Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pie Crust, Miss American Pie Style

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening, (1/2 cup butter can be substituted for 1/2 cup of the shortening)
1/2-3/4 cup water, or slightly more, as needed

Yield: 2 pie crusts
Measure flour and salt into a large bowl; stir to combine. Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening (and butter, if using), until the lumps are pea-sized or slightly larger. With a fork, toss the flour/shortening mixture while slowly adding the water. Continue until the flour is evenly moistened and starts to cling together. You may need to add additional water to any dry patches. Gather the dough together and press into two balls. The dough should hold together but not be sticky. Generously flour a pastry mat or counter. Flatten one of the balls onto the floured surface and then roll out with a rolling pin, using a light touch. Use the rolling pin to transfer the pastry to a 9-inch pie dish. Ease the pastry loosely into position but do not press it into the pie plate. Add desired filling.

For a one-crust pie, trim the pastry, tuck ends under and crimp the edges. For a two-crust pie, roll out the second ball in the same manner as the first. Trim to fit. Fold in half to cut slits and transfer to top of pie. Unfold it, tuck the edges under and crimp, For a lattice crust, cut the rolled-out pastry into 1/2 strips and weave across the filling. A lattice crust is especially good for a juicy filling that needs lots of venting as it bubbles. (Berry pies, for example.)

To beautify the top of the crust you can either brush it with one beaten egg plus one tablespoon of milk or water. Or brush it with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

I usually bake my two-crust pies at 350 degrees, no matter what the recipe says, to prevent over-browning. Adjust the baking time a few minutes longer to compensate for a lower temperature, if necessary.

For a baked single crust (for cream pies, etc), prick crust all over with a fork and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Trouble shooting: if your dough falls apart as you're rolling it out, it's too dry and needs more water. If the finished crust is tough, you may have over-mixed it (remember to toss, not stir), or the shortening lumps weren't left large enough. (Pastry gets its flakiness when the lumps of shortening melt and create little pockets of air.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Some Pretty Fantastic Bars

There's no involved family history story to go with this recipe. It's actually pretty new to us, but since we discovered it, it's become a favorite in our home. Give credit to the Lionhouse for the recipe, although we've made a few tweaks of our own. I took a couple of pictures because it's a bit of a different process for making bar cookies.

Bars Fantastic

From Lionhouse: Cookies and Sweets
Yield: 20 bars


3 cupsflour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoonbaking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cupbutter
3/4 cupbrown sugar
1/4 cupsugar
1 teaspoonvanilla extract
1/2 cupwhite chocolate chips
1 cupsemisweet or milk chocolate chips
14caramels, unwrapped, cut into pieces (or 1 cup butterscotch chips, our preference) 
1 cupheath bars chips
1/2 cupnuts, optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
Combine dry ingredients. Cream together butter and sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Divide dough in half. Spread one portion evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Place a piece of plastic wrap onto work surface. Place the second portion of dough onto the plastic wrap. Cover it with another piece and flatten it with your hands or a rolling pin to the size of the pan. Set aside. 

Sprinkle the various chips onto the dough in the pan. 

Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the dough and place it on top of the chips in the pan. Press down slightly. . 

 If desired, sprinkle nuts on top. Bake 20-25 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool. 

Now, take a bite. Yum. . 
You could switch up the combination of chips to suit your own taste.

What's your favorite mix?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

How to Make a Wheat Doll

Shortly after my picture book, The Wheat Doll,was published I decided it would be fun to have a real doll with wheat inside that I could take to schools and book signings. The only problem was I didn't know how to make a wheat doll. I was pretty sure that no living person did. So I studied how some of the pioneers made their dolls and combined that with the doll making experience I already had. This is the pattern I came up with. I can't claim that it's authentic to the 19th century, but it is a handmade doll, filled with wheat.

This doll is one of several I've made. In true pioneer fashion I always use the fabrics and materials I have on hand. If you'd like to make one yourself, I'll give you a rundown with photos. Print out complete instructions here, along with a pattern for her body and her dress.

Once you've printed out the pattern, cut out the pieces. Fold the fabric for her body with right sides together and place the pattern pieces on the fabric. Trace around them. The tracing line will be your sewing line.

As long as we've got the patterns handy, let's cut out her dress, too. Place the top of the pattern along the fold, as indicated. Pin and cut out. 
 Don't forget to snip the two places indicated on the pattern. This is where the neck will be.
Cut along the fold, from snip to snip. 

Now head to your iron and press the part you just cut to make a neck hole. While you're at it, iron hems in the sleeves and both bottom edges of the dress. Stitch the hems down. (I know it's strange to sew the hems before doing the side seams, but trust me. It's better this way.)    

With a narrow zigzag stitch, sew around the neck. Using 1/4" seam, sew up the side seams and under the sleeves. Clip into the angle under the arms, close to the stitching, before turning the dress right side out. 

Next, let's do the apron, After cutting out the square of fabric, iron and hem three sides of the apron. Tuck the ribbon under the hem on the fourth side and sew it down. Apron and dress are done. Easy, huh?  

Now let's work on the doll.  It's a bit more difficult.

Stitch along the lines you've traced, leaving the tops of the arms and legs open. Leave an opening at the top of the doll's head, as indicated on the pattern.

Cut out the arms, legs and body, about 1/8" away from the stitched line. 
 Clip into the curves at the neck, being careful not to snip the stitching. Turn the pieces right sides out.  

The next step is to fill the pieces with wheat. Wheat berries can be found at home storage or whole foods stores. You could also use rice. Insert a funnel into the tops of the arms, legs and head and pour in the wheat. Use a chopstick on occasion to tamp down the wheat until the doll is as firm as you'd like. The firmer she is, the better she'll sit up.  

Whip stitched the top of the head closed. A bit eerie at this point, isn't she? 

Fold the tops of the arms and legs over and whip stitch them to the shoulders and the bottom front of the torso.  

The body's done. All we need are the finishing touches.  

I like to insert pins to help me position the eyes, nose and mouth. 

Using three or more strands of embroidery floss makes the stitching go easier. Insert a long threaded needle through the back of the head and come out where the pins are. Leave a tail  in the back for tying. I used satin stitch for the eyes. One long and two short stitches on either side for the nose. For the mouth, either back stitch, stem stitch or chain stitch will work. After embroidering each feature, take your needle back through the head and tie the ends in back.  
Don't worry. Her hair will cover them up. 

Time for the hair: wrap your yarn around a seven-inch piece of cardboard, or a book cover, as I did here. Slide it off and cut through one side so that you have a bundle of hair 14 inches long, and three inches wide. 

Place the bundle under your sewing machine at the halfway point. Stitch, using matching thread. This will be the doll's center part. 

Get her dressed before you sewon  her hair. Blush her cheeks, while you're at it.  

Now place the yarn at the top of her head, about 1/2 - 3/4" down on her forehead. Bring a threaded needle through the back of her head, like you did with her face, and take circular back stitches around the hair at the part and down through her scalp. Sounds painful, doesn't it? Let's not think about it. If you want her hair to lie straight, take a few more stitches around her head, catching a bit of hair in each stitch to fasten it down. 
Or you can braid it. 
Isn't she cute?