Tag Archives: Pi(e) Day

Peking Duck-style Duck Pie for #PiePartyGE

Pile of Duck Pancakes from Chinese New Year’s Potluck

With apologies to all fellow #PiePartyGE attendees who were waiting for this recipe.  Something named “Sandy” pre-empted the originally scheduled publishing of this post.  

It all started innocently enough.  I sent out a Tweet asking fellow #PiePartyGE attendees if I should try to recreate the Duck Pancakes that I made earlier this year for a Chinese New Year’s potluck into a pie for last week’s event.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  So, then, I was on the hook to come up with just exactly how I would pull off this crazy idea.

Rolled out scallion pancake for pie crust

First off, the main question was how to build a crust that would capture the same tastes and texture as the pancakes themselves.  After mulling it over, drawing some diagrams, and talking to one of my chef contacts at school, I came up with the thought, “What about if the ‘crust’ was actually made of a scallion pancake.”  Aha!  That sort of became the eureka moment for pulling this whole thing together and to create the flavors for which I was looking.

Whole roasted duck

The duck filling would be easy, as I decided to mimic the way that I’d constructed the pancakes, by using the whole roast duck recipe from Jamie Oliver that I’d used the last time.  Then, I used a second scallion pancake as the top to the pie.  Once the whole pie was baked, in order to get the Chinese-restaurant-style rolled pancake concept in every bite, I topped it with a slather of hoisin sauce, a handful of chopped scallions for crunch, some finely chopped cucumbers for freshness, and crumbled, crispy duck skin to add an extra pop of flavor.

Savory pies table

The results must have been a success because folks dove on the pie once we were allowed to start sampling the entries for this year’s event.  In fact, at one point, it was harder to get a spot at the savory pies table than it was to get one at the table filled with sweet pies.  When I managed to get back to the place where I’d originally left my pie, I saw a slightly crumpled, disposable aluminum pan with a lonely piece of the scallion pancake shell and a few crumbs of meat and scallions left in it.  The Duck Pie had been almost entirely demolished.

The remains of the pie

This pie wasn’t an entirely perfect production.  While I did capture the flavors that I wanted to have, the scallion pancake made a tougher crust than the usual pie dough recipe.  It also ended up being a bit difficult to cut through when the time came to serve it.  I’m not sure if a looser dough would help to solve this problem.  I might also add some extra hoisin sauce the next time to bake into the meat filling of the pie itself, as I’m a big fan of having that sauce with scallion pancakes and duck (often taking over a container of it just for myself, to be clear).  The only other option I’m toying around with is how to make these into handpies or mini dumplings to make them easier to serve at next year’s gathering.

Serving of Duck Pie

Peking Duck-style Duck Pie

Prep Time:  3 hours (includes time to roast the duck)

Serving Size: 8 portions


1 Whole Duck (this can be made with duck parts, too)

Chinese 5 Spice Powder


Ground Black Pepper

1 portion this recipe for Scallion Pancakes from Serious Eats

Toasted Sesame Oil

Hoisin Sauce

2 Scallions, white and green parts chopped finely

1/4 c. finely chopped Cucumbers


Seasoned whole duck

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place duck in a roasting pan.  Sprinkle the outside of the duck with Chinese 5 Spice Powder, salt, and pepper.  Rub seasoning into the skin.  Pierce the skin in several places with a fork to allow the fat to render out while roasting.

Roasted whole duck

Put the duck in the oven and cook for about two hours, basting every 10-15 minutes with the rendered duck fat so as to keep the skin crispy and to even out the cooking process.  Remove the duck from the oven when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh and breast reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Let the meat cool while preparing the scallion pancake.

Shredded duck in duck fat

The duck can be roasted, the meat shredded, and then the meat stored in its own rendered fat for a couple of days prior to making the pie.  To prepare the duck for filling the pie, heat the meat and the fat in a shallow pan and add extra Chinese 5 Spice Powder, salt, and pepper to taste.

Scallion pancake as bottom crust

About 30 minutes before the duck has finished roasting, being making the scallion pancakes according to this recipe.  Instead of dividing the dough into four pieces, split it into two, making a top and a bottom crust for the pie.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly brush the pancake with toasted sesame oil.  Place the pie pan with the scallion pancake into the oven and let it cook for about 20 minutes until lightly golden.

Duck pie topped with second scallion pancake

Remove the pie pan from the oven.  Brush the pancake base with a light coat of hoisin sauce.  Fill the pie shell with the shredded duck meat, drained of fat.  Top the filling with the second scallion pancake.  Brush that with some additional toasted sesame oil.

