Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Give thanks for Pumpkin Spice

'Tis the Season everyone! The season for what? Well, pumpkin spice of course! Now, aren't you just sick to death of all of the pumpkin spice? I mean, what -- it starts out on September 30th at 11:59 pm and then it's everywhere!  In your coffee -- check.  In your bread -- check.  In your Oreos?? Yup, there too.  Jeez, don't you think it's overkill??


ME NEITHER!!!! 😁😁😁

Hahahaha, what can I say, I love pumpkin spice -- which interestingly isn't even really a pumpkin flavor, but more of a cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, amalgamation of amazingness.

So for those of you, like me, who aim to cram this ubiquitous spice into everything possible, here's one of my favorite creations.

Pumpkin cake? Pshaw.

Pumpkin bread? Amateur hour.

Pumpkin Pie?  Come on -- think outside the box!! We're going to do a pumpkin cream puffs  -- in a wreath to make it even better -- and just in time for Thanksgiving.  Check it out -- and then try it out!

The most important thing about this dish is TIME.  It needs to be constructed in stages.  I can almost see some of you rolling your eyes already.  But wait -- this is a GOOD thing.  Because, for the most part, you can leave the oven alone on Thanksgiving day itself.  You know, to dedicate its efforts to the star of the night -- the turkey.  (Okay, come on, who am I kidding -- obviously this is going to be the star of the night.)  The first time I did this, I tried to do everything on one day.  I've been blessed with a double oven, which tends to give me a false impression of invincibility.  And that always gets me in the end.

So from then on, I split this recipe into 4 stages.  Marzipan fruit MUST be made in advance.  Again, I tried to do this the day of the first time, and wow -- what  a mistake.  Marzipan is a sticky dough, and after decorating with food color it becomes straight out wet.  Suffice it to say, the first time involved a lot of stress, down-right panic, a blow-dryer, and that God-sent double oven, and the paste still didn't dry properly.  Holidays are stressful enough -- make this at least a day, but preferably a weekend, in advance.

If you give yourself enough time, this is actually a lot of fun.  Kroger sells Marzipan in little 4 oz containers.  One is plenty for what you need to do.  Just like working with fondant, this really brings out your inner child.  (Flash-backs to play-doh, anyone?)

First make the shapes -- we're going to do a fruit wreath, so let's plan on mini- apples, pears, and pumpkins/squash.

To make the apples, roll out a small ball of dough and then softly "square" the sides with  your thumb and index finger. For the pumpkins, apply more pressure to the tops and bottoms, so they look more like a squashed ball (kind of like a pumpkin.) Using the flat end of a toothpick, carve lines from the top to the bottom.  Not too sharp, more like embossing onto the dough. For the pears, pinch the top of the ball and smooth so you have an elongated teardrop shape.  Push the ball of a clove into the top of each fruit so the stick is sticking out.

Set out four prep bowls.  Using a tablespoon of water or so as a base in each bowl, drop green color into the first bowl, red into the second,  yellow into the third, and a 3/1 mix of yellow to red in the fourth to make orange.  If you like bolder colors, lessen the water, and increase the food color. (Make sure you're using water based food coloring.)

Paint the fruit.  I don't think I need to spell this out, but green for the apples, yellow for the pears, orange for the pumpkins.  Then -- paint the apples again with some yellow and dab a little bit of red onto the side of all of the fruit to give them a little more depth.  Dry on parchment paper until no longer sticky, at least 24 hours. These can be stored for 2 weeks at room temp or frozen for up to 3 months.

Making the cream puff choux pastry and almond cookies is the flexible stage.  It can be done whenever you want, starting from a month in advance, all the way up to the morning before Thanksgiving.  (I advise making it waaaaayyy in advance -- as long as you're not tempted to eat the cream puffs before the holiday -- it can be tempting, I warn you.)

Puffs should be baked the night before Thanksgiving.  It will take no more than an hour, tops -- and most of that time is in the oven, so you're free to do whatever else needs done.  If you're like me -- this involves frantically searching for a place open late to buy more linen napkins.  (Because where do those go?? It's like my sock monster decided to develop more expensive taste for the holidays and attack the serving linens.) Now, I've published so many posts based off of cream puffs, that I'm going to skip all of the stuff about actually making the puffs. If you want a step by step tutorial, check out my Facebook video.

