Tools and Tips

  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Breville Immersion Blender Review

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    Sur La Table sent me this product to do a review on. This is the Breville immersion blender. Can I tell you I was a bit nervous about it? You all know how much I shop at and love Sur La Table and I was thrilled to have them send me a product to review. But… what if I didn’t like the way it performed? If there is one thing you can count on with me… it is honesty. I believe in complete honesty and I would and will always tell you the truth! I have tried many different immersion blenders and have not liked any of them. Except for my “un- fancy”, SO not ” high end” Braun immersion blender. 

    Immersion blenders are so convenient and easy to use. But I found many of them splattered and disappointed me with their performance. Why oh why did Sur La Table choose an immersion blender for me to review? I was not optimistic about it as you can tell. But put it to the test I did.

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    I started with the most often dish I use it for. Soup! Taking soup and pouring it into a blender to puree it is such a pain. A good immersion blender can do the job with much more ease and less mess. 

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    Well people… my worries were over. This way out-performed my beloved Braun immersion blender! It was powerful, quiet, didn’t splatter and pureed the soup like a dream! It certainly passed the first test!

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    On to chopping and crushing. It comes with this container equipped with a rotating blade and attachment. 

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    Perfection. I was able to control the blender easily get the nuts to the size I wanted.

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    Now on to the harder task. If you look back on past recipes, I made White Chocolate Peppermint Dipping Sticks. An important part of that recipe includes finely crushed candy canes. I have only used my food processor for that hard task. As it has a very sharp blade and powerful motor. The rotating blade that comes with this piece is not as sharp. I seriously had my doubts about this one.

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    And away we go!

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    Look at that! As fine as I could ever want it! The best part? It was effortless! Boy oh boy… this baby has passed the test with flying colors! And this is SO much easier to clean than all the parts on my beloved food processor. Double win!

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    On to salad dressing. You all know how much I make salad dressing!

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    Not only was it a snap, but you can store your salad dressing in the same container you blended it in (Obviously I make more than this small amount of dressing. This was just a sample amount for this test) . It comes with a lid that has a tight seal. Now that’s convenience for you! I guess I was so surprised and happy with this amazing blender that I forgot to use the whipping attachment. I am out of town as I write this so I am not able to put that to the test, but I am 99.9% sure that it too will pass with flying colors! Egg whites, whipping cream, frosting….. you name it! 

    So, my honest opinion? GO GET THIS IMMERSION BLENDER NOW! That endorsement is the honest truth! Oh… and thank you Sur La Table for an amazing kitchen tool that will make my life so much easier in the kitchen!

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  • Tools and Tip of the Week- Melting Chocolate in the Microwave

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    I know many of you get frustrated when you have to melt chocolate for a recipe. I am going to let you in on a big secret and make your life easier! 99.9% of the time, I melt chocolate in the microwave. Yup… the microwave. I know most of you have tries this and have had epic failures, but let me teach you my ways.

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    Let’s start with the easiest chocolate. This is Ghiradelli’s baking bar. It melts like a dream. I take the square and break them in quarters with my fingers. It’s a snap… I promise! 

    IMG_8235Place your chocolate (this is 1 1/2 bars) in the microwave in a microwavable bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. I then heated it for three more 30 second intervals. 

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    This is what it looks like after the melting time. I just gave it a 2 second stir to smooth it out. That was a snap!

    IMG_7674Now for the trickier fellows. These are Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1/2 cup). This is what they look like right out of the bag. I used the same cooking time as the broken up baking chocolate bar. 1 minute, then three 30 second intervals on high.

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    This is what they look like after the cooking time. I am pretty sure this is where you have taken the wrong turn. I am sure you have thought they should look like melted chocolate at this point. Instead they look the same, except they are shiny and glistening now. If I were to cook them any longer, they would burn. EPIC fail. 

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    The key is the shiny, glistening look. Take your spatula or spoon and lightly touch them. They should instantly melt to the touch. 

