Tis the Season to be Baking!

For a baker, the Holidays mean stocking your pantry with more flour and sugar than you could ever know what to do with,  just to be prepared. I often bake a variety around this time, from your standard cut-out cookies to decadent truffle-like treats. I hosted a holiday party this past weekend – the company was cheerful, the setting was festive, and the spread was epic. Perhaps the most noteworthy installment was the cookie-decorating station: rich cream cheese frosting with a myriad selection of sprinkles and candies were set out as toppings for adorable Gingerbread Men and Cut-Out Sugar Cookies.
Cutout cookies are a Christmas classic, giving bakers everywhere an edible palette for colorful icings and candies. The traditions dates back to 13th-century Germany with Lebkuchen. This style of cookie (very similar to gingerbread) is a refined delicacy in German culture, boasting intricate shapes and designs. Gingerbread itself can be traced back even further, appearing in Europe in the year 992! Though both cookies are spiced, Lebkuchen is made with honey while gingerbread relies on treacle (or molasses). The first recorded instance of gingerbread being shaped as “men” appears with Queen Elizabeth I, who would present distinguished guests with gingerbread likeness of themselves.
These gingerbread men were absolutely perfect! The recipe recommends making the dough ahead of time to allow both the flavor and texture to develop, which I strongly second. I used blackstrap molasses, When rolling out these cookies, be sure to have a bowl of flour on hand (I just had an entire bag) to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or the surface. As I mentioned before, I paired these with cream cheese frosting, though feel free to use whatever style you prefer (royal icing is a favorite) – click HERE to see how to make these traditional treats!
I’ve made a number of sugar cookies in the past, but these were by far THE best I’ve ever made! There are several ingredients that help set these cookies above the rest. The first is the addition of cream cheese as a binding agent – the result is a sturdier dough that is SO much easier to work with than an all-butter dough. The second factor is the medley of flavorings – while vanilla extract is standard, these cookies achieve an almost-fruity contrast with the additions of almond extract and lemon zest. Best part of all, the dough can be frozen for up to 3 months if needed! I rolled out the dough a week before the party, stored it between sheets of parchment paper and froze it. I highly recommend these, and can guarantee they will become a new tradition in your household as well – click HERE to see how to make these stunning cut-out classics!
You can already guess that a pairing for traditional Christmas cookies deserves a traditional Christmas tune – so naturally I went with a piece that plays in every pops concert, Macy’s, and in every holiday broadcast: Sleigh Ride, by Leroy Anderson. In fact, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers [ASCAP] claims the light orchestral work has routinely been within the top 10 songs performed (worldwide) during the holiday season. Steve Metcalf, author of Lero’s biography, states that “‘Sleigh Ride’ … has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.” The piece was first recorded by the Boston Pops, which is why I thought it appropriate to include a recording with that orchestra – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OATi34PKNPw

