Old Fashioned Cherry Pie Filling

I wrote a very thoughtful, well-written piece of prose about my love of bourbon, the merits of sharing pie with friends, and the marvelous weather NYC has been experiencing. And then the internet decided to bend me over the butcher block.  Thanks interwebs. I love you too. I just wish you didn’t love me back so much. I could complain about it some more, but I would much rather tell you what pulled me back into the kitchen and prompted me to turn my oven to 350 on a 90 degree day.

soaking cherries

It was cherries. But more than just cherries, it was bourbon my longing for what I consider to be a winter cocktail. While I favor bourbon above all other liquors, like so many wool sweaters, it gets cast aside in the warmer months in favor of lighter, more sparkling fare. I have since discovered that there are, indeed ways to enjoy bourbon in the summer time that won’t have me wiping sweat glistening rose-scented dew from my brow.

painstakingly latticed crust

So when my place of business had cherries sale for the tune of 2.99/lb and I came home with way more than enough for…Well, I didn’t know – but I would figure something out. And damn, did I ever figure something out. See, this pie isn’t name after some mythical good ol’ days of yore. No. It is so much more than that. It is named after a much loved cocktail. One with a muddled cherry and orange slice at the bottom. One that warms you up after a chilly walk – and Old Fashioned.

slice of delicious heaven

I soaked my cherries in bourbon for a shamefully long time. You don’t necessarily have to wait that long. And let’s just get this out of the way. Yes. I pitted over 2 lbs of cherries. Yes it’s a pain. But no, you don’t have to shell out for a unitasker. Therefore, you should partake of this pie. It was a big hit with roommates and co-workers alike. Especially those of the bourbon loving ilk…tha’t ilk, not elk. But I would love to see a bourbon-loving elk. Also, you will have leftover cherries. Set them aside for less bountiful seasons or if you’re anxious, put them in sangria.

Old Fashioned Cherry Pie Filling

  • 2 lbs cherries, pitted and stemmed
  • 3/4 c sugar, divided
  • Bourbon
  • Angostura bitters
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch

Place the pitted cherries and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Pour bourbon of your choice over the cherries until they are covered. Yes, it will be a lot of bourbon. Buy something on the cheap side. Cover and place in refrigerator for a shamefully long time. Full disclosure, mine soaked for 6 days. 6 days! It’s shameful. One or two days will do the same trick, though.

Remove cherries from the fridge (duh). In a medium sauce pan, using a scale, measure out 22 oz. of both cherries and liquid. Liquid should measure roughly 1/2-3/4 of a cup, the rest should be cherries. Add the orange juice, cornstarch, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 or 6 healthy dashed of bitters. If pressed, I would say maybe 1 tsp of bitters.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Let boil about 5 minutes or until thickened.

Pour into your favorite pie crust, and follow baking instructions. Or pour it over ice cream. Or eat it by the spoonful.

There is no pie crust recipe included because I don’t consider myself knowlegdable in the least about that art form.  Here’s some tips from someone who is.

On Choosing Ingredients…Spare No Expense

When I left you, you should have chosen your spirit and flavor profile.  Now we can get down to the nitty gritty and talk about how to choose ingredients and how to know how much to use.

Fruits & Veggies : Fresh fruit is relatively easy.  Just like when you’re using fruit for anything else, you should always make sure the it is perfectly ripe, or as close as possible.  Under-ripe fruit will not give up its flavor as readily, and the flavor you do get will be dull rather than bright.  Overly ripe fruit will give up a flavor that will come across as borderline rotten – earthy and dirt like, rather than sweet and fresh.  Buy it the day you intend on using it.  Don’t buy it Wednesday, planning to make your infusion on Saturday.  The very earliest purchase should be the night before.  Any earlier and the fruit will lose its freshness.

Amount to be used depends on whether you want the fruit to be the star attraction, or if you would like the spirits to be just subtly tinged with the flavor.  For my pineapple-chile tequila, since I am using a spirit that has been unaged the flavor is pretty clean and the pineapple will shine through fairly strongly.  For a 1.75 L bottle, I am using a whole, smallish pineapple, which has been peeled, cored, and cubed.  Since I want it to give up as much flavor as possible, the cubes are fairly small, an inch or smaller.  If you are using a fruit that is less juicy than your average pineapple (think apples and pears), you want a smaller dice.  For berries, since most have a skin and won’t give up juice until they’re macerated, squish them before adding your alcohol.  For soft berries, throw them in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, give it a nice smush, then add it to your jar.  When using citrus, using peels only is just fine, but if you would also like to use the flesh, remove the zest, then pare the citrus down, removing as much of the bitter pith as possible.

