Girl has got to make some money, so I work in a toy store. In general, I love my job. My co-workers and I play around, dance, and talk to people all day long. But as you can imagine, December is a tough month for toy stores, tough in the sense that the employees are physically and mentally drained, putting in more time and effort than any other month of the year. I’m really fortunate to work with fantastic people, which makes for a wonderful, supportive, and fun environment even when the going gets rough. Most of my co-workers are now my close friends, and those that aren’t close, I still consider my friends. Before I wax poetic enough to make you gag, here’s the point: I’m baking up a storm before Christmas to make sure everyone around me knows how much I appreciate their hard work, and their showing up to begin with, because even that’s hard on some days.

Last week, I posted a note in our office, asking everyone to write down something about baked goods they enjoy, be it an ingredient, a type of treat, or even something in particular if they were craving a certain dessert. There are eight of us, total, and I have until December 20th to bake for each and every one of them. Yay!

So, first up! This is what I had to go on,

“vegan things! pie > cake”

What I came up with was vegan gingerbread apple pie, from Vegan with a Vengeance. Isa is my go-to girl, what can I tell you. I got up super early on Saturday to peel, core, and slice apples, so that the pie would be fresh out of the oven when I brought it to work. It was worth every minute of sleep that I didn’t get. Honest to goodness.

Another great part about waking up early to bring a fresh pie to work was that I could hold the warm pie tin on my walk. Take that, freezing Boston wind!

Gingerbread Apple Pie

(Adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)

I baked this in a 9 inch pie tin.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the crust:

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup packed brown sugar (I used light brown)

1 –  1 ½  teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup margarine, softened

1 tablespoon molasses (or two, if you’re me)

2 tablespoons cold water

Method:

1. Sift together the flour, sugar, spices, salt, and baking powder, into a bowl large enough for all the dry ingredients.

2. Add the margarine one tablespoon at a time, cutting it into the dry mixture. You can use a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers.

3. Drizzle both the molasses and water over the dough, now mixing with your fingers until the dough begins to come together.

4. Knead the dough into a ball, then press it evenly into the bottom and sides of a prepared pie tin. (My dough was a little sticky, and it was difficult to work with because I mixed it too thoroughly with my fingers, which made the dough too warm. Keep mixing to the barest minimum possible, as with most pie crust recipes.)

5. Bake crust, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

For the Filling:

Ingredients:

2 lbs, or about 8 peeled, cored, and thinly sliced granny smith apples,

½ cup brown sugar (Again, I used light brown.)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground ginger

a pinch of ground cloves

¼ cup maple syrup (I used agave syrup, not being a huge fan of maple syrup)

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons arrowroot (or tapioca starch)

Method:

1. While the crust is baking, combine all ingredients, except the arrowroot, and stir to combine.

2. Sprinkle the arrowroot powder over mixture.

3. Mix the apples until all the arrowroot is absorbed into the other ingredients.

To assemble and bake the pie:

1. Fill the pie crust with the apple mixture and cover with tin foil.

2. Bake for 20 minutes, covered.

3. Remove the foil and bake for 30 minutes more.

You’ll know the pie is done when it is bubbling. Or when you notice your entire apartment smells like gingerbread and apple pie. If only you could attach that smell to your person, and carry with you all day, without being kind of a creeper and always carrying a piece of warm pie in your coat pocket.

My unusually clean kitchen, accented with a stained cat potholder and FANTASTIC PIE.

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On Tuesday morning, the 23rd of November to be exact, a friend and I put on our walkin’ shoes and light jackets (It was in the sixties. It’s the end of November. I couldn’t tell you. Anyways.) and made the trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn in order to sample one of the special pies from Four and Twenty Blackbirds. These were special because, for the few days leading up to Thanksgiving, the bakery only made a certain number of pies to sell and that was it, besides coffee, that is. The bakery was barren, except for boxed pies and a smallish cash register set up right near the door. Once they sold out of pies that was it until the next day! I had to get my hands on a pie, not only because I love trying sweet things from new places, but also because I love when stores have these little events upset the normal routine.