Sources Cited:
“Christmas Foods,” FoodTimeline.org
“Sleigh Ride,” Wikipedia.com

A Rendezvous with the Coast

Last weekend was my first time taking an actual summer vacation – visiting the Hamptons with family and friends. Even though it was only for three nights, the trip rewarded me with a sense of relaxation (aka time away from Boston) I desperately needed. Nonetheless, I never surrender my desire for cooking even when on vacation (if I have access to a kitchen, that is). My aunt allowed me to take the reigns on dinner for one of the nights, and you can only imagine my excitement when she brought home 2 pounds of frozen lobster. With fresh herbs and aromatics from the local farmer’s market, I decided to make Lobster Risotto.
Now you might be thinking: frozen lobster, what makes that exciting? This was flash frozen lobster, with no preservatives, and wild caught – three winning categories in my book! Flash freezing is a process that brings food to a temperature far beneath water’s freezing point (32°F or 0°C). This prevents the formation of ice crystals, which can otherwise damage the food  by make its texture mealy/watery. Fish that have been flash frozen are often done so directly after being caught, sealing in its freshness and quality.*
The other wonderful thing about this risotto was the pan I got to cook it in: an All-Clad paella pan. Risotto is a dish that take patience, making sure the timing is just right. But this pan made that process a much simpler one, no doubt. If there is a Santa, this is on my wishlist! The recipe (aside from the lobster) is pretty basic, yet makes a LOT of risotto – bear in mind I was preparing a meal for 9 people. It can easily be halved to serve 4 or 5. Click HERE to learn how to make this delicious, creamy risotto!
While visiting that local farmer’s market, I was drawn to the ruby cherries on sale.  Cherries are an innately beautiful fruit, boasting great color and shape. These characteristics helped to inspire my dessert course – Fresh Cherry Cake. I wanted a simple context to amplify the aesthetic look of the fruit, yet a complimentary flavor to augment their fresh taste. An almond cake (adapted from my favorite Joy of Baking), was the perfect answer! Click HERE to see how to make this simple yet stunning dessert!
I have always found the cello to be my favorite for times of relaxation (perhaps because it is the closest to the timbre of the human voice), and I wanted my musical selection to reflect my vacationing mindset . So I chose Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat No. 9. Being a cellist himself, Boccherini truly captures the instrument’s voice through this piece.** The ornate, fluid style of this work also helped lead to my pairing, and its almost playful charm as well. The recording I’ve included is by cellist extraordinaire Jacqueline Mary du Pré performing the first movement. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbBb3M7L8-M

Sources Cited:
* “Flash Freezing.” Wikipedia.com 
** “Luigi Boccherini,” Wikipedia.com

As American as Apple Pie

Fourth of July: a definitive holiday that celebrates American Independence and our national spirit. While I’ve seen many firework displays, none have quite topped the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. This comes as little surprise considering over 500,000 people flood the banks of the Charles River to see the thrilling event, with an additional 7 MILLION tuning in to the CBS special from across the nation.* I’ve braved the crowds three times now, and must say that it still is quite “spectacular.” For this July 4th, a group of us gathered at my friend Brian’s in the North End for food and drinks (Awesome spread! See below), then travelled to a nearby bridge on the Charles for the fireworks show. My contributions to the cookout were two classics that this holiday would be incomplete without: Deep Dish Apple Pie and Blueberry Crumble Pie.
“As American as Apple Pie” – we’ve all heard it, yet any may be surprised to learn it is quite far from the truth. The tradition of pie can be traced back to the Greeks, who used pastries to keep savory dishes fresh for storage and transport. This practice was passed on to the Romans, who subsequently introduced the method to Europe. When pilgrims first arrived to the Americas, there were no indigenous apple trees. The fruit had become quite the popular ingredient by that time, compelling settlers to introduce apple seeds to the continent in the 1620s. America quickly became one of the world’s largest producers of the fruit.**
Here is my greatest piece of advice for both making both of these pies’ crusts – make sure ALL the wet ingredients (including the fats) are VERY cold! Otherwise you will end up with a pie crust that is neither flaky nor attractive. I used my food processor (a great gift from my stepmother!) for the first time on these recipes, and I am absolutely in LOVE with it! It made the process much less tedious, and the crust came together in no time!
This apple pie was fantastic! It is a hybrid of two different recipes, considering I wanted a sturdy crust with a filling that was both flavorful and not too soggy. The filling is cooked beforehand, ensuring that the apples will be just cooked (rather than “just barely,” a consequence of deep dish pie dishes). The filling doesn’t suffer from being too mushy, either, thanks to the apples’ natural pectin (which is also used as a stabilizer in jams and jellies). To learn how to make this “American” classic, click HERE.
The second pie was just as stunning – a colorful, juicy filling topped with a cinnamon crumble puts this one over the top. This again is a hybrid of two different recipes, in my search for paring a flaky crust with a luscious filling. The crumble topping gives the pie a whole new dimension of flavor and texture, almost serving as a second “pie crust.” This pie was fairly simple to make (relative to the apple pie), and will certainly be making another appearance soon. Click HERE to learn how to make this delicious pie!
For this pairing, I chose the crowning glory of the Boston Pops show – 1812 Overture, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Like the apple pie, this piece also has a deceptive history. Many falsely affiliate the work with the War of 1812, while in fact it refers to Russia’s victory over the advance of Napoleon’s Grande Armée into Moscow. So why the cultural misinterpretation? The Boston Pops themselves can be blamed, when former director Arthur Fiedler decided to feature the work (for the 1974 show). He had been asked to program a work that would appeal to a larger audience, and so he chose the overture due to its patriotic zeal and “explosive” finale (complete with real canons and church bells!) The reaction by spectators and critics alike secured the work a permanent place in the annual show’s program, as well as in July 4th celebrations across the country.^ Many of the recordings on YouTube only include the Finale, which, though wonderful, wholly omit the beautiful opening and more subtle moments. Here is a recording of the piece in full by the Hallé Orchestra of England, with Mark Elder conducting. Enjoy!