Slice a small hole at the bottom of each puff and set aside until a couple of hours before you're expecting guests.  Then fill with your lovely pumpkin spice pastry filling. What is that? Well, I'm so glad you asked -- because this is my fail-proof, go-to cream puff filling. Ready?

Whip 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 tsp vanilla extract until stiff.  While that's going, make 2 packets of vanilla Jello Instant Pudding (with whole milk.)  Fold the two together.  And to make it pumpkin spice perfection, just add 2 tsp of pumpkin spice seasoning into the heavy cream while whipping. 

For our purposes, you will need 24 baked and filled puffs.  Make sure you have a platter that's large enough.  I used a __ in round white porcelain and it worked beautifully.

Arrange the puffs in a ring, two deep.  Melt chocolate in a pastry bag and then drop into another pastry bag prepped with a small star tip. Pipe large irregular continuous circles around the top of the puffs so it looks like intertwined grapevine.  Then cluster the fruit along one corner of the wreath.  You can adhere the fruit to the wreath with melted chocolate, or melted sugar -- your choice.

And there you go -- so much better than that tired old pumpkin pie, right??

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Birthday CakeWalk (In PARIS!!)

For my birthday last year, I made myself a cake.  And my husband made me kouign amann.  It was amazing -- and much better than I probably could have done myself.  Which is my husband's curse, really.  He happens to do everything he tries (even for the first time) with total perfection and an off-handed manner which seems to say "oh that, was it supposed to be hard?"

We have different styles, he and I.  I sweat, and toil, and scream, and step precipitously within inches of total destruction of my project, my sanity, and my home, before things (sometimes) turn around at the last desperate moment.  He kind of just does things, and they work. (And our kitchen remains spotless.  Somehow.)

Like I said, it can be a curse.  In that when he attempts something, I end up turning over all future responsibility for that task to him (because he does it so well!)  For example -- just about 10 years ago, he made me this lasagna.  Life-changing lasagna.  That's what I should call it.  Because it was seriously the most (MOST) amazing lasagna I've ever had in my life.  So much so, that for the last decade, I've been asking for it again.  And he has been saying no.  (He says it takes too long -- for which I say, "Is 36 hours really too long for perfection?"  To which he says yes.)  So this year I got clever, and asked for it as my birthday treat -- because on your birthday, you get whatever you want! Right!? And, oh my God -- he agreed.  At first.  And then, randomly -- totally innocently, he asked me if I wouldn't like to celebrate my birthday in Paris. Yes everyone, he chose to take me to Paris just so he wouldn't have to make the frickin' lasagna.  (Because, really, is there a question in there? Paris!? Oui Oui!) He denies this whole dastardly plan by the way, but I have my doubts.  So when the thought first occurred to me -- (wait -- wait, what about the lasagna!!) we came up with something of a deal, and decided to do a cake walk (get it -- cakewalk?) on my birthday.  It really was more of a chocolate/confectionery/pastry walk, but you get the idea.  Food 52 already had this beautiful itinerary on line, and we followed it almost to a tee.

Spoiler: It was amazing.  AHHHMMMAAAAAZING.  So much so that I almost forgot about the lasagna.  Almost.  But there's always next year.  

The Paris Birthday CakeWalk, idea credit to Food 52

We started the day off at Le Primrose, our local choice for breakfast.   It's not technically on the cakewalk, but we've been going here for 8 years, and it doesn't disappoint.  And we needed some savories to provide a nice base for all of the sweets to come -- cappuccino, baguette, and croissants, along with some fresh OJ.

And we got a chance to map out our day.

Unfortunately, our walk started off a bit on the rocky side.  It turns out that the first stop, Acide Macaron no longer has a shop at that location.  Which was disappointing -- but just made us more eager to check out the next place.

1. Le Cacoatier

Even if you don't speak French (and I don't,) it's pretty obvious what the specialty of this store is.  Chocolate anyone?  Um, yes. That's a yes for me. 

They sell more than just chocolate -- but that's what we focused on.  Because why wouldn't you when Hubert Masse, the chocolatier, won the Grand Prix de Chocolate.  I don't need to understand French to know that that means c'est magnifique!  