Duck Pie pre-garnish

Place in the oven and cook for another 20-25 minutes, enough to heat the meat through and to allow the crust to turn a light golden brown.  The pie can be served room temperature to warm, which made it a perfect dish to serve at the pie potluck.  Prior to putting it out on the table, garnish it with more hoisin sauce, the scallions, and cucumbers.  For an extra twist, fry up some of the duck skin and crumble it on top to add a bacon-y type, smoky crunch to the topping.  Serve some extra hoisin sauce on the side.

Finished Peking Duck-style Duck Pie

Buon appetito!

Thank you to GE Monogram for hosting us in their gorgeous kitchen showroom space.  Thanks as well to fellow sponsors Kerrygold USA, Smirnoff, Harvard Common Press, and Dub Pies for helping to make this gathering such a terrific event!

Lemon-Lime-Coconut Tart for #PiePartyGE

A view of the sweet pies table

I’ve been procrastinating posting all day due to the on-going Hurricane Sandy drama.  The wind is howling outside of my windows like Catherine summoning Heathcliff, and the photos from beach areas along the Eastern Seaboard where I’ve spent many sunny summer days, show so much damage to these vulnerable environments.  This is in stark contrast from this past Thursday’s second annual blogger Pie Fest, known as #PiePartyGE on Twitter, where I gathered along with other amazing food folks to exercise our pastry making talents.  The photo above is just a small sample of the sweet treats which we all sampled.

Lemon Tart – International Culinary Center style

My contributions to the evening’s event were two pies, one sweet and one savory.  The sweet one was a Lemon-Lime-Coconut Tart that’s a riff on the classic French Lemon Tart that I’ve kind been making recently in my culinary course.  I started off with the same shortcrust-like pie shell base – called a pâte sablée or “sandy dough” – that we’d used in class and then changed up some of the leftover filling that I’d made to add the lime and coconut components.  I’ve had this flavor combination noodling around in my brain for a while, so being apartment-bound during this storm was the perfect excuse to try to pull it all together.

Lemon-Lime Coconut Tart

This tart is prepared in two separate steps.  First the tart shell is baked and then the custard mixture is poured into the cooled-down pasty shell.  The whole thing is then baked in the oven, with the pre-toasted coconut added about 5-10 minutes before the tart comes out of the oven to add a little bit of crunch and texture to the final product.  The taste is more citrusy with the coconut just an added touch.  It can be omitted completely for those who don’t like it without changing the tart too much.

The remains of the tart

I brought the tart to the party, nervously hoping that it would find a positive audience among my blogging peers.  When I looked over at one point, it didn’t seem to be flying off of the table like other ones were.  Then, I saw people putting slivers of it into their take-away containers, so hopefully they enjoyed it when they got home.  I did manage to get a photo of the remains of the tart at the end of the evening.  Judging from these scraps, I think it might have been well-received, which means I’ll be keeping this recipe in my files to share at other events!

Lemon-Lime-Coconut Tart

Prep Time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours (including baking time)

Serving Size: 8 people or one hurricane-house-bound person


For pastry:

1/2 c. unsalted Butter, softened

1/2 c. Powdered Sugar

1 Egg

1 Egg Yolk

one pinch Salt

1 1/3 c. Cake Flour, sifted

1 Egg, lightly beaten

For Filling:

1/4 c. shredded Coconut, lightly toasted*

2 Eggs

3/8 c. White Sugar

2 oz. Heavy Cream

Juice and Zest of one Lemon

Juice and Zest of one Lime

Juice of one Lemon


Mix together softened butter and powdered sugar until smooth.  Whisk in the egg and egg yolk.  Add the pinch of salt and sifted cake flour together and combine with the butter mixture.  If the dough is too crumbly, you can add a few drops of ice water, but it should be possible to pull it together without it.  Shape the dough into a ball, pat it into a circle, cover it in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Here’s a tip to working with this fragile dough – roll it out between plastic wrap

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  On a lightly-floured board or between two pieces of plastic wrap, roll out the dough to fit the size and shape of the tart pan you will be using and to about a width that is the size of the space between the tines of a fork.  I made this dish in a 4 x 13 x 1-inch tart pan that looks like this one.  This dough is kind of forgiving, so if you end up with some places where it cracks or where there are holes, you can patch it together before baking it.

Tart shell with baking beans

With a fork, lightly poke holes on the bottom of the tart without going all the way through the dough.  Place parchment paper on top of the unbaked shell and fill the shell with baking beans before putting it into the oven to pre-bake.  Bake for 15 minutes with the beans and then remove the parchment paper and the beans and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the shell is lightly golden.