Ultimately you want to shoot for about 2 cups of fruit or veggies.  Place the fruit in the jar and pour the spirit over it.  Seal the jar and give it a good shake.  Unless you are using a very acidic fruit you should keep it in the fridge.  Let it infuse for 2 weeks, checking it every day and giving it a good shake each time.

Ginger, Jalapenos, and other Chiles : If you are using something spicy – jalapenos, ginger – use far less of it.  Taste the chile and see how spicy it is.  Use that as your gauge.  Also, the heat of the chile is carried in its white ribs and seeds.  When I use chiles in pickling, I use 1 whole chile per two cups of liquid.  I don’t do anything to it except cut a small slit down the side.  The heat comes through without being overpowering.

When using ginger, it should be peeled as best as possible and cut into 1 inch or smaller cubes.  In the past I have used a 2 inch piece of ginger for a 1.75 L bottle.  The flavor was not overwhelmingly ginger-y, so if you’re going for a Domaine de Canton type flavor, you want to end up with about 1 cup.

Spices : Again, freshness is key. Fresh spices should not be hay-colored and should have a very strong scent.  Always use the spice of choice in its intact version.  This will allow your infusion to retain its clarity.  The only exception is nutmeg.  I have never infused with a whole nutmeg.  The flavor is so strong that a pinch will do without sacrificing clarity.  Some popular dried things to put in spirits are cinnamon sticks, dried chiles, allspice, juniper berries, and cardamom.

For smaller spices, shoot for about a tablespoon or so.  Cardamom pods are somewhere in between but 7-10 pods ought to do the trick.

Larger spices call for a lesser amount.  For 1.75 L of spirits, 2-3 cinnamon sticks or dried chiles will suffice.  The flavor will come across without being overpowering.

I used 3 dried chiles in my pineapple tequila – 2 went in with the pineapple in the jar, and 1 in the final bottle, mostly for decoration.  It has a fresh, sweet start with a slight heat at the back.

Again, letting it infuse for 2 weeks, giving the jar a good shake every now and then.

Tea & Fresh Herbs : Do I even need to say it? Use the freshest possible. You will want about 5 tablespoons total.  If using fresh herbs, you may want to bruise them slightly.  Using a spice bag, tea bag, or other style of ‘infuser’ is best, especially if you are infusing with other ingredients, though I have infused with tea and herbs first, removed, then added fruit and veggies.  The method is up to you and I haven’t noticed a difference.  Allow your tea and herbs to steep for 8-12 hours.  Do not leave longer than 12 hours – herbs will start to brown and tea flavors will start to become bitter.

Nuts : I have never used nuts before, but have seen recipes around.  I would recommend toasting them first, to make them release their delicious, nutty oils, and perhaps seasoning them, if you like.  Allow them to cool before adding the liquor.  Steeping time seems to be about a week or two, depending on the recipe.

I think that covers every type of infusion ingredient.  If you can think of something I haven’t covered, leave a comment and I will address it promptly.  If you are looking some ideas, a good source is Post Prohibition.  They also have some nifty bitters recipes and some good flavored simple syrups and grenadines I’d like to try out.

Next post: Sweetening the Deal – adding sugar to your infusion.

A Spirited Return – On Doldrums, Infusing, and Revivals

Friends and family, humblest apologies for lack of posts.  I have been in the doldrums, which here means a time in my life with calms, sudden storms, and unpredictable winds.  But that could be said about anyone’s life at any given moment.  I suppose that’s just life.  During this time I kept thinking about this project of mine, and baking in general and desperately wanted to bake but simply couldn’t find the time, funds, or energy to do so.  Now I have time, energy, and mini funds, but have embarked on a healthy-eating challenge for my day job.  Alas….c’est la vie.  But then it occurred to me, as I was finishing up a birthday gift for a relative, that it doesn’t necessarily have to be baking that I post about.  It is, after all, my blog.  No boss lady here except me.

