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When I was a little girl I loved cream puffs more than almost anything. Almost as much as I loved pickles, pizza and Greek food. Every year for my birthday, from ages 2 to, oh, probably, 14, instead of birthday cake, I wanted cream puffs and that’s what I got. As I got older, we would go for Greek food at my favorite Greek restaurant and they don’t serve cream puffs. It was often a difficult choice for me – my favorite dinner or my favorite dessert? A conundrum for the ages.
What is a cream puff exactly? It is a large pastry made from choux paste and filled with sweet cream or custard. Profiteroles are a miniature version of the cream puff and usually filled with ice cream. They can be topped with a little icing sugar, chocolate sauce, or any other flavour sauce one wants, or just left plain. I like my cream puffs to be wee in size. That way, if there are different flavours, you can sample the whole variety. I’ve seen cream puffs or profiteroles filled with sweet whipped cream, chantilly cream, boston cream, vanilla custard, chocolate mousse, lemon curd, espresso cream, maple cream … the list is endless really. Of course, any of the cream based fillings can be flavoured with a variety of booze. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least try.
Past Cream Puffs Worthy of Note:
Eva made me profiteroles once. For my birthday. She’s a grand friend. She knows me well. She filled them with a mango mousse sorbet. They were amazing.
Lemon curd filled mini cream puffs dusted with icing sugar sold at the now defunct patisserie wing of Bon Rouge Restaurant. We called them “Crack Puffs” ’cause we were addicted and went there every second lunch hour to buy some. They were that good.
Last year I made mini cream puffs for Easter. It was my first time making choux paste. Amazingly, after all those many years of loving cream puffs, I had never actually tried making them! Shocking, right? Anyway, it was an adventure, to be sure. My beautiful Kitchenaid Professional stand mixer (wedding gift) upped and died in the middle of making the choux paste (thank goodness it was from Costco and they replaced it with a brand spankin’ new candy apple red better version – but that’s another story). Now, here’s the thing. To make choux paste, you first have to make what is essentially a big ball of roux, and then you have to beat eggs into it. This is not a task that a person wants to undertake by hand! But the batch was half done and there was no other choice. I discovered new muscles in my arms and shoulders that day. Reminded me of that time when I made risotto for 150 people in one giant pot. Such work is generally best done when assisted by copious amounts of vino.
Last Easter I learned that you should use wet fingers to pinch off the choux paste from the pastry bag (it is darn sticky) and that no one else in my family shares the same love of cream puffs as I do. Strange. I filled my Easter poppets with boston cream and with mocha whipped cream. Since it was pretty much just me eating them (and maybe a couple of others) I also discovered that cream puffs freeze brilliantly. Well, I can’t say that I discovered it. To be fair, Costco has known this forever and you can buy boxes of the little pleasure-filled buns without any effort at all. Of course, fresh homemade ones are better.
The National Cream Puff Day Batch:
At any rate, as much as I enjoy, love, adore cream puffs, I confess to being a tad daunted at the prospect of yet more rich bad for me food following on the heels of the Christmas holiday. This year was epic on the food front. We ate so much amazing food for every meal of every day that all I really feel like consuming at this point is raw vegetables and water. My rich food stomach is lastingly full! And seriously, how is a girl supposed to get herself off to a strong start for the New Year when she is forced to eat this stuff?
I made them anyway.
And I ate them too.
This time I used the Larousse recipe for choux pastry and learned that even greasing my non-stick cookie sheet doesn’t keep them from sticking. I had to use a paring knife to scrape them off the sheet and unfortunately mangled one or several. No matter, there were plenty left over. The mangled ones went to the dogs and my kid (who, lo and behold, happens to love them too).
I am actually quite a purist when it comes to my cream puffs, so I didn’t want to muck about too much. I just filled them with a lightly flavoured maple whipped cream and drizzled the smallest amount of chocolate over them for effect. Mostly it was for the picture. When given the option, I will happily use pieces of my choux pastry puffs to scoop up the whipped cream as though it were a veggie dip and the pastry was a carrot. I had planned to make a caramel rum sauce to go on top, instead of the chocolat, but my caramel-loving hubby is out for the night and after all the recent gluttonous festivities, I didn’t really feel up to making and eating a bowl of caramel sauce to myself.