Once we walked into Jacques Genin, we knew we were going to have a problem.  Because, once again, we were surrounded by amazing displays of chocolate.  I was beginning to think that the savory base was a mistake -- we should have done a 12 hour fast if we were going to survive the day.  Quick thinking was required. Strategic plan: Forgo the chocolates for something new.  The jewel colored gelees (in fruit AND veggie flavors!); the sticky sweet caramels (the mango caramel -- oh my GOD)  -- they were calling our name -- and eventually won over our our hearts (and wallets.)

Now this. This chocolaterie. (Is that a word? It should be.)  This was what I had been waiting for.  I have to confess, I saw a picture of the whimsical delightful designs, and I was in love.  And it did not disappoint -- from the adorable white chocolate hazelnut emojis to the larger than life lollys -- I felt like I had walked into a childrens book.  You know, if you could eat a children's book.

The crowning touch? The airy, ethereal chocolate mousses, in hatbox sized bins.  Yes -- moussES -- plural.  What, you didn't know that six countries all contribute different compositions of that heavenly dark chocolate to make their own individual, so special, to-die-for desserts?  Well they do -- and I got a cone all for myself.

🎶 It's my birthday, I can overindulge in chocolate if I want to. 🎶

The next stop, Des Gateaux et du Pain, was closed since it was a Tuesday.  BOOOO.  Although I suppose we should have been grateful to save some space in our stomachs. Onwards.

4. La Patisserie de Reves

Okay, all of you who don't know French -- I'm going to have to give you the translation for this one.  Because it literally means "pastry shop of dreams."And boy, oh boy, did it live up to its name.  Look at these gorgeous displays. . Major organizational envy for one thing -- those cute little wooden trays make the bread look even more appetizing, if possible.  And how about those floating cloches?? It's like the breads are about to be showered with all sorts of delectable scents and flavors.  Dream-like, indeed. 

Despite the dozens of gorgeous pastries vying for attention, one definitely stood out above the rest. The Paris-Brest is a choux pastry filled with a peanut butter pastry cream.  Choux pastry is the same dough that cream puffs are made of, and I make it a rule to never, ever, ever order a cream puff out.  Cream puffs rely on the textural difference between the crispy outer pastry and the silky smooth inner cream.  When they're not eaten fresh, the dough gets mealy, and it's not pleasant.  It's something that I've never been able to enjoy, even at top bakeries -- and there's nothing sadder than a sad cream puff.  This, however, my friends, was the exception.  And exceptional.  And I owe my last minute change of heart to the lovely British lady I met outside, who said she has been returning annually to this very bakery for the past decade (so yeah -- 10 years) simply to enjoy the Paris-Brest.  I mean, I know England is closer to France than the United States, but that takes commitment! I took her word for it and I don't regret it.  Take my word for it -- you won't regret it either.

 5. Angelina

Okay folks, I know I'm going to get pushback on this, because this place has a cult following, but. . . I just wasn't feeling it. (Not that that takes anything away from the beautiful blush themed shop.  I was channeling Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast for Tiffany's just walking around in there.


BUT -- it wasn't my cup of cocoa for sure. I guess I'm more of a Swiss Miss gal, because drinking this hot chocolate felt like gulping down a bunch of chocolate sludge.  HOT chocolate sludge.  Way too thick -- so thick that it almost felt like drinking a carafe of melted chocolate (but not as good.)  A no for me, I'm afraid.  I just wish I had figured that out before purchasing a kilogram of the mix.  I did bring it home, all the way to Ohio, so anyone who actually likes the chocolate, make sure to drop by for a cup.

6. Le Grande Epicerie de Paris

Who here likes to grocery shop?  Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?  Well get ready to change your mind.  I found the grand daddy of grocery shops -- or Le Grande Epicerie in this case (see what I did there? Feel free to laugh. . . ) 

Friends: I walked in and heard angels singing.  For real.  I'm not even going to explain anymore.  Because a picture is worth a thousand words.  And trust me, a thousand words wouldn't even cover the entrance.