So I’m going to start a mini-series on making your own infusions.  Sounds science-y, right?  Well it’s not, although it may make your kitchen look a bit like a laboratory for a month or so.  I’m not sure why people are so impressed with infusing – it makes bars seem fancier and you look like a liquored up genius – but it is so easy.  So don’t be afraid.  I’ll hold your hand.

science lab

Here it is, broken down: Alcohol + Ingredients + Time + Simple Syrup (or not, but this turns your infusion into a bottle of insta-cocktail)


  • Large jar – if you’re using a liter of alcohol, get a jar that will fit 1.75.
  • Swing-top Bottle – again, size appropriate please, though you probably won’t find one over 1.75.  If it’s for personal use, go ahead and re-use the liquor bottle, assuming you used all of the contents.  In some gift-giving this is appropriate too, but remove the labels and make sure it’s an attractive bottle.
  • Sieve

Start out by picking a flavor.  Please don’t pick something you would not want to drink.  I have made cranberry + lemon verbena, chile + carrot (you haven’t lived until you’ve had this in a bloody mary), chocolate, grapefruit, apple pie, green tea + lemon (like a spiked Arnold Palmer, amazing), chocolate + orange, and maybe one or two I’m forgetting.  Mostly I have used vodka, but have also used 151 (yikes!) and spiced rum to great results.  Once you have your flavor in mind you will be able to make a booze selection.

Things to consider in selecting your booze – will it fit your flavor profile?  For example, cranberry alone might work well with a spiced rum, but cranberry and lemon verbena probably won’t.  Use common sense.  Do you want something clean and crisp?  Go with vodka or everclear.  Warm and nuanced? Spiced rum is probably the way to go.  Will you be using it in a margarita?  Use tequila, for god’s sake!  Because it is almost margarita season and I’m a big fan of spicy cocktails, for this series I will be doing a pineapple + chile infused tequila.  Try not to drool on your keyboard.

Another thing – there are camps that say go high-end, and camps that say spend as little as possible because the alcohol flavor will be masked.  I say, don’t infuse any liquor you wouldn’t normally drink.  Because guess what?  If you infuse an alcohol you don’t like with ingredients you do, that yucky alcohol is still the main ingredient and you won’t drink your infusion.

I usually get a big handle, but I like to keep a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Consider how much of your infusion you want – if it’s for personal use and you’re playing around, go small, about 2 cups of liquor should do it.  For a gift, definitely get the liter and a cute, swing-top re-usable bottle.

Full disclosure purposes only – I don’t usually like giving brand names, but people have asked.  For vodka infusions I like Tito’s.  It’s cheap and clean, and definitely the most bang for your buck, but if you’re a Smirnoff kinda drinker, get Smirnoff.  If Skyy is your poison, use Skyy.  If it’s Popov….you probably should expand your horizons.  For rum I like Sailor Jerry.  For tequila I like Espolon – it’s 100% agave and not aged, so the tequila flavor is very smooth and clean.

Round up these things and join me next time when I will be talking about selecting and using ingredients!  Don’t be scared!

Green Tea Infused Vodka with Honey-Lemon Cordial

I have not been a fan of green tea for all that long. I remember the first time I drank it. I was in fourth grade (I think, maybe third or fifth), at a friend‘s house whose mother is Japanese. This was before Arizona Green Tea, which is basically green tea flavored sugar water. They had the real deal, and I was not impressed. I thought it tasted like seaweed and I didn’t touch the stuff again until I was a junior in high school, and it was Arizona Green Tea.

These days, however, I’m a class A tea snob.  I bring my own when I travel.  Even when I go to my parent’s house – I bring my own tea because they buy Celestial Seasonings.  And I don’t sweeten it very much, even when it’s iced tea.  A sugared rim is necessary, though.  This vodka is light, crisp, and only a hint sweet.  For a perfect summer cocktail, shake it with ice and add just a splash of tonic water.

If you’re a plan ahead-type of gift giver, this makes for a great surprise, especially when paired with some nice stemware.  If you’re a last-minute gifter, you could also gather up all the non-perishable ingredients and throw them in a bag with the recipe.  They both go over equally well.

Green Tea Infused Vodka with Honey Lemon Cordial


1 L of vodka of your choice*
5 green tea bags, or 5 tbsp loose leaf tea, preferably in a bag, if not strain it out
1 Lemon, sliced
½ c honey
½ c water

You will need a jar big enough to hold the entire liter of vodka, plus one cup.


  • Empty vodka into a clean jar and place tea bags inside and cover the jar. If your tea bags have strings, make sure you cut them off. Allow to steep for no more than 12 hours, shaking periodically. Any longer and you will end up with a bitter infusion.
  • Remove tea bags and place sliced lemon in the vodka, capping the jar. Place in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking perdiodically.
  • At the end of the 2 weeks, remove the lemons with a slotted spoon.
  • In a saucepan, combine the honey and water and heat gently over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Once the honey mixture is cool, pour into the vodka, recap and shake vigorously.
  • Uncap and strain infusion into a swing-top bottle. At this point, it can be imbibed immediately, or allowed to infuse longer. The longer it sits, the sweeter it will be.

