The Crown Cream Puffs

Chickens1I love making cream puffs – they seem to have a great balance between the rich, custardy filling and the choux casing. Also, I believe I have an edge in the game: since I keep chickens, I tend to have extremely fresh, yummy eggs to use in this recipe where both components rely so heavily on that ingredient.

My message today, though, is that you don’t have to stick to just the normal, round choux bun.

With the Jewish holiday of Purim* coming, I chose to pipe my choux buns into the shape of crowns for an evening at our synagogue.  It took one or two passes to settle on the right piping approach.

I first thought I would just make little spikes arrayed like a crown (with the star tip), but it wasn’t working for me, so settled on a pretty reliable way the make a horizontal stroke and then essentially go back over that with a “U” shape to create the two side points and then loop back to the middle to create the center point of the crown. Ergonomically, it also wound up being easy to get into the rhythm and crank them out.

Whatever your reason, feel free to have fun with your choux!

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*Philosophically, since the Purim story highlights a frightened Queen Esther hiding her Jewish identity, profiteroles are kind of a perfect dessert – who would guess, upon first looking at them, that these little bready-buns hold such wondrous, velvety pastry cream inside?
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Improvised Blackboard

I love it when different things I like come together in new and useful ways. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to capture to-do’s and design ideas so I noticed my gleaming, black appliances and something else I’ve been enjoying over the few years.

DryEraseI first discovered dry-erase, washable crayons for my kiddo, but quickly realized there were lots of other uses, though these in particular are best on dark surfaces.

When we started outfitting the kitchen at the new place, I got my first ever double wall oven (and have come to agree with my auntie before me who says it’s possibly the best kitchen design decision she’s ever made).

Since we chose the black finish, the other thing I’ve realized this gives me is a lot of blank space at eye/chest level that’s optimum for capturing notes. With the dry-erase crayons, clean-up and edits are super easy.

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When the friend for whom I was designing this pie would visit, I simply hung a dish towel from the oven handle.

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Heart-ier Palmiers

HeartPalmiers1I wanted a pretty and snackable pastry that could show a little love for my guys. With only minor tweaking, the classic palmier, or elephant ear, can be coaxed into a heart shape and livened-up with raspberry jam.

(Too much raspberry jam, here, made my baking sheet look like a bit of a crime scene.)

In this case, I made my own puff pastry from scratch (not to show off*) because I wanted to practice the skill. However, if you bought ready-made puff pastry this can be one of those rare things that’s easy, awesome-looking and super tasty.

A Triple Threat

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The heart shape became much more rounded in the bake, but still fetching

 

 

*Totally showing off
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Viking Pie/Cake

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On the occasion of a dear friend’s birthday, I got to have a lot of fun making something less traditional. She’s a huge scholar of Viking culture and a culinary anthropologist. One of her very favorite desserts is lemon meringue pie, so I wanted to make it a little more complex and do something clever with the style.

I went with a sablé crust for the hull, sail and shields.

To make things only slightly more complex, the bottom layer is an Italian ricotta pie with the lemon curd and meringue on top of that.

The ricotta pie was a serendipitous choice. Because it takes a bit longer than a lemon tart to bake, I was able to bake it up to the point where it was set, and then layer on the lemon curd and continue baking until both were done. The made construction much more seamless (literally, really).

Using the super stiff Italian meringue (which I’ve really come to love) I was able to pipe it so that it looked like a little army was riding in the ship, with their spikey, little helmets.

Sablé details like the figurehead, shields and mast/sail were attached with royal icing, which blended well with the meringue to look pretty visually consistent.

Since meringue is to be toasted, and since it was a Viking ship, the obvious choice was to flambé it. Why blow out candles when you can blow out your cake?

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Cakethulhu!

CakethulhuI don’t often serve cake for just regular dinner parties, so I had a lot of fun preparing this for a small gathering of friends.

This is a three layer, seven inch red velvet (dark purple velvet, technically, because I can’t ever leave well enough alone).

I kind of love the versatility of the plain, round decorating tip. Since my friends and I are a bunch of off-beat geeks, I pulled out tentacles using a larger, round tip with purple striping to evoke Cthulhu.

 

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Deep Fried Broccoli – Shockingly Good

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OK, so maybe this is where the “eight crazy nights” part makes sense. How could something be quick, easy, simple and taste awesome?

As I was experimenting with deep frying things, I made a discovery that rocked my little world: I tossed in some frozen broccoli. After 30-60 seconds, it was all lightly-crisped deliciousness. I didn’t even feel the need to salt it.

Pictures and words cannot describe how yummy this was.

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Pictures and words cannot describe how yummy this was.

 

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A Shortcake in Winter

I’m getting the Valentine’s bug here and have been taking the opportunity to indulge in all things heart-shaped and red. I wasn’t going to do a strawberry shortcake, but the spouse asked for it, and he almost never asks for anything.

I mean, strawberry shortcake is great; a firm, delightful confirmation of Summer’s arrival. But this is January, in the northern hemisphere, so it’s also a dream that’s been put to bed for another five months.

The spouse doesn’t share my sensitivity to or awareness of (not sure which) seasonal eating, so I decided to take it as a challenge: how do you keep true to the strawberry shortcake experience while working with sub-optimal options?

The berries were the only thing that needed a different approach, since shortcake and heavy cream don’t seem to be affected so much by the seasons. From my perspective, the berries, optimally, are just crushed fresh and allowed to macerate just a little with some sugar tossed in.

The two likeliest options I saw were in the produce and freezer departments. I’ll admit to being a snob about the strawberries in the produce department in January – I really don’t think they’d be as flavorful as I wanted – so I settled on frozen berries.

WinterStrwShortcakeWhile  I would normally go raw, the idea of raw/thawed frozen berries seemed unpleasant, so I elected to cook them a little on the stove with some sugar and a little bit of corn starch. I didn’t cook it nearly as long as I would for a sauce. I pretty much cooked it just until the strawberries started to break down and the color and consistency became more uniform.

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