Friday, March 25, 2011

A Spring Snow Day with a Whiff of Christmas

While there’s definitely a part of me that wants spring to just hurry up and get here already, I’m not going to complain about this completely unexpected snow day, especially when I was able to spend most of it curled up on the couch in my office/craft room listening to the Strokes. How decadent it feels to have a day off that’s not full of chores or scheduled things to do, which is what I normally do when I have a planned day off from work.

A couple of days ago, I finally found an aptly named Perfect Pie Crust recipe, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because now I can make pies with amazingly buttery, flaky crust. Bad because now all I want to do is make pies. On Wednesday after I got home from work, I used the newfound recipe to make an Unintentionally Greek quiche of sorts out of spinach, onions, garlic, red pepper, feta cheese and eggs, just the things that were close to going bad in my fridge, like my Unintentionally Italian soup that I made over a month ago.

Later that same night I made a coconut cream pie, following this recipe for the filling. The Perfect Pie Crust recipe makes enough for two bottom-only pies or tarts, or in this case a quiche and a pie.

Coconut Cream Pie

I toasted the coconut first and doubled the amount. I also doubled the vanilla, which I always do for every dessert recipe that calls for vanilla, and I added a drop of coconut extract. I used the same Perfect Pie Crust recipe (baked it blind and let it cool), which has no sugar in it, but it was fine for this pie, a nice complement to the sweet coconut custard. Half of this recipe with the doubled coconut is enough to fill one pie shell, but I only made it with custard, not whipped cream on top like most coconut cream pies because even I impose some limits on dessert decadence. Except for eating a slice of the pie for breakfast. That level of decadence is well within my limits, particularly on a rare early spring snow day when it seems as if anything goes.

As I already said, the problem with finding the perfect pie crust recipe is that now all I want to do is make pies. The crust is so easy to make and turns out so perfectly that I have no excuse not to make a pie (or two!) every day for the rest of my life. Except for my waistline, of course. What I want to conquer next is one of those fancy fruit flans, a classic tarte aux fruits, with the multi-coloured concentric circles of fresh fruit on top.

I want to try my hand at making a pavlova at some point, too. I had never even heard of pavlova until I watched Nigella Lawson make one on her Forever Summer series on TV. It's a big baked meringue dessert, essentially. I could watch Nigella cook and bake for hours on end. Nigella’s Bribery and Corruption Drawer, her cupboard full of chocolate and treats in her kitchen, is the sort of thing that I would have myself in my own kitchen if I only had more willpower. I have a strong feeling that the only person who would be corrupted by having a big ol' stash of chocolate in the house is me. I just think the incongruence of the beautiful, sophisticated, food-writer Nigella showing us her cupboard full of junk is hilarious, which is why I like her.

Speaking of incongruence, and seeing as how nothing screams “early spring snowstorm” like a dark Christmas fruitcake (ha!), I baked a fruitcake today. Not one of those boozey, pudding-like concoctions that you have to bake a year in advance and then put in a dark cupboard and feed it a spoonful of booze every day until Christmas or anything. No, that process sounds too much like something out of a Dickens novel for my tastes, like some poor, alcoholic orphan-child confined to a dank corner of the workhouse, languishing from lack of sunlight and nutrition, kept docile with an occasional dram of gin. I don't know why my brain automatically makes that association between  fruitcake and Victorian-era orphans, but it does.


This doesn't look like an drunken orphan to me at all, not with all those blackberries and my best attempt at fancy-pants piped icing, which is actually light Cool Whip.

Anyway, I had dried cherries, prunes, raisins and a handful of dried cranberries that had been kicking around for ages in my cupboard, along with two slices of crystallized ginger that have been in my spice basket for as long as I can remember. No nuts, though; I didn’t have any. So I modified a recipe that I found online, chucked everything that I could find in, and there you go. It's moist and spicy now but I bet after a couple of days in the container, it will be even awesomer.

The only issue with it occurred when I turned the cake out of the loaf pan when part of the bottom stuck to the pan, but in retrospect, maybe if I had better prepared the pan before pouring in the batter, like with greased parchment paper or something, then it could have helped the cake from sticking. Then again, I’m sure that everything that I did—i.e. baking a dark fruit cake in late March, not making it the traditional way, using old dried-up odds and ends from the back of my baking cupboard, and eating it with (gasp!) blackberries and light Cool Whip, of all things--is highly disreputable and violates every sense of propriety that most sensible bakers have, but I don’t care because, guess what?! The cake is delicious and it's a snow day in Spring and my house smells like Christmas! It’s that unmistakable smell of happiness and home and coziness and the prospect of exciting things just around the corner. You just can’t get that happy smell out of a bottle, so even if it is technically "spring," I’ll take a whiff of Christmas whenever I can get it.

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