Mom's Pie

This is one of the most versatile sweet recipes I've ever used. It's a super simple dough that works with any type of filling and can be used for sweet as well as savory concoctions with equal success.  My mom's been making it as long as I can remember and almost every family in the old country had something of a kind.  It can also be made into jam-filled bars that are out of this world. 

You will need:

Ingredients

1 egg and 1 yolk

2-3 tbsp milk

¾ cup sugar (1/4 if the dough is used for savory pie)

150 grams butter (about 1 1/3 of a stick)

1 tsp baking soda mixed with a ½ tsp vinegar until foaming

2 cups of flour (second cup shouldn’t be full)

Vanilla

 

Cream sugar and butter, add egg, vanilla, soda and vinegar, add flour gradually until fully incorporated.  Dough should be soft and not stick to hands when touched.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour or better overnight so the butter in the dough hardens.

Prepare filling – peel, core and slice apples, I use Granny Smith or Russet, about 6-8 for this size pie. Sautee on low heat until apples soften but don’t cook completely. Add sugar if apples are sour, zest and juice of a lemon and dried cherries, stir for another minute and turn off the heat.  Let cool. Don’t strain – dried cherries will absorb most if not all juice.

Other fruit and fruit combinations work really well, for savory version I use sautéed cabbage, mashed potatoes or other veggie fillings.

When dough is sufficiently chilled divide it in 2 parts, approximately 1/3 and 2/3 in proportion.  Butter and flour pie dish (cooking spray with flour will work well too) and spread the larger part of the dough evenly with your fingers so the entire pie dish is covered (I prefer glass or thick ceramic pie bakers).  Place filling on top of the dough and press in slightly, spreading evenly.  Take the remaining dough and shred on top of the filling.  Note that the dough will not cover everything, some filling will be visible and that’s fine.  Beat remaining egg yolk and milk with fork and using pastry brush or paper towel brush the mix on the top of the pie.  Sprinkle with sugar (for sweet pies) and bake 45 min to an hour at 350F.  Fully cooked pie will be golden-brown.

 

Napoleon - Old Country Style

To those who, like me, emigrated to the States from former USSR, Napoleon doesn't simply mean layered dessert or layered dish. To us, Napoleon is a very particular cake, comprised of thin, crumbly, buttery layers with delicate custard cream in-between.  Each family had their own, carefully guarded, recipe that was passed from mother to daughter.  I wasn't as lucky - my mom or grandma never made Napoleon and my aunt passed away before we could record her recipes.  So I had to go on a recipe-finding mission - it took me a while to find, test and perfect the recipe to my liking. I think in the end I distilled it from three or four different ones but the result was a smashing hit with the family.  So, here goes:

Napoleon – Final Recipe

Dough

3 cups of flour

2 eggs (yolks only)

4 sticks of butter (1lb, very cold)

4 tbsp sugar

4 oz of cold water

1 tablespoon of vinegar

 

Cut up the butter into pieces and put in the bowl of the food processor.  Add flour and pulse until consistency resembles fine crumbs. Mix egg yolks with sugar. In a separate small bowl combine vinegar and water. Combine water/vinegar mix into egg/sugar mix. Incorporate egg mix into flour.  The dough should be soft but not sticky, if it is too sticky add more flour, a little at a time – the dough will roll up into a ball around the processor blade once ready.  Separate the dough into 12 equal size balls. Wrap each in plastic (fairly generous piece, you will need this plastic sheet later) and place next to each other in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  If you are in a hurry put the dough balls in a freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

 

Pre-heat the ovens to 400F (give or take, depending on the strength of your oven). Prepare 12 sheets of parchment paper and as many cookie sheets as you have.  Remove the dough balls from the refrigerator one at a time (if you used the freezer take them out and put in the fridge). Take a sheet of parchment paper, place the dough ball on the sheet and roll out very thin with a French pin through the plastic wrap.  The dough is extremely soft and can’t be moved, flipped or transferred from the board to the sheet so you have to do it on the paper through the plastic wrap.  Once done, use a round plate or pot lid of the desired diameter to mark a circle in the dough.  I used a large glass cloche as a ‘cookie cutter’ to define the size and shape of each layer, if you are using the plate or lid cut around it with a small paring knife.  Do not remove the trimmings, bake them with the sheet and collect in a bowl, you will use them for crumbs later. Bake each sheet until golden but do not make too dark, they can get bitter if overbaked.  I have three racks in my oven and three cookie sheets so I bake them three at a time. Keep rolling them out while they bake, so you have a ‘conveyor’ of sorts. Once ready, remove the cake layer with the parchment from the cookie sheet and place the new one on.  Repeat until all sheets are baked.  Keep the ready ones on a tray, stacked (don’t worry if they crack, you will ‘glue’ them back together with the cream).

