Down To The Desert

Sunshine and palm trees- what could be better! A few weeks ago, I made a bit of an impromptu trip down to Palm Springs. It had been raining here in Sonoma County for days and days….and days, so I decided to shake the wet weather, get out of dodge and find some sun pronto! I grabbed my good friend Miss LJ, loaded up the car and off we went! Continue reading

Antique Apple Pie

Who’s ready for some pie?
antique apple pie |

I am! Thought I share a taste of old Americana with a special pie made from heirloom apples growing in my yard.  Gravenstein, Spitzenburg, Antique Braeburn.  They may not sound familiar as these lesser-known varieties just don’t make it into most national markets unfortunately, given their thin skins (not so good for traveling) and small crop yields. Even for us folks living here in Sonoma County, these historic trees are now far and few between—and the best place to source them is a local farmer’s market. Back in the 1930’s, there were close to 15,000 acres of planted apples orchards throughout the county.

The Gravenstein (or Gravs as they’re affectionately known locally) were planted by Russian Fur Traders back in 1811- so these truly have become this area’s darling of the apple world. They, along with plums/prunes dominated the agricultural scene for many decades. Over the years however, the orchards have slowly been replaced with vineyards, which makes these precious fruits even more sought-after. And to celebrate the preservation of these near extinct varieties, the quaint town of Sebastopol plays host the Gravenstein Apple Fair every August, now in its 42nd year. This huge celebration of all-things-apple is a local institution around here and has inspired me to get in the kitchen and bake-up this delicious Antique Apple Pie.
gravenstein apple |

gravenstein apple |

gravenstein apple

spitzenburg apple | whiskandmuddler.comspitzenburg apple |
spitzenburg apple
collection of antique apples |

I used a my Mama Di’s famous pie crust which is SO good. You may remember it from my Best Peach Pie post……it’s my go-to crust recipe. It never fails to produce a fantastic pie- whether it be sweet or savory. I also love splitting these up into smaller, separate 4-inch pans. You won’t feel so guilty a whole pie that way right?  Plus you can bake what you need now, then freeze the others for when the pie siren comes a calling.

For the apples, I chose to peel them since I needed to remove some worm holes anyway. These are organically grown so they do have a few blemishes and may not look perfect on the outside, but the flavor on the inside is wonderful. Juicy, tart and sweet all at the same time. I tend to like things less sweet anyway, so only a minimal amount of sugar was added. I also went easy on the baking spices too. The trick is to enhance the natural sugars,  but not over-power with cinnamon or nutmeg. Keep the different apple notes as forward as possible. Tip: pack the pans FULL of apples. To the point where you think you’ve over-filled it. The apples will reduce in size as they cook, so a very full pan means you won’t be left with any gaps between the filling and crust.
antique apples in pie |
antique apple pie before baking |

antique apple pie |

antique apple pie |


Now that apples have started coming into season (yikes, that means Fall is on its way, noooo!!!!…) do make the effort to stop by a farmer’s market, or local apple orchard if you are lucky enough to have one near you. You’ll be amazed at how many varieties there are and how unique each one tastes. I’ll be volunteering at the Gravenstein Apple Fair this year, so if you live in the Bay Area, come on up and say hi, sample our county’s pride and joy, and take home a boxes of Gravs so you can bake your own apple pie!

Antique Apple Pie
yields one 2-crust pie (9 inch) or three 2-crust pies (4 inch) | Antique Apple Pie PDF

Mama Di’s Pie Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
1 cup vegetable shortening (original flavor Crisco is best)
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup ice water
pinch of fine sea salt

Put shortening into a bowl. Add salt, sugar, & flour. Blend until mixture looks like breadcrumbs (no big lumps). Add cold water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until you can work the dough with your hands. Different flours and humidity require differing amounts of water. You may not need to add all of it. Mix with your hands lightly until smooth, do not over work. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill dough in fridge for 1 hour.  Roll out on floured surface to desired size/shape.