All photos thanks to my good friend Danny Rios 

Sources Cited:
* “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular – Our Story.” July4th.org. 
** Olver, Lynn. “Pies & Pastry.” FoodTimeline.org. 19 Jun. 2011. 
^ Peters, Glen. “The Fourth of July and the 1812 Overture: A History.” AssociatedContent from Yahoo! 19 Jul. 2007. 

Redefining the Limits of Brilliance

This dish was my first time cooking with flank steak – given it is a much leaner steak than your standard T-bone, I was extremely nervous about how to make the most out of this cut. I had two options – simply cooked then covered it with a sauce, or a marinade. I went with the latter, and thank God I did! If you remember from my previous post, I’m not a big meat eater, but this steak was amazing! Not only that, it fit beautifully into my “get-rid-of-all-that-leftover-OJ” efforts (like this orange cake had from a previous post). If you like steak, but don’t want to shell out big bucks for it, I highly recommend giving this Broiled Flank Steak with Citrus-Honey Mustard Marinade a shot!
Flank steak comes from the abdominal section of a cow, making it much leaner and tougher than your more expensive cuts (i.e short loin, chuck, etc). For quite some time, it was seen as a “cheap, unreliable cut.” Yet that opinion has drastically changed given flank steak is easy too cook, arguably healthier than your fattier cuts, and extremely versatile in cooking method and flavor options. Cutting the steak across the grain is key to help break down the fibrous muscle of the meat, giving you the most tender result. Marinades really bring out the potential of this cut, and the longer it sits the greater the taste. I learned the above method of placing a ziploc bag in a bowl from SimplyRecipes – it ensures even coating with little to no mess.
This marinade…wow was it good! It was on a complete whim, actually – I was cleaning out some old magazines and saw a SouthernLiving grilling edition. There were two pages devoted to marinades, and seeing as how I have so much OJ to spare this one was perfect! The coarse-grained mustard is essential – you can use Dijon, but it won’t have the same intensity. This marinade would probably be great with chicken or fish as well (something I am definitely planning on trying); I didn’t change a thing with the recipe.
Given the lack of grill, the broiler was the way to go (as you can remember from my previous post). If you don’t have a broiler pan, I wouldn’t recommend using your cookie sheets; they will warp/darken considerably. A broiler pan ss a worthwhile investment if you like grilled food and have apartment limitations. Cast iron works great too, of course 🙂 The key to serving flank steak is cutting it into thin slices – it capitalizes on the meats tenderness, and makes for a beautiful presentation. This has definitely become my new go-to cut of steak for a large crowd – it’s fast, tastes great, and has less than 10 ingredients! We had pasta and steamed vegetables as sides for the steak. Click HERE to learn how to make this dish a staple in your own cooking repertoire.
In keeping with my OJ theme, I also made a Orange & Fennel Salad with Citrus-Shallot Vinaigrette. The reduced orange juice gives the vinaigrette a potent richness, needing only a touch of honey to even out the taste. It’s such a simple recipe, yet makes a fantastic salad – click HERE to find out how to make it.
For the pairing of this dish, I wanted to piece that would complement the depth of flavor these two dishes possess: colorful, yet potent. It drew my to Strauss’s renowned tone poem Don Juan, Op. 20. The work launched a 25-year-old Strauss to international success. Regarded as Strauss’s “coming-of-age” masterpiece, Don Juan displays an orchestral valor that far transcends the conservative writing of his youth. This shift of style was a direct result of Strauss’s aquaintance with fellow composer Alexander von Ritter.* Ritter’s influence led to Strauss’s pursuit of the “tone poem,” or an orchestral work that evokes a story, landscape, or other non-musical art form, and is one continuous movement.** For a work that is not even 20 minutes in length, this tone poem is replete with emotional depth and poetic grandeur, thus my pairing. I’ve included here a recording with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – it is in two parts, and I strongly recommend listening to the entire thing. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
* Rodda, Dr. Richard E. “Don Juan,” The Kennedy Center website 
** “Tone Poem,” Wikipedia.com 

