Read an Excerpt
"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand, and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home"
There is a stillness to winter on the farm that permeates the soul; the only sound for hours is the sudden pop of an ember on the fire that stirs us back to the present. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that winter holiday celebrations are so joyous and boisterous. We are awakened momentarily from our dull torpor by the glittery sites, the melody of excited voices, and a table laden with heirlooms of every variety.
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
This is the dessert Sandy's mom always made when her friend May made her annual winter visit. There's no better way to use the abundanc of citrus fruits on the market rthis time of year. It's more lemony than most, a treat for all the lemon lovers out there, and the perfect way to bring a little sunshine into a winter day.
Basic Pie Dough (page 8)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
To make the crust: On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and then fit it into a 9-inch pie plate without stretching it, pressing the dough into the bottom and against the sides of the pan. With a pair of scissors or a paring knife, trim the dough to leave a 1-inch overhang around the edge. Fold the overhang in over the rim to make a double layer of dough and, with your fingers, crimp the dough all around. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before baking. (This helps to relax the dough and prevents it from shrinking once baked.)
To make the filling: Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and keep at the ready for straining the filling. In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt, water, lemon juice, cream, and egg yolks. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, or until the mixture has the consistency of honey. Strain and let cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the pie shell with foil or parchment paper, leaving an overhang, and fill with pie weights or dried beans to weight the crust down. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil (or paper) and weights and bake 10 minutes longer, or until baked through and crisp. Increase the oven temperature to 450°F.
To make the meringue: In a bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually, about 1 tablespoon at a time, add the sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, adding in the vanilla toward the end. Scoop the meringue onto the filling, making sure it covers the filling completely and is anchored to the crust. Use a spatula to make large swoops in the meringue. Bake for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is set and browned in Spots. Let cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
BASIC PIE DOUGH
MAKES ONE 9-INCH PIE
Gosh has perfected his piecrust. This pie dough is enough for one pie but can easily be doubled for a double-crust pie. If you can find good lard at a local butcher, you can sub in 4 tablespoons of lard for 4 tablespoons of the butter; chill the lard before using. The secret to flaky piecrust is keeping the butter ice cold right up to the point that the dough goes into the oven.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned into cup and leveled off)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and with a pastry blender or 2 knives used scissor-fashion, cut in the butter until large pea-size bits are formed. Add just enough of the ice water so the mixture holds together when pinched between 2 fingers. Shape into a disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. (The dough can also be well wrapped and frozen up to 3 months.)
TIP: If you prefer, you can easily make the dough in a food processor. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together. Next, add the butter and pulse 10 times or until large pea-size bits are formed. With the motor running, gradually add the ice water until the dough begins to come together but doesn't form a ball. Follow the directions above for chilling
VANILLA PANNA COTTA SURPRISE
Some desserts reach "heirloom" status because of how they taste, others because of how they visually surprise. This wonderful Italian dessert, panna cotta--it translates to "cooked cream" but is really so much more than that--is cool, light, and refreshing. Essentially an eggless pudding, it's the perfect ending to any meal. Ours has more milk than cream, and tucked inside is a surprise spoonful of lemon curd. When you dig into it with your spoon, it looks like you've cut open a hard-cooked egg. While too much gelatin can make things rubbery, this panna cotta turns out of its mold easily while remaining slightly jiggly.
1/2 cup Lemon Curd (page 22)
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) plain unflavored gelatin
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Make the Lemon Curd and chill.
In a glass measuring cup, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 cup of the milk and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until softened.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup milk, the cream, sugar, and salt. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan and add the vanilla bean. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat.
Add the softened gelatin, stirring until dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean and rinse, dry, and reserve it for another use. Pour half of the mixture into eight 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Refrigerate for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the mixture starts to set up.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of Lemon Curd over the panna cotta in the ramekins, gently spreading it almost to the edge of the dish. Pour the remaining panna cotta mixture over the tops and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until set.
To serve, run a small metal spatula around the edge of the panna cotta and invert onto serving plates.
WINTER KABOCHA SQUASH PIE
If you love pumpkin pie, then you'll also love this dessert (most canned "pumpkin" on the grocery stor shelf is actually winter squash). Kabocha is a type of winter squash (like pumpkin, butternut, acorn, and others) with deep orange flesh and a somewhat dry texture reminiscent of chestnuts. It is sweet and delicious.
Basic Pie Dough (page 8)
2 cups kabocha squash puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons bourbon or Scotch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and then fit it into a 9-inch pie plate without stretching it, pressing the dough into the bottom and against the sides of the pan. With a pair of scissors or a paring knife, trim the dough to leave a 1-inch overhang around the edge. Fold the overhang in over the rim to make a double layer of dough and, with your fingers, crimp the dough all around. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before baking (this helps to relax the dough and prevents it from shrinking once baked).
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the kabocha puree, the granulated and brown sugars, cream, milk, eggs, and bourbon. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pie is set with a slightly wobbly center. Cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
TIP: You'll need about 2 pounds of large (unpeeled) squash chunks to get 2 cups of puree. Roast them in a pan covered with foil in a 400°F oven until soft. Then scrape the flesh off the skin and puree in a food processor.