Friday, December 30, 2016

Ahhhh... Cream Puffs!



Cream puffs, eclairs, or profiteroles... all use the same kind of choux pastry dough. Cream puffs are round, eclairs a little longer in shape, and profiteroles are basically cream puffs with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate or fudge sauce... yum! Cream puffs are an impressive dessert, yet very simple to make.




Have you ever wanted to make cream puffs, but just think they are too difficult? Well, you must try again. Cream puffs are very easy to make, if you just follow some basic tips that I have learned over my years of baking and catering.




When I was still catering, we made many many cream puffs. Not only did we fill those with whipped cream and mousse fillings for desserts, but we also made them as a shell for our savory chicken salad, which was a huge hit with our customers. Now that I am not catering any longer, I don't often make the chicken salad puffs, but I have been experimenting lately with different presentations of dessert cream puffs. 

Chicken Salad Puffs


Once you learn how to make the  choux pastry dough, you can make the cream puffs any size you wish, from mini to much larger. My favorite is usually somewhere in between. When making a cream puff tower, you usually need to make very small, or mini puffs. I have not yet perfected the true croquembouche-the French cream puff tower assembled with caramel that hardens and makes a crunch in your mouth, and is decorated with strings of pulled caramel. It is a perfect combination of flavors- the soft yummy sweetness of the filling and the crunchy caramel as you bite into the cream puff. Usually, you use some sort of a crocquembouche mold for the best results. It is my goal, sometime soon, to perfect one of these. I have assembled small cream puff towers with melted chocolate, which also works well... just not the true French croquembouche (which means "crunch in the mouth.")


Traditional Croquembouche


Son-in-law, Eddie... cream puff lover

In the meantime, I would like to share the recipe and tips for making a perfect cream puff, and also my basic simple mousse and simple Bavarian Creme recipes.

One thing I have learned to do is to measure my eggs. We have our own chickens, and so the eggs are not always consistent in size. 1 cup of our fresh eggs usually equals about 4 extra large eggs. My baked items always turn out better when I measure the eggs to make sure the amount is consistent. 

BASIC CHOUX PASTRY DOUGH

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick butter)
1/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 cup flour
4 extra large eggs (1 cup)  

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 bun pans with parchment paper.

Bring water, butter, salt, and sugar (if desired) to a rapid boil. Remove from heat and add flour, and stir until it forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pot. Return to heat for 1-2 minutes and stir until you have a smooth ball and less moisture. Measure the eggs. Pour mixture into mixing bowl, fitted with a flat paddle. I use a KitchenAid, but any mixer will do. You can even just use a spoon and lots of elbow grease. Turn on mixer and add one egg at a time. Mix until incorporated, then add the next, and so forth. Continue mixing until you have a soft smooth batter. 

Put batter into a pastry bag fitted with large tip, and pipe onto pans. You can also use a cookie scoop or two spoons to put batter onto pans. If you have peaks at the top of your dough balls, wet fingertip and smooth down. This will prevent the tips from burning. 

This next step is very important and I have learned from trial and error. Put puffs in the 425° oven for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to to 375° and bake for another 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your cream puffs. This will make certain that your puffs are dry enough and will not collapse, yet still remain golden color. I have learned this from experience. 

Remove from oven and cool completely, away from draft, before filling. When ready to fill, you can either slice the tops and fill, or use a pastry bag by inserting the tip into the side or bottom of each puff to fill with cream or mousse filling. Sprinkle dessert puffs with powdered sugar. 







SIMPLE BAVARIAN CREME

8 oz. cream cheese
(2) small packages vanilla instant pudding mix
3/4 cup milk
1 large or 2 small containers of Cool Whip, thawed

Beat cream cheese until softened. Gradually add pudding mix until combined. Very slowly add the milk, and continue beating until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Keep in refrigerator, or freeze for longer storage.

EASY MOUSSE FILLING

8 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 small container of Cool Whip
Cocoa, fruit, jams, fillings, peanut butter, Nutella, or any other flavorings

Beat cream cheese to soften. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. If you want chocolate mousse, add desired amount of cocoa at this time. Beat until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip until thoroughly combined. Fold in desired flavorings, or leave plain for vanilla mousse. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage. 


















Thursday, November 3, 2016

Tired of traditional cake? Try a brownie cake!



