Caramel, sea salted or otherwise

A stormy weekend in New England means one thing: being cooped up inside. Being cooped up inside usually leads to experimenting in the kitchen. This weekend I decided to make caramel popcorn to snack on while we watched the wind and rain, and in order to make caramel popcorn, you gotta make some caramel. Usually I make candy once a year, when I make my Christmas Toffee, but on Saturday I dragged out my equipment and made my first ever batch of chewy caramel.

I wanted to use what I had in the pantry (or fridge) since I wasn't too thrilled at the idea of heading back out to the grocery store with the rest of the people stocking up for the storm, so I scoured the internet to find a recipe that would allow me to use light cream (or half and half), instead of evaporated milk. Found one!

This particular recipe yielded enough caramel for two batches of caramel corn, PLUS some leftovers that I chopped up and passed out to friends for review (I sprinkled the caramel with a little sea salt before cutting it, because what ELSE would I do?).

Making caramel is surprisingly easy, but you need to be present. Block off some time to be standing at the stove, because this stuff will go from buttery and delicious to scorched in the blink of an eye. A candy thermometer is your best friend until you start to recognize the signs of candy being done.

Here's what you'll need to line up:

  • candy thermometer (you can find this at the grocery store)

  • a 5 quart or larger pot. The original recipe calls for a 3qt heavy pot, but without doubling the recipe, my caramel boiled right over the pot and I had to quickly transfer it to a bigger pot. It can't hurt to go bigger- you'll avoid a very sticky mess.

  • parchment paper, or your silpat

  • 8×8 or 9×9 pan (or large jelly-roll cookie sheet if doubling recipe)


    •    1 cup butter, chopped into small pieces
    •    1 cup light corn syrup
    •    2 cups light cream (or half and half)
    •    2 1/4 cup brown sugar
    •    1 tsp vanilla
    •    coarse ground salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Melt the butter in the pot over low heat. Carefully add the brown sugar by pouring it into the center of the pan (if any sugar crystals stick to the side of the pan, push them down with a silicone spatula or a damp pastry brush). Stir slowly until well combined with the melted butter. Add corn syrup and mix well, add light cream (half and half).

Turn the heat up to medium and continue to stir the candy mixture. Then slowly bring the heat up to medium high until the caramel begins to lightly boil. Once the caramel is boiling, clip the candy thermometer to the pot (don't let the bottom of the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot- it will skew your temp reading). 

If you've been stirring well, your caramel should continue to look blended as it boils. If not, your butter will begin to separate. STIR!

Reduce heat to medium, maintaining a steady boil. KEEP STIRRING. You just need to park it at the stove- if you don't stir, your caramel will separate and it will make you cry. Trust me.

This next part I'm taking directly from the original recipe:

Temperature does not raise at a steady rate, so watch thermometer closely. If you have any doubts about the accuracy of your thermometer, periodically do a test by dropping a little in cold water. When thermometer reaches 244°, remove caramel from heat.

Stir in vanilla. If dipping, start immediately. If making caramels, pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Either way, take care not to burn yourself, this stuff is so so hot.

Allow to cool for several hours and use a cold, lightly buttered knife or pizza cutter to cut into small pieces

Wrap in wax paper to store. Or to save on cutting time, just leave the whole batch out on the counter with a knife next to it and watch it gradually disappear.

The original recipe includes different stages for things like making a caramel dip and dipping apples. I loved the way the caramel turned out and will be making a batch JUST to cut up into caramel squares again soon.

Source: Giver'sLog Homemade Caramel, my foolproof recipe


    Chicken Pot Pie

    It's homemade chicken soup, in convenient pie form!

    The weather around here has been cooler again, and when that happens I want to pull out all of my sweaters and cook warm comfort foods. This week, with the nice crisp weather, pot pie Friday seemed like a no brainer.

    My pot pie recipe calls for cooking the chicken using a method somewhere between braising and poaching. Broaching? Praising? I started doing this (versus, say, roasting my chicken before hand) when I started making my own chicken soup and would simmer the chicken in stock. The chicken was SO full of flavor, very tender from being "poached" in the stock for about an hour.

    (here's the thing: when you poach something like fish or chicken, typically you cook it in a liquid- which I'm doing here with the chicken- but you're going to keep the poaching to a bare minimum. If you're braising, you're probably going to brown the meat first- which I do not do here, I trim the chicken and then into the pot it goes- and then cook it low and slow in a small amount of liquid. With the chicken I use in my chicken soup and my pot pie, I'm letting it cook in quite a bit of liquid, on a low temperature, for at least an hour. So.....is it poaching? Or is it sort of braising? Is this really the opposite of concerning to you and you want me to get on with the recipe?)