Apple Pie Filling
4 cups antique apples, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
pinch of fine sea salt
1 egg for egg wash
sprinkle of finishing sugar (raw, demerara or turbinado)

Preheat oven to 375F. Remove pie crust from fridge and shape into desired shape/pan size. Peel and slice apples thinly into a large bowl. Add sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean paste, butter and salt; mix gently to combine. Fill pie shells and top with remaining crust. Cut four small vent holes in top and brush with egg wash and finishing sugar before baking. Bake 9-inch pie for 35-40 minutes. Bake 4-inch pies for 25-30 minutes, until light golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream on simply on its own. Enjoy!

*antique or heirloom apples may be hard to find. Try a reputable roadside produce stand or gourmet market. A good substitute is a combination of equal parts Granny Smith (tart) and either modern Braeburn, Honey Crisp or Gala (sweet).

*I love the intense vanilla-flavor you get from a good vanilla bean paste. You can find it here if it’s not in your local stores. Or just use the seeds from a vanilla bean (split the bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife). I don’t recommend using vanilla extract as you don’t want any extra liquid in the pie filling.

Ginger & Coconut Milk Crème Brûlée

Here’s a classic that’s been jazzed up for the holidays with the spicy flavors of ginger and creamy coconut milk to create a lactose-free delicious dessert. I made these Crème Brûlées for Thanksgiving, but used heavy cream as most of the recipes you’ll find call for. But I’m going to be making these again for Christmas and some of my family are sans-dairy milk, so I wanted to re-create the exotic flavors of the ginger, but just with a different “cream” base. First thing that came to mind was almond milk, but then upon further research, I learned that it doesn’t have the weight (fat content) and viscosity needed to create a custard that will set firm. So I rummaged through my pantry and found a can of full-cream coconut milk– bingo! — this would do the trick.

The other secret to this recipe is using ginger two ways. First,  I infused the coconut milk with fresh ginger slices and secondly,  added crystallized ginger chips to the bottom of the ramekins (for a little surprise). By doubling-up on the ginger, it really locks in that flavor,  but isn’t overpowering in the least. The final custard is a deep yellow color (due to the increased egg yolks) making this a rich and decadent treat!
DSC_0032-1Ginger & Coconut Milk Crème Brûlée
1 cup full-cream coconut milk
2-3 large slices of fresh ginger root (skin on is fine)
4 teaspoons crystallized ginger chips (I like brand The Ginger People)
1 tablespoon softened butter
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/2 cup white sugar + 4 tablespoons for shell

Preheat oven to 325F. Get a full tea kettle of water on the boil. Add coconut milk and fresh ginger slices to a medium size saucepan. Warm gently over medium heat just until milk comes to the simmer. Do not let it boil. Once warmed through, take it off heat to cool and allow the ginger slices to steep in the milk for 20 minutes. Gather 4 ramekins (4 ounce capacity) and place on a rimmed sheet tray.  Use the softened butter to coat the inside of each one. Place 1 teaspoon of crystallized ginger chips into the center of each ramekin. In a large mixing bowl, add egg yolks, eggs, and sugar. Whisk until light and foamy. Remove the ginger slices from the coconut milk and add to egg mixture. Gently whisk until custard is light and frothy. Pour mixture into a 2-cup glass measuring cup (this makes it easier to fill). Gently pour custard into the ramekins being careful not to move the ginger chips around too much.

Place sheet tray in oven and then carefully pour the hot water onto the pan until it comes a quarter way up the sides of the ramekins. The water will help create steam during baking and aid in setting the custard. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Custard will have a slight jiggle when it’s finished, but a cake tester should come out clean. Chill covered for 6 hours- or even better- 1-2 days in fridge. When you’re ready to serve, remove chilled ramekins from fridge. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly across the top of one ramekin. Using your kitchen torch*, heat sugar until light golden brown and a hard shell has formed on the surface. Enjoy!


A kitchen torch may seem like an extravagant tool, but honestly, they’re not that expensive nowadays and you’ll get so much use out of it. It’s perfect for making the above dessert of course, but it’s also a whiz at finishing meringues, melting cheese, glazing a ham…. you name it. For this recipe, I borrowed the Bon Jour torch from a friend (as my Bernzomatic was on the fritz), and it worked a charm. It has a little more “umpf” (longer flame life) and you can also regulate the flame power depending on the size of the job. It’s on my Christmas Wishlist….hoping Santa thinks I’ve been a good girl this year!