Drunken Pepper Pie – It’s a Beautiful Thing

This recipe is a riff on an old classic in the Maine Windjammer fleet – Congo Bars.  Usually made for lunch and scarfed up by mid-afternoon, this recipe is amped up for a dinner dessert with the addition of both Ancho chili powder and Kentucky Bourbon.  Both give a punch and a depth that makes the perfect cross between comfort dessert and swanky dessert.  As with the bar recipe, the pie recipe is much better slightly underdone than even the smallest bit overdone.  Of course, this recipe is for one pie, whereas on the Riggin, I’m making 3 or 4 pies at at time, hence the several pies in the photos below.

Drunken Pepper Pie
Pie Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons unflavored vodka
2 tablespoons ice cold water (or more)

Combine the flour, salt, and butter into a medium bowl; cut in well with a pastry knife.
Add vodka and water and mix until dough pulls away from the bowl and forms a ball.  Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Remove and roll onto a floured board to at least 12 inches in diameter.  Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan and pinch the edges.  Let rest in the refrigerator again until the pie batter is done.

Makes 1 crust

Pie Batter
1 1/2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Kentucky Bourbon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Ancho chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the brown sugar and butter over low heat.  Cool slightly so that the pan is comfortable to touch and then add the bourbon and vanilla extract.  Mix in the eggs one at a time.

Sift the flour, baking powder, ancho chili powder, and salt into the sugar and butter mixture and stir.  When the dry ingredients are completely incorporated, add the chocolate chips.

Spatula the pie batter into the prepared pie shell and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the pie crust is golden brown.  If a fork poked into the center comes out slightly gooey this is okay.

Cool slightly and serve while still warm with Brown Sugar Whipped Cream.

Serves 8 to 12

Brown Sugar Whipped Cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and beat with a whisk until soft peaks form.




Getting excited to go sailing!  You should come with us this summer!

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread – Easy Peasy

No-knead techniques have taken the baking world by storm, or really been rediscovered by storm, and are a wonderful addition to any bread baker’s arsenal.  Truly, there is nothing I love better than pulling several loaves of freshly baked bread from the oven, whether it’s on the boat or in our home.

For me, the connection of homemade bread to our roots, to our communities, to our families and to our personal nutrition is a tie that weaves beautifully through all of these multi-layered parts of our lives.  I know, I know, there are a number of us that can’t have gluten and even more who shun bread due to the carbohydrate thing, but truly, a kale smoothie just doesn’t make the same heart and soul connection for me.

This bread is wonderful with a bowl of soup on a chilly spring day or toasted for breakfast and slathered with some homemade jam.  It’s a staple on our Maine windjammer and one I make at home all the time too.


No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

1 tablespoon unsalted butter for greasing the pans
12 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
5 cups warm water (more or less)

Grease 3 loaf pans and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mixing with one hand while turning the bowl with the other, add the water.  When the flour is fully incorporated into the dough, turn out onto a floured counter and cut into three equal pieces.  Press into rectangular shapes and roll the dough gently into a log.  Transfer to the prepared loaf pans, cover, and set aside for several hours until the loaves have doubled in size.   Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown on the outside and the loaves come out of the pans easily. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 3 loaves

Happy baking to you and to me!

Clementine and Grand Marnier Chocolate Cake

Elizabeth’s favorite flavors are chocolate and orange and so for her birthday in late March, can you guess what sort of cake she asked for?  Knowing that Easter was on it’s way, and also knowing that while SHE got her cake, WE didn’t get our cake, I decided to make it again and this time for our Easter dinner crowd.

This cake is lovely for a couple of reasons.  The oil and sour cream make it a forgiving batter that once baked into a cake, stays forever moist.   The clementine zest, orange extract and Grand Marnier ensure that the cake is infused with orange flavor at several different levels.  Lastly, the bright orange garnish of the clementine lends an eye-catching splash of happy color and tang.

IMG_9815-001aClementine and Grand Marnier Chocolate Cake
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons clementine zest; about 3 clementines
2 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons orange extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
8 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
2 clementines, sliced thinly and halved for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside.