Cream

500 ml of milk

5 tbsp of flour

¾ cup sugar (1/2 is enough if you prefer less sweetness)

½ vanilla bean

300 gram (2 sticks) softened butter

Mix sugar and flour, add milk slowly as if making a slurry.  Put in a non-stick pot, add the vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out.  Cook on a very low heat whisking constantly until thickened. Strain into a glass or metal bowl placed in the ice bath and whisk to chill completely.  Beat in the butter.  The cream will have the consistency of thick drinking yoghurt. It can't be any thicker otherwise it will crumble the cake layers. 

 

Stacking the cake

Prepare a cake plate or a cardboard – place a dollop of cream in the middle, and cover the edges with foil.  Place first sheet on the plate and pour 1/3 cup of cream on it, spread with small off-set spatula.  Cover with the next sheet, spread with cream and continue until you have one sheet left.  Crumble up the pre-baked pieces.  If you don’t think there will be enough to cover up the entire cake, crumble up the remaining sheet.  Pour the rest of the cream on top of the cake and carefully spread, covering the sides as well.  Cover the entire cake in crumbs.  Remove the foil carefully, preserving the shape of the cake.  Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours for the cream to set, then let sit on the counter (unless it is very hot) overnight to settle.  

Walnut Cake

This is another of my mom's signature cakes. There wasn't a gathering or a holiday where she wouldn't make one - and it was devoured! Back then making this was quite an effort - the walnuts needed to be shelled first, than ground, and all the whipping was done by hand. That's the way mom rolled. This cake always brings back the good memories and a tear or two.  Hope you like it as much as I do! 

Walnut Cake

For the cake:

6 eggs

 1 cup finely ground walnuts (walnut meal)

 1 cup sugar

2 tbsp white unseasoned bread crumbs

 1 tbsp flour

 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Prepare a cake pan (springform is the best) by greasing and flouring, or spray with Pam for baking.

First you will need to prepare ground walnuts. For that I use fine drum cheese grater – the type with a handle that you rotate, not the micro plane. The walnuts need to be the consistency of almond meal, so grinding them in food processor will not work – it’ll turn them into a paste.  You need a cup and a half for a single cake; three cups for double (see my note at the end of the recipe).  Measure *finished* product, the actual meal and not the whole walnuts.  Once you grated the nuts, measure out one cup for the cake itself and half a cup for the cream.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks. In your stand mixer (or with a hand-held) whip the yolks with sugar and vanilla until they are white and fluffy and all sugar is dissolved.  Set aside.

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Carefully fold in the walnut meal, bread crumbs and flour.  Fold in the yolks mixture next.   Pour the batter carefully into the prepared cake pan and bake 30-40 minutes until done (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean and dry). Do not shake the pan and try not to open the oven door until the cake is done.  Cool the cake completely before removing from the pan.

 

Cream:

 250 gram (2 ¼ sticks) good butter

 1 can sweetened condensed milk

 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract

 ½ cup walnut meal

Whip the butter until light and fluffy and gradually add condensed milk, whipping continuously.  Add vanilla.  Lower the speed of the mixer and add walnut meal (you can also fold it in with a spatula).

 

Stacking the cake

Once the cake is completely cool, cut in two layers.  Put a dollop of cream on a platter, place one layer on the platter, fill with 1/3 of the cream, cover with the second layer and cover with the rest of the cream, using off-set spatula even the cream out and chill for 15-20 minutes. Cover the cake with crushed walnuts or any other type of decoration you like.

If you want to lighten up the taste you can use black currant or any other tangy fruit preserve in the middle and only use cream on the top of the cake.

*Note – this cake is fairly low, it comes up to maybe two inches, and so for a taller cake double the quantity so you have four layers instead of two.

 

Enjoy!