is that, once they're baked, they need time to compose themselves – these are not loaves to be eaten while warm.  Depending on how large, wet and dense the whole grain loaf is, it should rest before you cut it – you might even want to wait a day before enjoying it.

First, I'm so glad you're well. I know you tweeted that you were landing in Paris on Friday evening, which must have been frightening. Second, I'm fortunate to be going to Paris with my family (including two 'tweens) right after Christmas (we are undeterred despite the recent tragedies). Do you have favorite restaurants that are good for families (and not overly extravagant)? Finally, please let your Parisian friends know that we stand with them! Merci!

Thank you so very much - you are so kind.  As horrific as the recent events have been, Paris is still vibrant, Parisians are still going about their lives with style and the city is still beautiful.  I'm glad you're coming to town next month - you'll love being here.

As for restaurants, my go-to resource is Paris By Mouth - a great website for restaurant recommendations, listings of pastry and bread and food shops and all things delicious.

I know that you and your family will have a wonderful time!

Hi Dorie, I know that you spend a lot of time in Paris. I'm fortunate to be heading there with my family between Christmas and NYE. What are your favorite not-break-the-bank restaurants?

You really are fortunate – Paris is a lovely place to spend the holidays … and it's time for buche de Noel, so you're doubly lucky.

 

I'm a big fan of bistros and these days Paris bistros are more exciting than ever – there are many young, super-creative chefs working in small restaurants.  I really like Bistrot Paul-Bert, Le Comptoir, Les Enfants Rouges and Juveniles among lots of others.

 

As I mentioned above, my favorite resource for recommendations is Paris by Mouth. It's great for finding restaurants and you'll turn to it over and over again during the holidays for information about which restaurants are open (sadly, many close during Christmas and New Year).

 

Have a fabulous holiday!

I studied pastry and I´ve always been taught that you line the tart shell carefully, then cut away the borders where the mold ends and then (freezing before or not) put some weight in and bake blind partially or fully. But I watched the great british bakeoff last week (which was utterly addicting) and everyone there baked the tarts with the extra dough portruding and then cut it while it was hot out of the oven. I was puzzled lol What´s your take on it? Oh and are you still swearing by your new found method of rolling the dough before chilling it the first time?

So interesting.  I haven't seen anyone bake their crusts higher and then level them after they're baked, but it's an intriguing idea, although I wonder about the cut edges looking a little pale compared to the rest of the crust.  If I'm making a quiche or a custard tart or pie, and I'm not sure of how much filling there'll be, I’ll often make the borders of the crust higher than the rim of the pan, just to be on the safe side.  In general, no matter the filling, I leave a short edge of dough above the rim because, no matter how careful you are and no matter how cold your dough,  you can still have shrinkage.

 

And yes, I still prepare my dough using very cold (or frozen) butter in a food processor and then roll it out before chilling it for the first time.

I can't roll out dough. I just can't. It sticks so badly to the rolling pin or countertop and if I use enough flour to ease the rolling then I've got a heavy disc. There has to be something that I can pinch together. I used to make great pinch pots and bowls out of clay coils. Surely I can translate that into dough somehow.

I love the way you compared pie dough to making pinch pots:)

A couple of things - take a look at the directions for rolling out pie dough in the recipe for Blueberry Pie, linked above - I roll the dough 2 sheets of parchment as soon as it's made, so it's soft and so easy to roll.  No extra flour.  No sticking.  No worries.  The technique could turn you around. Really.

Also, I've never done this with pie dough, but if you're making a tart (and using a sablé dough, one that's like shortbread), you can use your pinch-pot experience: pinch off pieces of the dough and press them into the tart pan and up the sides.

You can do it.  You can do it.  Let me know how it works for you.

Hi Dorie and food chatters! I've been trying to make scones recently, with varying success. What would you say are the differences between recipies that use or don't use eggs? And is the amount of liquid necessary unfixed and you only need to add enough to make the dough come together? I always seem to use too little or too much. Clearly, there's more work for me to do here!

Interesting - I can't think of any scone recipe I've made that doesn't have an egg.  I've made eggless biscuits, but not scones.

Like pie crust and biscuits and other doughs, you might have  to make a slight adjustment in the amount of liquid, to adjust for the dryness of your flour, but if the recipe is a good one, you shouldn't need to add more than a dribble.

Here's a link to my basic Cream Scones recipe that I found online (it's from Baking From My Home to Yours) - let me know how it works for you.

I use good-quality ingredients. The price of some ingredients keeps me from baking as frequently as I'd like (daily or several times a week). Do you have any cost-saving suggestions?

If you want to bake frequently, then you're in luck - you can buy ingredients in bulk.  Butter freezes for at least a year; nuts are great in the freezer, ditto seeds; flour can be kept for a very long time at room temperature or you can freeze it; and sugar is a good keeper.  Eggs, which currently are very expensive don't have a work-around that I know of, but they too are good keepers.

The big-box stores are great resources for basic ingredients at good prices.  You should also search online.

Does anyone else have other suggestions?

