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Banoffee Pie

May 29, 2012 2 comments

What does a born-and-raised Southern woman make for a going away dinner for a friend from the UK? A banoffee pie, of course! According to Wikipedia, a banoffee pie is “an English pastry-based dessert made from bananas, cream, toffee from boiled condensed milk (or dulce de leche), either on a pastry base or one made from crumbled biscuits and butter. Some versions of the recipe also include chocolate and/or coffee.” I had no idea what I was getting into. I’d never tried a banoffee pie; I just knew that Conor mentioned that he liked them. I liked the idea behind it – crust, layer of soft toffee (a.k.a. caramel), sliced bananas, whipped cream, and grated chocolate. What’s not to love?!? Also, it sounded like it might be fairly easy to make.

So I turned to Google and searched for a banoffee pie recipe. I found several versions. Some used pastry crusts, others used crumb crusts. Some had homemade toffee made from scratch; others used a toffee filling made from sweetened condensed milk. Some included chocolate; others did not. The common thread was sliced bananas and whipped cream. Next time, I will try flavoring the whipped cream with some espresso powder. I only used vanilla this first time, but I think coffee would give it a nice flavor boost.

Dinner was rather spur of the moment. We originally planned to meet at Sam and Greg’s, a local pizza and gelato shop. But that just didn’t seem right. A home cooked meal seemed like a better send off for Conor before he moved to Richmond, VA. Conor was our co-worker from our days in Building 17 at Intergraph. I was the Betty Crocker of the group and cooked for the folks in the bay. That’s actually kind of how Matt and I started dating. When I’m stressed, I bake. When I started the job at Intergraph, I was stressed a lot! So, there was lots of baking. I would bring in food and Matt would stop by my cubical and we started hanging out together.

Back to dinner and the banoffee pie. I had my food preservation class earlier that day at Harrison Brothers Hardware. I completely forgot it was the same day as the going away dinner. So, I decided on something easy to prepare – homemade chicken and dumpling stew, a fresh picked salad from our garden, and a quick version of the banoffee pie.

Figured there was not enough time to make homemade caramel or toffee, so I used a can of  Nestle’s La Lechera (The Dairy) dulce de leche. This particular brand is made in Chile and it is awesome! You can find it at a Latin American market or in the international section of a large grocery store. Usually, Publix and Kroger carry it (in Huntsville and Madison). When I find it on sale, I buy a few cans and keep it on hand. It is almost as good as a homemade caramel and it is so much easier! It reminds me of the caramel we made as a kid by boiling unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk. This method produces great results but it can be dangerous. Cleaning caramel from the ceiling is not fun :(. I would not recommend this method! However, if you are inclined to make your own dulce de leche, I would recommend looking at Cooking for Engineers. A great website and they provide a safer method.

I liked the idea of a crumb crust since it is quicker to make than a pastry crust. I decided to go with the digestive biscuits recommended in a few recipes. This is my new go-to crumb crust; it isn’t as sweet as a graham cracker crumb crust. Digestive biscuits are easy to find in Huntsville. You can get them at Publix, Kroger, The Fresh Market, Earth Fare, and the European Market on the Parkway. TJ Maxx and Target also stock them on occasion. I like the McVitie’s brand. If you can’t find them, shortbread wafers or graham crackers would be fine. Or if you want to make a pastry crust, go for it!

The finished pie in the photo is a little thin. I should have used a 9” or 11” springform or tart pan. However, I made three pies (9”, 4½”, and cupcake sized). The cupcake was for testing (you need a sample when experimenting!), the small pie was for Conor to take home. That left me with either a 9” or 11” pan. I went with the 9” and the caramel layer was a little thin.

Bottom line, this is an easy recipe, though I’m not sure it is a true banoffee pie. But it was tasty and Conor liked it (high praise!).  So here is my version of a quick banoffee-like pie…

Crumb Crust:

2 cups cracker or cookie crumbs* (I used 16 McVitie’s Original Digestive Biscuits)

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350º F. In a medium bowl, combine the crumbs with the sugar and salt. Stir in the melted butter. Press the mixture into a 9” or an 11” spring form or tart pan lined with parchment paper (just to make slicing and removing the pie easier). Use the back of a spoon or a measuring cup to press the mixture up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. Then refrigerate until firm.