    IMG_7681This is what it looks like after a quick 2 second stir. PERFECT! The key is to first start out with a 1 minute high setting. After that, only cook in 30 second intervals and check to see if the chocolate is glistening or melted (If you are using a baking bar). Once they look the way I said, give it a quick stir. How simple is that! No more pulling out the double boiler and taking forever to melt your chocolate. Does this mean more chocolate desserts for your upcoming year? I hope so and I am sure your family does too! 

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  • Tuesday’s Tools and Tips- Bar Keepers Friend

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    Oh my…. I just realized I haven’t been posting my “Tuesday Tools and Tips” this month! I guess I have been busy with a lot of other things, but no worries.. I am hopefully back in the routine! 

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    My tip for the week is this amazing cleaner Bar Keepers Friend. For those of you that have been in my kitchen, you have seen my big collection of All Clad pots and pans hanging from my big rack. People always ask me how I keep them clean. You know I use them all A LOT! Yes, there are times when I wonder if I will ever be able to get a certain pot or pan clean again. Well my friends, they are not stained black because of this amazing product! It is seriously like magic! It can get anything out of my pans and they end up perfectly clean again. I always recommend non stick pots and pans to anyone looking to invest in a nice collection (Why… that is for another post). With Bar Keepers Friend, you don’t have to stress about keeping your stainless steel pots and pans clean. I buy my cans at my local grocery store or Target. Easy to find and so inexpensive! If you haven’t discovered this product yet, run out and get some. You can thank me later!

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  • Top 10 Culinary Gift Wish List

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    You all asked for it, so here you go!  (Make sure to show this to your significant other or Santa may not get the memo!) Click on the pictures to link to the retailers website where I purchased my products.

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    1. Roul ‘Pat mat. Trust me on this one. This silicone mat is a must for rolling out any type of dough (cookies, rolls, bread, pies, etc…). It makes rolling out dough a snap and is also a snap to clean up. I don’t know what I would do without mine! And the size is awesome…larger than any cutting board you can find. Another bonus… storage. Just roll it up and tuck it away! 

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    2. A really good quality knife. Everyone needs at least one really good knife. You will be so happy you invested in it after you use it the first time. The one pictured above is the one I love and use. It is the Miyabi Artisan SGR2 Collection Chefs knife. I love mine so much I bought another one just like it! I would pick one that feels good in your hand. There are many different brands you should try. Make sure they let you cut something with it in the store so you can give it a test run. The stores usually have a variety of vegetables and fruits you can cut to try the knives out. 

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    3. Start a collection of simple and classic, white ceramic serving ware. They work with both casual and elegant gatherings. Everyone in my classes are always asking where I get mine from. The best part… the price! So affordable!

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    4. This simple little tool is one of my favorites in my kitchen! Whether you are finely grating some parmesan cheese, fresh garlic, chocolate shavings or zesting some lemon rind, this will make it seem practically effortless. It hardly takes up any storage, cleans in less than a minute and is just plain perfect! I am sure anyone would be excited to find this in their stocking. 

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    5. All Clad pot or pan. You can start by investing in one piece at a time, or if you are looking to splurge, buy a set! If  you really want to splurge, I highly recommend the copper core (pictured above). If not, the stainless steel is wonderful and is what I have. Although I am slowly investing in copper pieces because I love the performance of the copper pans so much. These will last you practically forever. And forever is a pretty good investment if you ask me!

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    6. Baking Steel. Just yesterday, I posted a review on this amazing product and you can go back to read it here to find out why I love and recommend this so much. This is another “last forever”investment.

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    7. This is probably the number one product I get asked about. What kind of food processor do I have and use. For those of you that have attended my classes, you know how much I use and rely on this incredible machine! Once you get one, you will wonder how you ever got a long without one. It definitely makes making so many things SO much easier and SO much faster! You will probably get a big hug and kiss after this gift is opened! (I recommend the 14 cup. The others are too small of a capacity to give you the versatility you need.)