Seeking Serenity through Tzatziki

Had you told me 10 years ago that I would love the city life, complete with renting an apartment and relying on public transportation, I would have laughed. Yet here I am: living in Boston proper with a 2-bedroom apartment, and commuting daily to work on the subway, and loving every bit of it. That being said, it does have some restrictions – most notably, lack of a grill. So there’s George Foreman, or I could get a small charcoal and drag it out to the parking lot every time I want a steak; but neither really suits my own culinary finesse. Enter the solution: a grill pan. Now obviously the smoky taste of a true grill won’t be achieved, but it’s the next best thing. I just bought a 13-inch Calphalon nonstick grill pan (see below) and wanted to take it for a test ride. For its debut, I decided to make Pan-Grilled Salmon with Tzatziki.
While I am an avid user of cast-iron for meats, fish works quite well in the nonstick setting. Salmon is an oily, or fatty, fish – it thus takes slightly longer to cook. To create the perfectly cooked fillet, salmon is often removed from the heat just before it is fully cooked. This prevents the fish from drying out, giving it a beautiful texture. The result will be flesh that is slightly translucent in the center, and completely opaque around the edges. Like Tuna, salmon is a safe fish to eat undercooked, or even raw (NOTE: this only applies to fresh fish – read all labels and safety instructions beforehand).* Leaving the skin on the fillets prevents the fish from drying out; it can easily be removed with a long knife or spatula once the fish is done cooking.
For this salmon, I chose to make Tzatziki: a Greek dish that consists of strained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill, and lemon; mint and parsley are optional add-ins (which I did not use). It is used in a number of contexts in Greek cuisine, from being served as a meze (appetizer) with dippers to serving as a sauce for gyros. Tzatziki pairs beautifully with salmon – the dill and lemon highlight the fish’s natural flavor, while the yogurt and cucumber provide an almost “spa-like” freshness. Greek yogurt is a must for achieving the right consistency of this sauce – I like Trader Joe’s brand, but Fage is another excellent variety. If you prefer to use regular yogurt, be sure to strain it for at least 2 hours (in the refrigerator) by placing the yogurt in a coffee filter over a large bowl. To learn how to make this lovely summer dish, click HERE.
The “soothing” flavors of the Tzatziki received my attention for this musical pairing, and Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau was the perfect match. This work opens the series Images pour piano, though the three parts are often performed as individual works. This series was written just after the completion of La Mer (which was just featured on this blog). It evince many of the same harmonic qualities found in the orchestra piece, yet finds a more delicate ambience through poetic expression. Reflets dans l’eau translates to “Reflection in the Water,” and is meant to evoke a rippling effect.^ I’ve included here a recording by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (a French pianist for a French piece!) His interpretation is precisely the ambiance I hoped to capture with this dish. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
*”Cooking Fish Fundamentals.” Rouxbe Cooking School http://rouxbe.com
**”Tzatziki.” Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzatziki
^”Claude Debussy.” Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Debussy