Basic Choux Pastry Recipe for Cream Puffs:
1. Heat in saucepan 1 cup of milk or water (or milk and water mixed in equal parts), 5 tbsp. butter, 1 pinch salt and 2 tsp. caster sugar stirrin frequently until butter is melted.
2. Slowly bring to a boil and then remove from heat and immediately mix in all of 1 cup all-purpose flour. Return to heat and beat with wooden spoon until smooth and pulling away from sides of pan (approx. 1 minute). Do not overmix or pastry will be greasy.
3. Put into your mixer bowl and allow to cool slightly while you wash up from the previous two steps (this should be the right amount of time if you don’t have a dishwasher, otherwise wait another 5 minutes or so).
4. Beat in two eggs and then two more one after the other until the paste is smooth and shiny. To do this, I run my stand mixer on medium-high speed for at least two minutes.
5. Use piping bag (or ziploc with the corner cut off) to pipe blobs of choux paste onto lightly greased baking sheets (approx. 1 1/2 – 2 inches in size) and bake in pre-heated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes (or up to 25 minutes for larger puffs) to allow enough time for puffing up.
6. Remove from oven and break open immediately to prevent steam from making the pastry soggy. Cool completely on wire racks before filling with your filling of choice.
Maple Whipped Cream:
Beat together 1 cup whipping cream and 2 – 3 tbsp maple syrup until stiff.
Caramel Rum Sauce: if I had ended up making it, this is the recipe I was going to use. It’s a pretty standard recipe. I’ve made it before. It’s pretty tasty.
This concludes my entry for National Cream Puff Day. Stay tuned when I return to you on January 4th with National Whipped Cream Day (really the two days ought to be together). I’m off to roll my lardy arse into bed now.
Oh, I’ve been given the most Canadian of ingredients. I have to say that I was pleased to see it here, on this most American list of foods. I consider it a little nod our way from our neighborhoods to the south.
I’ve got one Old Happy Memory and one New Happy Memory to share with you, with respect to maple syrup.
The Old Happy Memory:
My parents took J. and I to Quebec and the Maritimes on a summer road trip when I was about 10. My dad, who grew up francophone, was on the hunt for his happy childhood memory: sucre a la creme pie (think of a butter tart made without the nuts or raisins, with maple syrup rather than brown sugar, and some cream).
My dad was persistent on his quest. As we drove along the Gaspe, my dad sampled as we went. None of the pies were “like my mother’s”. He kept trying. It wasn’t until the family road trip was well out of Quebec that lightening struck: at a Shell station outside of Fredericton, my dad found his sucre a la creme nirvana. I’d have to hazard that the woman at the gas station was surprised to sell the entire pie to a tourista.
My dad tucked away his prize in the trunk of the car.
And then promptly took pie breaks at 50 min intervals for the rest of the day.
Needless to say, that pie didn’t see sunset.
New Happy Memory
This winter B. invited me along to Salt Spring Island to see our very own cabane à sucre in action. A local SSI businessman has planted sugar maples and was tapping the trees and boiling the sap down to sugar. With no snow to pour the syrup on, it wasn’t the traditional experience, but nonetheless, it was fun, and it was great to see this tradition much closer to home.
(The enjoyment of the day was also given a boost by our pit-stop at the SSI Cheese Company (so yummy!), some very cute goats, our cameras, and a mostly well behaved baby!)
For today’s blog, I thought I would make a twist on the classic apple crisp – this time I thought pears would be nice, and having been inspired by a desert a year ago at B.’s Birthday Dinner Extravaganza, added asian flavors of candied ginger and chinese 5 spice.
Pear and Maple Crisp with Ginger and Spice
(note: this is not exactly what I did, but what I would do next time…things can always be improved, no? Also as you will see in the photo, I only made a 1/3 recipe)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 1/2 pounds firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons chinease 5 spice
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
Combine all of the topping ingredients in food processor or cut them together until small moist clumps form.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Toss all the filling ingredients in large bowl to blend. Let stand 15 minutes. Transfer pear mixture to 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle topping over pears. Cover with foil and bake 20 min. Remove foil and bake another ~ 20 min, until pears are tender, juices bubble thickly and topping is golden and crisp. Let stand at least 10 minutes, it’s pretty juicy when hot but when it cools there’s a nice sauce. I would suggest serving it over ice cream…
[Ed.: 365Foods would like to welcome guest blogger N., who has been a boon foodie companion of ours for quite some time. N. will let out a vocal "Oh My Hells!" at the very mention of an oozy cheese or a new yummy restaurant. She has a little song and dance she likes to do when yummy tuna sashimi is nearby. In other words, she's our kind of people!]
