Easy as Apple Pie

Duxbury’s Mix it Up Kitchen offers hands-on cooking classes for all ages

By Maria Allen | Photography by Jack Foley

Inside a sunlit storefront in Duxbury’s Depot Square, a small group of 11- and 12-year-olds gathers around a stainless steel kitchen island and sets to work preparing the perfect pie crust from scratch. Like a youthful cast of the Great British Baking Show, the kids take turns sifting flour into large mixing bowls and incorporating bits of chilled butter using pastry cutters.

“When you’re preparing pastry, it’s important that the ingredients stay cool,” says instructor Sarah Leahey-Benjamin, showing the students how to work the dough using only their fingertips to avoid warming the dough with the palms of their hands.

For Duxbury resident Cheryl Farhat, the owner of Mix it Up Kitchen, being able to share the joy of cooking and baking with members of the South Shore community is a dream come true. Previously employed in marketing, Farhat always had a passion for food.

“When my friends were reading Glamour, I was reading Gourmet,” says Farhat.

As a parent, Farhat enjoyed watching her daughter and son learn to read recipes and measure out ingredients and she imagined that there were bound to be more local kids who were hungry for cooking lessons. Three years ago, she decided to rent a local kitchen space and host a holiday cookie workshop. The class was an immediate hit and before long Farhat found herself leading after-school cooking classes and dreaming of trading her desk job for an apron and spatula.

Inspired by her husband’s decision to go back to school to become an architect, Farhat eventually decided to embark on her own career change. When an office space opened up in the downtown, just a short distance from her home, it seemed that the stars had aligned. “I didn’t know anything about opening a kitchen,” says Farhat, who consulted with other area business owners for advice and enlisted her husband to renovate the space, which was previously a law office. “At one point we realized that there was no plumbing in the building, which we were not expecting, but it all came together in the end.”

Opened in March of 2016, Mix it Up Kitchen is designed to suit culinary students of all ages. There are sleek white cabinets, cute containers of miniature rolling pins and colorful aprons hung at kid-height, while an attractive 14-foot-long butcher block table welcomes guests to partake in communal dining experiences.

Farhat and her team of skilled chefs offer a wide range of cooking classes, from single-day workshops to week-long restaurant camps that teach kids all the ins and outs of working at a restaurant, from baking focaccia bread to folding napkins and serving guests. Classes for kids are age-appropriate and encourage fun in the kitchen. For the adults, there are more elaborate cooking classes focused on healthy eating and regional cuisines. The kitchen can be booked for private events like birthday parties, corporate outings and girls’ nights.

While Farhat leads many of the kid classes, she employs several experienced culinary instructors who offer more specialized classes. Leahey-Benjamin, for example, is a seasoned pastry chef, culinary arts instructor and cookbook author who lives in Duxbury and teaches everything from Spanish to Pan Asian cuisine at Mix it Up Kitchen. She also makes an amazing apple pie (see recipe).

“Cooking gives kids confidence,” says Farhat. “And it inspires people to try new foods so they’re not beholden to the takeout menu.”

From Halloween cupcake wars to comfort food date nights, there’s something to please every palate.


Apple Pie with Pecans and Buttermilk Pastry

Recipe by Sarah Leahey-Benjamin
Makes one 9-inch pie, Serves 8

PASTRY
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and frozen
½ cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening
½ cup cold buttermilk, well-shaken

FILLING
5-6 large apples (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored and sliced (I like a mixture of Cortland, Macon, honeycrisp and granny smith)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

FINISHING
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 scant cup pecans, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons granulated or Demerara sugar

For the Pastry:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and shortening and pulse until incorporated, leaving pieces no larger than the size of a pea. (Alternatively, put the flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.) Using only the tips of your fingers, rub the butter and shortening into the flour. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With machine running on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk. Process until dough just starts to stick together. Finish by hand, firmly pressing dough together to incorporate wet and dry ingredients. Divide dough in half and transfer each section to a separate piece of plastic wrap. Form each section of dough into a disk and wrap well. Chill until dough is firm.

For the Filling:
Toss apples with lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, and salt; toss to combine. Gently stir in the vanilla and heavy cream. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat and add the apple mixture. Cook the mixture for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should thicken and the apples should be soft when pierced with a knife but still retain their shape. Scrape the mixture onto a baking tray and allow it to cool completely.

To Finish:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out one disk of pastry on a lightly floured work surface until it becomes a 12-inch circle. Using your rolling pin, wrap the dough around the rolling pin to lift if off the work surface and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Gently unroll the dough over the pie plate, lifting the sides of the pastry and pressing into the plate so the dough fits snuggly. Combine flour, sugar and pecans in a small bowl. Sprinkle this mixture over the base of the pastry. Place pie pan in the refrigerator while you roll out the remaining piece of dough into a circle.

2. Fill the dough-lined pie plate with the apple mixture and top with the 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces. Brush the edges of the dough with beaten egg to moisten. Top with the second round of pastry and press the edges to adhere. Trim the edges of the pastry to a ½-inch overhang and crimp, as desired. Brush the top of the pie with more beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Using kitchen scissors, snip four 2-3 inch holes in a cross formation for air vents. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.

3. Transfer the pie to a preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Without opening the oven door, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Let the pie cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4. *The pecan filling in this recipe is optional, but does add a lovely richness to the filling. Par-cooking the apple mixture prior to baking the pie helps to concentrate the juice from the apples and aids in the baking of a smooth pastry top with plenty of sweet, cooked apple filling underneath.


TIPS AND TRICKS

1. Keep your dough cold.
I probably could say this 100 times and I couldn’t emphasize this strongly enough. Especially in summer and early autumn when temperatures are high and air conditioning units nearly at a breaking point. Baby your dough and after each step, give it time to relax and chill–literally. If you stretch the dough and don’t’ give it time to ‘relax’ it will shrink during cooking. If you don’t let the dough ‘chill’ the butter and flour will blend to form a crumbly dough rather than a flaky one. To go one better, chill all of the ingredients thoroughly before you start, including the flour. I actually keep my flour in the freezer just for this purpose.

2. Bake the pie on the lowest rack to prevent a soggy bottom.
It is even better when baked on a preheated baking stone or a baking sheet. If you use a glass Pyrex pie plate you can see when the bottom gets brown and then raise the pie up to the middle shelf, if needed.

3. Apple pie is ideal to make ahead and freeze uncooked.
If baked directly from the freezer the bottom crust has a chance to start baking before the juicy apples thaw and exude all that lovely juice. Although to ensure a crisp bottom you must add 20-25 minutes to the cooking time depending on the amount of filling. Also, keep an eye out for over-browning on top. If this starts to happen, gently place a piece of foil on top of the pie during cooking.

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