A Classic Dessert with a Twist

In case you didn’t notice, summer in Boston is one of my favorite times of year. The weather is almost always perfect (knock on wood), and the notorious audacity of Boston’s residents is temporarily replaced with a warm conviviality. Fall is lovely, of course, and the fist snow of winter can be breathtaking; but I can’t get enough of this beautiful season. My relish for hosting parties is tenfold, and friends/coworkers who are around for the summer become the guinea pigs of my culinary adventures. I hosted one party this past weekend that was your all-American standard: burgers, beer, chips & salsa, etc. The dessert was a classic that allowed my southern heritage to really shine: Key Lime Pie.
Key Lime Pie is named for the use of the Floridian Key Lime…okay I confess, I didn’t use actual Key Limes to make this pie. I used an organic brand of regular lime juice that I had on hand. The primary difference between these citrus cousins is color and flavor. Unlike conventional limes, Key Limes are noted for their bitter, tart taste and for having a yellow to light green skin. Native to Southeast Asia, the Key Lime was introduced brought by Spanish explorers to the West Indies. The Florida Keys became a prominent location of harvest for the fruit, with the term “Key” being added to differentiate them from the traditional Persian cultivar.* I decided to split the difference by omitting a tablespoon or two of sugar to achieve a more tart filling. Check out how to make this fabulous recipe by clicking HERE.
In pairing this dish, I chose to acknowledge Spain and its role in introducing Key Limes to North America. Spain is a nation rich with culture and history, and its composers bring that wealth of culture to their music. One example is the music of Isaac Albéniz – a Catalan composer, pianist, and conductor whose efforts were instrumental in promoting Spanish music abroad. He is most well-known for his piano works, many of which were later transcribed for the guitar.** such is the case with the selection I chose: Asturias, from Suite española, Op. 47. This suite consists of eight movements, each representing a different region in Spain. Several of these movements are performed on guitar more often than piano, including Asturias.^ This “reinterpretation” of the original composition further compelled me to pair this work with my own “reinterpretation” of the original recipe. The recording I have included is by John Williams: not “Star Wars” John Williams, but perhaps the guitar soloist of his generation. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEfFbuT3I6A

Sources Cited:
*”Key Lime.” Wikipedia.com
**”Isaac Albéniz,” Wikipedia.com
^”Suite española,” Wikipedia.com

Summer’s Finest: a Rich Delicacy

Summer: a season filled with the joys of nature and a fresh alacrity. Heavy coats and snow boots are replaced with classy shades and breezy shirts. Summer also sees rise to some of the year’s freshest, most lively tastes. The culinary possibilities are endless, though beating the heat can make them limited – dishes that take hours to cook (such as stews and braises) are the last thing anyone wants in 100-degree weather. This is especially true when hosting for a number of people. Such was the case a week ago while I was throwing a dinner party for a group of guys. I needed a dish that could be both light and filling. Such a anomaly led me to the ever-reliable classic, Shrimp Scampi.
Shrimp and summer are as compatible as Fred and Ginger. The lightness of shrimp pairs beautifully with the seasonal timbre, and scampi is one of the simplest ways to fulfill this potential. The flavors are simple: garlic, parsley, lemon, and wine. This dish takes a matter of minutes to make, yet packs a LOT of taste! It is a complexity that is difficult to describe, as this dish achieves both a richness and subtlety of taste. The recipe I used for this had no pasta, just shrimp. This meal had to feed a group of guys, so I needed substance, and pasta can always take a meal that extra mile. In order to make enough sauce, I quadrupled the sauce with amazing results! I also added a pinch of red pepper flakes to give this dish an extra kick. Check out how to make this perfect summer entree by clicking HERE
For the musical pairing, I wanted to feature this dish’s seasonal charm, but also acknowledge its greater depth in flavor. The unusual blend of ethereality and substance fits beautifully within the style of Claude Debussy. The music of Debussy is characterized by harmonic freedom and tonal ambiguity, a “vagueness” that has often aligned his musical style with that of the Impressionists (though Debussy himself detested this term). One of his most renowned works is perhaps La Mer: “Three Symphonic Sketches for Orchestra,” composed in 1905. This work explores the lush, powerful nature of the sea, yet also captures its more delicate qualities. I have included a video recording of the first movement: “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (From dawn to noon on the sea”).* The performance is by the Chicago Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting (ps. 0ne of my favorite moments takes place at 5:15) – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_mer_(Debussy)