Pre-baked tart shell

The edges will have started to become light brown.  Remove it from the oven and let it cook on a rack while you make the filling.  Brush lightly with a thin coating of the beaten egg (you won’t use very much of the egg).  This is to keep the filling from seeping through the bottom of the tart when it bakes.

Lemon-Lime Tart filling

To make it easy to pour into the tart shell, use a container or measuring cup to hold the filling ingredients.  Lightly beat together the eggs.  Add in sugar and heavy cream.  Then, whisk in lemon and lime zest and lemon and lime juice until the mixture is smooth.

Here’s the trick to getting the maximum filling into the tart

Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the tart shell on the baking rack and pour the filling into the shell while it is sitting on the rack so that you don’t run the risk of spilling all the filling while trying to put it into the oven.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until the outside of the filling has set.

Lemon-Lime-Coconut Tart out of the ovenLemon-Lime-Coconut Tart out of the oven

Sprinkle toasted coconut on top of the tart and continue to back for another 5-10 minutes until the the filling doesn’t move when you wiggle the tart.  Remove from the oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes.  This should be served room temperature.  You can store it in the refrigerator, but bring it to room temperature before serving it.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

I’ve found for baking things like this tart or Magic Cookie Bars, that it helps to toast the coconut prior to including it in the baked dish.  That way, it retains a crisp, crunchy texture and develops a golden brown color.  To do this, spread the coconut in a single layer on a baking tray and put it into a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven to cook for about 10-15 minutes.

Mixed-Berry Crostata for Pie Party Live

Do you ever commit yourself to a last-minute cooking or baking project and they realize, “Whoops!  I actually need to deliver on this and do it well.”  This has happened to me more than a few times which is why I try to keep some no-fail, sure-fire, crowd-pleasers in my recipe file.  One of these is a a project I whipped up today, after offering at 8:30 a.m. this morning to join Pie Party Live, hosted by The Diva that Ate New York.  Good thing that I’ve made this Mixed-Berry Crostata about fifty or so times before.

Mixing the wet ingredients into the dry

The recipe comes from an issue of Bon Appetit magazine from May 1995 dedicated to Mediterranean cookery.  Remember when they used to do a whole issue devoted to the cuisine of one region or country?  I really wish they did those again.  I’ve saved all the ones that I could get my hands on, as that was during the time I was living overseas, and the magazine wasn’t easy to find where I lived.  These are priceless resources for my cooking library, and all the dishes I’ve tried to make from them have worked really well.  One of these is the Grandmother’s Tart (or Torta alla Nonna), from which I made the crostata.

Crostata dough

I’ve baked this dessert in several countries and cities, using metric, imperial, and American measures and pans, so here’s my tips for making it.  Many of these are low-tech, as something I’ve never really discussed on this site is that I really do love to get my hands messy when I cook.  I have no problem mixing pastry dough by hand or mixing up the stuff for meatballs and then shaping them between my palms.  Cooking, for me, is a tactile experience, as much in the eating as in the preparation.  This is also where the extra ingredient of care gets added in, and that isn’t listed in any recipe card, on-line instructions or cookbook that I’ve ever found.  It also lets you know when you need to adjust the composition of a dish to add liquids or solids to make it come together.

Thank goodness I found this during my emergency jam run this a.m. when I realized I had didn’t have enough of it in my fridge!  Sarabeth’s is in my neighborhood.*

Although the instructions call for using a food processor, truthfully, you can easily use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  After I add the eggs, I use a wooden spoon to incorporate everything.  Then, when the egg is mostly mixed in and there is no longer any visible liquid, I put the spoon aside, roll up my sleeves, and mix all the rest of it by hand.  The moisture and heat from my palms helps to bring those last bits together, and then I knead it for about a couple of turns just to make sure that there are no clumps of butter hanging out in the dough.  This isn’t bread, so you don’t need to knead it more than a few times (personally, I don’t think I’ve ever kneaded it for a minute like it says in the instructions).

Crostata base with filling

Then, you press the dough into the removable-bottom tart pan.  This dough is very forgiving so you can shape it and patch up holes as you go.  In the U.S., I use about a 9-inch pan.  Overseas, look for one that is about 23 cm in width.   The original recipe calls for cherry or apricot-pineapple preserves.  I say, use what you like and what you’ll eat.  Cherry is a favorite of mine, but today, I decided to use Mixed-Berry (or frutti di bosco).  In Italy, I have seen crostate at bakeries with either plum (prugna), cherry (ciliega), or apricot (albicocca).   It is possible to make the dough in advance and press it into the pan without adding the jam.  Then, put it into the refrigerator, covered in plastic, with the ball of dough for the lattice top also covered in plastic and placed in the fridge.  Take it out about 15 minutes before filling it with jam and creating the lattice.