A list of American food holidays would not be complete without Indian Pudding, also known as Hasty Pudding, which traces back to mid-18th century New England and is therefore perhaps one of the most originally American of American foods. It is known as “Indian” pudding because it makes use of cornmeal rather than wheat flour, which was in short supply in those days, and as we know corn was introduced to the European settlers by aboriginal people. The Deerfield Inn in Deerfield, Massachusetts, reports that this is still one of their most popular desserts, 300 years after its creation.
A quick Google search revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes for Indian Pudding. Some of the variation includes whether or not eggs and milk are included, the addition of raisins or apples or even pumpkin (yum!), and perhaps the most fancy version (of course, attributable to our overachieving friends at Bon Appetit magazine) is accompanied by nutmeg ice cream. I am reminded of the Five Spice Ice Cream debacle of 2008, in which E was enlisted to bring her ice cream maker all the way from Vancouver for an epic dinner party at D’s house which extended until at least 2am the next day. [Ed.: I wouldn't call that a "debacle" just... happily epic.]
I decided to use the Deerfield Inn recipe, mostly because it called for ingredients in amounts that I already had in my pantry. All of the recipes using milk and eggs use roughly the same proportions; some of them use pints and quarts, which I don’t understand, so I used this one.
One of the nice things about this dish is that it is a pantry dish – you can whip it up on a drizzly November afternoon (or in my case a spectacular Victoria day, of the kind that one might brag about to one’s Calgary relatives – not that I would do anything like that) without braving the cold or the swine flu by appearing in public. It is baked in a bain marie, so it fills the house with the kind of moist, aromatic baking smells that make everyone want to marry a baker. I used my spectacularly beautiful pea-green Staub dutch oven (without the lid) – it’s one of the things I’d rescue from a burning house.
4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat milk in a double boiler until skin forms. [This takes FOREVER; not a good task for when you're trying to bake something during your 3 month old's precious "quiet awake" time]. Whisk in cornmeal, sugar, and spices. Cook until thickened, stirring occasionally [I had to stop here for about 2 hours due to aforesaid 3 month old and his so-called "needs". I don't think it was any worse for the wait, although the word "thickened" is a bit vague - I took it to mean thicker than it was; it was not thick by any means]. Add molasses and maple syrup, heat through. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. [At this point remove from the heat; otherwise you will scramble your eggs]. Whisk small amount of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk egg mixture into the original mixture. Add butter to the mix. Pour mix into dish for baking. [Then panic, because you think this stuff is WAY too liquidy to amount to anything]. Bake at 350°F in a water bath until set (1 1/2 to 2 hours). Baking time depends on the size of the baking dish. Serves 6-8 people.
After two hours, I took it out of the oven and let it sit overnight.
I think this would be delicious served with a hot custard sauce (I use Harry Horne’s powder, but you could go all Martha Stewart and make your own, if you had more time than common sense), or with a gorgeous vanilla ice cream. I also think that this dish would be an excellent application for Miss B’s cardamom caramel sauce, as long as you cut it first with some whipped cream or custard.
The variations on this recipe are endless. Instead of ground spices as called for in the recipe, one could steep the milk with cinnamon sticks, star anise, fresh ginger and vanilla beans. The recipe does not call for ground clove but I think it would be a respectable addition. One could add pumpkin, raisins, apples, or any other autumnal deliciousness. If I were to make it again, I would reduce the amount of molasses and sub in more maple syrup; this is a very molasses-y dish using these proportions and, while I like molasses, maple syrup has a much more nuanced flavour.
[ Ed.: ..... TIME PASSES....THE NEXT MORNING....]
STOP THE PRESSES!
This stuff tastes just AWFUL. There is way too much molasses, to start with. There is basically no other flavour, and it approaches medicinal in its over-the-top molasses-ness. The texture is weird too. If it was a more delicate flavour one might flatter it by saying the texture approaches panna cotta, but combined with this weird flavour it is more accurately described as slimy and greasy. There is no cornmeal taste or texture to it. Yes, it would be delicious with creme anglaise or hot custard sauce, as long as you drowned it and put it out of its misery.