Sunday, August 26, 2018

Cherry Almond Eclairs

If you have ever experimented with choux pastry, you will find that it is very forgiving and is very European. If your piping (or forming) of these pastry shells is not so pretty, you can scrape the dough off the parchment and put it back in the piping bag to try again. As far as being European, the shell itself is not very sweet, unlike most American desserts. Most of the sweet flavor stems from the whipped cream filling and icing drizzle on top.

These eclairs bake up nice an airy. They are like houses waiting to be furnished, but a lot cheaper and tastier! You can customize them with your favorite flavored filling and icing. Another plus is that they are fairly easy to make.

The filling in these eclairs have the classic flavor pairing of almond liqueur and cherries, swirled together with two types of cream. Eclairs are not too common in the US, however, they should be on your bucket list as a must try if you have not already experienced this special pastries. This recipe makes about 8-12 eclairs, depending on the width when they are piped/formed.

Cherry Almond Eclairs
adapted from 

Ingredients/choux pastry
3 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt

2 tbs of powdered sugar
1/2 cup softened marscapone cheese
1/2 cup almond liqueur
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dried cherries
pinch of salt

2-3 tbs milk or water
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup powdered sugar (sifted)

Start with preparing the guideline sheet for piping the choux dough. Gather together a sheet of parchment paper (big enough to line the bottom interior of a baking sheet), a ruler and a pencil. Using the ruler, draw a straight line parallel and one inch below the long edge of the parchment paper. Drop the ruler down 3 inches from that line and draw another parallel line. Repeat the process below that line, but only drop down 1/2 an inch for one line and then the 3 inches for the next. Then draw again with the same instructions. You should have 3 sections 3 inches wide with a 1/2 inch strip between them. Place this sheet (penciled side down) on the bottom interior of the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Fill a saucepan with the butter, salt and water. Place over medium high heat and let come to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon as the butter melts. At that time, reduce the heat to medium. Empty a cup of flour into the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend. As you blend the ingredients, the flour will cook. Be sure to mix vigorously so all the lumps disappear, this should take about 2 minutes. The mixture should clump together and leave a very thin sheet of dough sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and fit the mixer with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to low which will knead the dough. As the mixer is running, the dough will be cooling off. After about 3-4 minutes, it should reach the desired temperature-being just warm to the touch.

Maintain the same speed and add one egg. The mixing will cause the dough to separate at first, but after a few minutes the mixture will form into a dough again. At that time, switch the mixer speed to medium low and blend the dough for another 20 seconds. Reduce the speed back to low and repeat the same process with the additional eggs, blending one at a time.

Prepare a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch star tip. Empty the dough into the bag and push it down, reducing the air in the bag. Twist the excess part of the bag, so that the dough is compacted towards the star tip. Pipe tight zig zags in the 3 inch sections marked off on the parchment, starting at the top line and spacing about 1/2 an inch apart. You should be able to fit 3-4 pipings of the zig zagged choux dough in each 3 inch section.

Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Eclairs are done when they are featherweight and golden brown. Remove pan from oven and transfer the choux shells to a cooling rack.

For the filling, start by adding the almond liqueur and dried cherries to a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and let the mixture heat up. The liquid should get hot to the touch and removed prior to simmering or boiling. Once removed from the heat, let the mixture rest in the saucepan for about an hour or until cool. After this time, place a bowl underneath a sieve and pour the cherry/almond mixture into the seive and strain out all of the liquid. Reserve the almond liquid in a small bowl. Finely chop the cherries, bearing in mind that the pieces have to flow though a 1/2 inch plain piping tip.

Place the bowl of a stand mixer and wire whisk attachment in the refrigerator to chill. Then mix the chopped cherries and the marscapone cheese together in a small bowl until the cherries are evenly distributed. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the reserved almond liquid, blending well. Set aside.

Take the chilled bowl and whisk out of the refrigerator. Attach to the stand mixer and fill with the heavy cream. Run the mixer on medium high speed for 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract, powdered sugar and salt. Beat on medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Separate out 1/2 cup of the cream and blend it into the marscapone/cherry mixture. Add that mixture back into the large bowl of whipped cream and beat again on low speed about 10 seconds. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

As the filling is keeping cold, make the icing. Combine the powdered sugar and water or milk to form a smooth glaze. Set aside.

To assemble the eclairs, fill a pastry bag (fitted with a 1/2 inch round pastry tip) with the chilled cream filling. Twist the end of the bag to get all of the air out. Poke a hole in one end of an eclair shell and squeeze the filling into the hole until cream comes out of the hole (indicating that the shell is filled). Continue this process until all shells are filled. Place the shell back on the parchment paper. Brush the surface of each eclair with the glaze until all crevasses and top surface is covered. Sprinkle each with slivered almonds.

Let set for 1 hour prior to serving, so glaze can harden.