Anyone else in a food daze yet? In the interest of full disclosure, we actually had another stop planned for the walk.  But after that? Nope -- we were done.  Time to head home and enjoy the haul.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Strawberry Sun Days of Summer

It's now August, and I'm still not in my new home. 😞 This makes me sad on multiple levels, not the least of which is the fact that I'm still dealing with the horrendous oven in my temporary digs.  You know, the one that shakes anytime I tiptoe within a twenty square foot radius. . . It had gotten so bad, that I honestly had sworn off anymore projects until I was safely and securely planted in my new home.  But. . . you know, the baking withdrawal was getting pretty seriously miserable.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to resist the thought of biting into a freshly made soft, springy, fine crumbed slice of cake, coated with a thick, rich buttercream.  To be quite frank, I had started dreaming of this mythical slice of cake. And in all seriousness, I haven't been able to find a local place that makes a slice of cake to my (admittedly high) standards.  My resolve finally crumbled completely when I ran across these little beauties at Michaels while browsing away my Saturday afternoon. (What? You know you go into Michaels just to look around, just because, not really to plan on purchasing anything. . . 😇) But really, how could anyone resist these?

Well, spoiler alert, I most certainly could not resist this little impulse buy.  And after I succumbed to that particular pressure, I figured I may as well fold completely and at least put my new favorite tools to use.

I even had the perfect recipe in mind.  A couple of years ago, I tried out this absolutely amazing four layer buttery, beautiful, sunny yellow sponge --  just stuffed to the gills with macerated strawberries and the most luscious creamy custard.  And of course frosted with about a pound of whipped cream.  It's the personification of summer -- in a cake.  I think about making it at least ten to fifteen times a year, but it's a task -- a two day process at minimum, and because I refuse to make a cake which isn't as pretty outside as in, an extra day for decoration on top of that.  So I usually pass.  But this time, I decided to clear a weekend and just get down to it.  So I did.

The recipe comes from Sweet Amandine, and can be found here.  Besides the fact that I didn't want to type up the entire recipe -- pretty much a novella in itself, I really just think everyone should read Jessica Fechtor's blog.  It's funny, and well-written, and if you need yet another reason, she herself is a pretty amazing story of resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She suffered from a burst aneurysm while exercising several years ago, and managed to recover brilliantly,  pursuing a PhD at Harvard in Jewish literature (which maybe she has obtained by now?), and publishing her first book a couple of years ago. Really, she writes better than anyone I know -- and that's after suffering a blown aneurysm.   From my calculations, this recipe was published on her blog just about a year after that event. It's mind boggling -- and inspirational.   (Give it a moment for the page to load -- it's a little slow.  And if you love the recipe, you may want to print it.  You know, just in case the blog goes down after the book gets published.  Not that it will, I have no idea.  But just to be safe, you know?) I followed the recipe pretty much exactly -- just cut everything in half (Oh, except for the whipped cream.  I kept that the same.  Because, really, you can never have too much whipped cream.)   And use 6 inch pans instead of 9 in pans. If you use 6 inch pans, drop the cooking time about 5 minutes and just keep an eye on the cakes. And I also didn't refrigerate the cakes before splitting them.  Because I'm impatient.  But everything else, just the same.

I do have to share my own pictures though.  Because they are simply so gorgeous.  Is there anything better than fresh strawberries and custard in the summer? I think not.

You may be forgiven for thinking that this is a picture of the whipped cream and the macerated strawberries.  But it's not.  It's a picture of the strawberries, that is true.  But that fluffy cloud front and center? That's actually a meringue.  The integral part of the cake itself.

 And. . . why it looks like this when it bakes.  Isn't it beautiful? Look at that rise.  Even in my defective oven. . . which says quite a lot in itself.
Split. . .

Fill. . . 

Spread. . .

Stack. . . 

Stop to admire (you can squeal with delight -- this is a  no judgment zone.)
Crumb coat and refrigerate.

And then. . . DECORATE!!!! 

So, as already stated, it's summertime.  And what's more summery than a crate full of flowers? I have no yard, and no patio right now -- so my blooms have to be of the whipped cream consistency. Worse things have happened. . . first world problems and all.  And to be honest, I think I prefer fondant "wooden" crates to the real thing anyways.  At least I don't have to worry about bugs. . .