Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 Minnesota State Fair: Spice Cake

(bottom shelf, right side, red ribbon)
Cakes with Shortening: Spice Cake lot: 2nd place

I started making this cake about 7 years ago, when my dad requested it for his birthday. I entered this category on a whim, and was very pleasantly surprised with the 2nd place ribbon. (The winning cake was made by the Supreme Baker of the Fair, which is the competitor who earns the most points for their entries.) This cake scored very well. The frosting appearance was very smooth, and the layers were even.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving = Pie Time!

Every Thanksgiving I usually make at least 2 different pies. We were travelling this year, so I needed to make two that would take well to a 14 hour car trip. Apple pie and pecan pie were the clear winners. I will also be entering all three pie categories at the State Fair this year, so I like to get as much practice as I can!

I used pastry and pie recipes from Betty Crocker. (I much prefer the older cookbooks where the pies are in a separate chapter from the cakes, but I digress.) The newer version of the pastry recipe only lists shortening for the fat. If you use lard, use 1/3 cup for a one crust pie and 2/3 cup for a two crust pie.

Better Homes and Gardens is also a good resource for pie recipes.

For the apple pie I like to use Haralson apples. They are plentiful in October in Minnesota, but not much before or after. Luckily, apples keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Remember that fruit will cook down considerably in a pie, so use a lot of apples! I usually use 10 in a pie (8 if I have bigger apples).

I also use more pecans than the pecan pie recipe states - I probably use close to 2 cups. Pecans can get expensive, so look for them on sale. The best bargain for pecans? Fleet Farm! (No joke.)

Yes, I use lard. There's no better way to make a pie crust.

I use a measuring cup that I can push the lard out of and into the bowl. This is great to use for measuring shortening as well.

I use a hand pastry blender to cut the lard into the flour. A good tip is to chill the lard before mixing the crust - it will be flakier with chilled fat.

This is how the pastry dough will look when the lard and flour are blended.

Sprinkle COLD water over the flour mixture and mix with a fork. It will start to come together and off the sides of the bowl.

Form the mixture into a ball.

Getting the pastry cloth ready to roll out the dough. Work the flour into the cloth and rolling pin cover.

As I roll out the crust I rotate my pastry board so it will roll out evenly.

The crust is ready to be laid in the pie pan. Fold the pastry in half, then into quarter. Transfer to pie plate and unfold.

Trim the excess to about an inch from the edge of the pan. Fold the excess pastry under to form a smooth edge. Leave a little extra over the edge of the pan - the pastry will shrink as it bakes.

This is the unbaked pecan pie filling in the shell.

The baked pecan pie!

Two Crust Pies

For a 2 crust pie such as this apple pie, leave about 1/2 inch excess on the bottom crust, fill the shell with the pie filling, then lay the second crust over the filling (fold in quarters again). Trim excess pastry to about 1 inch.

Fold the top crust under the bottom crust to seal the pie crust. (Notice the volume of apples - this will decrease after baking.)

Cut slits in the top crust for steam to escape during baking. Fruit has a high water content, and the water will turn to steam in the oven.

I sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar mixture over the top crust before baking.

The baked apple pie!