Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Choux Pastry Weekend Blitz: April 1 and 2, 2017

Choux pastry or Pâte à Choux is used to make cream puffs, profiteroles (puffs stuffed with ice cream), eclairs, and gougères (savory puffs). The pastry is simple to make, uses little if any sugar and comes together quickly with flour and then eggs.  It being Spring, I wanted to start my baking excursion with egg based creations combining cream puffs (and its variant eclairs – all with 4 whole eggs) with vanilla pastry cream (4 egg yolks), and chocolate pastry cream and puffs (ode to Easter!) and chocolate custard ice cream (6 egg yolks).  I also wanted to try the savory version of cream puffs (called gougère).   

All total, I used at least 2 and a half dozen eggs in 24 hours!  Eggcellent!

Saturday (day 1) I made the vanilla pastry cream (Martha Stewart’s ‘No Fuss Pastry Cream’), and a chocolate version (I just added 2 Tablespoons of Cocoa Powder to the sugar/cornstarch).  As well, I started the chocolate custard ice cream (Melissa Clark’s “The Only Ice Cream Recipe You will Ever Need” – the chocolate variation (with crème fraiche) – so that it could chill overnight.   

 In 2002, a dear friend of mine, Trish DePula (who has since passed away from cancer) gave me a Martha Stewart cookbook at a time when Martha Stewart Living was publishing her annual recipes (from 2002 – 2005) that had been in the magazine over the previous year.  I have two of them – dates 2002 and 2003 – that I had not opened in at least 10 years.  And they really are quite good.  A lot of basic recipes, great photos, and organized seasonally.  I found the gougère recipe in the 2002 volume – using Gruyere cheese, salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg.   Easy to make, and fantastic warm right out of the oven.  Irv and I had to stop ourselves.  They tasted great the next day stuffed with curried chicken salad.  I can certainly see making these for a dinner party – they would go fast!

Sunday I realized I perhaps had taken on too much too fast.  More puffs (chocolate) and then what I was kind of dreading – using a pastry bag – which is necessary for making eclairs.  It also began to dawn on me that I was learning my first baking lesson - it is essential to get all your ingredients, pans, and other supplies together and ready to go before you even begin the baking process. In other words, don’t make the pastry before you lay out your pans with the parchment paper (and for me, penciling on circles so the puffs would be basically the same size, and drawing lines for the eclairs), have the oven turned on, cooling racks in place, mixer set up, and ingredients measured and all set to go (including the eggs cracked).  It makes the process so much easier and minimizes mistakes.  It also helps to be patient and read the instructions carefully.  These seems obvious, but too many times when cooking I read the recipe too fast, don’t get my stuff together, then don’t realize how fast some things have to come together = disaster.

I am also pastry bag challenged. The videos I watch make it look simple, but this is something I need to work on.  Normally, I can’t seem to get the pastry bag tip cut right and the stuff comes out the bottom on all sides of the tip, sometimes I overfill and the stuff comes out the top, and other times I can’t seem to get it to squeeze right.  It just is awkward.  I did okay on piping the eclairs, but filling them was another (messy) story.  I admit Irv had to step in and take over as pastry cream was oozing outside of the tip.  Not that getting pastry cream all over your hands is a bad thing, just sloppy.  We got four eclairs filled successfully and declared victory!  Hooray!

I don’t know how bakers do it – baking the same thing day in and day out – it is exhausting.  We did not think we would get to the profiteroles, but I rallied late Sunday.  I forced poor Irv to try one – the ice cream was delicious….

Thank goodness the treadmill has arrived.  Only about 95 bakes left to go!

Cream Puffs – vanilla CHECK
Cream Puffs – chocolate CHECK
Eclairs  CHECK
Profiteroles CHECK
Gougère CHECK
Pastry Cream (vanilla and chocolate) CHECK
Ice Cream – single flavor CHECK

With all of those leftover egg whites, perhaps meringues next?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My 2017 Baking Essential Challenge ~ Get Set and Go!

In this crazy, turbulent, disruptive year of 2017 I am feeling the need to find some way to cope with change and to set some structure that will keep my focus off of changing policy and politics, and on something educational and constructive.  So after much thought, I decided to give myself a year to regain my long lost baking skills.  In March, Irv and I binge watched the Great British Baking Show and while I could not even begin to gain the depth of knowledge, master design and flavors, and develop the breadth of skills these amateur bakers possess, I can use some serious improvement while also trying techniques and recipes that I have never tried.