Filling:

13.4 ounce can La Lechera dulce de leche

3-4 bananas (firm, not too ripe)

½ pint heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon powdered sugar

pinch of espresso powder or instant coffee, optional

1 ounce chocolate, grated

Heat the caramel. You can heat it on the stove or in the microwave. Heat just until it is warm and soft. It can burn, so don’t overheat it. Actually, I just placed the entire can in the warm oven after the crust baked. Pour the warm caramel into the cooled crust. Spread it with a spoon. Try not to dig into the crust or you might get crumbs in the caramel. It tastes fine, but the texture gets a little funny. Chill for an hour or until the caramel is firm.

Slice the bananas into ¼-½” uniform slices (just depends on how much banana you want). Arrange in a single layer on the caramel. Whip the cream and add the sugar and the vanilla (and coffee if you want). Top the bananas with the whipped cream. Sprinkle with grated chocolate. Chill until you are ready to serve.

This pie is better served fresh. Even covered in whipped cream, the bananas can get a little mushy for my taste once refrigerated. I made it and served it on Thursday, it was great on Friday. The last slice on Saturday was not as good as the one on Thursday. Serves 8.

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Strawberry Shortcake Pie

April 28, 2012 12 comments

Earlier this week I went with a friend to pick fresh strawberries at a local farm. We each picked two gallons of berries! Putt planned to dry most of her strawberries (yum). I had other plans for mine: I removed the hulls and froze a large bag of whole berries for future smoothies, margaritas, and mojitos; baked a pie; and ate plenty of them plain, only washed. They were all delicious!

Today, I made my first batch of  homemade strawberry jam. Or is it preserves? What is the difference between preserves and jam? That might be a future blog post. I originally planned to make a quick and easy freezer jam, because I’m a little intimidated by canning. But then I realized I’ve canned pepper jelly, so this is probably about the same.

I made eleven jars of jam:  eight regular, one jar of jelly (the last jar had no pieces of fruit, so I think that is jelly), and two strawberry habanero. It sounds like a strange combination but I think it will be good on cream cheese and served with crackers. I love hearing the sounds of the lids popping. I can hear them as I type. I would include the recipe in today’s blog, but I just followed the directions inside the box of Sure-Jell fruit pectin (http://www.kraftbrands.com/surejell/howto_cookedjam.aspx). Everything worked out fine until I was cleaning up the kitchen: somehow, a tiny Mason jar fell down into the garbage disposal. I didn’t realize this until it was too late. Yep, little bits of glass all in the disposal. I think Matt and I will try to fix it this weekend. This will be the second one we have repaired (never stick flower stems down a disposal, it will likely clog it!). We never had a garbage disposal growing up, so that’s my excuse for my disposal accidents.

We support local farms when we can. We are fortunate to have several wonderful farms in North Alabama and Southern Tennessee. If you live outside the area, I hope you will support your local farms and farmers markets. Here’s some information about three of our favorite farms that provide local, fresh, and delicious strawberries (among other things)!

Brown Farms: Their farm is in New Market. Directions from Huntsville: take North Parkway/231 North, turn right on Joe Quick Road, turn left on Walnut Grove Road and follow the signs to the farm (it will be on your left). If you can’t make it to the farm to pick your own or buy fresh berries, you can buy their strawberries at local Star Market Supermarkets (the one in 5 Points usually carries them this time of year). Address & Phone: 384 Walnut Grove Rd New Market, AL 35761, 256-828-0710

For more information about Brown Farms:  http://www.pickyourown.org/ALhuntsv.htm

Dennison’s Family Farm: This farm is a little further away in Elora, TN. They sell already picked strawberries at the farm or you can visit one of their cute little strawberry “houses” in Madison (across from City Hall in front of Hartlex Antiques on Hughes Road), Fayetteville, and Winchester (please call for exact locations). They also have a community supported agriculture (CSA) program if you are interested in trying one. Address & Phone: 98 Milner Switch Road, Elora, TN 37328, 931-937-8162

For more information about Dennison’s Family Farm:  http://dennisonsfarm.com/ or info@dennisonsfarm.com

J. Sparks Farm: I’ve only visited this farm once, but I got a behind-the-scenes tour with the owner’s sister. It is a nice farm, and it is a little easier on the knees picking the strawberries standing up since it’s a vertical hydroponic farm. The strawberries (and lettuce) were wonderful. I’m not sure if they are growing strawberries this year, but I hope to see them back at the Greene Street Market at Nativity when they open for the season next week, on May 3rd! Address & Phone: 312 Esslinger Drive, Gurley, AL, 256-776-9881