One of the fun things about being a cake decorator and a grandma is being able to design birthday cakes for my grandchildren... at least the ones that are local. Occasionally, I will be visiting my out of state grandchildren on or near their birthdays, so I will get to decorate simple cakes for them. 

As you can probably imagine, my kids have had more than enough cake while growing up in the Leavitt home. We even resorted to buying birthday pies from Marie Callender's, so we would have a nice break from cake.  Now, for my daughter's family, I rarely make traditional cakes for their birthdays. This year I have made cream puff cakes, fruit pizzas, and their favorite... brownie cakes. 

I love working with brownies because they are dense, easy to shape, and most often there is no need to use the support that you would in a normal cake. And then the taste... well, who doesn't love a really great brownie? Rich, moist, chocolatey, layered with delicious buttery chocolate buttercream and maybe raspberry, peanut butter, or salted caramel filling. Wow! I get hungry just thinking about them. Granted, it has taken several years for me to perfect my brownie recipe at our high altitude. For my favorite brownie recipe, click here. One of the most important keys to baking a really great brownie is DO NOT OVERBAKE! Check for doneness a few minutes before recipe time... every oven is different. 

Here's some photos of the latest brownie cake I designed for 5 year old grandson, Hunter...

 Pirate treasure chest brownie cake... no support needed. Used a small wedge of RK treats to prop open the top.

Look at those rich fudgy brownies inside! Layered with buttercream, and entire cake was covered with chocolate buttercream and modeling chocolate. Bring on the milk!

Other cakes I have designed from brownies...

 Granddaughter Lexi's Harry Potter cake
 Granddaughter Carissa's Zootopia cake
 Granddaughter Lexi's July 4th Birthday/Baptism cake
 Granddaughter Carissa's Olaf Frozen cake
 Lexi's piano cake
Son-in-law Eddie's "Superdad" cake

Monday, August 22, 2016

What to do with little chicken eggs? Make omelettes of course!


As you have probably guessed, we go through a lot of eggs here at our house, so that's why we have our own chickens. Back in April, we acquired 6 more chickens, since our older chickens were not laying as often, so were not keeping up with the demand. After eating eggs from our free range chickens, it hurts to have to buy eggs at the store. Just recently all of our young hens have started laying. When they first start laying, their eggs are very small and we find them all over the yard. They have finally learned to lay in the coop, but we don't always find them in the nesting boxes. They will eventually learn. Since we had an abundance of these little eggs, we decided to make omelettes tonight for dinner... so good! I put ham and cheese and a few green chilies in Bruce's and I enjoy mine with fresh tomatoes, green chilies, and a little cheese, topped with salsa and a couple dollops of sour cream... yum. One thing that we enjoy using in our omelettes is a spice called Sunny Paris that I purchase at Penzey's Spice Shop. That and a little salt and pepper with just a little milk and we're good. Omelettes for dinner... it's a good thing!

You can see how small the eggs are compared to the regular size

Our favorite omelette seasoning



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ripe bananas? How about cookies?



Do you ever have bananas that look like these, and wonder what to do with them besides making quick breads or smoothies? Well, look no further. I have found a yummy cookie recipe that uses ripe bananas - the riper the better -  and it's a keeper. 


These cookies are bursting with banana flavor and loaded with chocolate chips and pecans. You can leave out the nuts if you wish, but I just happen to love nuts, especially pecans. I always use Ghirardelli chocolate chips. They are my favorite and always make everything taste better!


These cookies have more of a soft "cakey" texture, rather than crisp and chewy. 




Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

Cream butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the mashed bananas. Add the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. 

Bake for approx. 10 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown on the bottom. 






Sit down with your cookies and a glass of milk... enjoy! 

(P.S. How the heck am I supposed to lose weight?)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bûche de Noël – Yule Log


It's that time of year again... the Christmas season! Not only do I love this time of year because we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior, but we find this season the perfect time to share love and gifts with others. 

We live on this wonderful little street in Colorado Springs called Rawhide Lane, but this time of year it could be called "Christmas Lane." 3 doors down from us, we have a neighbor that goes all out for decorating for Christmas. Last year, he began to add other neighbors to his display, and this year 7 houses are included in the Christmas light and music show. The lights are all synchronized to a music channel that you can tune in to. We also have a traditional block party during the season, complete with a fire pit, hot chocolate, and sweet treats. Yes, our street gets pretty busy during December, but it's just part of the fun. 

