Thursday, October 1, 2020

Spiced Plum Pie with White Whole Wheat Sourdough Crust



It’s October 1 and we are 7 months into the journey.  

Early fall is the time of the year when I always feel a drop of sadness for the season that has departed, coupled with a pang of nervous melancholy. And so, the feeling comes yet again, even though time has warped, and the standard units of measurement have no meaning; minutes have turned into centuries and days are shorter than a second. The feeling rises in my chest and my throat, acute and hard-wearing, despite the fact that the loss of the summer means that we are one season closer to the end of 2020.

I’ve cooked a lot this summer, more than ever before, but had hard time turning it into words. I don’t have words to summarize the whirling vortex of the world around us, so I just keep cooking. It sounds superficial, yet food is a necessity and a blessing. A blessing to have, to share, to grow, to keep going. In case you are looking for ideas, here are some dishes that kept me going in the past few months:

Dorie Greenspan's Mustard Tart (Adding mustard to the vegetable filling is pure genius. I usually make the tart with the white whole wheat sourdough discard dough I am sharing in this post, because white whole wheat and mustard is just about the perfect flavor pairing.)  

New York Times Vietnamese Braised Ribs (Don’t add salt and replace the Chinese five spice with cumin. Also, try replacing water with Coca Cola. Don’t ask questions, just do it.)   

Focaccia Cacio e Pepe (It’s my favorite bread at the moment. You can find an outline of the recipe in my Instagram post. If you are a sourdough baker, you probably don't need more.) 

Eric Kayser's Turmeric and Hazelnut Bread (Kayser bakeries are closed, and we missed it a lot, so it had to be done.)

Beef Short Ribs and Chocolate Stout Stew (I’ve been making this dish for many years and it's an absolute winner in the comfort food department. Follow this recipe by Merrill Stubbs, and try getting hold of chocolate stout, because it imparts wonderful flavor. You may want to pass on the buckwheat honey, because simply put, it tastes like buckwheat. Any other dark honey will do. I use bamboo.)

Fragrant Cod and White Ale Curry (Now that we established that cooking with beer is fun.)

Basil Ricotta Gnudi with Beurre Monte and Truffle Dust (And I do not even like truffles. Stay tuned.)

Best Chickpeas (Because when you splurge on a truffle, it’s prudent to economize a bit, and this is really the best chickpeas ever.)

Ottolenghi's Beet, Caraway and Goat Cheese Bread (It's in Simple and on Food52. I also make it with carrot instead of beets -- both versions are fantastic.)

Cucumber and Avocado Salad with Chunky Feta Herb Dressing

Savory Sourdough Babka from Bredtopia. (They don't mention it in the recipe, but try making the babka with candied bacon.)

Kale Hash with Bacon and Corn (Stay tuned.)

Bonal Spritz

Summer is gone but the dishes stay. I now count time not in days, hours and minutes, but in dishes I've made. So I keep cooking. It occurred to me a while ago that my skill has improved so much that I could probably score a Michelin star or two if an appropriate category existed. No bragging here, just an observation. But then the immediate afterthought was that I have no one to share my dishes with, that no friends will come over and no party will take place. That my dad is far away, frail, and alone. But I keep cooking. What we focus on grows, the saying goes. And while pain, anger, and fear might be acute, it’s still in our powers to direct our focus away, towards something else. Something better. Our focus is our armor, our strength, and our future.

So, keep going friends.

Spiced Plum White Whole Wheat Sourdough Discard Pie

for the crust

280 grams white whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
227 grams (1/2 cup) European style butter
180 grams unfed sourdough starter at 100% hydration

for the filling

5 cups Italian plums, cut into ½-inch dice
1 cup granulated sugar
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
a pinch of five spice powder
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I use Nielson Massey)
1/4 cup corn starch

Make the crust: The key to making great crust is to make keep butter and starter very cold. To do so, measure out 180 grams of unfed starter and 30 minutes before making the crust, put it in the freezer. Take the cold butter, cut it into ¼-inch cubes and place the cubes into the freezer.

Prepare some cold water, and keep aside, in case you need it. In a bowl of food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse 6 to 8 times. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal, with butter bits no bigger than small peas. Pour the starter over the mixture and pulse a couple of times. Pinch some of the crumbly dough; if it holds together, it's ready. If the dough doesn't hold together, keep adding cold water, a teaspoon at a time, pulsing once after each addition, until the mixture just begins to clump together.

Remove the dough from the food processor and place it in a mound on a clean surface. Divide the dough into two parts: the larger should be about 2/3 of the dough (you will use it for the pie crust), the smaller about 1/3 of the dough (you will use it for the decorations on top). Flatten each mound into a disk. Try to handle the dough as little as possible, and avoid over-kneading. Dust each disk lightly with flour and wrap it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to one day before rolling out.

While the dough is in refrigerator, prepare the filling. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the plums, with all other ingredients except cornstarch. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the mixture starts to bubble and the sugar has dissolved, simmer for another two to three minutes. Then slowly add the cornstarch, mix well and cook until the mixture begins to thicken, for about two or three minutes. Remove the fruit mixture from the heat, and let it cool completely, then put in the fridge.

Roll out the dough: Another key to making a flaky pay is to assemble everything when the ingredients (crust, filling and top) are cold. Butter a 9-inch fluted pie pan (ideally the one with removable bottom, as it is easier to take the pie out of the pan). Take the dough from the refrigerator. You should be able to roll it right away, but if it is too stiff, let it sit for 5-10 minutes at room temperature. Roll the larger piece of dough into a round that’s about 11 to 12 inches in diameter. Fit the dough into the pie pan and trim the edge. Return to refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F (375°F convection bake).

Take the smaller piece of the dough from refrigerator and roll out to a 1/4-inch thick disk. Using your favorite cookie cutter, stamp out the decorations. Put them on a wax paper and on a tray, and return to refrigerator or freezer to firm up before decorating the cake.

Take the pie and the filling out of the refrigerator. Spoon the filling into the crust. Decorate the top of the pie.

Bake the pie on the lower rack for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375°F (350°F convection bake) and bake for another 40 minutes. Total baking time is about 1 hour. About 30 minutes into baking the decorations will begin to brown, at that point, cover the top with a loose aluminum-foil tent.

Remove the pie from the oven. Let it cool for about 15 minutes. If you are using a pan with removable bottom, remove the bottom and the pie on it from the pan. Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.