Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Basics: Pâte à Choux

Pâte à Choux. Oh la la, sounds so fancy. So French. So complicated. Complicated? 
Actually, its as easy as it gets. So easy that I mastered "Cream Puff Shells" when I was about 10 years old. 
I loved to cook as a kid (well, duh, I still do.) and I was lucky enough to have a mom that gave me free reign in the kitchen. Cream Puffs and Eclairs always looked so magical at the bakery. Special. A world apart from pies, cakes and cookies. And every once in a great while, my mom would buy one. Just one, and we'd all get a little taste. The crispy shell, the creamy filling, the fudgy top. Heaven! I was determined to figure out this exotic French delight. Then, one boring afternoon, while flipping through a cookbook, if found it. A recipe for cream puff shells. And the ingredients were so so simple: butter, flour, eggs. And even though my mom wasn't much for cooking, at the very least she had those on hand. So, I set to baking and low and behold they turned out on the very first try. All I had to do next was whip up a box of instant vanilla pudding to fill them and slap on some canned chocolate frosting and voila, I was a French chef who made eclairs.

OK, so these days I do a bit better than instant pudding mix, my preference is pastry cream, and I prefer a lighter chocolate glaze to the heavy fudge icing used in grocery stores; the point is they're totally easy to make. Once you master the basics of the shell, fillings (both sweet and savory) are totally up to you. You can fill them with vanilla ice cream and top with hot fudge for a special dessert. Or how about mini puffs filled with herb and salmon cream cheese for an impressive appetizer. Learn how to make the shells and you'll be on your way to infinite pastry creations. I'll also post later about filling and glazing, stay tuned!

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Vista" Blue Velvet

I discovered a new blog a few months ago: Sprinkle Bakes. I've been having a good time poking around on it. It speaks to me. It's quirky and colorful. It's written by Heather; an artist turned self taught baker and a southerner. I instantly liked her. (Well, I've never met her, but, if she has half the personality of her blog, then she must be quite a character.) Maybe we'll meet someday. What I love about Heather's blog is her love of color. And, well, I love color. She also has a great sense of presentation. And, well, I like a great presentation. I think it's the graphic designer in me. Don't get me wrong, first and foremost, I want what I make to taste great. Not just great, I want it to blow your hair back. But, I also like food to be pretty. I want you eyes as well as your taste buds to say "WOW"!

I've been saving recipes from her blog and intending to make them for a few months now. When I discovered her post for Blue Velvet Cupcakes. . .that's right "blue" not "red" velvet. . .I knew it was the first thing I wanted to make. Why? Well because my daughters high school is "Vista", and their colors are Navy Blue and Silver and their rally cry is "Vista Bleeds Blue"! Then it hit me: "Vista Blue Velvet". I couldn't resist the alliteration. I'm weird like that. I'm kinda ashamed I didn't think to make Blue Velvet before. It's really not much of a leap from Red Velvet. Truth be told you could swap out the red coloring in Red Velvet for just about any color. So Blue Velvet it is. . .

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hi-Hat Cupcakes

Recently my dentist did us a huge favor. A really huge favor and I needed to repay the kindness. Over the years we've had several conversations about cupcakes. He's a serious cupcake fiend and I happen to be a pretty good cupcake maker, so cupcakes come up often between us. It's our "common ground". Much of it my boasting about my cupcake making prowess. It's was time to prove my worth. So I made him some cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes, these had to be special. Big fluffy mounds of icing piled high atop chocolate cupcakes and draped in chocolate, Hi-Hats!

Hi-Hat Cupcakes, there's a lot of buzz on the internet about them. Any baking blog worth it's salt has done a version of them. They aren't really complicated but oh so impressive. It's basically just a cupcake with an extra tall swirl of icing that's dipped in chocolate. From what I've been reading, traditionally they are chocolate cupcakes with a vanilla "7 Minute" icing. However, there are infinite variations out there. I stuck with the chocolate cupcake. Why mess with perfection. But I opted for my Marshmallow Buttercream instead of the 7 Minute icing. I felt it was only a slight variation from tradition. 7 Minute icing is marshmallow-ish as it's vanilla, fluffy and sweet. Or maybe it's more akin to a meringue. There's no fat (butter or shortening) in it so it's a good choice if you're trying to avoid that sort of thing. I'm just not particularly fond of it. It's just not creamy enough for my taste. I'm more a buttercream gal but I though traditional buttercream would be too rich to pile that high. Marshmallow Buttercream was the perfect compromise. I hope you agree. . .