Lattice top added

The trickiest part of making this is really to roll out the cross pieces for the lattice without them breaking apart.  I think I’ve only managed to do this successfully about once or twice.  The positive side is that it definitely looks rustic (rustico) and handmade (fatto a mano) if they aren’t perfect or don’t break in the middle during baking, which mine usually do, as you’ll see in the results below.  Don’t fret over this at all!  The only advice I have is again that this dough is so forgiving.  If a piece breaks before you’ve laid down the lattice slat, stick it back together and roll it out again.  Also the recipe calls for 12 equal pieces.  I’ve done 6, 8, 10.  It doesn’t matter as along as they criss-cross.

Mixed-Berry Crostata

Here is what the end result looks like.  Lemon-perfumed, shortbread-like crispy crust with melty, sweet, gooey fruit all cooked together.  This is perfect for an impromptu supper or tea or as a potluck contribution, and the leftovers, if there are any, make a delicious next-day breakfast or snack (not that I’m speaking from any kind of personal experience on that, mind you), and you can take all the credit for making it yourself, which is sure to impress your guests.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

For this version of the crostata I used Sarabeth’s Spreadable Fruit.  I like it in this recipe as spreadable fruit is less sweet and more of the fruit flavor is present.  The down side is that it can also sometimes be more liquidy.  To use it here, measure out the amount that you need for the filling and let it it drain for 10-15 minutes in a fine-mesh sieve before spreading over the crostata base.  That way, you will not have all the liquid seeping into the crust to make it soggy.

Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey

This is one of those posts that no one ever wants to write.  It is about the loss of a loved one, suddenly, unexpectedly, without warning, for seemingly no reason at all.  This week, the food blogging community was called to rally around one if its own and it did in spades.  Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie’s Kitchen lost her beloved husband Mikey to a heart attack.  You can read more about what happened here at a beautiful, touching post that Shauna of Gluten Free Girl wrote about her good friends.


Today, to honor our fellow food blogger colleague we’ve all been asked to make Mikey’s favorite pie: Peanut Butter Cream.  Bakers and non-bakers alike are setting aside their other posts and plans to prepare this, share it with their loved ones, and put up photos of their creations on Facebook and Twitter.  Even though the context is a sad one, it’s really cool to see how everyone took one recipe and made it his/her own and how much the food writing community can come together to support someone who is a huge part of who we are.  We are basically sending a big hug and “we’re thinking of you” vibes to Jennie and her family today, which is also the day of Mikey’s memorial service.

The Chocolate Shell

What is sort of surreal to me about what happened is that Jennie and I had just been Tweeting back and forth on the Saturday before it happened.  She’d found some local strawberries at the market and was wondering about pickling them.  A few weeks back, I’d had some amazing ones created by the folks at Anarchy in A Jar, and was talking to her about them and how they made them. I meant to follow up with her about this when I saw the news on Monday about Mikey’s death.

The Peanut Butter Filling

I had the chance to meet Jennie at the Eat, Write, Retreat conference in Washington, DC in May of this year.  We met again when she spoke at TECHMunch NYC the next month.  Again, she was so warm and welcoming to someone (me) whom she barely knew but who shares the same passion as she does for food and cooking.  It is this generosity of spirit, echoed by others as well, that I hope sustains her and her family during this time and as they heal.  Making this pie is a small way to send some of what she gives out back to her when she needs it.

The Finished Pie dusted with Cocoa and dotted with White Chocolate Shavings

This recipe is such a typical American concoction to me.  It’s one of those “Ice Box Creations” as I categorize it.  A chocolate and chocolate cookie base with a top layer of peanut butter (the very concept of the latter mystifies my European friends) folded with cream cheese and whipped cream and then chocolate drizzled on top of it (or not, as I did).  It goes into in the fridge to set for a few hours or overnight.

A Piece of Peanut Butter Cream Pie

I opted to balance out the crust to filling ratio in favor of less filling than the recipe called for, so make about half of what is in the on-line link if you are a crust person like I am.  I also made it in a square pan, as that was easier to find at the store when I was shopping yesterday.  I also thought it might be easier to carry to its final destination.  The details aren’t important, however, just the fact that we could all come together to give comfort to someone in need is enough to know that despite all the bad there is still plenty of good in this world we all share.

Buon appetito!