For more information about J. Sparks Farm:  http://www.jsparksfarms.com/

My public service announcement for local farms is over. And now back to the blog…

Today’s recipe is not healthy, vegan, nor is it gluten-free*. It is a once in a while splurge-worthy dessert – Strawberry Shortcake Pie. Actually, for us, it is a once every 5 year splurge. It’s a fairly simple recipe and it’s not the most outrageous dessert I make, but for some reason, we just don’t have it very often. I’ve known my husband, Matt, since 2007.  I baked this pie for him the first time in May 2007 and haven’t made one since. I figure we are good until April or May of 2017!  Wow, that sounds like a long way away!

I guess this recipe originally came from a magazine because my mom pasted an old clipping into her photo album cookbook. At the bottom of the recipe, it says, “continued on page 120.”  Page 120 is not included in her cookbook. I’ve always wondered what was on that page! I’ve stayed fairly true to the original recipe, only made a few changes: 1) My pie plate is 9.5” instead of 9” so I increased the crust ingredients just a bit; 2) I omitted the red food coloring, I think the glaze is perfectly lovely without the added coloring; 3) Changed the name, instead of Strawberry Glazed Whipped Cream Pie it is now the Strawberry Shortcake Pie (it reminds me of the homemade shortcakes I made as a child); and 4) I sliced some of the larger strawberries, whole berries make slicing the pie challenging.

Strawberry Shortcake Pie

Shortcake Crust:
1½ cups biscuit mix (I use Bisquick)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
scant ⅓ cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 450º F. Place biscuit mix and softened butter in the bottom of a 9.5” or 10” pie pan. Pour in the boiling water. Stir mixture with a fork until it forms a soft ball and leaves the side of the pan. Don’t overwork the dough or you will end up with a tough crust. Use your fingers to pat the dough evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan. If you are good at such things, you can press the dough over the rim of the pie plate and then form the dough into a neat, decorative design on the edge. I’m not so good at that, so I just use my finger (or a fork) to make an indentation on the top edge of the crust. Use a fork to dock the crust – poke holes along the sides and bottom of the crust to allow steam to escape and keep it from puffing up. Bake 10-12 minutes until it is golden brown. If you have pie crust shields, you might want to use them to keep the edges from over-browning, but it’s not necessary. Just check the crust after baking about 9 minutes to make sure it turns golden and does not burn.  Remove crust from the oven and let it cool.

Strawberry Filling:
6 cups fresh strawberries
½ cup water
2½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter

Fresh whipped cream, optional garnish

Wash and drain the strawberries. Save a few pretty ones for a garnish. Remove the hulls from the rest. Crush 2 cups of the strawberries and set aside. Cut the remaining 4 cups of strawberries into halves, quarters, or slices (whatever you prefer; I just don’t like slicing into a pie with large, whole berries). In a medium saucepan, stir together the water and cornstarch. Mix well. Add the sugar and stir in the 2 cups of crushed strawberries. Bring mixture to a boil and cook until clear, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter. Strain the mixture using a strainer, chinois, or a clean piece of cheesecloth. Arrange the 4 cups of strawberries in the cooled pie shell. Pour the warm glaze over the strawberries. Make sure all the strawberries are covered with the glaze. Refrigerate several hours until set. Garnish with whole strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Serve. This is not a pie that ages well. It is best to make it the day you plan to eat it. It gets a little soggy and isn’t as pretty the following day. It still tastes delicious. Yes, I’ve had leftover strawberry shortcake pie for breakfast the next day! Makes 8 servings.

*Healthier Version: I think this could easily be made gluten-free by using the gluten-free baking mix from King Arthur Flour of Pamela’s Products. I just haven’t tried it yet. Also, I noticed at Publix there is a “new” Gluten-Free Bisquick. I have not tried it either. I stuck to the original Bisquick because I wanted the taste from the childhood. You could also make your own crust; a crumb or nut crust would be delicious. Or even use a spelt crust (I saw them recently at Garden Cove and Earth Fare). To make it vegan, I think margarine or coconut oil could be used to make the crust (just gotta check the biscuit mix to make sure it is vegan). The rest of the recipe only has 1 tablespoon of butter to make the glaze “glossy!” I think coconut oil or margarine would make it plenty glossy.