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    8. This is an Emile Henry Artisan Pie dish and it is simply amazing. How can a pie dish be amazing you ask? The process to make this is what makes it so amazing. It can go from the freezer straight into the oven. Most ceramic dishes would crack from the drastic temperature change, but not this one. And the result of the crust…. wow…. perfection. LOVE!

    41ROW1GSYNL._SX425_9. This Bosch Universal Stand Mixer is definitely the most used, abused, loved and cherished appliance in my kitchen! There are no words to adequately express how much I love and endorse this mixer! Does it ever overheat from too much use (believe me.. I have put it through the most strenuous of tests!)? Never! This is a workhorse like I have never seen before. I hear from some of you that have inherited their grandmothers Bosch mixer that it still works perfectly. Now that is quality people! If your loved one finds this under the tree, you are sure to hear big squeals of excitement and joy. And when you bite into all the incredible creations made from this amazing machine, you too will be squealing with joy. Your whole household will be doing the happy dance!

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    10. Of course this wish list would not be complete without recommending gift certificates to my classes… Jenny Evans Gatherings. Not only will you and/or your loved one learn to make the most use of the items above, but you will come away inspired and knowing how to make amazing new dishes! I hear from many of you that you call my classes a dinner and show. I take that to mean they are a lot of fun! You can email me or leave a comment in the comment box and I can contact you about my cooking class gift certificates. 

    Happy holidays my friends! XO

    Jenny

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  • Baking Stone Versus Baking Steel

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    img1cI have used baking stones for years. I actually have two… one I use strictly for breads and the other for pizzas, calzones and crostatas. They worked wonderful and I was happy with the end result of my bread and crusts of my pizza. There was one problem. If my pizza happened to ooze out some of the cheese onto the stone, the oils from the cheese would forever make my stone smoke. When I say smoke, I mean toxic, super nasty smelling smoke. My house would smell like the nasty smoke for at least the day after as well. And to make matters worst, once you get oil or grease on your stone, it is impossible to get it out. So I would eventually have to throw out my $50.00 baking stone and replace it with a new one. Now you know why I have one I only use for baking breads!

    Well, one day when I was in Sur La Table (click on picture for link), I saw this…..

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    They came out with a baking steel. This immediately piqued my curiousity! It was supposed to perform better and guess what? If cheese or anything else greasy got on the steel there wouldn’t be any damage to the steel or nasty smoke! This baking steel costs $79.95 but I thought, “it will last forever” so I had to buy it and give it a try. First of all, the steel is about one third of the thickness of the stone so it takes up much less space, but is not as large as the stone I used and is much heavier than the stone. 

    I decided to make some loaves of my french bread and take the steel out for a test run. The directions say to preheat the steel first for 45 minutes. Really?! I would never preheat my oven for 45 minutes.. let’s get real here. So I preheated my oven for the usual 10-15 minutes and slid the bread onto the very hot steel. 

    The result? Because the steel gets much hotter than the stone, the baking time was shorter by about 4 minutes (what would normally take 20 minutes, took 16 minutes) and the crust of the bread was even crustier… in a very good way. I was sold immediately! The steel will turn your regular oven as close to a brick pizza oven as is possible. You will notice the difference! 

    Another benefit… you can chill the steel and serve cold items on it that you want to stay chilled. It comes pre seasoned, so all I do is wipe it off with a dry kitchen towel (once it has cooled off) and put it away ( you can also keep it in your oven). 

    In the long run, I will save money with this baking steel and get much better results from the food and bread I bake on it. Win/ win!

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  • Tools and Tips- When To Prepare Your Pies

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    You know how it goes… trying to prepare a thanksgiving feast in one day?! You fret about getting it all done. You have scheduled the exact time you need to put your turkey in the oven, boil the potatoes, start the gravy, and on and on and on. You are on a tight schedule when  you know a large group is coming over for the feast at (insert time here)! 

    You got to love the dishes and pies you can prepare ahead of time. But how many days in advance can I bake that pumpkin, apple, coconut cream, etc… pie and still have it taste and look amazing?

    I hope these tips will help ease your mind and schedule!

