Suzi’s Blog

Cookbook Review: Authentic Polish Cooking

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Most people would pause if asked to find Poland on a map. Eventually, you can work it out. East of Germany, west of Russia. There it is.

"Is now" that is. Over the centuries Poland has grown and shrunk, moved westward and even disappeared for a 120 years. At one point in history, Poland stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas and was the most important country in Europe.

Now, in the resurgence after the fall of Communism, Poland is an economic powerhouse. And, as always, a harbor for intellectual spirits especially artists, writers, and mathematicians.

Maybe it’s the water. Or maybe it’s the food. The food. There is a dichotomy to the food, some of it peasant simple and some just outrageously contemporarily wonderful. And even the “peasant” dishes reflect the very deep and very special nature of Polish cuisine: a richly studded table of fruits, grains and meats with recipe inspiration from the West [France and Italy] and the East [Russia, Ukraine, the spices of the Silk Road]

Consider some of the recipes on display in Authentic Polish Cooking by native Marianna Dworak.

Soups include simple vegetable, of course. Any farming nation in Eastern Europe has vegetable soup. But it’s the Poles who have Pickle Soup made with pickle juice. There a very royal purple soup, Chilled Beet, made with buttermilk. And if sweetness appeals to you, there is Fruit Soup with Apples, Plums, Broth and Egg Yolks.

Beets are an integral ingredient in Polish cuisine. The Poles just know how to brighten up that flavor, as in Beets with Horseradish, Wine Vinegar and Parsley. The combinations offered here includes ones you surely have not experienced, like the salad of Turkey with Peaches and Radishes. And I mentioned that contemporary Polish cuisine has a sophisticated side, so we have Veal Pate with Veal Shoulder, Veal Liver, and Bacon.

The meat dishes in the cookbook run the gamut. There are, of course, those very essential meat pierogies. Besides the beets, cabbage is a staple crop and converted into some excellent offerings like Beef and Cabbage Stuffed Croquettes. There is the very basic Goulash but also Duck Stuffed with Apple, Raisins and Walnuts. And fish, the fish too come with adornments to make them richer, creamier. There’s Herring in Sour Cream and Trout in an Egg Sauce with Parsley.

Vegetable dishes include dumplings of all types: Potato, Flour, and Cheese. Pierogies appear again, now made with cheese or fruit, instead of the standard meat.

Desserts are often constructed. A basic cake or dough with filling that provides the sweet richness we expect. You’ll find Cream Cake [simple dough, rich cream-egg filling], and then a Walnut Cake with Chocolate Cream. Nuts seem to have prominence across the dessert spectrum. You’ll discover a Walnut Log [roulade with walnut filling] and a Three-Layer Walnut-Almond-Chocolate Cake.

These Polish recipes have a distinctive nature. Some ingredients you may not employ too often: those beets or the cabbage. A heavy use of nuts. A passion for sour cream and buttermilk. These are different flavor pathways to a part of Europe you may never have visited, that you may never visit. But now, you can enjoy the food. One beet at a time.

Blueberry Nectarine Pie from First Prize Pies by Allison Kave

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In First Prize Pies, Allison Kave argues that you can enjoy pie year round. Her argument is sound, and you can see my review here.

But, ah aren’t there always buts in life, I think late summer is just the one time of year when you have to try pie. There are blueberries and nectarines, used here, plus peaches and plums and apples. It’s fruity out there. And it needs to be fruity in your kitchen.

This recipe calls for a double crust pie, but the picture shows a lattice top. A wonderful, tasty lattice top. You’ll find a step-by-step, photo-by-photo set of instructions in the book for making the lattice. And, it’s easy. Easy. A very good reason for getting your very own copy of First Prize Pies!

There are, of course, some issues that arise when you bake pies. That’s why so few of us do it. There’s the too much liquid problem. That’s why this recipe calls for cornstarch. Did it work for us? Kinda. Just kinda. The problem we had was using old, old blueberries. They disintegrated while baking and released a lot of fluid. This recipe should work just fine with very fresh berries. And, frankly, I don’t mind if the pie flows a tad over my plate. Warm, steamy juice with berries and chunks of nectarines floating past crust covered with sprinkles of sugar.

Summer paradise. One crust at a time.


Blueberry Nectarine Pie

Yield: one 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • One 9-inch pie crust [double] or, better the Cornmeal Crust on Page 44 of the book, which is why you need to buy this book!

Filling:

  • 1 pound fresh I nectarines (about 4), cored and sliced
  • 4 cups (560 g) fresh blueberries
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup (30 g) cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Egg wash or milk, for glaze
  • Raw sugar, for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out half of the dough into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the overhang to 1 inch and refrigerate the crust.

Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss together the nectarines, berries, lemon zest, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt. Just before adding the filling to the pie plate, toss the fruit in the dry ingredients. Brush the rim of the bottom crust with egg wash or milk.

Roll out the second half of the dough into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. Lay it over the filled pie. Trim the edges, and tuck the top crust over the rim of the bottom crust to form a tight seal. Crimp the edge into whatever pattern you like. Brush the top crust with egg wash or milk, sprinkle it with raw sugar, and cut a few slits to allow steam to escape.

