By Eileen Finan Lesley Messer Kay West Deborah Evans Price
December 16, 2009 12:00 PM

“Baking is my zen escape,” says Branch.

MICHELLE BRANCH & DAUGHTER OWEN

Just how much does Michelle Branch love pie? “I was thinking of tattooing the crust recipe on my arm,” she laughs. This treat is a combo of a Gourmet crust recipe and a filling from New York City’s Buttercup Bake Shop, which Branch whips up with the help of daughter Owen, 4, sometimes tweaking the taste with different fruit butters (a purple sweet-potato butter will turn the filling pink!). “You can’t go wrong with apple pie,” says Branch, who wants to open a bakery in Nashville someday. “If you eat it for breakfast with ice cream, you’ve got your fruit and dairy for the day!”

APPLE BUTTER APPLE PIE

Makes: 1 (9-inch) pie

Hands-on time: 35 min.

Total time: 2 hrs., 10 min.

½ cup sugar

1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon Pinch of ground nutmeg

4½ cups peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples (about 4 large apples)

¼ cup apple butter

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Combine first four ingredients; sprinkle over apples and toss gently. Stir in apple butter and lemon juice.

3. Spoon apple mixture into prepared pastry. Sprinkle Crumb Topping over apple mixture, covering completely.

4. Bake 10 minutes at 425°. Reduce temperature to 350° and bake 25 to 35 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack 30 minutes.

Pastry for 9-inch pie:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, chilled

2½ to 3 tablespoons ice water

1. Pulse first three ingredients in a food processor three or four times or until combined.

2. Add butter and pulse five or six times or until crumbly. With processor running, gradually add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process until dough forms a ball and leaves sides of bowl, adding more water if necessary. Cover and chill 30 minutes.

3. Roll pastry to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Place in a 9-inch pie plate; trim off excess pastry along edges. Fold edges under and crimp.

Crumb Topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup uncooked regular oats

2/3 cup light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor three or four times or just until crumbly.

Note: Substitute other fruit butters for apple butter if desired.

“I also make small loaves and give them as gifts,” says Debbie.

CHUCK WICKS & MOM DEBBIE

Growing up in Delaware, singer Chuck Wicks always looked forward to the vanilla cake his mother, Debbie, baked each Christmas Eve. “It was a birthday cake for Baby Jesus,” she says. He nods: “Seeing the cakes every year, it sunk in that Christmas is about Jesus.” But once Chuck and his brother Johnny grew up, the recipe changed. “This is definitely a grown-up cake,” laughs Debbie. “There’s a lot of amaretto, but people love it.” Her son agrees. “When I come home, this is what I look forward to,” he says, adding that it makes for a great Christmas Day breakfast too. “There’s nothing like starting the day off with a little holiday buzz!”

AMARETTO CAKE

Makes: 1 (10-inch) cake

Hands-on time: 20 min.

Total time: 9 hrs., 40 min.

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 (18¼-oz.) package yellow cake mix

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup amaretto

3 large eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Garnish: toasted chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 320°. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan; sprinkle walnuts in bottom of pan.

2. Combine cake mix and flour; prepare cake according to package directions, substituting 1 cup amaretto for suggested amount of water. Pour batter into prepared pan.

3. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely.

4. Punch holes in top of cake with a long wooden pick; slowly spoon glaze on top of cake, allowing cake to absorb glaze. Cool completely; cover cake and let stand overnight before serving. Garnish, if desired, with toasted chopped walnuts.

Glaze:

½ cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup amaretto

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 15 minutes.

Note: Toast walnuts on baking sheet at 350° for 8 minutes, or until golden.

“Cooking is how my grandmother and I bonded,” says Hillary.

HILLARY SCOTT, MOM LINDA DAVIS & GRANDMA ROSE

Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott knows what you’re thinking–and she’s ready to prove you wrong. “A recipe with the word ‘fruitcake’ in it can be delicious,” she insists. “These are absolutely amazing. We’re reviving the fruitcake!” As a child, Scott baked these cookies with her grandma Rose, and now mom Linda Davis helps too. “Talking around the table with coffee and cookies is important to our family,” says Scott, who is working on the band’s next album. “It’s a huge part of how I was raised.”

FRUITCAKE COOKIES

Makes: 6 dozen

Hands-on time: 45 min.

Total time: 4 hrs.

3½ cups pecans, chopped

1 cup candied cherries, chopped

1 cup candied pineapple, chopped

1 cup dates, chopped

1 cup raisins

1½ cups self-rising flour

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup butter, softened

½ cup light brown sugar

2 medium eggs

¼ cup sherry*

½ cup milk

2 to 3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine flour and cinnamon; spoon ½ cup flour mixture over fruit, tossing to coat.

3. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until soft and creamy; gradually add brown sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until blended.

4. Combine sherry, milk and vanilla; add to butter mixture alternately with flour mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition.

5. Stir fruit mixture into batter.

6. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto lightly greased cookie sheets; bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

*¼ cup milk may be substituted.

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