Apricot Crostata with Almonds

I love before-and-after shots, so it’s very tempting just to leave these photos as the entire blog post without any explanation at all. The top one is the Apricot Crostata I made last night. Mind you, it was 80 or so degrees outside with about a gazillion percent humidity. I’m not sure what I was thinking in trying to bake in that weather, except that I’d picked up a dozen gorgeous, ripe apricots at the Greenmarket on Saturday, and they were starting to get to that stage where they would go from perfect-to-eat to starting-to-rot.

The bottom photo shows what happens when you take said crostata to work and let a team of hungry bankers have at it for a day. I watched one person on my team discreetly sneak some small bits of it each time she walked by the credenza where I’d stationed my culinary creation. Other folks did the usual and just hacked off a chunk of it to enjoy while sitting at their desks working on spreadsheets.

Having never made this recipe before, I was a little bit skeptical that some of the extra steps were worth it. I have another version of the same dessert that I’ve made for years and absolutely swear by, but, lately, it had been letting me down a bit. When I finally spotted the apricots at the market last Saturday, I debated for about a second as to whether I would make my usual tart with an almond-honey filling from Patricia Wells or venture into uncharted waters.

It was the apricots that made me take the plunge. I’d been treated to an early sample the week prior by the fruit vendor, so I just knew that their sweet perfume deserved to be maximized to its fullest. I pulled out a recipe from The Washington Post Food Section from a couple of years ago: Apricot Crostata. I’d been a bit hesitant about the fact that you actually have to cook the apricots and basically make a quick jam from them. I’ve never made jam. It’s one of those things I think about, but then you have to fuss with sterilizing bottles and thermometers and stuff.

This, however, was just about as easy as it would have been to open up a jar of someone else’s jam and pour it into the crust. It took about 15 minutes and the only real extra effort was in having to pit and chop the apricots, which can be done while the pastry base is sitting in the fridge. There was the added satisfaction of the bragging rights I got because I could truly say that I made the entire thing from scratch. To my mouth, that made it taste all the better.

Buon appetito!

Chassons aux Pommes – Apple Turnovers

Yesterday, I ran into someone in my class at the gym when I was at the grocery store picking up the ingredients for this recipe. She said to me, as we were bemoaning our mutual attempts to drop a few pounds for health reasons, that she’d not been cooking at home very much lately. She’d just not been able to get herself motivated and couldn’t figure out what to do about it or how to get over this hump.

What struck me, and it directly relates to this blog, is that this is not a unique point of view. I’ve heard this same sentiment from several people, and at least one fellow blogger has admitted to the same thing. Is there some major culinary slump going on? I don’t think that this has to do with the economy, as good cooks and those who love to muck about in the kitchen will do so no matter how much or little they have to spend on ingredients. It just seems as though there’s some type of long dry spell taking place at the moment. I can plead guilty to have fallen victim to this same malaise (I just like to use that word.).

With spring and all the great green produce coming out, I’m hoping to pull myself out of this slump. Actually, truthfully, I’ve been trying the past few weeks to bake my way out of it. This, of course, runs counter to what I was trying to accomplish by watching what I eat more carefully and not to over-indulge. So, where is the balance? I’m not sure.

This week, inspired by a recipe that I found when I decided to sit down last week to cull the pile of articles I’d pulled from cooking magazines, I attempted to make something that has long been on my must-have, must-learn-to-make list: Chassons aux Pommes or Apple Turnovers (not to be confused with Apple Dumplings). Orangette had published the recipe in an article in the November 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Here are my results below:

Here are my confessions: I didn’t go through the expense of using real, all-butter puff pastry – I used the regular store-bought stuff; I added about 1/2 tsp of almond extract to the filling and will do so again; I cut the dough into six squares and used both sheets in the box to make a dozen, as I found using eight squares and throwing away one to be wasteful; and I agree that the filling needs to be cut in half, as I actually made two batches in order to use up everything. My first attempt yesterday I tried to follow the directions exactly. This is a recipe that I’ve tried to make before, although not this version of it. I’ve wanted to have one on file for weekend guests, as I think this is a lovely treat.

What would I do next time? I’d follow some of the suggestions that the commenters on Epicurious.com had. I’d cut the filling recipe in half at least (maybe by 1/3). The apple combo was o.k. but I might try to make it with some varieties that are available at the Greenmarket, instead. Because I like the apple-almond flavor combo, I might also put in some ground almonds into the fruit filling. For guests, I’d splurge and buy the all-butter dough. I’d also stick to my guns that larger squares are better and easier to handle. They make a more breakfast-friendly sized pastry, in my opinion, which is just how I plan to devour them during the course of the next week or so.

Buon appetito!