We bought pies Tuesday morning, around 8:30 am. Then walked around Prospect Park, ate at this fantastic diner (Dizzy’s, on 9th Street and 8th Ave) took the metro back to Manhattan, putzed around his apartment for an hour or so, and took the bus back to Boston. All this with pie in hand. Needless to say, I was so darn excited to try the pie that it could barely be contained. I had to try really hard to resist putting my face in it.

Worth the wait, though! It was incredible; the chocolate layer at the bottom complemented the sweet gooey caramel perfectly. The overall experience was delightful, and there’s nothing like having all your

Not the best photo in the world, but that chocolate layer is so beautiful! Look! Just look!

senses engaged at one time!

My friend said that it was “literally the best thing he had ever eaten.” We’re both prone to superlative statements, but that isn’t too terribly far from the truth.

There wasn't a line, but the pies were almost sold by 8:45 am!

Since I work in retail, my “weekends” consist of Monday and Tuesday, which for a long time made me sad because everyone does all the cool things on the real weekend! I thought twice about whining this particular “weekend”, because I was able to not only visit one of my dearest, loveliest friends in New York City, but also because I got to eat lots of dessert! And get a pie for Thanksgiving!

A few days back, I was reading about different bakeries in the city on account of my being obsessed with Baked Explorations, and my friend sent me a link to this article. We had (sort of) been reading about the same place! Around the same time! Holy same-wavelength Batman! After my brain melted a little, I read that the week before Thanksgiving they only make a hundred pies a day, sell them and only them from their storefront, and close up shop once they sell out. The flavors sounded intriguingly delicious (bittersweet chocolate pecan, salty honey, bourbon sweet potato, salted caramel apple, and honeyed pumpkin), and we had to go. It was a necessity. Salty honey?! The thought of salty honey custard made me really excited.

At 8 AM, we trekked from his room in Chinatown to Brooklyn, getting there around 8:30 AM and seeing that they only had a handful of pies left. I panicked a little for no reason, as per usual, but we got our pies, two bittersweet chocolate pecan, and went to Prospect Park to come down from a pie purchasing high. And discuss our next visit to Four and Twenty Blackbirds to try everything else.

It’s sitting in my fridge, calling me… but no, I’m staying strong until tomorrow. You’ll get pictures. I’ll try not to include any of me drooling on a plate.

(Side note: Are pies the new cool thing?)

Because we had to save the pies for Thanksgiving and, well, other people, we had to fulfill our dessert quota for the trip. He mentioned there was a place that ONLY served rice pudding, and I started to make some odd, involuntary noises that are code for “TOO MUCH EXCITEMENT!!!”, which luckily he understood. It’s called Rice to Riches, and it’s set up kind of like a gelato bar, except with rice pudding.  My friend said it reminded me of a retro spaceship from the future, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

They had at least twenty flavors to choose from, among those were pumpkin, cherry mascarpone, chocolate chip, cranberry orange, just to name a few. And you got to choose a topping! And it came in Tupperware! I love Tupperware! I love rice pudding!  We ended up getting a chocolate hazelnut puddin’ with “cloud nine”, or whipped cream, and spiced eggnog with “black magic”, or crumbled chocolate cake bits.

I have a few friends who don’t care for the city, which is understandable in the sense of commotion, noise, buildings, dirt, the sheer amount of flesh squeezed into tiny places, et cetera, but I’ll never be able to rule out New York City, or any city, because of the phenomenal food offerings. NYC in particular, really, because every time I visit, there is always something new and wonderful and DIFFERENT to try, different in the sense of the food or atmosphere. The best part of all? In the city, even Mondays and Tuesdays can feel like a real weekend!

Rice puddin' on a space table. How amazing is that?!