Here is my list for the year -- starting out easy (at least for me) with a focus on egg based creations, moving into flour/sugar bakes (various cakes, icings and fillings), then tackling a few specialty baking items (I am assuming I will have gained some skill at this point).  I then plan to try various types of yeast and soda leavened breads.  As I go into the Fall, I am going to try different kinds of cookies, bars, crackers and biscuits, followed by some sweets and candies.  Finally, I will confront my demons - pastry dough in all its various forms. I may change up the order, and certainly can tackle a number of items at the same time (for instance, profiteroles with homemade ice cream).

Here's my list.  I will be posting for posterity and my own record keeping.  My personal weight (and that of Irv's) will NOT be posted at the same time.   Most of the finished products will (hopefully) be going to my office mates or to friends and relatives.

P.S. This baking challenge is corresponding with the delivery of a new in-home tread mill! 😃

Pate a Choux
1.     Cream Puffs – Plain
2.     Cream Puffs – Chocolate
3.     Profiteroles
4.     Eclairs
5.     Gougeres

                  Fillings for Above
1.     Pastry Cream – Vanilla
2.     Pastry Cream – Chocolate
3.     Ice Cream (Homemade)
4.     Chantilly Cream

1.     Sweet
2.     Savory

                  Crepes and Pancakes
1.     Crepes – Dessert
2.     Crepes - Savory
3.     Dutch Baby Pancake
4.     German Puffed Pancake
5.     Kaiserschmarren Viennese Dessert Souffle Pancake
6.     Clafouti

                  Custards, Puddings and Curds
1.     Pot de Creme
2.     Crème Brule
3.     Flan
4.     Panna  Cotta
5.     Banana Pudding
6.     Lemon Curd
7.     Zabaglione
8.     Sabayon
9.     Budino
10.  American Pudding (chocolate, butterscotch, vanilla)
11.  Rice or Tapioca Pudding
12.  British Bread and Butter Pudding
13.  Steamed Pudding
14.  Mousse
15.  Fruit Fool

1.     Pavlova – large
2.     Pavlova  - mini
3.     Floating Island
4.     Baked Alaska (using Italian Meringue)
5.     Pie or Cake/Cupcake with Meringue Topping

Ice Cream
1.     Basic Custard – single flavor
2.     Basic Custard – complex
3.     Gelato
4.     Sorbet – Fruit
5.     Sorbet - Other
6.     Ice Cream Sundae
7.     Ice Cream Float
8.     Semi Freddo
9.     Bombe
10.  Granita

Sugar and Baking

1.     Shortened (Butter) Layer Cake
2.     Sponge Cake – Genoise
3.     Sponge Cake – Jelly roll/roulade
4.     Dacquoise
5.     Baby or Small Cake (any kind)
6.     6 layer cake
7.     Cake with Fruit or Vegetable (Apple, Lemon, Orange, Carrot, Coconut, etc)
8.     Bundt Cake
9.     Tube Cake
10.  Coffee Cake
11.  Muffins
12.  Madeleines
13.  Pound Cake
14.  Lady Fingers
15.  Molten Chocolate Cake
16.  Flourless Cake
17.  Torte
18.  Unbaked/No Bake Cake (ice cream, icebox)

                  Fillings and Icings
1.     Buttercream
2.     Cream Cheese
3.     Glaze (Chocolate)
4.     Glaze (Confectionary Sugar)
5.     7 minute
6.     Ganache
7.     Whipped Cream
8.     Lemon Curd or other fruit curd

Specialty Baking

1.     Tiramisu
2.     Charlotte
3.     Cheesecake
4.     Rum Baba
5.     Doughnuts
6.     Beignets
7.     Lady Fingers
8.     Churros
9.     Cannoli
10.  Baklava
11.  Tarte Tatin


1.     No Knead Artisanal Bread
2.     French Baguette
3.     Pita Bread
4.     Popovers
5.     Brioche
6.     Yeasted Coffee Cake
7.     Quick or Soda Bread
8.     Babka