I'm planning on making these rolls for Thanksgiving. How important is the whole milk in this Parker House roll recipe. Could I use another type of milk? Perhaps even almond milk? (I don't like the taste of cow's milk, so I tend not to have any on hand) I'll be buying heavy cream and half-and-half for other Thanksgiving recipes, so I'm just trying to minimize the amount of ingredients I'll have to buy. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/parker-house-rolls-recipe.html

I haven't baked with almond milk, so I don't know how it would work (or not work) in this recipe.  I think you could make the recipe with a lower-fat milk, but I don't know what it would be like with milk other than cow's milk.  If you have time (I know - before T-giving that's almost a joke), you might want to test the recipe with the milk you prefer.

Wish I had more for you - if you make a sub and love it, let us know what you did.

Hi Dorie - For a pumpkin pie crust, where you pre-bake the crust before filling and baking again, how far in advance can you bake the crust? Assuming I can make it the day before I'm baking the pie, would you just wrap the crust tightly in plastic wrap to keep it fresh?

You can absolutely pre-bake the crust ahead.  If you're doing it just a day in advance, you can cover it and leave it room temperature.  If your house is dry, you don't need to cover the crust tightly - you can just put foil over it.  If you want to make the crust further ahead, pre-bake it, let it cool and then wrap it well and freeze it.  You can fill and bake it directly from the freezer.

Is it better to blind bake pie crusts for pumpkin and pecan pie?

I think it's always better to blind bake pie crusts -- the crust bakes through so that it has great color and flavor and it stands up better to fillings, especially wet fillings.  It's worth the extra step.

Any suggestions for ensuring that the bottom crust of an apple pie remains crisp? I generally use the Cooks Illustrated recipe with vodka, blindbake the bottom crust, and try to strain the juices from the apples before putting it into the pie but it sometimes is still soggy. Thanks.

You're doing all the right things.  The only other thing that I can think of is to put a layer of cake or bread crumbs in the bottom of the pie to absorb some of the liquid.  I think that no matter what you do you're going to end up with a slightly softened bottom crust - it seems to be the nature of the sweet.

My generally used vegetable shortening in her pie crusts, which were always flaky but, as Dorie notes, did not have much flavor of their own. One year we had to buy lard for a school project, and Mom used the leftover for pie. I will never forget my dad at the table, telling my mom she had outdone herself with the superb pie crust, and my mom standing behind him with her finger on her lips to warn me to keep my mouth shut about the lard. (Dad was a bit squeamish.)

What a great story!  Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

But, if you live at high altitudes, there are sources where you can learn how to adjust. Plus, experience. I used to have a vacation cabin at 7500 ft. and I learned how to adjust. (I never baked delicate cakes, but bread, cookies, pies and "sturdy" cakes all came out well with a few adjustments)

Thanks for this.  Experience is a great teacher.

Dorie, how far in advance do you make your apple pie for Thanksgiving? I am always too fearful of it getting soggy but I know my Dad would love it if I added apple pie to the menu!

I put the entire pie together and then freeze it - it can live in the freezer for up to 2 months (but I'm never that organized).  I bake the pie directly from the freezer.

You could bake the pie the night before, but really it's best the day it's made, if you can swing it.  

Hope your Dad gets his pie!

Hi Dorie - How long can all butter pie crusts hang out in the fridge, if I make them next Wednesday morning, will they still be good for Thanksgiving evening? Also, last time I made them, the crust shrunk some... any advice to avoid this? Thank you! thank you!

Are we talking about unbaked crusts?  Pie dough has a way of developing unsightly black dots if it hangs in the fridge too long.  I always make my crusts ahead and keep them in the freezer - they can stay there for 2 months.  

That said, if you make the crusts Wednesday and bake them Thursday, they'll be fine.

The best protection against shrinking dough is to chill or freeze it after it's been rolled and fitted into the pan.  Cold is a crust's best friend.

Maybe this should have been submitted to the other cooking chat, but I'm hoping you can help. I followed a recipe for "casserole" pizza, which included using pizza dough as the crust. The instructions said to spread/press the dough into the 9x13 pan, but I had a really hard time doing that. The dough just kept reforming into the ball it started with. What did I do wrong? How do you get pizza dough to spread out? I have never used pizza dough before. Thanks.

Yeast doughs - and pizza doughs are yeast doughs - are elastic by nature and push back all the time.  The only way to avoid having the dough roll up again is to let it rest early and often.  Stretch the dough, let it rest, then stretch and rest again until you've got it.  

I might try to roll the dough out until it's as close to 9-x-13 as possible, let it rest and then spread/press it until it reaches the edges of the pan.

Good luck!

Thank you, thank you for being here and for so many great questions.

I hope that you and everyone you love will have a warm and wonderful, sweet and delicious Thanksgiving.

I'll be back chatting with you Dec. 2, just in time for WaPo Food's cookie issue. Until then - xoDorie 

In This Chat
Dorie Greenspan
Dorie Greenspan is the award-winning author of 11 cookbooks, the most recent of which is "Baking Chez Moi." Read more on her Web site, doriegreenspan.com, and follow her on Twitter: @doriegreenspan.
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