Using the paddle attachment and a large mixing bowl combine sugar, zest, eggs and canola oil on low speed.  Measure out the rest of the wet ingredients in one liquid measuring container and measure all of the dry ingredients into a sifter.  Alternate adding the wet and dry ingredients to the mixing bowl ending with wet.

Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the edges of the cake have pulled away from the sides of the pan a little and a toothpick comes clean when inserted into the center.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.  When the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat and let the chocolate continue to melt.  When the chocolate is fully melted, add the sour cream and the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

To Assemble:
To assemble the cake, remove the cooled cakes from their pans and transfer one to a serving platter.  Spread 1/2 of the glaze onto the top of the cake and rim with clementines so that you will be able to see the rinds.  Repeat the process with the second cake.  The glaze is a little easier to deal with if it has cooled somewhat, but don’t wait until it has cooled completely as it will set up.  Garnish with clementine halves and serve.

Serves 12 to 16



Gonna get me that last slice…

Easter Celebration – Complete with Bunny Cake

Every celebration comes with traditions that we build around food.  In our extended family here in Maine, where very few of us are actually related, but most of us celebrate our holidays together, we have several traditions.  The first of which is that the Finger/Mahle house hosts the Easter meal.

Followed by… there are little girls running around collecting Easter eggs in the yard – usually hundreds of them – hundreds of what seems like little girls and, in fact, hundreds of eggs.  Before the actual hunt there is the boiling, dying, painting, and coloring of eggs in preparation for the hunt – an afternoon of spring color applied to eggs in all manner of ways.

But wait a minute.  This year, for the first time, we don’t have little ones running around at our knees (ours or anyone else’s) and our girls are old enough that dying eggs doesn’t hold the magic that it used to.  Neither does the hunting of them.  Our girls are firmly in teenager-land and while they weren’t quite ready to give up on the gift of candy, they were ready to let go of the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.  I, on the other hand, might have had to rally a bit to the new order of things and, in secret, wistfully respected the wishes and interests of the budding adults in our household.

Another tradition that we moms pensively released was the annual Easter Cake.  Long celebrated in our household with the usual argument of how the cake is actually constructed, neither the cake, nor the argument would be produced this year.  Until… Maggie, our newest crew member, walked in with a Bunny Cake – decorated in nearly the same way as the Easter Egg cake and a perfect serendipitous addition to our Easter table.

While our family traditions are changing, what matters the most – that we gather together to eat and laugh – will firmly and forever be a part of how we celebrate together – teenagers or not, Easter Egg Hunt or not, Easter Cake or not.









Adjusting to change and grateful for the people around our table

Canning Pear Nectar

This fall, I was the surprised recipient of a beautiful bushel of pears from what we think is a Seckle Pear tree. That gift, however, did not come co-bundled with an abundance of time. I was determined that this gift would not sit too long while I put it off until the pears were passed perfectly ripe and had moved into “uh oh.”


To hustle along, I decided to not can them as whole pears, but as nectar. Making nectar is a much easier process than canning whole fruit, as it does not require peeling. It begins with making a loose pear sauce much the same way one would apple sauce by bringing to a simmer pear quarters and water and cooking until the pears are either tender or falling apart. Pear varieties will differ in whether they stay together once they are fully cooked or fall apart – just like apples.

With the addition of lemon juice and sugar plus a hot pack canning process, pear nectar emerges. I’ll use it all winter long in smoothies instead of honey, as a juice for brunch, a foundation for mixed drinks, combined with ginger ale for a special drink for the girls and, well, I let you know what else I come up with!

Thank you, friend Glen. I’m glad we are both good at sharing.

All Hail Kale – Kale is King!

Maybe it’s because outside it’s white and windy.  The grey and brown skeletons of the trees rise up against clouds filled with coming snow.  The only green to be seen in our landscape is from the frost-tipped branches of evergreens.  Perhaps this is why this season brings such a strong craving for greens.  If it’s not in our landscape, we want it on our plates?

Potato, Cheddar & Kale Souffle

I don’t know.  What I do know is that I need to honor the instincts of my body and have created a number of recipes for cooking winter greens, this time for kale.  Potato, Cheddar and Kale Souffle; Thai Peanut Shrimp with Kale; and Tuscan Kale, Chickpeas and Olives are all in the Maine Ingredient column this week.