Finding a Sweeter Sunrise

Waking up is rarely an easy task: thoughts of the day ahead and the work left to be done are little help. The cure? Freshly baked muffins. The ambrosial scent of these morning delights can rouse any sleeping beauty. While the gorgeous Boston summers are arguably what make the winters tolerable, we had a rough stretch of weather for a good part of May. To help “rouse” the spirits of my fellow coworkers, I felt that freshly baked muffins were in order and made the following: Banana Nut Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Vegan Blueberry-Orange Muffins.
The term “muffin” is believed to been derived from the French term moufflet, or “soft bread.” The original cakes were made using yeast, and tended to be round, flat, and sweetened with a touch of sugar. Today’s English muffins are much closer to this variety, only they are cooked on a griddle rather than baked. Muffins as Americans know them are substantially different: they are made without yeast, baked in small pans, and are much sweeter. The 19th century saw rise to this style of muffin, with classics such as “blueberry” and “bran” gracing a number of American cookbooks. The actual origin of muffins is extremely convoluted, and is as traceable as the origin of bread itself.*
There is only one answer for ugly, overripe bananas: muffins. Banana muffins are, in essence, miniature versions of banana bread and thus extremely simple to make! This recipe is from one of my favorite cooking blogs, SimplyRecipes, with the only difference being my addition of chocolate chips (at the request of my coworker Victor). These muffins are fantastic, and I guarantee they will be consumed within a matter of hours (as were mine). Check out how to make these breakfast delights by clicking HERE.
The term “vegan” is a scary one for a baker to hear, yet I was willing to attempt one such recipe for the sake of my vegan friend Rosena. I chose to go with THE classic: blueberry. The trick here was to get a muffin that had a velvety texture, yet wasn’t too dense. If I had chosen to label these as traditional blueberry muffins, no one would have guessed they were vegan. The apple cider vinegar is a crucial ingredient, giving these muffins a lightness akin to the regular variety. I chose orange zest over lemon, wanting a more summery taste – it was possibly one of the best decisions I could have made. Trick your taste buds and try these vegan muffins by clicking HERE.
Since muffins are best enjoyed with a cup of coffee and a golden sunrise, I paired these with one of my favorite works: Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No.2. This is honestly one of the most beautiful pieces, and has been a favorite of mine for years. The work in its entirety is a ballet of three parts, and stands as Ravel’s longest work at nearly at nearly one hour in length. The story is based upon the legendary romance of a goatherd named Daphnis and a shepherdess named Chloé.**
Ravel later selected excerpts from the ballet to create two orchestral suites. The second suite is perhaps the most popular, encompassing the more complex elements of the overall work. The suite opens with “daybreak,” where a sleeping Daphnis is awakened to be reunited with his beloved Chloé, who has just been rescued by the god Pan from a band of pirates.** I have included here the opening of the Suite No.2 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan. The sad thing about this video is that it ends RIGHT before one of THE solo of all flute solos in orchestral repertoire takes place…which is why I’ve included a second link with my biggest flute crush playing the solo: Emmanuel Pahud. Luckily, it’s the same orchestra (different conductor), making it the closest thing to a continued recording as YouTube can provide. This is genuinely a gorgeous work, and I hope you enjoy it!