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    Lets start with my Hawaiian Inspired Pumpkin pie. If you are making this or any pumpkin pie, you can make it up to three days in advance. Be sure to cover the top of the pie with foil to prevent the pie from drying out and store it in the refrigerator. This particular pie keeps well the longest.

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    If you are making a cheesecake, I would keep it in the springform pan it was baked in and refrigerate. You can do this up to two days in advance. I wouldn’t take it out of the springform pan until the morning of the big day. Of course, keep any fruit toppings in a separate container. You can top the whole cheesecake the morning of and put it back in the refrigerator or top the slice just before slicing.

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    For fruit filled pies such as apple and berry I recommend you baking them one day before. I like them best when they are not baked more than one day before eating it.  The fruit starts to release juices and the bottom crust gets soggy. I actually like my apple or berry pie better on the second day! These also do not need to be kept in the refrigerator, 

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    For pecan pies, you can bake these two days in advance. You don’t need to store pecan pies in the refrigerator. Yay…. we need refrigerator space for all the other food! Make sure you wrap plastic wrap over all the pies to keep them fresh. 

    If you did your math, that means you can make your cheesecake and pumpkin pies today! So nice to get a jump start on things and as a bonus… your house will smell wonderful. A prelude to the big day and meal! Your family will be counting the minutes until they can dig into your delicious creations they have been smelling for days. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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  • Tools and Tips, Pie Tutorial #5

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    Today’s tips will be help you bake pies without burning or ending up with an overly baked outer crust. How is it done you ask? 

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    There are two ways  you can shield your crust from overexposure of heat while baking. The first is to buy one of these pie shields. They really are great, but they are a one size only and in this case…. one size does not fit all. What to do?

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    Here is where simple foil comes to the rescue. I cut them into 2 inch thick strips. 

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    Carefully wrap the strips of foil around the crust. Be careful you don’t mar the crust in the process. A light touch is best. 

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    Go all around the  pie making sure not to leave any exposed parts. No pie flashing!

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    Usually I have filling in my pie at this point. Make sure to keep the foil off the filling or it will bake into it and stick to the pie. It is not pretty to rip off.  Remove the foil around five minutes before the pie is finished baking to ensure a nice golden crust. And there you have it! Are you just itching to make a pie? I hope you give it a try this Thanksgiving. It will be a snap with my tips!

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  • Pie Tutorial #4- Blind Baking How’s and Why

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    What is blind baking? And why and when do you need to blind bake? Blind baking is pre-baking the pie shell when you are going to either fill the pie with a filling you are not going to cook or a filling that is not going to bake as long as the crust takes. I also blind bake for a shorter period if I want to partially bake my pie shell to prevent the crust from getting soggy from the filling. I do this in my Hawaiian Inspired Pumpkin Pie recipe. 

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    There are two ways I blind bake. The first is the simplest. With the tines of a fork, I poke holes on the bottom and sides of the pie shell. This prevents the pie crust from bubbling up when baking. This is a one step process. Then I bake the pie shell at 400 F for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden.

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    The second way is a two step process. First, you gently line the pie shell with some foil or parchment paper letting the foil or paper hang over the edges of the pie. 

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    Next, you fill the pie with either pie weights (like I have here. Mine are ceramic and keep forever), or you can fill the pie with beans or rice to weigh down the shell to prevent bubbling.

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    Here is the pie after it has baked. The next step is to remove the foil or parchment paper with the filling and bake the pie shell (first poke the bottom and sides of the pie shell with the tines of a fork) for an additional 5 minutes to finish off the baking. If you only bake with the foil and weights, the bottom of the crust will be a bit soggy. That’s it folks! Pretty simple but makes a huge difference in the outcome of your pie. Now fill this beauty with some pumpkin or cream pie goodness!