To serve, rub the rim of a glass with a lemon slice. Gently place the rim of the glass in a dish of sugar. I used matcha sugar, made using 1 tsp of matcha powder & 1 tbsp of sugar. Shake infusion with ice and strain into glass.

*A note about the quality of vodka you should use. Some insist that cheap vodka is appropriate because the sugar in the cordial negates the bad taste. I respectfully disagree. I have used everything from $55 bottles to $10 bottles, and I have landed smack in the middle with Tito’s, priced about $25 per liter bottle, though it is most likely cheaper in places that are not in NYC. It tastes better than most $55 bottles, and is only slightly more than Smirnoff, which tastes terrible.

To be enjoyed outdoors, in the shade, on a day that (hopefully) is not too hot.

Also, I’m on tumblr now.  Bakingforneighbors.tumblr.com will be a shorter microblog – more photos, less text.  Recipes will be linked here, but you will also get to see things I make that I don’t post.

Jack and Coke Cupcakes

When I was invited to a friend’s birthday party last week, I was so excited because it meant that I would get to make cupcakes, and it had been a while.  It was her 21st birthday, so I wanted to do an alcohol-themed cupcake.  I love Smitten Kitchen’s carbomb cupcakes, but I wanted to do something different.

I was poking around the internet and came across a bakery review on Cakespy – Lollicake, I think.  Anywho, one of the photos was of jack and coke lollicakes (think cake pops), and it got me excited.  Jack and Coke is my well drink of choice, second only to gin and grapefruit juice (actually called a greyhound, I think).  I know not everybody slugs down whiskey, but hoo boy!  Like me, this girl hails from Tennessee, so I knew I had to do it.

Then oddly enough, I couldn’t find any recipe on line.  I didn’t know whether to be excited or appalled, so I was a little of both while I mish-mashed this recipe together.  Then I got so sick that I couldn’t even deliver them to the party, but I hear they were a hit!  The recipe made so many I also brought some to work and to the guy that does my hair… and a couple neighbors.  It sounds like I should have saved them all for the party, but I know the other people appreciated them too!

These are perfect cupcakes for a 21st birthday party, or any birthday party, or no party at all, just bring someone you like a treat.  It’s like the cocktail you can’t have because you’re still at work!

Jack and Coke Cupcakes

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes, or 12 regular size and about 16 or so minis.

Adapted from SmittenKitchen’s Chocolate Whiskey and Beer cupcakes.

For the Coca-Cola Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 1 cup cola
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sour cream at room temperature

Ganache Filling

  • 8 ½ ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons whiskey

Whiskey Buttercream Frosting

  • 6 cups confections sugar
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperatue
  • 6 tablespoons Jack Daniels, or other whiskey

Cupcake Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup cola and 2 sticks butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Allow to cool for at least fifteen minutes.

    chocolate, butter, cola

  • Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, whisk eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add the sugar and whisk to combine.  With the mixer on, pour in the cola-chocolate mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
  • Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Be really careful about not overfilling them – this cake rises and will spill over.  I put the batter in a plastic bag and pipe it into the papers.  Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

    batter, almost as good as the cake

Ganache Method*

  • Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth.  Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.

    ready to ganache it up

  • Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped.
  • Meanwhile, using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes.

    like a hole in their hearts, they yearn for ganache filling

  • Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

    chocolate chocolate chocolate AACK!

*If you make the ganache a day ahead of time, it will keep fine and minimize waiting time.  Just make sure to let it come to room temperature before storing in the fridge, and allow to come to room temperature before trying to pipe it into the cupcakes.

Frosting Method

  • Whisk the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.  It does make a difference.  The frosting will be less grainy, and require less sugar to thicken them up.
  • When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the whiskey and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin, beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.  Don’t worry about trying to use all 6 cups, just use your intuition and stop when it seems thick enough.
  • Ice and decorate the cupcakes. I used a plastic zip top bag to pipe the frosting, and topped them with Wilton’s white sparkling sugar and Haribo gummy colas.  I also think little gummy lime wedges would be adorable.

    i was trying to recreate a favorite photograph

You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. Just make sure to bring them to room temperature before serving!

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