Cookies, Bars, Crackers and Biscuits

1.     Drop Cookies
2.     Bar Cookies
3.     Refrigerator Cookies
4.     Shaped or Spritz Cookies
5.     Cookie Cutter Cookies
6.     Brownies
7.     Italian – Biscotti
8.     Italian – Pignoli
9.     French – Longue-de-chat
10.  French – Macarons
11.  French – Tuile

                  Crackers and Biscuits
1.     British Style Scones
2.     Buttermilk Biscuits

Sweets and Candies

1.     Marshmallows
2.     Brittle
3.     Bark
4.     Chocolate Truffles
5.     Caramel Sauce

Pastry and Pies

1.     Pate Brisee - Pies
2.     Pate Sucree - Tarts
3.     Puff Pastry - Croissants
4.     Hot Water Crust – Meat Pies
5.     Turnovers/Hand Pies – sweet or savory
6.     Danish Pastry
7.     Specialty Bread (e.g., Polish Poppyseed Roll, Greek Easter Bread, Challah)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

For the Birds

I just want to start out by saying how exhausted Norman is from being a complete jerk of a dog today. He started out the early morning by going for a hike with me on the Barn Island Trail.  We decided to not do the 'loop' which ends up at the end of our road because our neighbor there has several roaming dogs that Norman immediately tries to pick a fight with.  Trying to avoid that scene, I opted to walk the trail 2 miles in one direction then double back.  May I say Sunday @ 7:30 am seems to be take your dog(s!) on the trail without a leash day.  I did not get the newsletter since I spent one hour fending off unleashed dogs from Norman.  One woman, as her dog was galloping at full speed toward us, yells 'he's ok, he is a puppy'...and I say 'he's not, he is dog aggressive' -  needless to say after holding Norman back with the strength of Hercules while he was snarling and she unable to catch her dog as he danced around Norman (no leash and none with her), I did give her a bit of flack about not even having a leash with her ( it was at that point my third unleashed dog encounter and I was exhausted). In the house with another dog Norman is fine.  On a leash, crazy.  

Despite the crazy dog, it was a spectacular weekend weather wise.  I saw egrets in the marsh, a hummingbird in our flowers and Irv and I saw two Baltimore Orioles in our backyard.  

Later in the day, we got to launch one boat then watch our septic system overflow.  Let me explain.  First, over a year ago Irv built a wood dinghy.  Beautiful small boat that until this weekend never saw water.  We brought it over to my parents where we got to give her a maiden voyage- yea!  She floats and no leaking!

She is light and fast and most important seaworthy!   Then we went home.  I was doing several washes since our washing machine in Princeton went bust when Irv saw sewage coming out of the overflow valves.  Ugh!   We had to call 'a guy' immediately.  Good news, it wasn't the cesspool failing.  Bad news, the pipe to the septic was clogged and is caving in.  More $$$$$.  There is nothing worse than septic problems.  They stink!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tashtego's launch and Norman's Seafaring Adventure

"This past week was quite momentous for us.  First, Tashtego (Irv's beloved Bristol Skiff) finally saw water for the first time in over a year.  When we returned from England Irv got the good news that there was a slip available in a marina close to the Hippie House.

It is small, clean, has really nice owners and is the last marina on the Pawcatuck River as it opens into Little Narragansett Bay - a 5 minute drive from the house. Saturday we took a boat ride.  What a beautiful day.  It was good to see Irv 'back at the helm' - especially because it has been 12 months since he was in the hospital for his heart valve operation and that long since he has been on a boat.

Very exciting as this was also Norman's first time on a boat.  We are giving it a try.  Thank goodness we bought him a life vest as it served as a double restraint keeping him in the boat when a flock of swans came swimming by.  As a Pointer,  he loves his birds, rabbits, and wood chucks.  No rabbit is safe In our yard (poor things).  He is quite a birder!

He was mesmerized!  And he loved the ride! Note my restraining him.  He just wanted to push the envelope.  

As for the gardening, 35 bags of mulch later Irv and I finally weeded, mulched and planted (for now) the garden in front of the house.

Gardening is an act of faith and love.  I am looking forward to seeing how (or whether) it fills out like the gardens we saw in England.  

