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Eric Akis: Victoria writer, photographer team up on cookbook, an ideal gift for pie lovers

Test out one of the entries from Denise Marchessault and Deb Garlick's The Artful Pie Project: a tasty, old-world Apple Rugelach.

If you enjoy making pies and other baked goods, whether you’re a novice or have advanced skills, there’s a new book out you’d be happy to find under the Christmas tree. It’s called The Artful Pie Project: A Sweet and Savoury Book of Recipes (Whitecap Books, $39.95).

Victoria’s Denise Marchessault and Deb Garlick created this beautiful, hardcover, 324-page tome. Marchessault, who crafted the inspired recipes for the book, is a freelance food writer and cooking instructor with a Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu, Ottawa. Garlick is a talented artist, photo stylist and photographer who took the book’s wonderful photographs and created its many, often whimsical, graphics.

The introduction to the book sets the baker’s mind at ease by providing a wealth of information on everything related to successful pie and pastry making. This included tips on handling ingredients, equipment and tools, and a very helpful section called soggy bottoms and other pie pitfalls that walks you through why things can go wrong with your pie/pastry and how to fix them or avoid them from happening.

The book’s recipes are divided into 10 chapters that logically begin with one on pastry dough. In it you’ll find 13 different dough and crust recipes, such as flaky pastry dough, roasted almond dough, cookie crumb crust and puff pastry.

The book’s remaining chapters put those dough/crusts to use in a variety of sweet and savoury creations. They include those made with fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat, nuts and chocolate, such as strawberry raspberry galette, perfect pecan pie, Grand mariner souffle tart, peanut butter chocolate pie, tourtière with duck confit and fish pot pies. Every recipe has at least one photo and several have step-by-step preparation photos.

After going through this book several times it’s clear to me it was a labour of love for Marchessault and Garlick. Every word and image is designed to make sure your pies are, indeed, artful, not to mention flavourful. The following recipe is from The Artful Pie Project, sold at many local bookstores and online retailers.

Apple Rugelach

These old-world pastries could be filed under pie-ish. Stuffed with caramelized apples, toasted walnuts and cinnamon sugar, apple rugelach will leave your kitchen fragrant as a bakery.

Makes: 24 four-inch (10 cm) pastries or 36 three-inch (eight cm) pastries

1 recipe Cream Cheese Dough, divided into three portions (see recipe below)

1 large egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the pastry + more as needed

2 Tbsp (30 mL) powdered (icing) sugar

1/4 cup (60 mL) unsalted butter (about 60 g)

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely diced

1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar, divided + extra for the pastry

1 Tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice

1 cup (250 mL) toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (125 mL) raisins

2 Tbsp (30 mL) firmly packed golden (light) brown sugar

1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon

41/2 oz (125 g) Philadelphia-style cream cheese (half a brick), room temperature

For pastry: Prepare the pastry and place one portion of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper dusted with flour. Layer a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough and roll (over the plastic) from the centre toward the pastry’s edge in all directions until about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Remove the plastic and cut a 10-inch (25 cm) circle out of the dough (I use a saucepan lid as a template). Transfer the pastry to a parchment-lined plate or tray dusted with flour, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 40 minutes.

Repeat the process with the remaining portions of dough for a total of three 10-inch (25 cm) circles.

For the filling: Working in two batches, melt half the butter in a large skillet. Add half the diced apples and 3 Tbsp (45 mL) sugar. (If you add all the apples at once, they’ll steam and yield a mushy texture, rather than caramelize.) Cook the apples on medium-low, turning occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining butter, apples and 3 Tbsp (45 mL) sugar. Combine all of the apples, add the lemon juice and refrigerate until chilled.

In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, raisins, brown sugar, 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar and the cinnamon.

Putting it all together: Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Working with one circle of dough at a time, spread a thin layer of cream cheese (about 2 1/2 Tbsp/37 mL) onto the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch (1 cm) border. Distribute one-third of the chilled apple mixture over the cheese. Finally, sprinkle one-third (about 1/2 cup/125 mL) of the nut mixture over the apples.

Cut each circle of dough into eight equal wedges (or 12 wedges for smaller pastries), for a total of 24 (or 36) wedges. If the dough is too warm to cut without tearing, place it in the fridge to firm. Starting from the wide end, roll up each wedge as you would a croissant.

Place rugelach on a lined baking tray, spaced two inches (5 cm) apart, with the point of each pastry tucked under (so it doesn’t unfurl). Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the tray halfway during baking. (If baking more than one tray at a time, increase the cooking time slightly.)

Transfer pastries to a wire rack and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cream Cheese Dough

This tender dough, enriched with egg yolks and cream cheese, is featured in the Apple Rugelach recipe above.

Makes: Three portions of dough; about 2 lb (910 g)

1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter (227 g), room temperature

1 8.5 oz (250 g) brick Philadelphia-style cream cheese, room temperature

* Zest from 1 lemon

2 Tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar (25 g)

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) table salt (3 g)

2 large egg yolks, room temperature

21/4 cups (530 mL) all-purpose flour (360 g)

In either the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) or a medium bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese and lemon zest until fluffy, about two minutes. Add the sugar, salt and egg yolks until well combined. Gradually add the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the dough from the bowl. Divide the dough into three portions.

Shape each portion into a disc about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour before using, or up to three days.

Refrigerated dough needs to rest at room temperature for a while before it’s rolled out. You’ll know it’s ready to roll when you press the dough with your finger and it leaves a slight imprint.

Note: for a whole wheat flour variation of this dough, replace 1 cup (250 mL/160 g) all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Divide into two portions (instead of three portions).

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.