04 April 2012

The Homemade Pantry (Alana Chernila)

I can't really review a friend's book, I know. And Alana Chernila is a friend from college--she taught me contact improv when we were witches together in Macbeth, and her husband, Joey, lived upstairs from me my freshman year. So in lieu of a formal review (like my reviews are ever formal, amirite?) of her debut cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making--although it is FANTASTIC and you should buy it!--I'll share my experience making a recipe from the book, and in doing so endeavor to live up to the thoughtful, helpful, and lovely prose that lines its pages, and those of the blog she's kept since 2008, Eating From the Ground Up.

I chose the cover recipe--from-scratch toaster pastries--as a test of my own mettle, and a gift for Chris, who grew up with all the sugary treats I didn't (I find one can't develop a taste for Lucky Charms with a mature palate). I had never made pie crust. I know! How did I ever land a man?!

But really, it's terrifying stuff! All you ever hear is how difficult it is to get right--Alana admits that her daughter Sadie lost a tooth on an early attempt. Even my maternal grandmother, Ila, a formidable cook if there ever was one, starting buying ready-made as soon as they were available and never looked back. Still, if I could become the kind of person who saves her vegetable scraps and denuded chicken carcasses in the freezer to make stock, I was confident I could become the kind of person who makes her own pie crust. Especially with Alana as my guide--after all, the woman taught me to dance!

The problem, it turned out, was mechanical. The most important step in making pie crust is cutting the butter into the flour; you mustn't let the butter get melty or too incorporated with the flour, and gluten is not your friend, so you can't handle the dough too much. Alana's recipe uses the bladed paddle attachment for a stand mixer. While I do own such a mixer (inherited from the aforementioned Ila), it's only equipped with beaters and dough hooks. And I don't have a pastry blender, because when was I ever going to need one of those? So Alana suggested (via Facebook) I use two knives, held like scissors with points crossing and blades facing apart. This can be done. But it is tedious and frustrating, and you curse your lack of technology: Chris, taking a turn (yeah, that's how long it took), summed up the process as "Amish bullshit."

Then I added the liquid, and the stupid dough refused to coalesce. I came whisker-close to just throwing away the whole glob and bursting into tears, but this is why I have Chris, because he won't let me do silly things like that. I added a touch more water. I smushed it together as best I could, and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

And in the morning? LOOK!!

Not cover-worthy, no. But lovely flaky yumminess, filled with raspberry jam. And just like that, a new skill! Though I am definitely investing in a pastry blender.


  1. Still waiting on my pre-ordered copy, dammit. But those look fabulous. (And you can almost surely find a pastry blender at almost any thrift store.) Still, the bottom line here is: Brava, Alana! (And brava, Anna, for the non-review •and• the toaster pastries.)

  2. One (as in myself) rarely looks a baked good in the mouth before devouring it whole. However, I have just licked my computer screen, which means your pop tarts look delicious!

  3. They were! Maybe next time with Nutella?


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