Monday, June 13, 2011

Delights of the French

French Éclairs hold a special memory for me.  It was always nice to watch my mom's ecstatic smile as she peered upon my dad's bakery present.  She stared blissfully as soon as she saw the small pastry box that he presented to her with such loving care.  It was my mom's favorite treat, and dad knew it and relished her silent adoration that she gave for his timely thoughtfulness.  My mom cooked lots of sweet egg treats but she never did French for some reason.  I could guess it was because of the unusual ingredients that she hardly had in the pantry, or perhaps French just isn’t the country cooks forte.  Whichever, I fell in love with the 'French way' ever since I opened my first French cookbook.  While the foods looked good - the desserts looked positively decadent.  I had to try my hand at them, and éclairs by memory became first on my list.  Even though they are no easy-to-throw-together dessert, that has never stopped me yet.  It was so interesting and fun to watch as the soft billowy pastry flowed out the pastry bag into long pillows of dairy delight.  The vanilla filling is even more decadent, as the French are expert at custards of any type.  Maybe they invented them, I'm not sure, but the French and custard no doubt go hand in hand.  Now, I'd like to introduce to you the Cream Puff.  The éclairs smaller pastry sibling and miniature version of the no less heavenly egg delight.  Cream Puffs are the French  pastry all beginner cooks should start out with, moving to the more difficult éclairs as skill with a pastry bag develops.  To be sure, it is definitely one dessert that will pay off in the Oooo..'s and Ahhhh..'s that emit when merely gazed upon.  Their taste is out of this world light and creamy, topped with rich chocolate – well it is practically everything dessert lovers live for.  I promise, once you pop one in your mouth - you'll think you have died and gone to heaven - in France.  Now, try your own as my recipe follows

                                                     Cream Puffs

1 cup water
½ cup butter (softened)
1 cup self rising flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
French Custard (below)
Chocolate Glaze (below)

Grease large flat baking sheet; set aside.  Combine water and butter in a small saucepan; bring to a full boil over moderate heat.  Reduce heat to low.  While stirring vigorously, add flour all at once.  Stir constantly over low heat until mixture pulls away from pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat.  Continue beating for 2 minutes.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. (Electric mixer can be used) Beat until shiny and smooth.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Drop batter by tablespoons 2 inches apart, onto prepared baking sheet.  Bake 35-40 minutes, lowering heat by a few degrees if buttered sheet is smoking.  Bake until golden brown and puffs sound hollow when lightly tapped with finger tips.  Remove from oven.; immediately pierce each with the tip of a knife to allow steam to escape. Return to oven 5-7 minutes to dry out.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Slice off tops; gently remove any excess egg mixture from bottoms  with a spoon.  Fill with French Custard; replace tops.  Drizzle chocolate glaze onto tops with a pastry bag or a large plastic baggy with one corner tip snipped off.

                                               French Custard

1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon butter extract
1 pint of heavy cream, minus 3 tablespoons, whipped
¼ cup cream cheese, softened

Combine sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt in medium saucepan.  Gradually stir in milk.  Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until thick.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir small amount custard into egg yolk.  Return all to saucepan.  Cook and stir until custard just comes to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla and butter extract; let stand until cool. When cooled strain out lumps in a fine strainer; and beat in cream cheese until smooth and set aside.  Whip heavy cream until fluffy; fold into cooled custard mixture until well blended.   

                                           Chocolate Glaze

6 ounces semi sweet chocolate pieces
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons reserved heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Melt chocolate and butter in heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.  Add heavy cream and corn syrup.  Stir until smooth.  Remove from heat.  Let stand to cool slightly. Drizzle warm glaze in streams onto tops of filled puffs. Refrigerate any remaining puffs.

Makes 23-24 cream puffs

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Go Ahead - Crack a Few Nuts

   In the kitchen, as well as life a few nuts must be cracked.  Especially if we are to enjoy that delicious nutty flavor.  And everyone loves a cookie - right?  So, if you tire of your soufflé falling, and your cupcake's icing dripping, then relax a little and make some cookies.  The pecan sandy crossed with the coconut macaroon makes a nice combination.  It is just a tad tropical for those late Spring, early Summer snacks on the porch, enjoyed with a slight breeze and a cup of hot coffee or tea.  So, go ahead - get your Tropic on and make these little, mildly coconut delights, and I promise -- it will help you get in touch with your "nutty" side. 

                               Nutty Tropical Crisps

¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 egg
½ teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup vanilla chips
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups ground pecans
¼ cup ground almonds

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add corn syrup, egg, coconut, vanilla, and almond extracts; blend well.  Place vanilla chips in a small bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute; stir vigorously until smooth and blend into butter and sugar mixture.  In a separate bowl blend flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to vanilla mixture, blending well.  Refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is firm enough to handle.  Mix nuts together in a small bowl.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll dough into one inch balls and roll in nut mixture, pressing nuts into dough lightly.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake until golden brown around edges; 7-8 minutes for a soft cookie, and 8-9 for a crisper cookie.  Cool several minutes; remove from cookie sheet and cool completely. 

Optional vanilla chip glaze: In a small bowl, place 2/3 cup vanilla chips and 1½ teaspoons butter; microwave on high for 1 minute and stir until smooth. Drizzle over each cookie and let set.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

For the Love of Blackberries

Blackberries in the south bring to mind long hot Summer days of drinking iced sweet tea and cooling off under a large ceiling fan on a porch.  When a blackberry patch was discovered with those big, shiny berries, our mouths would water as we got as many hands together as we could find to help pick them.  With ice cream buckets in tow, we carefully meandered around the stickers to pick as many of those delicious slightly tart, delectably sweet berries as we could get our little purple stained fingers on.  As we walked home with our heavy loads it was very hard not to eat everyone of those addicting round morsels, but if enough were saved mom would make a hot, gooey cobbler or rich pie.  Here is my version of Blackberry Pie that I hope you will enjoy and maybe even add a dollop of ice cream on the side as we often delighted in. 

                                                   Blackberry Pie

Pastry for 2-crust pie
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
3 cups fresh blackberries or 14 ounce bag frozen blackberries, thawed and drained
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

   Line an 8-inch pie plate with pastry; trim overhang to 1/2 inch.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a small saucepan; blend well.  Stir in pomegranate juice and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in blackberries, butter, and lemon juice and cool slightly.  Pour filling into pie shell and cover with top crust.  Cut slits in top; seal and flute edge.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes.  Cool on wire rack. Serve warm.