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  • Pie Tutorial 3- How to Prevent Pie Crust from Shrinking

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    Have any of you made the effort to make a beautiful pie crust (this includes store bought pie dough as well), flute the edges beautifully and bake it to find the pie shell has shrunken down the sides of the pie dish? Your pie just went from beautiful to deformed… ugh! And for the life of you, you cannot figure out how to not make it do that! In my beginning pie making days, that would frustrate me so bad. I would try different pie dishes, covering the dough with foil, pie weights… everything but the one thing that works. I have even seen other bloggers make would be beautiful pies that had the sides shrunken down on a particular side. I would think…”Don’t they know the trick?!” They should know if they are going to “blog teach” others how to make a beautiful pie!

    Well my friends, your frustrating pie shell shrinking days are over… hurrah! Let’s go through the very simple steps.

    IMG_3420After you carefully placed your pie crust in your pie dish (For tips look at pie tutorial 1), make sure it is down in the dish very well and trim your crust one inch longer than the edge of the pie dish. 

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    Take the excess crust that was hanging over and fold it under all around the edge of the pie dish. 

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    Go around the whole edge of the pie crust and press the edges together to seal the dough being careful not to press it too thin. No one likes a thin pie crust now do they?

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    Now you can flute the edges of the pie crust. This is how I like to do it (I press my thumb into the dough with my other thumb and index finger lightly pressing the dough around my thumb). Others like to use their index finger instead of their thumb, starting from inside the pie (the opposite direction of what I am doing). Find what feels comfortable for you. Or you can use decorative cut outs to lay around the edge of the whole pie. You can also go the easy route and press the edges down with the times of a fork. Those are the simplest techniques. *If you are making a pie with a top crust, you don’t need to flute the edges of your pie.

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    There you go… a finished fluted pie shell.

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    The final step is the most crucial of all! You must chill your pie shell (in your pie dish) in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Of course, you can chill it for longer. I suggest you lightly wrap it with plastic wrap if you plan on chilling it longer than a few hours to prevent the dough from drying out. If you go the 30 minute route, there is no need to cover the shell. That’s it! I promise you that you will no longer suffer from pie shell shrinkage if you follow these steps. Now, no skimping on the pie chilling time! Next week I will go over blind baking techniques. Your pies are going to look amazing this year!

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  • Pie Tutorial 2- Decorative Pie Cut Outs

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    IMG_2974Do you want to make your pies stand out? Decorate them with pie crust cut outs to make them even more beautiful. I will walk you through the steps on how to do these.

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    You know the extra dough you are left with after you make your pie shell? Don’t throw them out! It takes just a minute to make something awesome with it for your pie. 

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    Roll out your dough on a well floured surface. You don’t have to flour the top of the dough. And you can roll it out into whatever shape works best for you. 

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    For the Hawaiian Style Pumpkin Pie, I used a mini pumpkin cookie cutter to make little cut outs for the pie. I have a few different sets of these mini cookie cutters I have purchased from Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma. They come in a variety  of shapes. Flowers, animals, fruits, leaves, etc… I don’t use them for mini cookies, I use them for my pies. 

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    Roll your dough out to about 1/4 inch thick and cut out whatever shape you are using. Before I bought these mini cookie cutters, I used to cut out leaves with a knife free hand. That is also easy to do. Just another idea. 

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    Cut out as many as you can. You can roll out the dough again to cut out some more if you need to. 

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    I always have a parchment topped plate nearby that I can place the freshly cut out pieces on. After you have cut them all out, place your plate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to ensure the pieces of dough will not shrink in size when you bake them. 

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    After you have chilled them for at least 30 minutes, slide the parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Place them in a 400 F preheated oven for 12 minutes or until they are a light golden brown.

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    I let the pieces cool and if I am not serving the pie right away, I keep them in a ziploc bag until I am ready to use them. I never place them on my pie until I am ready to serve the pie so they don’t get soggy. You can either decorate the top of the pie (which is usually what I like to do) so your pie has a beautiful presentation. 

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    Or you can place them on individual pieces of pie right before serving them so everyone gets a decorative cut out on their own piece of pie. Your guests will notice the extra mile you went and it will be our little secret that that extra mile was actually a “piece of cake” easy! I hope you give this a try on your pie or pies this Thanksgiving. Trust me…. your friends and family will think you are Martha Stewart talented!

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