Recipe Review: Pear Ginger (Walnut) Muffins

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Miss Fats has been lazily loaving around her winter workshop baking.  Friday mornings were once a scheduled place for baking experimentation in sweet breakfast delights.  However the cold and apathy has resulted in a continuous slew of breakfast loaves week after week for her regular Friday meetings.  While Miss Fats is relatively sure folks are satisfied with a blackberry lemon pairing, or carrot cake crumble, there’s something a bit lifeless about the loaf object that doesn’t make for baking blog fodder.  So she apologizes to all of you who came here to today to hear about the variations of spice cake that have come out of Miss Fats kitchen (she knows you’re all incredibly disappointed).

In an effort to liven her baking efforts (and frankly, get her blogging again), Miss Fats finally tried out Food52’s Pear Ginger Walnut Muffins by Ms T.  These little guys have been mocking Miss Fats from her Pinterest for months now.  Every week she goes to browse the bounty of breakfast snacks collected on her board, and each week assumes she’ll give this muffin a try.  But she’s been damn lazy; and the idea of portioning out twelve whole muffins on a Friday morning just seems like too much (see what this damn vortex does to people?  Can’t even scoop muffins anymore #notarealproblem).  But February brought a little break in the weather (high 30s have never felt so good), so she rode that heat wave right to muffin town: time for something shiny and new.

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In order to cut down on morning baking, Miss Fats went ahead and made the pear ginger sauce the night ahead.  Ms. T’s instructions were relatively easy to follow, however she found that she needed to cook the sauce for quite a bit longer than the specified 15-20 minutes.  Maybe Miss Fats was dealing with some juicy pears, but hers sat stewing for a good 30-40 minutes.  This was fine, because she just let them hang out while she went about her business.  The sauce simply sat overnight waiting to be muffined the next morning.

As per usual, Miss Fats refused to use more than one bowl for these baked goods.  She simply began with step three, using a whisk instead of an electric mixer.  The dry were added to the wet and produced a thick thick batter of gingery goodness.  Obviously, after a bit of tasting, she upped the salt by about half a tsp.  Now Miss Fats isn’t rolling in walnut-money so she ended up leaving out the nut action.  The muffins baked up in almost exactly 20 minutes, which combined with the ten minute cook time (thanks to sauce prep) made for the ideal morning baking project.

The real beauty of these muffins is their outsides match their insides: mainly they’re both aesthetically pleasing and truly tasty.  Their plump, slightly crisp muffin tops provide the perfect shell for the tender, moist crumb inside.   The sauce only partially broke down the fruit, leaving tender chunks of spiced pear throughout the muffin.  The ginger flavor is subtle and frankly the pear flavor is nonexistent.  However these muffins are more about the gentle flavor and homey texture of a fresh, moist breakfast treat.  While Miss Fats is usually a fan of bolder flavors, she recognizes that not everyone wants kick in the face first thing in the morning.   These ginger pear muffins are the perfect hit of spice and sweet to sit along side a big cup of coffee on a cold morning.  She will definitely be making these again.

Now the real question is how can Miss Fats mix this thing up?  She wonders if there are variations on this sauce-muffin action that can exploited for future breakfast baking projects.  She supposes that any hearty fruit that lends itself to a fruit butter or mash would be appropriate.  That means apples, peaches, and rhubarb had better watch their backs.  Miss Fats is coming for you.

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grumpy cat crack cake attack

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Miss Fats is mid birthday rush this week.  She has two “high seasons” for birthday cake baking–May and November–when she’s convinced a ton of parents got together and conspired to breed an entire generation of children born in the same week, spaced perfectly six months apart. 20-30 years later, Miss Fats is busy crafting three cakes in one week to celebrate all that Valentine love (gross) that bred an entire generation of pod people. ( i.e. her near and dear friends.)

Now, she began #birthdayweek (if it’s a conspiracy, it may as well have its own hashtag), with a classic birthday cake (a rare request!), but she’s going to save that post for later; because she is damn excited about the craziest of 30th birthdays “cakes” she put together this past weekend for her friend E’s bash.  Meet the Wacky Crack Attack.

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Miss Fats loves to bake for any crowd, however she has a couple of favorite individuals who she’s always eager to feed and please with decadent desserts.  E is right at the top of the list thanks to his insatiable sweet tooth and affinity for seconds (that’s appreciation, people).  She knew there was no way to get any specific flavor requests from him for the big day (he will eat anything and loves all things sweet), so Miss Fats just decided to dream up the most insane cake monster she could think of.  Initially, she was gravitating toward an ice cream concoction, since he and Miss Fats have been known to venture far across the city in search of giant creamy cones.  However there were already plans for frozen custard on the night of the celebration (double dessert. duh.); And she knew any old chocolate layer cake thing wouldn’t do.  Not to mention it was E’s 30th and therefore required Miss Fats to kill him via sugar object.  As you know, Miss Fats has got pie on the brain, and she had a recent conversation about the Momofuko Crack Pie that had been nagging at the back of her head for a couple of weeks now.  That was it.  Crack pie.  The name and object were ideal for E: done and done.