Kale is King

Thyme and Lime Potato-Crusted Salmon with Greens

Extra greens this time of year seems to be what I crave over and over again.  More kale, more spinach, more Swiss chard.  I’ve even begun eating kale for breakfast with my eggs instead of having toast.  It’s delicious and gives me one more serving of what’s good for me anyway.

This column for the Maine Ingredient, created with holiday entertaining in mind, could easily become a weekend dinner with friends.  The recipes – Thyme and Lime Potato-Crusted Salmon, Brown Butter Kale with Toasted Almonds, and Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, Cranberries and Preserved Grapefruit – are all healthy, with a large dash of elegance.

Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Cranberry Preserved Grapefruit

Eating my greens

Bûche de Noël – A Traditional Favorite

This recipe is a combination of both a Julia Child and Ellen Barnes recipe.  Julia Child’s cookbook “Baking with Julia” is a classic I enjoy returning to again and again.  Ellen Barnes is a former windjammer owner and one of my mentor’s.  Her cookbook is called “The Taber Cookbook” and the well worn pages of my copy were hand-sewn together once the plastic spiral binding disintegrated.  Clearly a cookbook I treasure.

Bûche de Noël

I began making Bûche de Noël for Christmas dessert over 10 years ago when the girls and I wanted a baking project that was a little less intense than making our own gingerbread house from scratch, an event that will live in infamy in our house for the overwhelm meltdowns this effort produced.  Needless to say, it takes a special 5 year old to handle the construction and then collapse of a gingerbread house.  Maybe a special adult too as ours might have ended up in the trash…

Anyway, that was a long time ago and we have held to our Bûche de Noël making with eager joy.  While it, in our household, is an easier and more welcome project than gingerbread, it is not for the faint of heart.  Also, I would say that if you don’t have all the tools – pastry bag with tips, baking sheet, pastry knife, that maybe you’d just forgo this project.  It’s rare for me to say this, but the tools make this project SO much easier.

Bûche de Noël mushrooms

Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël

This cake is inspired by a recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook “Baking with Julia.”

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus a little extra for the pan), melted
1 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Rum Syrup:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons rum

Mocha Cream Frosting:
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
4 egg yolks
2 cups soft butter
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons espresso or strong coffee
4 tablespoons rum

Meringue Mushrooms:
4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Decorative Frosting:
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon or more of milk

Pine sprigs
Pomegranate seeds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Pour 1 tablespoon melted butter into a 1-quart bowl; set aside.

Put the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the salt in to sifter and sift the ingredients onto a piece of waxed paper; set aside.

Put the eggs and the remaining sugar into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer.  Holding the whisk attachment from the mixer in your hand, beat the mixture to blend the ingredients.  With the bowl and whisk attachment in place, whip the mixture on medium speed until it is airy, pale, and tripled  in volume, like softly whipped cream, 4 to 5 minutes.  You’ll know that the eggs are properly whipped when you lift the whisk and the mixture falls back into the bowl in a ribbon that rests on the surface for about 10 seconds.  If the ribbon immediately sinks into the mixture, continue whipping for a few more minutes.  Pour in the vanilla extract during eh last moments of whipping.

Detach the bowl from the mixer.  Sprinkle about one third of the sifted flour mixture over the batter.  Fold in the flour with a rubber spatula, stopping as soon as the flour is incorporated.   Fold in the rest of the flour in 2 more additions.  (This is the point at which the batter is at its most fragile, so fold gingerly.)

Brush the extra butter onto a 12 by 17-inch baking sheet that has a rim.  Cover with parchment paper and scrape the batter onto the sheet, smoothing out with the spatula.  Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan.

Dust a large kitchen towel with powdered sugar.  Invert the baking sheet onto the towel and cool slightly.  Before it is completely cooled, roll the cake (with the towel) up into a log.

Rum Syrup:
Boil the sugar and water together until syrupy, about 3 minutes. Cool and add the rum.

