Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 24, 2013

Foodie with Family: Love of reading leads to treats

Local columnist

---- — After spending summer flitting around like hummingbirds, my family returns to heavy reading habits in the cooler, drizzly fall.

We all stake out our favorite reading spots; I get the big easy chair, daddy takes his reading materials to the deer blind, two boys lay claim to one end each of the love seat, another bounces up and down on the exercise ball while reading, a fourth stretches out like a cat on the couch, and the last inexplicably camps out under the couch. Don’t worry, he’s not being crushed. It’s a tall couch.

The house becomes an obstacle course of book piles. We have library piles, book sale piles, library book sale piles, we-went-to-the-thrift-store-on-bag-day piles and book shelves brimming to the breaking point with books waiting to be cracked for the first time or returned to like an old friend who is well loved.

One set of books to which all of us return — including dad and mom — is the Harry Potter series.

To say the Harry Potter books have captured our family’s collective imagination is a vast understatement. The stories capture us, no doubt, but oh, the food.

Those who have read the books know that food is featured prominently; in fact, the dishes in the books are compelling enough that my kids wanted to make many of them immediately after reading. Treacle tart, pumpkin pasties, chocolate frogs, Knickerbocker Glory, rock cakes, Aunt Petunia’s pudding, pies, butter beer, steak and kidney pudding, stews, chocolate eclairs, rice pudding.

My boys were practically slobbering with hunger after they laid the books down. Thankfully, many of the recipes in the books are British classics, and therefore easy to replicate.

Over the years, we’ve narrowed our best-loved dishes from the books down to Treacle Tart and Pumpkin Pasties. Never fear, though, if you’re not a fan of the books, you’ll still adore these recipes. They scream autumn and comfort.

Treacle Tart

This classic British dessert was Harry Potter’s favorite.

I’ve made a version that uses easier-to-find ingredients for those of us who don’t live in Great Britain. If you can lay your hands on a can of treacle please use it, by all means, but the rest of us can achieve similar and equally delicious results through the cunning combination of molasses and corn syrup.

The final result is similar in texture and sweetness to a pecan pie sans pecans. While it is most traditional to bake in a fluted, removable bottom tart pan, you can make this in a standard pie plate in a pinch.

1 double batch of your favorite pie pastry or 1 package refrigerated pie crusts, brought to room temperature per package instructions.

¾ c. molasses

¼ c. light corn syrup

2 1/3 c. freshly made bread crumbs (do not use dried bread crumbs here)

The juice and zest of 1 lemon

Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 400°. Whisk together the molasses, corn syrup, and the juice and zest of the lemon until smooth. Stir in the bread crumbs until the mixture is even. Set aside while you prepare the crust.

Using non-stick cooking spray, very lightly grease a nine-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. You can use a standard pie plate if you do not have a tart pan available. If using homemade pie pastry, roll half of it out into an 11-inch circle. Ease the crust into the tart pan, gently pressing the dough into the fluting and edges of the bottom of the pan, letting the excess hang over the top. Roll a rolling pin over the edges of the top of the pan. This will cut away the excess tart dough. Scrape the filling into the tart shell.

Roll out the remaining pie pastry and either cut into strips to create a lattice top, or –as we prefer- use small cookie cutters to cut seasonal shapes to lay over the tart filling.

Place the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet (to prevent any boil-over incidents) and bake for 10 minutes before lowering the temperature to 375° and baking for another 25 minutes, or until the filling is fully set and puffs in the center. Cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream, or vanilla custard.

Leftovers can be stored tightly covered at room temperature.

Pumpkin Pasties

Northern Michigan kids and parents had a leg up on most of America when stumbling across these dessert pasties in the books. While much of the rest of the country was wondering aloud what “pay-steez” were, we were contemplating filling our pasties with pumpkin rather than beef, potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, and onions. I’m happy to report that they’re quite delicious and — happily — simple to put together.

1 double batch of your favorite pie crust or a package of refrigerated pie crusts.

1 ½ c. canned pumpkin pie filling (or 1 c. pumpkin puree with ¼ c. granulated sugar, ½ t. ground cinnamon, 1/8 t. each nutmeg and ginger.)

1 egg beaten

Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 400° and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Roll the pie pastry out to 1/8-inch thickness. Use a 3- or 4-inch round cookie cutter to cut circles out of the pie pastry. Re-roll the pastry scraps gently and get as many rounds as you can from it.

Working with one round at a time, place about 1 ½ tablespoons of the filling in the center. Wet your finger with water, run it around the edge of the circle, then draw up one side of the circle toward the other, press the edges together firmly with your fingers, then crimp with a fork. Carefully transfer the filled pastry to the parchment lined cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining circles.

When all of the pastry has been filled, use a sharp knife to cut two vent holes in the top of each pasty. Brush the top of each pasty with the beaten egg and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the pasties are nicely browned. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Store leftovers tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.

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