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But this is a birthday, people.  And a big one.  For an important friend.  So Miss Fats could hardly stop there.  So what does crack need?  More crack, apparently.  Something she adores about Momofuko’s pie is it’s complete and total acceptance of ugly.  None of that prissy, fancy pants dessert garbage (all prim and proper: boo), but  instead a total embrace of disgusting deliciousness: truly privileging taste over aesthetics.  Naturally this meant Miss Fats wanted to extend this aesthetic to the cake (pie) topper.  She decided to make excessive clusters of salty sweet goodness to mound on top of the ugly monster pie base to create a Frankensteinian sugar object capable of catapulting insulin levels and destroying any pancreas in its way.  You can’t even imagine how excited she was.

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This was Miss Fats first Momofuko recipe attempt and she knew they were notorious for being somewhat finicky and required great attention to detail.  Therefore for the actual pie, she stuck straight to it and executed the body of the beast step for step, to the t.   It was really that crack topping where she got to work on her salty-sweet craft, improvise and (literally) sculpt the perfect collection of morsels.  So what goes into wacky crack, you ask?  Well the short answer is: whatever the hell you want.  This is really more of a method (methodology?) than a recipe.  Miss Fats is going to share her mixture for you all, but she encourages you to get down and dirty with it: be creative: be cavalier.

wacky crack clusters:
makes about 2 cups of clusters

3 crunchy chocolate chip cookies (Miss Fats used Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chip Dunkers, but Chips Ahoy would also be good here)
3 peanut butter sandwich cookies (Nutter Butters)
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts
1/2 cup pretzels (broken up a bit)
1 chopped candy bar (Miss Fats used a mini M&Ms bar she had on hand)
1/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup melted chocolate chips
1/4 cup melted peanut butter chips
sea salt

salted caramel:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbs water
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp salt (to taste)

1. Make the caramel sauce: in a small sauce pan, heat the sugar and water over medium, carefully stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Once dissolved, turn the heat to medium high and DO NOT stir or take your eyes off it.  Allow the sugar to caramelize and turn a deep amber (about 5-8 minutes), swirling the pan by the handle every so often.  Once the caramel has deepened in color, remove from the heat and add the butter and cream (be careful: it will bubble rapidly).  Stir until completely smooth.  If it seizes up, return to medium low heat, and stir constantly until smooth.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Cluster assembly: line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (makes for easy clean up).  Throw down all of the dry cluster ingredients and roughly mix.  Drizzle the caramel, chocolate and peanut butter over top.  Toss together and roughly pat into a single layer of goodness.  Drizzle another layer of caramel and chocolate over top and sprinkle with salt to make it nice and pretty.  Allow to cool completely by either leaving it to harden on the counter, or sticking in the fridge for about an hour.

3.  Once cool, break into large chunks and enjoy.

To top the pie, mound the clusters into any monstrous form you’d like.  Donezo. Miss Fats’ wonderful roommates also created the perfect topper using some creative pen work and some printed off images of Grumpy Cat.  Since E looks like grumpy cat with a mustache, it was the ideal expression of birthday affect for an aggressive dessert.

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In the end, her pie wasn’t perfect (but should it be?).  Her oven had some hot spots that caused the custard to bake slightly unevenly, and the crust baked a little more than she would have liked.  However, anyone who’s executed this pie knows, the whole thing isn’t really meant to be eaten like a pie.  Instead, the crack pie creates a salty sweet object that is to be scraped from the pan and consumed in a messy pile of all that is good in life.  Yes people” the crust sticks to the pan.  It sticks real bad.  And she’s sure that one could do some serious greasing and throw down some parchment.  But that would probably ruin part of the joy of crack pie: this is as much of an aesthetic–tactile–experience as it is about taste: embrace ugly. The crack clusters added a crazy crunchy layer to the chewy, creamy pie custard and cookie crust to make for a mouthful of all things good.  This is some serious mouth porn.  Pure dessert filth.  She highly recommends it.