Mocha Cream Frosting:
Boil the sugar and water together until 240 degree on a candy thermometer or until the soft ball stage. Beat the egg yolks until fluffy. Add the sugar and water mixture gradually while beating and continue until mixture is cool. Add the butter bit by bit until it has all been incorporated. Beat in the chocolate, coffee and rum.

Meringue Mushrooms:
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Beat egg whites until frothy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat well. Add the sugar gradually and add the vanilla. Continue beating until mixture is glossy and stiff but not dry. Cover a 12 by 17-inch baking sheet with waxed paper and using a pastry bag, pipe the mushrooms tops and stems onto the sheet. Bake about 1 hour or until the meringues are dry. When you are ready to work with them, gently assemble by pressing the mushroom caps onto the stems. Lightly dust the tops with cocoa powder.

Decorative Frosting:
Cream the butter and add 1/2 cup confectioners sugar and milk until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla and then the remaining sugar and milk, alternating between the two. Beat until frosting stands in stiff peaks. Transfer to a pastry bag.

To Assemble:
Unroll the cake and peel the parchment paper off. Use half of the Mocha Cream Frosting and spread evenly over the cake. Using the towel to help you, roll the cake up snuggly without causing the frosting to squeeze out of the ends. Poke toothpicks into the final edge to keep it from unrolling. Make a diagonal cut about 1/3 of the way down and snug that cut up to the side of the log to make it look like the v in a branch. Spread the rest of the Mocha Cream Frosting on the top and sides, leaving the ends frosting free. Pipe the Decorative Frosting on all of the ends and any place you’d like to make a decoration. Add the Meringue Mushrooms to the sides in clusters. Decorate with pine sprigs and pomegranate seeds.

Post your cakes so I can see!

Photo credit: Ella Finger

Homemade Salt Scrub – A Handmade Christmas Gift

In the winter time when the temperature drops, the air inside the house gets dry and my hair begins to stand up on it’s own from the static electricity, my skin also gets dry.  After trying lotions and potions, some expensive, some not, my mom gave me a salt and oil scrub as a gift one year.  I was hooked.  Yet a jar of sea salt scrub costs over $10 per jar and lasts a month or less.  Being a homemade sort of girl, I wondered if I could make it at home and have it be just as wonderful.  And I can.

Salt Scrub

Homemade Salt Scrub
1 wide mouth jar that you can reach your fingers into to scoop
sea salt, medium grind not fine
canola oil, jojoba oil or almond oil
essential oils

My favorite scent combinations are:
Lemon and Lavender
Rosemary and Orange
Fir Needle and Lemon
Rosemary and Lavender

Pour sea salt into the jar until it is 1/2-inch from the top of the jar.  Add the oil in batches until it has completely soaked in and then add 10 drops each of the scents of your preference.  Cover with a secure lid.  This will last as long as the oil does, so more perishable oils like almond oil will maybe last a month or two where as canola oil will last much longer.  However, if you like using this scrub as much as I do, it won’t even last a month before you are making more.

With happy skin

Lemon Curd Cheesecake – A Bake Ahead Holiday Dessert

The tricks to making a successful cheesecake are simple.  They also make sense when you understand the reason behind them.

Lemon Curd Cheesecakes

Eggs, a major component of cheesecakes, don’t like to be heated quickly or subject to high heat.  Instead they like to be handled gently and with a little tender loving care.  They freak out when the heat is too fast or too high, curdling or puffing up, both of which we don’t want in a cheesecake.  This is why having all ingredients at room temperature to begin with helps.  Another trick is some sort of water – either in the form of steam or a water bath, to mitigate the formation of a crust and to gentle the heat.  Lastly, letting the cheesecake cool down in the oven helps gentle the change in heat and prevents those craters we don’t want to see in our cheesecakes.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

The recipes that ran in the Portland Press Herald today, Vanilla Cheesecake and Lemon Curd Cheesecake, are both favorites in our family.  There I also write about how to freeze and thaw cheesecakes, making them a perfect make-ahead dessert.  The Lemon Curd Cheesecake has been a holiday dessert for years, appeasing those who are done with the chocolate overload.

Happy baking!