Butter Crust


Being in Rensselaerville, far from a grocery store, I crave ripened peaches. Many mornings we eat plain yogurt, fluffy like whipped cream and sprinkled with a few spoonfuls of homemade granola, adorned with nuts, coconut and raisins. It needs a sliced peach.

While driving to Hudson on a night off, one of the other scholars yelled, “Farm stand! Peaches!” Ellen, our trusting driver, skidded to a halt. With nothing guarding the stand but a note that said, “Peaches: $4. Please place your money in the box,” we threw $5 in accordingly and dashed back to the car, fruit in hand.

When Ellen the baker and I found out we’d have some time Monday, we made eye contact from across the table, and I mouthed, “peach pie.”

We spent Monday morning squishing our hands into pie dough. To learn about the taste of different fats, we made one batch with solely butter and one with a butter-shortening combination. With years of professional experience, Ellen had tricks up her sleeve. She advised me to mix the fat and flour in a mixer or food processor but then fold in the water by hand so the dough wouldn’t get tough.

Ellen removed the chilled from the fridge, rolled it into a neat circle and nestled it into the pie plate before returning it to the fridge. I asked her why she chills it a second time. Ellen did a dance with her shoulders and said, “I like it to get cozy.”


We filled the crusts to the brim with abundant peaches and blueberries, stirred with lemon zest, sugar, cornstarch and warm spices. We wove the lattice top together, brushed it carefully with egg wash and sprinkled it with sugar.

In two weeks of baking with Ellen, I’ve watched her eyebrows crinkle together, concerned with bake ware or fretting about the absence of a crucial flavor like ginger. But after time in the oven, sweetness permeates Molly O’Neill’s kitchen sending ease throughout. The pie is retrieved, left to snooze, and sliced after dinner. With a final scrape of the plate, coating my silver fork in syrupy peach juice, my craving is quenched.


 Makes a double crust//Ellen the Baker


  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup sugar + 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 6 ounces butter
  • ¼ cups ice water
  • 1 egg + 1 tablespoon cream

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Cube the cold butter and plop it into the flour mixture. Put in freezer, if time allows, for at least 15 minutes.

Move the mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the butter is the size of large peas. Pour the mixture back into the medium bowl. With your hands or a rubber spatula, slowly incorporate the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the flour. Depending on the day and the environment, you may need to add one less or one more tablespoon of water. Scrape the sides of the bowl, bringing the dough together into a ball.

Cut the ball in half and pat each piece into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

After removing the chilled disks, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for five minutes. Lightly flour your surface. Using a rolling pin, begin to roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, using more flour if the dough is sticking. The dough should come out to be about 1/8-inch thick. Nestle it into your pie plate. Trim the edges or fold them under to create a rim. Return the pie plate to the fridge.


In the same way, roll out your second disk into a 12-inch circle, using flour as needed. If you want a lattice top, cut it into ¾-inch strips, using a pizza or pastry wheel. In a pinch, a knife works fine too. Put the strips on a parchment lined baking sheet, and return it to the fridge.

Remove the lattice pieces from the fridge. Weave the pastry.

Whisk the egg and cream with a fork. Brush it over the top of the crust. Sprinkle the top with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Follow your pie recipe for baking times and temperatures as they vary.




Chocolate Almond Biscotti


The moment I saw Ellen the baker, a fellow participant, pulling a tin of homemade biscotti from underneath her bed, I knew I was in the right place. Molly O’Neill’s Longhouse Food Scholars program in Rensselaerville, New York—a place where food would be discussed all day long and where a group of people from all over the country could gush about their shared passion.

Normally when I think of biscotti, I imagine long, stale logs of cookie, which you inevitably slobber on it as it cuts the sides of your mouth. Ellen’s biscotti are something else, something special. They’re toothsome and soft, giving way to fudgy graceful bites.

Of course, I asked Ellen to teach me the craft of making biscotti.

Ellen reminded me I should always sift the dry ingredients—a step I usually skip over—and later when it seemed like the dough might crack, she said, “It’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s just a cookie.”

While chopping chocolate, Ellen told me about creating this recipe during years of working in restaurants and bakeries. She made it her personal mission to take the idea of a biscotti but make it more chocolaty. We melted butter with the chocolate in a double boiler. Her trick is to use melted chocolate, combined with an under baked approach for a richer flavor and texture.

While waiting for the biscotti to bake, we were sitting writing and heard a friendly neighbor through the window, “What’re you all making in there? Chocolate chip cookies?”

Ellen sprung from her chair and said, “When you smell the chocolate take them out!”

Makes 24 biscotti/Ellen Gray


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder (Ellen uses Dutch Process)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 eggs, plus 1 egg white for a wash
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 ounces chopped dark chocolate
  • 6-8 ounces coarsely chopped almonds (or your preferred nut)

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baker powder and salt. Set aside.

In a double boiler, or very carefully in the microwave, melt the 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate with the butter.

In a mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the eggs and almond extract with the sugar until fluffy. Add the melted chocolate mixture. In three parts, slowly add the dry ingredients. Add the 6 ounces of chopped dark chocolate pieces.

The dough will be sticky. Turn the dough onto parchment paper, form a ball and cut in half. Roll each half into a log, cover in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap, and slightly press the tops of the logs to form a flattened cylinder. Place the logs on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Mix the egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush all over the tops.

Bake for about 25 minutes. The tops will still be soft to the touch. Let them cool.

IMG_1995 Slice the logs crosswise with a serrated knife into the size of biscotti you prefer. Then stand them up on a sheet tray again and bake at 325 degrees for 5-10 minutes depending on how crispy you like them. I would do closer to five. Then let the biscotti cool again before eating.