Tips and Notes:

1. I tried to use a large Bismark type of pastry tip to fill the shells and it got clogged. A regular (1/2 round) tip is the best to use.

2. There will be extra pastry filling, so you may want cut the amount of each ingredient in half to start or find a use for the extra.

3. Some of the shells baked up with holes in the side, but it did not cause a major issue. If you do not have the pastry tips, you can slice and sandwich the top and bottom together with the filling. Then you do not have to worry about the holes forming when baked.
                                         **LAST YEAR: Sawmill Toffee**

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Grand Hotel Pecan Balls

The weather here in Texas is now pretty scorching. This heat is not only in Texas, I recently got a comment indicating that it was too hot to turn the oven on and that it was time for ice cream. In response, I cranked up the ice cream maker instead of the oven for this post.

If you are looking for something chilly and sweet, you have come to the right place. These baseball-sized scoops of homemade maple ice cream coated with crunchy roasted pecans are a super summer treat. While they are tasty on their own,the rich chocolate sauce is the crowning touch.

Most of the time spent on this recipe is waiting for the ice cream to firm up in the freezer. The end result, however, is worth the wait time. So pull out that ice cream maker-you will be glad you did! This recipe makes about 6 servings. Be sure to plan for the long amount of chilling time for the ice cream.

Grand Hotel Pecan Balls
adapted from recipelink and serious eats websites

Ingredients/Maple Ice Cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 tbs invert sugar (recipe found here)
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup maple syrup
6 egg yolks

Ingredients/covering and sauce
2 cups roasted pecans/ chopped
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 lb chocolate chips
2 cups light corn syrup
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs cream de cacao

For the ice cream, start by blending the yolks together in a saucepan. Then mix in the maple syrup, heavy cream and half and half. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly as mixture cooks. Liquid batter will thicken up, forming a custard. This process should take about 10-15 minutes. To test for correct consistency, use the back of a spoon. Mixture should coat the spoon and leave a clean line when swiped with your finger.

 Remove from heat and mix in invert sugar. Let cool for 20 minutes, then transfer to heat proof bowl. Cover with air tight lid and place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight. After the chilling step, transfer custard to an ice cream maker. Follow manufacturers' instructions for making ice cream. Once completed, transfer back to airtight container and let chill again, in the freezer, for 3 hours. Then scoop into 6 - 8 balls and roll in chopped pecans. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and freeze until ready to serve.

About 1 hour prior to serving, prepare the sauce. Fill a saucepan with the heavy cream, corn syrup and sugar. Whisk together and place over medium high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips, vanilla extract and cream de cacao. Once chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, let cool. Then plate each ice cream ball with 1/4 cup of chocolate sauce underneath.

Tips and notes:
1. Do not skip the roasting of the pecans, this insures that they stay crunchy even though they are covering ice cream.

2. This recipe makes a lot of chocolate sauce. If you just want a drizzle for serving instead of the 1/4 cup, cut the recipe in half or fourths to reduce the amount left over,

3. The ice cream turned out silky and hard, so consistency was not an issue when forming the rounds. If you prefer something softer for serving, try plating with warm chocolate sauce or taking the ice cream rounds out of the freezer for awhile.
                                     **LAST YEAR: Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies**

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cinnamon Popovers

I have always wanted to taste popovers, but this is one item that is rare to find. Actually, I have never even seen any on a menu or in a bakery. Finally, I gave in and decided to give up the search and make a few myself and I was happy with the results. These are on the sweet side with cinnamon, but I am interested in making some savory ones also. Toasty on the outside with a hollow custard textured inside, these popovers make breakfast special and delicious.

These were made with chunks of apples. However, I was not happy with how they reacted when baked. They actually just rose to the surface and got too brown, so the apples are excluded from the ingredients. Other than the apples, this recipe worked out well. The popovers did rise as expected and the recipe did not take a lot of time. This recipe makes 6 large popovers, each well took 1/2 cup of batter.

Cinnamon Popovers
adapted from

1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups milk
2 cups flour
6 eggs

Ingredients/Butter spread
1/4 tsp gnd nutmeg
1/2 tsp gnd cinnamon
2-3 tbs packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup softened butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease the interior of 12 popover cups with butter. Place popover pan in preheated oven for 2-3 minutes and remove.

Whisk together all of the batter ingredients in a large bowl. While the popover pan is still hot, fill each cup (almost to the top) with the batter. Place pan in oven and let bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Popovers are done when golden, airy and puffed- 4-5 inches over cavity rim. Remove pan and let cool slightly in pan.

As it cools, mix together ingredients for butter spread. Serve spread with popovers.

Tips and notes:
1.  Make sure you oven rack has plenty of room for the popovers to rise. They should not be too close to another rack or the top broiler.

2. Feel free to change up the flavor with other spices. However, if you decide to add in pieces of anything to the batter, they will float to the surface and be part of the outer cust.
                       **LAST YEAR: Choco Berry Ice cream Pie**