Fresh Cranberry Pie with Marzipan and How to Make Pie Crust

Fresh Cranberry Pie

You guys!  I made this pie because I was looking for a double crust pie so I could revisit my pie crust tutorial (a few things have changed in my go-to technique since the last one I posted), and most of my fruit pie fruits are not in season, but now I’m kind of obsessed.  Fresh cranberries!  In pie!  Why is this not a thing?  Cranberries might be the perfect pie fruit — they’re tart and juicy, but have a pretty high pectin content, so your pie filling doesn’t run all over the place.   The flavor is a lot like fresh sour cherry pie, but fresh sour cherries are only available one week of the year, in very small parts of the US, and cranberries can be gotten EVERYWHERE for at least two months when most pie fruits are out of commission.    And just LOOK at the color:

Cranberry Pie Slice

It’s great, is all I’m saying.

Now on to pie crust. I like to walk my readers through making pie crust, because I feel like so many people are like “Pie crust?  Who has the time for that!  It’s too hard!” and I want to pat your head and say, “No, it’s OK – you can do it.”  You don’t have to own a walk in freezer or live in the arctic to make your pie dough (though it is a bit tougher on a warm day.)  You don’t have to source special kinds of lard or NOT TOUCH IT OR IT WILL BE OVERWORKED.  Pie crust is pretty forgiving.  If it cracks? Patch it.  If you can’t roll it out in a perfect circle?  Nobody cares.  At the end of the day you will have pie, and people will love you.  This is the way I’ve been making my pie crusts, and it works pretty darn well.

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Back to Basics: Homemade Salad Dressing

Vinaigrette 101
Despite what my husband thinks, I do try to avoid foodie preciousness. I’m short on time, like everyone else, and I make liberal use of shortcuts in my cooking. I get that premade ingredients make cooking easier and more accessible. But there are some things that making from scratch is such a deeply ingrained habit that I wouldn’t think of buying them premade. For example: I never buy bottled salad dressing.

Salad dressing may not seem like a hill to die on, but homemade is so simple (once you know how), and it tastes so much cleaner. It’s free of the gums and sugars and preservatives you get in even high-end bottled dressing. And it’s pretty infinitely variable.

Making salad dressing has become like breathing to me, but as I’ve been trying to put my feet up lately and assigning the salad making task to the husband, I realized that it’s not universal knowledge. The key is knowing what ingredients to use and what ratio to use them in.

I didn’t always grow up on homemade dressing. Sure, my mom always made Caesar from scratch, and my dad was a dab hand with blue cheese, but I remember a parade of bottles of Italian dressing marching through my childhood. Then balsamic vinegar came on the scene, and we started to dress salads with oil and vinegar. But it never had the feeling of “salad dressing.” I remember sitting at a little cafe in the South of France one summer when I was in high school, and wondering why my oil and vinegar dressing wasn’t like the perfect vinaigrette you find on every green salad in France.

And then I discovered the secret.
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Perfect Pumpkin Pie and Pie Crust 101

Pumpkin Pie

My darling husband is not a picky man. He will cheerfully eat just about everything I put in front of him with nary a complaint. There is, however, one thing that he insists on: pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

In the early years of our marriage, I struggled with this. I made pumpkin chocolate tarts and pumpkin bread puddings, pumpkin panna cotta and pumpkin cheesecakes. He always took a polite bite and reached for the plain pumpkin pie (that someone wiser than me always provided).

Now I’ve wised up and have come to realize that he was right all along — there’s something really marvelous about a perfect piece of pumpkin pie — the smooth pie filling with its faint vegetal flavor warmed by spices, the crunch and plainness of the crust contrasting with the creamy flavorful filling. Now I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving table without plain old pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Pie 3

But since I’m me, I wasn’t satisfied with plain old pumpkin pie. It had to be perfect plain pumpkin pie. The best pumpkin pie you’ve ever tasted. And when I tasted my aunt Sally’s pumpkin pie last Thanksgiving, I knew this was it. And I begged her for the recipe, so I could share it with you. (Together with step by step photos of pie crust making — read on!)

Pumpkin pie 5

Of course, no great quest comes without its trials. I made the pie last weekend — the crust got too dark. Armed with a pie shield and shortening the blind baking time, I baked another crust on Tuesday, and it shrunk and warped horribly. Thanks to some internet advice and more pie weights, I tried again Thursday night — nailed the crust, but the filling curdled and the top got too brown. Finally, on Saturday, I invested in an oven thermometer, lowered the heat significantly, moved the rack down in my oven (I think this was key), and managed the pie you see above.

Pumpkin pie 2

It really is perfect — dreamy creamy, it slips on the tongue like a French kiss. The spices add warmth and that “holiday” aroma without becoming bitter or overwelming, and the pumpkin flavor shines through. When it comes out of the oven, it has just a little jiggle to add to the excitement. Nobody could call this pumpkin pie plain.

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Gifts from the Kitchen: Pear and Vanilla Preserves

Pear Jam 1

I was very sad to have missed the summer jam season this year. With all the craziness around buying the house and moving, I never got around to putting up plum jam, or strawberry balsamic, or peach and basil, and my stash from last year is getting dangerously low. Fortunately, I still have a few seasonal fruit tricks up my sleeve. Like this pear jam with vanilla beans, which will make your heart swell with domestic pride and impress anyone you care to give it to.

Pear Jam 3

Jam seems terribly intimidating, but really, it’s not. Yes, there are a few basic steps you need to go through to make sure it’s safe to eat (or really to store) but the risks of contaminated jam are much lower than for canned vegetables because both the acid and the sugar in jam act as preservatives. You don’t need any special equipment, other than jars (I get mine at the local hardware store — you can reuse jars, but make sure to get new lids, which you can buy separately) and a big pot to boil them in. An hour’s worth of effort (and not MUCH effort, really – most of it involves occasional stirring or waiting for the water bath to boil.)

Pear Jam 2

And the result? Golden jars of sunshine, lined up in your pantry, making you proud, waiting to be doled out to deserving friends and family this holiday season.

Pear Jam 4

And if you think that you or your family and friends don’t eat jam, here are some serving ideas:

Stir it into oatmeal
Top crackers with brie and a dollop of pear jam
Spoon it atop ice cream
Plop into pastry shells to make jam tarts

And there’s always toast. We’re quite fond of it in our house.

Pear and Vanilla Jam
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
  • 3 lbs ripe Bartlett pears
  • 12 oz. granulated sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Peel the pears, core them and cut them into small chunks. Place in a large saucepan with the remaining ingredients. (I like my pear jam chunky to preserve some of that grainy "pear" texture -if you don't, mash them a bit in the pan). Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the jam begins to gel --test it by dropping a spoonful on a cold dish and dragging the spoon (or your finger, after it's cooled a bit) through it -- if it leaves a trail that takes a few seconds to be filled in, it's ready.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 4½ pint jars in a stock pot full of boiling water. When your jam is ready, pull the jars out of the boiling water and fill them with hot jam. Leave ¼ inch space between the top of the jam and the top of the jars, and run a clean (pref sterilized) knife around the edge of the jars to let any air bubbles escape). Wipe the top of the jars with a clean damp towel to ensure a seal. Cover the jars with the lids and the rings, and return them to the boiling water, making sure the water covers the jars entirely. Cover the pan, and let boil briskly for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the pan, and let them cool to room temperature.