    I'm picky about my chicken, so I trim it well. I like to poach in equal parts stock and wine (THE FLAVOR. you will have to stop yourself from eating all of the chicken before it makes it into your pie. I'm just looking out for your pie well being here). For kicks you can throw in a cheese cloth sachet of some fresh or dried herbs: rosemary, sage, cloves, cinammon even, just fish it out when the chicken is done- the flavor stays, but the bits of herbs go. I don't like peas, so I use sweet corn, but use the veggies you like. As always, make it yours. Cook what you like to eat!

    Chicken Pot Pie


        •    4 chicken breasts, trimmed well, but whole
        •    one box (1 qt) chicken broth
        •    1 qt dry white wine (or, honestly, whatever you have lying around)
        •    1 large onion, sliced thin
        •    2 garlic cloves, minced
        •    1 (8 tbsp) stick butter (I know! I'M SORRY but it's better this way)
        •    1/4 cup cream (seriously, you will be FINE)
        •    1/2 cup all purpose flour
        •    3 or 4 carrots, peeled, sliced
        •    1 cup sweet corn
        •    salt and freshly ground black pepper
        •    Pate Brisee (but this time, instead of adding water as needed, I add buttermilk. either is FINE for this recipe)


    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Add chicken broth and wine to a large stock pot (I like to use my 5 qt cast iron dutch oven for this- but anything big enough to hold the liquid and that has a lid is going to do you just fine) over a medium heat. Bring JUST to a boil, add chicken, and turn heat down to a simmer. Cover and allow the chicken to simmer on the stove until tender and thoroughly cooked, about an hour. Remove the chicken to a plate, allow to cool and then cut it into bite sized pieces. Reserve the wine and stock in a bowl.

    BY THE WAY: If I were making homemade chicken soup, here is where I would assess our stock situation and add more stock if needed, and add cut carrots, celery, sauteed onions and seasonings. But we're not making soup, we're making a pot pie! So I'm going to remove my chicken to a plate to hang out until I need it back, and reserve the leftover wine and stock in a bowl for my filling.

    Return the pot to the stove. Over a medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook until translucent- don't go so far as to caramelize them, although that might be good so don't panic if you cook them a little longer than you intended. Add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant. Get your stuff ready because this next part comes at you fast: add the flour to the onions, garlic and butter. Cook, stirring CONSTANTLY until flour is absorbed, for about 2 minutes. Add the hot reserved broth and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken. Add salt, pepper and the cream. Stir in chicken, carrots and corn. Mix well. Taste- if you want more salt and pepper, go ahead and add it.

    Pour into pie dish (you don't need a bottom crust for this one), cover with your rolled out pate brisee, crimp around the edges of your pie plate to seal it in, and slice three vents in the top of the pie. Or get fancy with your fancy patterned vents. OWN YOUR POT PIE.

    Stick it in the oven and bake until the pie crust begins to lightly brown, about 45 minutes to an hour.

    Try and let it cool before you grab a fork and dive in.

    I can't think of anything more perfect for a stormy New England weekend. Good luck with Irene, you guys.


    The Chewy

    Up to this point, everything I've learned about baking I've learned from books, blogs, food sites (like epicurious, one of my faves), and of course, Food Network. Now I'm lucky enough to be heading off to school to be trained by a Master Pastry Chef, but there is such a wealth of information to be had for anyone who wants to learn in their own kitchen.

    If you've ever watched Food Network, then you know Alton Brown. I once heard someone (Aarti? I can't remember) describe him as a Culinary Encyclopedia. TRUE. It's because of Alton Brown that I now use bread flour exclusively in my chocolate chip cookies. I LOVE chewy chocolate chip cookies. A little crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside, in my opinion, is perfection. Bread flour will yield a chewier chocolate chip cookie because the gluten content in bread flour is higher than in, say, all purpose flour. The higher the gluten content, the chewier the cookie.

    I learned that by watching you, Alton Brown.

    Look, I don't claim to know what's happening with the puppet here, but I promise you will fall for this recipe. Make it your own: I use a lighter brown sugar (they're still PLENTY chewy) and sprinkle coarse ground salt on top, because.....of course I do. Savory Sweet!