Put the pie on a baking sheet and bake it for 20 minutes, turning it once halfway through. Lower the temperature to 350°F and bake it for30 to 40 minutes more, until the crust is golden and fully baked and the juices have thickened. Remove the pie to a rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. This pie can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, covered in plastic wrap. Let it come to room temperature before serving, or warm it in a low oven. It can be kept frozen for up to 2 months: Wrap it in plastic, then in foil, and let it come to room temperature before serving.


Source: First Prize Pies by Allison Kave [Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2014]

Photo Information [top]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for 1/40th second at ISO‑250

Photo Information [bottom]: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/3.5 for 1/30th second at ISO‑400

 

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Cookbook Review Redux: First Prize Pies

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I'm repeating this cookbook review from exactly two years ago because it remains a brilliant and wonderful book. Today's recipe post is a Blueberry Nectarine Pie from this book and, as you will see, it is a spectacular pie. Particularly if you make it with a lattice top. Oh, lattice top? You can't make a lattice top? Yes, you can, because this book has a picture-by-picture, step-by-step tutorial on making a "simple" lattice top. And you know something? It is simple. Here's the reviw. Read it and weep — in appreciation.

This is a beautiful and important book. There have been several grand pie books out this summer. I would start first with this one, First Prize Pies. First has recipes for the entire year, month by month. Starting with spring and rounding into winter.

Never really been a pie fanatic? You can become one. Quickly.

Allison Kave began as an amateur and has gone professional, right down to brick and mortar. With a bar-savvy friend, she has opened up Butter & Scotch the first cocktail and dessert bar on very trendy Smith Street in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. What more needs to be said: alcohol and pie crust.

Allison started First Prize Pies appearing at outdoor food markets. Allison’s mother is the inspiration: mom made candy at home for two decades then opened up a candy stand at the famed Essex Street Market. And Allison’s brother is a serious chef. So migrating into food, full time, was inevitable for Allison. She always baked. Then she entered the Brooklyn Pie Bake Off with her brother in 2009. He won Best Sweet Pie. She won best overall with her Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie.

Her career was launched with that First Prize ribbon. The Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie is on page 170. And if you go to Smorgasburg on weekends, you can eat pie standing on your feet. Or go to Butter & Scotch to sit down.

Or buy this book and work your way through the year. Suzen and I are.

The first pie recipe in the book does not appear until page 67. What comes first? Advice, recipes and big helpful pictures. Have you have been placing a pie crust in a pad, had it poised on your rolling pin, and had it crash down like the Hindenburg? Have you every cried over your crust?

The start of this important book is a long and serious primer on pie crusts. The physical techniques and recipes ranging from basic crust to rolled oat crumble. This is more than step-by-step. This is mini-step-by-mini-step. The instructions are lovingly and expertly detailed. The photos are an artfully crafted trail from flour to finished crust. Even I can do it. And I have.

And then there are the pies. Truly interesting and appealing pies. Organized by season and by month so you’ll make that apple pie — actually an Apple Cider Cream Pie — in January, when the fall apples have rested and the apple cider has peaked. There are six or seven recipes for each month, many with accompanying full page photographs. If you have enough will power to read a recipe title —like Salty Caramel Pie — and move on, then the picture right next to it will bring your finger to a halt. You will think that you have to make this pie. And that is the sign of a great cookbook. You’ve been invited to a treat. You cannot resist. You will bake.

There are treasures here for the entire year. Here’s a month by month selection of ideas that just popped out at me. Remember, there’s plenty more in the book:

  • March’s Samoa Pie with Coconut and Chocolate
  • Avocado Cream in April
  • The Kentucky Derby is in May and so is Mint Julep Pie
  • June brings Strawberry Shortcake Pie and Strawberry Basil
  • July offers Raspberry Vinegar but also Green Tomato
  • August is Watermelon Cream and Root Beer Float
  • September is Perfect Manhattan with bourbon and vermouth but also Concord Grape
  • Mocha Black Bottom comes in October along with Peanut Apple Caramel
  • November’s entry is the Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie that began this empire
  • Eggnog Cream is the December treat, just in time for Santa
  • Oatmeal Molasses is an old-fashioned, hardy treat for the cold days of January
  • Margarita Pie in February will make you forget the continuing cold, or you can indulge in a Carrot-Ginger Cream Pie

There’s much to be said and praised about in First Prize Pies. These are absolutely interesting pies here, some classics, some extensions that Allison has crafted and then elevated to pie perfection. There is the book itself. I have lots of pie books, including an old copy of The Farm Journal. Pie books first appeared as just text, no pictures, and little explanation. Your imagination was rarely tickled.

First Prize Pies is, instead, a beautiful book. A little quirky with a page layout that has some Art Deco elements, a thoughtful throwback to the idea that pies are perhaps just a little old-fashioned. And yet, they are not. These are jet-age, space-age recipes dotted here month by month. Some recipes bring old flavors to new levels: there’s a Creamsicle pie that can only make you nostalgic. And today’s new flavors, Salted Caramel and Banofee appear in full glory.

You have a full year of pie before you in First Class Pies. You’ll eat first class. You’ll have perfect crust, and your only tears will be joyful ones. You won’t have the same pie twice — unless you want to. And next year, at this time, you can do it all over again. I expect you will.