1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fm6zNYZoHJs
2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HdpAoI8Ciw

Sources Cited:
* http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq2.html#americanmuffins
** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphnis_et_Chloé

Harnessing a Taste for Derby

Derby Day Celebrations are perhaps some of most ironic of all sporting affairs. In Kentucky there is a two-week long festival celebrating the race, which is all of 90 seconds. That’s right – the Kentucky Derby lasts no more than 2 minutes, yet is the state’s most prominent annual event. Nonetheless, one can’t help but be enchanted with Derby enthusiasm and its beloved traditions: mint juleps, ridiculous attire (especially hats), endless parades, garlands of roses, and every pie imaginable.* My friend Beth McDonald (having completed her Bachelor’s at the University of Kentucky) is a genuine Derby enthusiast. She hosted her second annual Derby Day Party this past weekend, and enlisted my pie expertise. So I arrived at the party donning an enormous hat with the following two pies: Kentucky Bourbon-Walnut Pie with Chocolate Ganache and Peanut Butter Silk Pie with Pretzel Crust.
I have never been, and never intend to be, one who relies on a box – “from scratch” shall forever be my baking mantra. Pillsbury frozen pie crusts make it seem so simple to, when, in fact, pie crusts are an inherent art form to a number of culinary traditions. The creation of the perfect pie crust takes place over the course of two to three days, ideally. This includes chilling, resting, and baking. I always cube my butter and freeze it the night before I make pie dough (tip from SimplyRecipes). I then wake up early enough the next day to make the dough, and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Patience is what makes the perfect pie crust – so if you are craving a pie last-minute, then and only then is Pillsbury your best friend.
No Derby is complete without a “Derby Pie”. A Kentucky tradition dating back to 1950, the original Derby Pie was a chocolate-walnut tart created by Walter and Leaudra Kern, owners of the Melrose Inn. A popular addition to this pie is a quarter cup of Kentucky Bourbon, as well as substituting pecans for the walnuts. I opted for the traditional walnuts, but added some of Kentucky’s finest: Woodford Reserve. The title “Derby Pie” is  a trademark strongly defended by the Kerns’ Kitchen, so any publication of the recipe, from this blog to the Bon Appétit cooking magazine, must use an alternate title.** For some reason the top of my pie was less seemly than normal (half the walnuts migrated over to one side of the pie, and the chocolate was more prominent on the other), so I covered mine in a silky layer of ganache. And besides, who doesn’t love melted chocolate? Check out my version of this classic by clicking HERE
If there is such a thing as a pretzel addiction, then I am guilty as charged. I LOVE pretzels (as all my friends know). The duplicity of this pie is what makes it truly remarkable: sweet and salty, silky and crunchy, peanut and pretzel. This pretzel addict was sold.
This recipe was a combination of two recipes. It makes a very soft pie (fair warning) but with a fantastic flavor! That being said, keep this pie chilled until ready to serve.  Both the filling and crust are fairly simple (compared to the previous pie in this post), and can be made either the day of or the night before. For the sake of convenience, I almost always try to make things the day before, if possible. I made this pie with crunch peanut butter, to add some more texture to the filling. Click HERE to learn how to make this sweet and salty delight.
The musical pairing for these pies was a no-brainer: William Tell Overture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, think of every TV Show/cartoon with racing horses…remember that theme? Yes, this is a cliché choice for Derby Day pies, but the selection is far too fitting to ignore. This overture is (in actuality) the opening to Gioachino Rossini’s Guillame Tell – an opera that tells the story of the Swiss legend and hero William Tell. Yet the popular radio/television series The Lone Rangerhas forever displaced the context of this overture for millions of Americans. The overture is divided into four continuous sections. The known and loved excerpt comes from the Finale – the “cavalry charge” (contextually part of the battle scene in Guillame Tell) that served as the opening sequence for the classic television series.*** The video I have included here include the final two sections: the Ranz des Vaches, or “Call to the Cows”, and the Finale. The Ranz des Vaches has a pastorale quality, and features the English Horn; this section is yet another highly recognized theme. The recording features conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic – I highly recommend taking the time to listen to the video “Part 1” as well to get a sense for the whole piece. Enjoy!

Sources cited:
* “Kentucky Derby.” Wikipedia.com
** “Derby pie.” Wikipedia.com
*** “William Tell Overture.” Wikipedia.com