    Alton Brown video: source Food Network


    Salted Caramel Apple Pie- a pie in many parts, slice 1: Salty Dog

    Pre-oven pie.

    I have this thing for salted caramel. I might....actually have a problem. To me, salted caramel is the perfect PERFECT representative of savory sweet. Smooth, sweet, rich and buttery, with a hint of savory salt at the end. Can you taste it right now? Delicious. If you learn one thing from this blog, it will be that I'm a savory sweet kind of girl.

    Today I'm playing with my apple pie recipe to see if I can turn it into a salted caramel apple pie, without having to go FULL BOAT on committing to a caramel sauce (four kids + it's still Summer = burning your delicate caramel sauce. major bummer). I omitted my usual nutmeg and cinnamon, used a mix of light brown and granulated sugars, some coarse ground salt, and....butter. I love butter. And apples, naturally.

    The result was very tasty, but not salted caramel.

    But still good.

    But not salted caramel.

    I liked it enough to post the recipe anyway with the note that it's a neat, slightly savory twist on a regular apple pie, and the promise that I will continue to work on the salted caramel. I WILL conquer that pie. Plus maybe it's fun to see the evolution of a recipe? Yes? No? Just me?

    Without further ado, it's a Salty Dog Apple Pie (hey, I live by the sea):


    • Pie crust (recipe here)

    • 6 to 8 apples peeled, cored, and thinly sliced*

    • 1/4 lemon, juiced

    • 1/3 cup light brown sugar

    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

    • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse ground salt

    • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces


    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    On a lightly floured surface, roll out pate brisee into a circle with a diameter slightly larger than your pie plate. Press pastry circle into the pie plate. Set aside.

    Combine the apples, lemon juice, and sugars in a mixing bowl and pour the mixture over your pie crust. Sprinkle the apples with butter- get the butter dotted throughout those apples. Roll the rest of the pate brisee out nice and thin, and gently place over the top of the apple mixture. With a knife, trim the excess pastry from the edges of the pie plate. With the same knife, make a few slices in the top of the dough to vent (here's your chance for a fun pattern. you can also use small cookie cutters to make shapes in the top of the dough after you've rolled it out and before you put it over the apples). Bake until the pastry is golden brown, maybe 45-50 minutes or so.

    Some vanilla bean ice cream would be REALLY GOOD with this.

    * I used gala apples because I love them- they're a little tart, and easy to find around here. But use the apples you like, Granny Smith, Cortland....go for it.


    Rolling (out) the Dough

    I didn't have a post planned for today, but on Friday I had to run out and pick up a couple of baking sheets and a sil'pat. Have you ever used a sil'pat? It's a miracle in the oven. Sil'pat provides a nonstick surface without having to spray or flour- that means you don't have to add a THING to your baking sheet and yet (!) your cookies will slide right off with no hassle.

    As I picked up my sil'pat, I spotted a roll'pat (Roul'pat) on the shelf.

    What's a roll'pat?! I wondered the same thing, so I asked.

    It's the same technology as a silpat, but made to be a rolling surface. In the pate brisee post, I briefly mentioned that I like to roll out dough on my butcher block slab. True. I love that it's a large surface that's not a part of my actual counter top, but rolling on butcher block requires a lot of flour. Even rolling on a natural stone surface, like granite or marble, is going to take some flour to keep your lighter doughs from sticking. And extra flour can change your dough. Baking is a science, it IS chemistry actually, and the ratios of flour to fat to leavening agents (if any) matters.

    I love trying new gadgets, and I BELIEVE in the POWER of the sil'pat, so I threw the roll'pat in my basket and brought it home. On Saturday I had a chance to try it out when I needed to roll pate brisee for an apple pie I was planning to bring to my sister in law's house on Sunday.

    You guys, this thing is amazing. My roll'pat is 25 1/4" x 17 1/2" and provides a GENEROUS rolling surface. It's so flexible that once I rolled out the top of the pie, I picked up the entire mat and stuck it in the fridge to chill the dough while I filled the pie. and the dough peeled off the sheet with absolutely no trouble.

    I'm a big fan.

    If you want to pick up a roll'pat, you can find it here, otherwise known as the happiest place on earth.

    (In case you're wondering, any product recommendations I do are based on personal experience and are not sponsored. Basically, if I really like something, I want to tell people about it. Simple as that.)