Footnote:  I should note that someone did take the Buddha statute on the trail (sad!) but we did get to meet the person who manages the Boy Scout camp who stopped  to introduce himself while we were gardening ( Fran, the Boy Scout man).  He gave us permission to walk on the camp grounds and all he wants in exchange is for us to  keep an eye on the place.  Deal!  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hummingbirds and Hostas

It is Memorial Day weekend and we have been at the Hippie House 9 months.  Where did the time go?  We haven't been here for weeks.  We are in the process of trying to put down our paint brushes ( at least for a while) and focus on putting a boat in the water and taming the wild yard that is emerging.  The weather is not cooperating with forecasts of showers on and off all weekend.  But after spending 10 days driving through the English countryside, it is hard not to want to get our gardens to look like these English beauties:


 We saw wisteria and clematis draped cottages, gardens filled with blooming columbine, bleeding hearts, iris, artichokes, lettuce and onions.  I will give it a try.  I am hoping this is the 'before' picture of the front garden.  Let's see how it looks in August.  

 The yard has some things going for it.  First, the Hostas.  There are tons of very mature Hostas all over the yard.  Second, we are starting to see some of the perennials emerge - bleeding hearts, columbine, perhaps phlox.  I saw one hummingbird yesterday and another on the pink columbine this morning - a ruby throated hummingbird.  And finally (not a plus but a fact of gardening life) the weeds!  There are tons of weeds-everywhere-in every patio paver crack, throughout the gravel walks and taking over every bed.  Back breaking, hand pain weeds.  Ugh.  But today we are going to visit a couple of plant nurseries and see what we can find that doesn't break the bank account!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lewis- a great dog

On Monday, our beloved 15 year old dog Lewis passed away - leaving us with joyful memories but a bit of a broken heart.  He was such a sweet boy and he was the last of the marauding Gang of Four ( Cody, Clifford, Ernie and Lewis) when we were insane enough to have four dogs at once.  

When we first saw Lewis it was love at first sight.  Irv and I were watching a local TV show when 'Homeless Tails' came on promoting Lewis ( then Winston) for adoption.  He had been neglected to a point that the shelter had to surgically remove his collar.  We called immediately and drove down to south Jersey to pick him up and whisk him home ( he took one look at Clifford and immediately ran back into the shelter but they quickly became dog pals).  

A year later Irv tells the story that he and Lewis were watching the same local TV station when there was a year in review of Homeless Tails showing pictures of all the dogs that had been adopted. Irv says that when Lewis's picture came up he got off the couch and sat in front of the TV.  When his picture passed he returned to the couch.  

For 15 years he has been a joy - a dog who always gave kisses and wagged his tail when he saw you -- even at his last moments on earth.  He loved life and despite the vet telling us the last four years that he was dying he persevered.  We are grateful that on Sunday he did what he loved to do - walk the yard, bark at neighbors, eat roast chicken and lay in the grass on a sunny spring day.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Goat on the Goat House

While the days seem to be warming up in Princeton (Ptown) , this spring in Ptuck (as Irv likes to call the Hippie House location) is still a bit cool and damp.  We have been up in Ptuck the last two weekends trying to get the 2 guest bedrooms and bathroom finished before Memorial Day.  I think it is fair to say they are 'guest ready' for the most part with the exception of the bathtub plumbing (which is currently operating on plumber time which is not like our time but more like 'whenever').

The yard is now cleaned up and seeded thanks to Jim, George and Dave referred by my Dad.
Now the detail work (weeding, edging and planting) is up to me and will be my summer and fall project ( along with some clean up of 'the doll house' and 'the goat house'.)  Irv surprised me with a permanent 'goat on things' (see 'goatonthings.tumblr.com) gift - a goat weathervane so a goat will always be on the roof

The dogs, however, have not been as energetic about pressing to get things done.  Their days consist of trying to get up on the furniture, scaring the neighborhood horses, barking at other dogs and sleeping

Caught in the act.

The horses ignoring me after Norman scared them.  

Irv's friend Linda from Nova Scotia stayed for an evening visit with her lovely dog .  Irv enjoyed catching up and I finally got to meet someone I have heard so much about.  She didn't even blink when we talked while running around trying to kill the giant flying ants that started to emerge in the library.  Nice!  And I had been just thinking how this house was (or so I thought) bug free versus Ptown ( ants and moths are hatching).  Reminder #1 of what I do like about Winter: no ants, snakes, moths, dead baby rabbits ( thx Norman), skunks or dead birds (again thx Norman).  

This week, we start to prepare for Irv's birthday trip to the English coast and savory pie making class!