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Between eight people, they only managed to get through half of the pie.  It’s fucking intense.  The rest was sent home in a glorious pile to be eaten while standing over the kitchen counter with a fork in hand.  Probably in your underwear, at 3 am.  Crack pie will definitely make it into Miss Fats’ recipe arsenal, but clearly must be accompanied by some sort of chocolate pretzel object. ( She feels no need to explain this.  It’s self-evident that chocolate and pretzels make everything better.)  She hopes E is enjoying his leftovers and that Wacky Crack Attack was all he could have dreamed of for his big birthday celebration.  Or she hopes he’s dead of diabetic shock from pie overload.  Either or.

recipe review: cranberry apple pie

IMG_7703And so pie month continues at chez Miss Fats.  In order to motivate her baking and force her to tackle the classic and simple pies she fears most, Miss Fats participated in the recipe testing for Food 52’s latest “Best Thanksgiving Pie” contest.  As a tester, you simply execute the recipe per instructions are provide a 100 word review for the site.  Each pie ideally has three volunteers who provide feedback on the taste, instructions and over all experience.  However 100 words is damn short, and Miss Fats is pretty sure no sweet treat can be accurately summed up in such a short space (eating and food description demand [illicit] excess).

So she’s sharing a fuller review of the pie recipe here for you all, complete with modifications and tips for the baking process.  Miss Fats wound up selecting the Cranberry Apple Pie for testing.  This was primarily for aesthetic reasons (hey, Miss Fats is a visual person, and firmly believes in the power of good food porn), but she also had some extra cranberries on hand and liked the simplicity of this pie’s filling: no crazy spices or techniques: just fruit hanging out with more fruit.  Additionally, the crust recipe seemed standard enough: the usual all butter recipe with a little lemon zest to complement the tart fruit.  Simple.  Done.  She even had all the ingredients on hand.

Unfortunately, Miss Fats hit problems early on.  She meticulously following instructions to test the rhetoric and measurements of the recipe.  However, as the mound of flour piled up, it was incredibly clear to Miss Fats that there’s no way 1/3 cup ice water would be sufficient.  She went ahead, adding the specified amount, praying that by some pie miracle it would come together (she actually believed this given her amateur pie status–so naive).  However, she instead encountered the exact reason she hates making pie:  She felt as though she was scrambling against time as the butter warmed and threatened to create a gummy, dense crust, but the incredibly crumbly, dry dough just would not come together and instead created a mess.  She quickly sprinkled an additional 1/3 cup water over top, working it into the dough with a rubber spatula.  Though the dough began to form, she was facing her most annoying enemy: fucking butter/flour crumbs at the bottom of the bowl (she hates that shit).   Finally ditching the spatula, she went for a last sprinkle of ice water and went elbows deep, pulling together the uneven dough and cursing flour out lout (literally).  Scrambling to get that butter business into the fridge as soon as possible, she used the plastic wrap to assemble the hunks and hoped that if we all just calmed down a bit (dough included), it would come together in time.

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After eating (critical) and some quiet time, Miss Fats returned to the pathetic butter disks, assuming they’d developed into impossible masses of gluten and dry hunks of powder resembling the old container of Play-Dough she has lying around.  She prepared herself for some serious elbow grease and frustration tears during the rolling process, throwing the disks down onto her floured countertop, prepped to let disaster ensue.  However to her surprise, the dough proved surprisingly pliable and only cracked a bit at the edges where she clearly had failed to mix properly.  Carefully turning and working the disk outward, she rolled out a fairly thick twelve-inch crust and transferred it to her pie pan.  She was calming down.  It would be ok.

The filling was incredibly simple, both in technique and ingredients.  Miss Fats was surprised (and slightly disappointed) to see how few apples the recipe called for (only 5??).  However she executed them to a t, and loaded her prepared pan with the spiced fruit mixture.  Layering her second crust, she did her best to make the edges as pretty as possible (not easy for Miss Fats), which essentially resulted in some bloated, sausage-like crimping that would undoubtably end up underdone.  On with the egg wash and a sprinkling of raw sugar, and into the oven for an hour.  Smooth sailing from then on out.

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In the end, the pie was fine.  She was pleasantly pleased by the filling, which had a sharp, tart flavor and a really nice balance of textures between the slightly softer, sweeter pink ladies, and grannies that still had a bit of a bite.  The cranberries themselves, sprinkled bursts of tartness throughout and created a pleasing marbling effect.  Her number one complaint?  Not enough.  She could have seriously used more of that filling action. The crust-fruit ration was way off. Hell, from now on she’ll probably just go for that portion of the recipe sans crust, throw in the oven to get caramelized and soft, and then go topping a cold, creaming scoop of vanilla ice cream with all that apple-cranberry business.  With a drizzle of salted caramel.  Obviously.  Despite the beautifully browned, surprisingly, non-chewy texture, she frankly, found the crust bland.  And too thick. (Well, that’s probably more of Miss Fats fault; but also there should not have been three cups of flour in that recipe.)  The lemon zest was a nice touch, but it could have seriously used more salt (Miss Fats would up it to about 1 tsp) and a bit of sugar given the tartness of the filling.  Oh well.  The important part is that Miss Fats was not beaten by this baking beast.  She’s a bit bruised (well, more like scolding herself for being a whiney little child about pie crust), but she’ll take away some serious experience from this pie.  Fruit pie has yet to be conquered, but she’s well on her way to proficiency.