    Tomato Pie

    Now that we have Pate Brisee down, let's get into the good stuff, shall we?

    Tomato Pie.

    There's no better late Summer flavor than a sweet tomato. Well, there's local sweet corn too, which you need to try roasted with some salt and pepper, but that's not in this particular pie. Ok, roasted sweet corn should be worked into something before the season's over....I'll get back to you on that.

    Lately I've been very into the tomatoes. Roasted tomatoes in a cobbler with a little gruyere was the inspiration behind this tomato pie recipe. I've layered roasted garlic and caramelized onions (with a splash of wine, because it's better that way), and gruyere beneath some fresh sliced tomatoes. The result is a major treat.

    I'm planning to grill a swordfish steak tonight and serve this along side.

    The recipe is below. Play with it to suit your palate. If you like thyme, add some thyme. If you want something brighter to compliment the tomatoes, try substituting dijon for the roasted garlic spread. For a little something visually different, layer yellow and green tomatoes in with the red.

    Let me know if you try it, I'd love to know what you think!


        •    Pie crust (recipe here)
        •    3 large tomatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
        •    1 large onion, sliced thin
        •    Kosher salt, for sprinkling
        •    Roasted garlic, removed from skin and mashed with a fork
        •    1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere
        •    Fresh rosemary, chopped finely
        •    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for top of pie
        •    Additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    On a lightly floured surface, roll out pate brisee into a circle with a diameter slightly larger than your pie plate. Press pastry circle into the pie plate. Set aside.

    Add the olive oil to a pan over a low heat. Add sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Spread a thin layer of the roasted garlic over the bottom of the pie crust and layer the caramelized onions over the roasted garlic. Sprinkle the gruyere over the onions. Arrange the tomatoes over the cheese in an overlapping layer. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are very soft, about 35 to 40 minutes.

    Brush the top of the pie with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Serve the pie hot or at room temperature, and ENJOY.

    Pate Brisee

    Pie Crust.

    Fresh pie crust is roughly a million percent more delicious than store bought frozen pie crust, and it's pretty easy. And if you make your own pie crust then you can tell people you made your own delicious pie crust and they WILL be impressed.

    There are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when you're making your own pate brisee, but mostly you just need to remember COLD. Ice cold. The colder the butter, the flakier the crust. Try not to work your dough too much- the more you work a dough, the more active the gluten becomes and the stretchier and tougher your dough will become. If you feel like your dough is becoming too stretchy or gooey, put it down and walk away. Let it rest. If you need to work the dough with your hands, you can dip them in ice water to keep them cold. Let your dough chill in the fridge if you can before rolling it out.

    Think light, flaky, cold. Pie crust that melts in your mouth, not pie crust that is chewy. Right? Right.

    Having a good solid surface to roll out your dough is key. A stone (granite, marble) counter top is perfect. We have butcher block counters in our kitchen, and I prefer to use an additional surface when I roll out dough because butcher block can stain. When our builders installed our butcher block, they turned the cut out piece from our range into a huge block for me, this is what I use for rolling out dough. You can also find stone slabs at kitchen supply shops (Williams-Sonoma has one here)- stone is great because it stays cool.

    Some people like to use shortening in their pie crust, but I prefer straight up butter. To me the flavor is richer, the crust is lighter. Generally, when I'm making a pate brisee, I use a Martha Stewart recipe. It's a good one, and until I stumble across something better, I'm going to be loyal to Martha's. Her recipe is as follows:


    • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

    • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt

    • 1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

    • 1/2 cup ice water


    1. Pulse flour and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter, cut into small pieces, and pulse until mixture forms coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds.

    2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream until dough just holds together without being wet or sticky, no longer than 30 seconds.

    3. Divide dough in half; flatten and shape into disks, and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

    Martha Stewart also has a wonderful tip sheet for successful pie crust, which you can find here.

    Source: Martha Stewart, Pate Brisee


    Pie. Friday.

    Who doesn't love pie?

    Who doesn't love Friday?

    It's like these two were made for each other (though I am in no way suggesting Pie isn't for Tuesday. Pie is for all the time).

    The weather's been a little cooler around here for the past few days, which puts me in a Fall flavor state of mind. And Fall flavors always put me in the mood for Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving comes with....pie, so I was thinking this morning about pie.

    Mmmmmm, pie.

