Thank you, Cooks Illustrated (and Leah)

I’m going to guardedly call success on making a good piecrust.  As I said before, my piecrusts have generally been erratic, but I’ve made two using this recipe and they were both tender and flaky and tasty.  Hallelujah.

flaky layers

I owe this triumph to my niece Leah, who remembered that she had seen a recipe using vodka, to Google, which led me to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, and to the good people at Cook’s Illustrated, who tirelessly try out variations of recipes until they get it right.  So I made and froze my little pastry shells (which will be filled with Brandy Cream and topped with a single berry for my tasting lunch), and then this morning I made a quiche.


You can even see a little flake of crust there on the plate.  Delicious!  Here is the link to the recipe, if you would like to try it.  The dough is very moist, so some people have success rolling it out using two pieces of plastic.  I’ve never had much luck with that technique, so I just used extra flour in the rolling and it turned out fine.  The trick, I think, is to refrigerate the dough for a long time before rolling it out.  The second batch, refrigerated longer, worked much better.  Anyway, the vodka is the unusual thing, of course.  The idea is that the alcohol in the vodka burns off during baking, more quickly than water, and this leaves the crust with more of a crisp flake.  It doesn’t taste at all like booze, either, in case you were worried.

Yesterday I broke out my old, stained copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and made Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon , which turned out just as delicious and rich and perfect as it always does.  This will be frozen for the final savory course at the tasting lunch.

For the final dish that I will pre-make for the tasting lunch, I also made these little pumpkin cheesecakes.  They have a gingersnap crust and they have a good healthy dollop of Frangelico (a hazelnut liqueur; if you have never tasted it, you should).  These are going into the freezer (which is filling up, I might add) and at serving time will be topped with a little sweetened mascarpone and a kind of almond brittle I’ll be making later.

mini-pumpkin cheesecakes with Frangelico and gingersnaps

By the way, I made these in my mini-cheesecake pan, which I love.  You can buy one here.

Sadly, there are no more parts of the tasting lunch, scheduled for November 30, that I can make ahead.  The next cooking for it will take place on the Monday before.  I’m amazed, though, at how many parts to this meal I have managed to make ahead.  The final 2 1/2 days should not be too overwhelming–fingers crossed!

I sent out the final menu to the guests, so it’s now carved in stone–no more changes to it.  Here’s hoping I can pull it off:

“Gang of Six” Holiday Luncheon

 Course One—Amuse Bouche

Shrimp with Star Anise, Leeks, and Persimmon

Crab and Green Apple on Potato Nests

Beet Mousseline on Corn Blini with Lime Sour Cream and Bacon

Figs Wrapped in Bacon, Balsamic Reduction

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Orange Cream and Lemon, Thyme, and Sea Salt Shortbread

 Course Two—Salad

Arugula, Quinoa, and Cannellini Beans with Roasted Tomatoes, Smoked Paprika Dressing

 Course Three—Pasta

Chicken and Prosciutto Agnolotti with Marsala Sauce

 Course Four—Fish

Roasted Salmon with Caramelized Onions and Spinach on Puff Pastry

 Course Five—Meat

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans

 Course Six—Dessert

Vanilla, Salted Butter Caramel, and Chocolate Mousse

Cranberry Orange Tassies with Nutmeg Whipped Cream

Pumpkin Frangelico Cheesecakes

Tartlets with Fruit and Brandy Cream

Oreo Mint Balls, White Chocolate Lemon Truffles

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One Response to Thank you, Cooks Illustrated (and Leah)

  1. Janna says:

    It all sounds wonderful! And I have seen that pie crust recipe but never tried it. I have two different recipes I use – one is a little sweet, so I can’t use it for everything – and I like both, but perhaps I should try something new….

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