One of the cardinal rules of food blogging (or any blogging, for that matter) is:
Never start a post telling your readers, “I’m sorry that I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been very busy.”
Well, I don’t know who had the authority to create this blogosphere no-no, but whoever you are, guess what?
1. I have been busy.
2. I am sorry that I haven’t posted in a while.
3. I don’t mind breaking a rule every now and then.
I’M SORRY THAT I HAVEN’T POSTED ON MY BLOG IN A WHILE. YOU SEE, IT SO HAPPENS THAT I HAVE BEEN VERY VERY BUSY.
Were the all caps a bit too much? A bit too in-your-face? Sorry, I was feeling defensive.
The past few weeks in particular were way up there on the crazy scale. I participated in the World Food Championships which, despite the fact that they were held in my hometown, managed to keep me occupied for the better part of a week. When I wasn’t competing, which took place right in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, I was running around town like a mad woman, sourcing ingredients, gathering equipment and helping friends who had traveled thousands of miles to participate in the cook-off.
By then end of the competition I felt like I had run two consecutive marathons or, as a friend put it, like I had been hit by a mack truck.
I was fortunate enough to come in second in the World Burger Championships, which consisted of two rounds of competition. My Mojave Desert Cactus Burgers earned the top score in round 1 (woot!), but I was edged out by half a freakin’ point in round 2, losing to a team of 3 guys from Utah. They were really great guys, and their win was well deserved. That said (and not to be snarky, but):
Team of 3 vs. Team of 1
That’s all. On to the next topic.
This week has been equally cray-cray. On Monday and Tuesday I drove back and forth to L.A. Twice. That’s 1000+ miles total. I can’t really say much about why I took this journey, during which I became the Foursquare mayor of the Barstow Starbucks, but I can tell you that the reason was not so I could have some quality time alone in the car with my thoughts.
My treks could most likely amount to nothing, but they could also amount to something very cool, in a scary-cool-surreal sort of way.
Yes, you guessed it: I am being considered for the starring role in the upcoming Jennifer Aniston biopic. Really, I’m a dead ringer. How could they not choose me?
Oh, and just a question for any Los Angelinos out there: How on Earth do you people live in that city and not go absolutely insane from the traffic??
Seriously, I just about lost it as I started my final leg home, when it took me over 1-1/2 hours to go 50 miles on the freeway. Good times.
So now I finally get to focus on the upcoming activities for the next month: Hosting Thanksgiving for 10 people, finishing the editing for my first cookbook (and starting the content for my second one!), and of course everything associated with the holiday season, especially baking.
Show of hands: Who likes gingerbread?
That’s what I thought. ME. TOO.
No, scratch that. I loooooooovvvveee gingerbread. No offense to peppermint, eggnog and pumpkin, but gingerbread is easily my favorite holiday flavor. I am one of those rare beings who could do without the pumpkin lattes–they just don’t do it for me–but I will happily indulge in the gingerbread varietal (sans the whip) for a mid-afternoon treat.
So, I will try to turn the gingerbread flavor profile into just about anything that makes sense during the holidays: macarons, creme brulee, doughnuts, cupcakes, etc. This year, I decided to try it with pie crust and then, since I have become somewhat of an expert on hand-held pies, I decided to make mini pocket pies (kind of like round Pop Tarts, but I don’t want to mess with trademarks, so they are called “pocket pies.”)
The filling is simple spiced pears. Pears, the red headed step-children to apples, just never get the recognition they deserve during the holidays, but I love them. The crust is a combination of a gingerbread cookie and a pie crust, and I couldn’t stop picking at the finished product, which is always a good sign.
Hand to God: These are really good.
Serve these as part of a holiday breakfast or brunch, take them to a bake sale, or just have one with coffee for an afternoon break.
Here are my extra tips for making these hand-held holiday treats:
- Select firm, not overly ripe pears that hold their shape when baked. Bartlett, Bosc and Anjou are all good choices.
- Instead of making round pocket pies, feel free to experiment with other shapes, such as rectangles, squares or even hearts.
- Once assembled, the pocket pies can be frozen for up to 1 month. Freeze them for at least 30 minutes on a baking sheet, then transfer them to zip-top bags. Bake directly from freezer per the instructions.
- For another twist, turn these pies into pie pops. Make the cut-outs 3-inch rounds, and press a wooden or paper lollipop stick into the bottom round before filling. Fill with about 1 tablespoon filling and top with another round. Bake 18-20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.
Gingerbread Pear Pocket Pies
Makes about 12 pies
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
14 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp dark molasses
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 pears, peeled and diced
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries, optional
Egg wash: 1 large egg mixed with 1 tbsp water
Sanding Sugar or Confectioner’s sugar glaze
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse flour, brown sugar ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt and baking powder to combine. Scatter the butter over the top of the flour and pulse several times until butter is the size of peas.
In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, egg yolks and molasses. Slowly add half of the buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, pulsing to combine. Add more buttermilk, 1 tbsp at a time, pulsing after each addition until the dough begins to hold together in moist clumps.
Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap and gently press into a disk. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Prepare the filling: In a medium skillet, melt butternover medium-high heat. Add the pears and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and lemon juice. Cook until the liquid has almost completely disappeared 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
Transfer the pears to a large bowl and toss with the flour. Stir in raisins/cranberries, if using. Set aside to cool completely.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into halves. On a generously floured surface, roll out 1 half to a thickness of slightly more than 1/16-inch (2 mm). Using a 3-1/2 or 4-inch cutter, cut into rounds and place on prepared baking sheets, spacing apart. Reroll scraps as necessary.
Brush surfaces of the rounds with egg wash. Place about 2 tbsp filling in the center of each round.
On the floured surface, roll out the remaining dough. Using a slightly larger cutter, cut out rounds, rerolling scraps, as necessary (using a larger cutter helps to cover the filling). Place the round on top of the filling, pressing edges together to seal. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork and brush tops with egg wash. If desired, sprinkle the tops of the rounds with sanding sugar.
Place the pocket pies on sheets in freezer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place oven racks in upper and lower third positions and preheat oven to 375°F.
When you’re ready to bake, pierce the tops several times with the tip of a sharp knife. Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes, switching positions of baking sheets halfway through, until pies are puffed and golden brown and filling is bubbling. If tops become too dark while baking, tent the sheets loosely with foil.
Let pies cool on sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.