Since we love living in our neighborhood and appreciate having wonderful neighbors, I always try to make a special treat for them at Christmas time. This year I made Yule Log Cakes. I have made cake rolls before, but never actually made a yule log. So, of course, I went to the trusty internet and did some research about the yule log tradition, and different versions of the yule log cake, and then came up with my own design. It was truly a fun project! Last night hubby and I delivered the festive treats to our neighbors and it was so much fun to see the the smiles on their faces. 


There were different parts to be made before I could assemble the final yule log cakes. You can find the recipes near the end of this post. I also found a short version of the history of the yule log or Buche de Noel, if you speak French. We'll start with that...


First, I found out that a yule log cake is not complete without meringue mushrooms. If you have never made these, you must try them. They are easy and yummy, and look like the real thing. You could even just give a basket of these to someone as a gift. Just tie them up with some clear cellophane wrap and a pretty ribbon. 

Pipe out mushroom caps and stems by using a decorating bag fitted with only a coupler. Sprinkle caps with cocoa powder. Bake  at 200 degrees for 2 hours.
Melt chocolate and brush on to bottom of mushroom cap.
 Trim off top of stems so they are flat and dip into chocolate.
Assemble cap and stem and let set until hard.

 Don't they look real? They're so cute!

Next, I molded pinecones and greenery from modeling chocolate. You can also just pipe pinecones from stiffened buttercream, but I thought these little guys looked cuter on the yule logs. Of course, I used one of my favorite blue silicone molds from First Impressions.

 Start by pressing in the chocolate modeling chocolate first.
 Then add the greenery.
 After the mold is filled, clean the edges and smooth out with your finger. Then pop in the freezer for a few minutes. 
 I sprinkled just a bit of rainbow disco dust on each to make them sparkle.

The cake rolls are basically just a thin sponge type cake (or roulade) with a filling of your choice inside. I made mine easy by starting with a dark chocolate mix, but adjusting the ingredients a bit. I was able to get two small logs out of each pan.

I filled my cake rolls with vanilla mousse and folded in chopped maraschino cherries. Cut the roll in half diagonally, and also cut each end off diagonally. 

You can ice your cake with either a buttercream icing or a chocolate ganache. To give the log the texture of bark, you can use an impression mat, or just draw a fork through the icing to give it a textured look.

After icing and letting the buttercream set for a few minutes, I used a bark silicone impression mat to get the bark texture. 
Pipe a circular pattern on the ends of each log.
Pipe a simple shell border around the bottom and add the pinecones, mushrooms, and any other decorations you like.
Finally, sprinkle some powdered sugar on your log to resemble light snow.

Meringue Mushrooms from Meringue Powder

1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup meringue powder
Cocoa powder (or cinnamon)
Melted chocolate

Combine sugar and water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Add meringue powder and beat with wire whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Make sure that all of your utensils and bowls are grease free. Fill decorating bag with coupler only, or coupler with large tip. Pipe mushroom caps and stems. Sprinkle caps with cocoa powder or cinnamon. Bake in preheated 200 degree oven for 2 hours. Trim tops of stems with knife to make them flat. Brush or spread on melted chocolate on bottom of tops. Dip top of stems into melted chocolate and assemble with tops. Let set until hardened.

Click here for video and recipe for making meringue mushrooms from fresh egg whites.

Cake Roll Recipe

1 Duncan Hines cake mix
1 small package instant pudding
6 large eggs
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup oil

Beat eggs and thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add remainder of ingredients and beat on low until fully incorporated. Spread on greased and parchment lined half sheet bun pan for approximately 15-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and cake springs back when touched. Immediately turn pan upside down onto a terry cloth towel which has been sprinkled with powdered sugar. Remove parchment paper and roll cake, starting at long end. Leave until fully cooled. Carefully unroll cake and spread with desired filling. Re-roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill until ready to ice. Since sponge cakes tend to be a little drier than normal cakes, you can brush a simple syrup on the cake roll before adding the filling.

Simple Syrup

Equal parts of water and granulated sugar

Combine sugar and water and bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool. May store in the refrigerator for about a month. 

Click here for roulade recipe.

Click here for chocolate buttercream recipe