Up next?  Pure crack.

recipe review: salted chocolate pecan pie

IMG_7626Miss Fats is going to share one of her biggest fears with you: pie.  Clearly she has a bit of a bias toward fluffy cake objects and their bready relatives, but this mainly stems from her crippling fear of pastry.  The simplicity and precision required to execute even the simplest of pastries requires a restraint and attention that Miss Fats rarely has.  She needs a bit more wiggle room.  Because she’s lazy.  And hates measuring.  As a result, she stays away pastry, hiding behind a defensive layer of language that suggests it’s “too fancy” or “fussy” for her taste.  This is a load of crap.  The reality is that Miss Fats just hasn’t been practicing and fears the perpetual disappointment that it can often create.  She hates nothing more than when a carefully labored pie crust, chilled and minimally handled, winds up too chewy or dense.  This may be because she believes that in order to be a truly great baker, one should have a grasp on a standard crust.  And when it comes down to it, Miss Fats just doesn’t.  And thanks to grad school logic: thus she is not a real baker.

Ok enough self-loathing and indulgent nonsense.  She knows the only way to really get past this hang up is to approach it like every other pastry novice: practice, practice, practice.  So in the spirit of the season, Miss Fats is taking pie on for reals this time.

Her resistance to pie primarily stems from not only this fear of pastry, but the number of flubbubs that can occur with any pie production.  Is the fruit too sweet?  Too moist?  Did I add enough flour this time?  Is it going to boil over and make a big sticky mess at the bottom of my oven?  Will my crust shrink in the pan?  Or will it absorb my filling and turn into a soggy mess? Ugh I cannot roll out pie dough.  Why is it so ugly? See: so many anxieties go into a pie.  Miss Fats is a such a coward.  Get over it.

So in order to ease her way into the pie game, she decided to go for a single crust, non-fruit pie in an attempt to eliminate as many potential problems as possible.  Since Thanksgiving is fast approaching and she loves herself some pecans, Miss Fats settled on a classic pecan pie: only naturally, this required the addition of chocolate and salt.  Duh.  The final pie ended up being a hybrid of Smitten Kitchen’s Foolproof Pie Dough and David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Pecan Pie for the filling.

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She ultimately stuck pretty close to the original recipes, particularly with the dough.  Miss Fats anxiously measured, pulsed that food processor exactly the right number of times, and carefully added the freezing cold liquids to the batch.  Reluctantly to even touch the dough with her hands, she scraped it into the plastic wrap, played a bit of hot potato with the disk and threw it in the fridge.  Miss Fats was pleasantly surprised to find that the dough rolled out with ease and didn’t crack or she wasn’t forced to stretch her gummy over-mixed mess like in past pie experiences.  Her pie vanity issues were rendered null thanks to her roommate’s beautiful pie pan complete with a wavy mold, that she gently pressed the dough into.  For the filling, she omitted the bourbon (only because she didn’t have any on hand), upped the salt content to a full teaspoon, and went with semi sweet chocolate chunks instead of chips.  She decided not to pre-bake the crust (out of laziness and lack of baking beans), and simply allowed the filling to fuse with buttery crust.  The finishing touch was brushing the crust with a little egg wash and sprinkling it with some raw sugar crystals before baking.  Then obviously, after cooling the topping got a heathy sprinkle of sea salt to add those perfect bites to cut the gooey sweetness of the pie filling.

The pie was a freaking miracle.  Somehow the damn thing turned out and it looked good.  Miss Fats couldn’t have dreamt of a better outcome given her inexperience.  The crust’s mixture of butter and shortening gave it both a chewy and flakey texture.  It remained crisp on the bottom but managed to soak up some of that caramel-y filling, creating a nice contrast with the decadent insides.  Next time Miss Fats makes this pie, however, she’ll be using bittersweet chunks instead of semi-sweet.  She actually found it to be just every-so-slightly too sweet for her taste: she’s pretty sure a hit of darker, bitter chocolate is just what this pie needs to send it over the edge.  Overall the pie was not perfect, but well beyond expectations and enough to keep Miss Fats’ hopes up and baking until Thanksgiving.  She feels restored and ready to take on these scary dessert objects.  Just you wait: soon cake pans may be exchanged for rolling pins… though who is she kidding?  Probably not.  (There’s just more options for peanut butter with cake…though maybe not?)