I’m not much of a baker (or blogger, for that matter). After a long day of being “analytical”, the last thing I want to do is undergo the tedious process of measuring exact amounts and mixing things in a specific order. I’m even less inclined to put in the effort if the pay-off is, well, something sweet like a dessert. When it comes to baking I try to keep it simple yet thoughtful. I improvise, as I do in regular cooking, and this sometimes yields amazing results.
In the week preceding Thanksgiving I’ve already baked on more occasions than I think I have in the past year as a whole. I’ve baked two things, both of which were pretty low-key in terms of preparation, yet which managed to garner glowing accolades. These dishes were: a butternut squash, leek & sage galette for Friendsgiving at Jane’s, and a pear-cranberry-gingersnap tart for the annual Thanksgiving pie-baking contest at my work. One a strong opener, the other a strong closer, both baked and both seasonally appropriate :D.
Butternut Squash, Leek & Sage Galette
– all purpose flour
– a stick of butter, unsalted, cold
– fresh sage, chopped
– 6 tbsp of ice water
– an egg, beaten
– a butternut squash
– warm spices like paprika and nutmeg
– 2 leeks, washed and sliced
– about a cup of ricotta cheese
– fontina cheese
This recipe is largely based off of this one, but I made some important changes to the flavor profile.
1. Make the crust.
Cut the cold butter into ½ inch cubes and combine with 1 ¼ cups of flour and 6 to 8 sage leaves, torn up, in a food processor. Add a pinch of salt. Pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Drizzle 4 to 6 tbsp of ice water evenly over the mixture and pulse until the dough just begins to form a ball.
If I had known how easy to is to make crust with a food processor, I would’ve added so many pastries to my repertoire by now! It’s like magic.
Press the dough into a 5 inch disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for an hour or more.
2. Prep the vegetables.
Peel and seed a butternut squash then cut into ¼ inch discs. Toss with olive oil, salt, paprika and nutmeg. Roast in a 500 degree F oven til tender. Set aside.
Wash and slice the leeks. Saute in butter until tender. Season with salt.
3. Assemble the tart.
Roll out the dough into a 13 inch round on a well-floured surface. Transfer to a baking tray.
Spread an even layer of ricotta cheese over the center of the dough, leaving a border of a few inches. Top with an even layer of butternut squash, then leeks. Top with grated fontina cheese and chopped sage. (For presentation purposes I might put the fontina underneath the squash next time.)
Fold the dough on the edges to cover the outer rim of the filling. Brush the crust with a beaten egg. Bake at 375 – 400 degrees F until crust and cheese are slightly browned. YUMZORS.
Making a galette in addition to my usual cornbread chorizo stuffing was a nice way to mix things up for Friendsgiving this year. It may even have earned a permanent place in my Friendsgiving dish rotation, but I guess that’ll depend on my mood next year.
Pear-Cranberry Tart with Gingersnap Crust, Crumb Topping & Bay Leaf Whipped Cream
– all purpose flour
– a stick and a half of unsalted butter
– 40 to 45 gingersnap cookies, or about a box
– three ripe Anjou pears
– fresh cranberries
– a lemon
– granulated sugar
– brown sugar
– heavy whipping cream
– bay leaves
– vanilla extract
1. Make the crust.
Break up ~ 32 gingersnap cookies, grind in a food processor and combine with ½ a stick of melted butter. Add a few pinches of salt. Press mixture evenly over the bottom of a spring-form pan, allowing crust to come up on the sides. Set aside.
2. Prep the filling.
Peel and core the pears then cut them into thin slices, ¾ to an inch thick. Toss the pears in a bowl with a few handfuls of cranberries, a healthy squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch or two (maybe a tsp?) of cinnamon, a few handfuls (maybe half a cup?) of brown sugar, and a tablespoon of cornstarch. (Sorry — I didn’t really measure things out, even though you’re totally supposed to while baking. I was loaded with sake, it was 10.00pm, and I just wanted to get the damn thing done!) Arrange the pears in a circular pattern on top of the crust. Spread cranberries evenly over the top.
3. Make the crumb topping.
Grind up about a dozen more gingersnaps. Combine with ½ to ¾ a cup of flour, ¾ a stick of butter that’s been melted then cooled and a pinch of salt. Added ⅓ cup each of white granulated sugar and brown sugar. Combine well then spread evenly over the top of the tart. (When I made the crumb topping I tried to follow this recipe, but didn’t have enough gingersnaps left to do so. I just ended up eyeballing everything and consequently my crumb topping was a little on the wet side. That is to say, it’s probably not supposed to look the way it does in my photo, but I was fine with how this slightly off, clumpier version of a crumb topping turned out.)
Bake the tart at 350 degrees F for an hour to an hour and a half, until cranberries have begun to shrivel and the crumb topping is a little brown.
4. Make the bay leaf whipped cream.
Make a bay leaf simple syrup. Bring equal parts granulated sugar and water to a simmer with bay leaves (I used 5 or 6 fresh bay leaves with ½ a cup each of sugar and water). Simmer for just a few minutes then turn off the heat. Allow syrup to cool completely with bay leaves still in it. Actually you might even want to chill the syrup.
Whip up cold heavy whipping cream until it’s almost whipped cream. Add bay leaf simple syrup and vanilla extract to taste. Serve with pear-cranberry tart.
In spite of my failure to measure things out properly, I still won the “taste” prize in the RA pie baking competition that took place during the office Thanksgiving luncheon this year. I was worried that one of two things would happen: that I would lose because my dessert was too tart or that I would be disqualified because it was a tart. I dodged both bullets. I think the Principals appreciated my frou-frou approach, and as a result, I was awarded a $50 Visa debit card (and a wooden spoon). Hey, baking ain’t so bad!
Lots of cooking and eating ahead. Enjoy your feast tomorrow, okay?