When the weather cools, ovens heat up. Starting with Thanksgiving pies and wrapping up with New Year’s treats, bakers are busy in their kitchens, mixing butter and flour, sugar and spice. If you’re a baker, or would like to be, you might be interested to hear what’s in the ovens at Pie Chicks, and how “piestress” Chrissy Kinsman is inspired by childhood memories of baking with her mother. “The thing about baking at the holidays is that it’s time-consuming, but when you take the time to do it, it makes a difference,” Kinsman says. “People remember it; kids remember it. It’s almost like an invitation to slow down a bit. And it’s cold out, so it’s nice to spend your time in front of a warm oven.”
Pies are the name of the game at Pie Chicks, and Kinsman says she’s often asked for her piemaking tips. The crust is the crux of the matter. “Be very gentle handling your pie dough,” Kinsman advises. “You don’t want to overmix it. You want to treat it very delicately. Just introduce the ingredients to each other, and let the rolling pin do the magic.” Less is more when it comes to pie crust, which can get stiff and tough if it’s mixed too hard or too long. If you’re nervous about making your own crusts, or if you’re just pressed for time, the Pie Chicks sell frozen pie crusts at their shop and at Cronig’s Markets, along with fully baked pies.
Pies are the highlight of Thanksgiving baking, but in a few days, the leftover turkey will be nothing but bones, and those pie plates will be licked clean. Once that late November feast has settled, the dedicated baker turns to cookies. At Pie Chicks, there’s a holiday grab bag that contains a baker’s dozen of cookie varieties, including a Mexican wedding cookie, a magic bar, a toffee bar, a frosted sugar cookie, an oatmeal cranberry cookie, a chocolate macaroon, a gingersnap, and almond biscotti. Kinsman has been making these bags of cookies for the past six years, and it’s a tradition already.
“I started the holiday grab bag because it was a way to connect with my roots, with my family,” Kinsman says. As a kid in Ohio, Christmas was a time when kids had unfettered access to dessert. “There was always a cookie platter,” Kinsman recalls. “Baking with Mom, there were all these cookies. You’d spend a whole day and a half with Mom, baking together. I don’t know if people do that anymore. We’re happy to provide the cookies, but when you do it yourself, it’s nice, that’s something special.”
Baking a full selection of holiday cookies takes time and energy, though, so sometimes it’s best to focus on one or two special recipes, and trade with friends. Part of the Pie Chicks Christmas party is a cookie swap among the people who work there. “Make one that you make really well, and call four different friends and do a swap, so you have a plate of different cookies,” Kinsman suggests. “I really like almond biscotti. That’s a really nice one, easy to pull off, and it makes a nice gift. You can do a lot with it. You can dip it in white chocolate, you can dip it in milk chocolate, you can add ginger.” (See below for the recipe.)
And there’s more: Holiday baking doesn’t end with pies and cookies. A Hungarian nut roll is another of Kinsman’s childhood favorites, and what’s Christmas without fruitcake? Despite tired old jokes, a real handcrafted fruitcake is well worth eating. “Our fruitcake has an eight-week cure time. It’s pretty boozy, and pretty great,” Kinsman says. The process starts in October when the Pie Chicks soak dried fruit in rum. After baking, the cakes are again soaked in a rum and sugar syrup to cure.
Another seasonal special is mincemeat pie. “We do make our own mincemeat, and it doesn’t have meat in it,” Kinsman says. “We use apple as the base, and it has a plethora of dried fruit and spices in it. I always say that my mincemeat tastes like Christmas.”
You can visit Pie Chicks at 395 State Road (down the hill and around back) in Vineyard Haven, or at piechicks.com.
⅓ cup butter
2 cups flour
⅔ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1½ cups slivered almonds (substitute hazelnuts, if preferred)
Beat butter on medium speed for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, eggs, baking powder, and vanilla. Slowly add remaining flour, using a wooden spoon if necessary (instead of the mixer), because dough will become stiff. Add in nuts.
Divide dough in half. Shape each portion into an 8-inch log, and place 3 to 4 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Flatten the logs until they are about 2 to 3 inches wide. Bake at 375° on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 20 to 25 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness (insert toothpick, and if it comes out clean, they are done!). Cool for one hour.
With a serrated knife, cut each of the logs on the diagonal, making ½-inch-thick slices. Lay the slices on their side. Bake again in a 350° oven for about 8 minutes until dry and crisp.
If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate, or dip half of each slice in melted chocolate. Let chocolate set up at room temperature, or stick into the freezer for 10 minutes to quick-set the chocolate.