    And while I was thinking about pie, and the apple pie I'm planning to make this weekend, and Fall flavors again, I started thinking about end of Summer flavors. Like sweet tomatoes. Have you ever had a really good, really fresh, sweet tomato? When my sister and I were little, growing up in NY, and we'd visit my Grandmother on Long Island, we'd be treated to the sweetest, reddest, juiciest tomatoes you could imagine. There's nothing like a Long Island Hothouse Tomato (it deserves the caps). We'd slice those beauties up with a little sea salt, and eat them plain. Or bite into them like you would an apple. They were THAT DELICIOUS.

    Anyway, back to pie. Thinking about end of Summer flavors, and those tomatoes, and pie, makes me think of tomato pie. What? Yes, really: tomato pie. Actually, there are so many savory tarts and pies that get such little credit, and THAT started me thinking about how many different kinds of pies are out there: fruit pies, savory pies, meat pies, tarts, quiche (I'm letting it in on a pie crust technicality, AND because my daughter Cate calls it egg pie, which.....sure, yes it's egg pie). And naturally, this makes me think we need something like a day specifically devoted to pie around here, because what is a week without a day for pie?

    All of this to tell you it's going to be Pie Friday all up in here starting tomorrow. That's right, PIE just in time for you to get in your kitchen and bake it on Saturday, and then you'll have pie for the weekend, and well....can't you just feel the world becoming a better place already?

    It's the power of pie, you guys.

    Tomorrow: a quick pie crust tutorial that may or may not include cheating with a Cuisinart, and a recipe for tomato pie. Plan to grill something good on Saturday, because this is a side dish that you're going to want on your plate every day.


    The Pickwick Baking Co.

    There is so much in a name.

    The Pickwick Baking Co. What's in that name? Many many layers of circumstance and coincidence. And happiness. And hard work.

    The short explanation here is that Pickwick is the name of the street we live on. And....this is a baking company that will someday hopefully become a bakery. There you have it: The Pickwick Baking Co.

    A million (7) years ago, when Bill and I first moved to Marblehead, we were lucky enough to live in an AWESOME little place downtown. It was the best introduction to Marblehead we could have asked for. It was our first home, the house we lived in when we welcomed our first child, where she said her first words, where she took her first steps. We were very happy there, in that little house, next to the harbor, in our sweet little town.

    Not long after we welcomed our second child, the house became a little....too small. We needed more space, and so we had to move. I was reluctant to leave downtown, but our need for space won out. We looked at what seemed like every available house in town (thank you, Krista). And not one was right. On a whim, on a Friday, I drove by a house we were scheduled to see the following day and noticed out in front of the house next door, a little For Sale by Owner sign. Desperate to get a look at anything that might work, I parked the car and grabbed the last listing sheet in the little plastic box next to the for sale sign. Then I called our ever patient Realtor, and asked if she could help get us in to see the house.

    We did see it. And we fell in love and tried to play it totally cool so we wouldn't show our hand, but really we loved the house so much there's no way it wasn't written all over our faces. It turns out that the family selling the house were planning to take down the for sale sign the day after I drove by. The listing sheet I pulled was the last sheet they were planning to print. If not for the chance drive by to preview an entirely different house, we would have missed this house entirely.

    We bought the house, and we'll never leave. At this point, it's about so much more than the actual house, it's the street, it's our community, but the house was what brought us here. We're so lucky.

    This kind of happy coincidence is so typical for us. Bill and I tend to stumble into all sorts of wonderful situations (like moving to Marblehead in the first place, but that's another story entirely).

    Going back to school to become a pastry chef is something I've dreamed of for so many years, it's hard to count. Ok, ten. I've dreamed of this for ten years. But I was working, and then Bill and I got married, and we started our family, and welcomed our four wonderful children and I was lucky enough to be home with them, and I never really felt like the timing was right. It was always, "in a couple of years" or "when the kids don't need me to be home any more."

    And then fate stuck it's foot out again and we had a flood in the house and we lost our kitchen for what felt like an eternity (but what was actually 5 months), and in that time when I had no choice but to step away from the kitchen I got feisty and antsy and it became abundantly clear that NOW was the time. And I know enough to trust that sometimes you have to follow the lead you're given.

    And I applied to school. And I was accepted. And here we go.

    If not for the happy coincidence of finding this house, on this street, with our wonderful friends so close by, and all of the support I've received from friends and family alike, AND THEN THE KITCHEN FLOOD, I wouldn't be doing this now.

    So. The Pickwick Baking Co.