Holiday

Mini Cream Puffs

Mini Cream Puffs

If you want to surprise someone with a very special sweet treat, you could make cream puffs. These are a bit of work, but the end result is so wonderful. I think they are worth the effort, especially for special occasions. These would be a big hit at any New Year’s party.

You start by make a pate a chou, or cream puff pastry. This is the same dough used to make eclairs. It is a combination of water, butter, milk and flour- cooked on top of the stove, then enriched with the addition of eggs. The dough is piped onto baking sheets and baked until puffed, golden and crisp. Once cooled, they are filled with sweetened whipped cream or, more traditionally, a custard filling. You can serve them as is, or top with chocolate or dust with powdered sugar.

The size you make your cream puffs is really a matter of personal choice. I decided to make mini puffs- about an inch in size. I find them a fun size to serve at a party.

You can also split your puffs and fill them with a savory filling, instead. A crab salad would be a tasty choice.

 

Homemade Cream Puffs

1 recipe Cream Puff Pastry (Pate a Chou)- recipe follows

Egg custard- for filling, or sweetened whipped cream- recipe follows

Chocolate Ganache- for topping- recipe follows, or just use melted chocolate.

 

Start by making the dough. This recipe will make 3-4 dozen mini cream puffs.

 

Cream Puff Pastry

¾ c. water

¼ c. milk

¼ t. salt

½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter

1¼ c. flour – unbleached or bread flour preferred

4 large eggs

Extra milk for brushing

 

In saucepan, heat together water, milk butter and salt into a full boil. Butter has to be melted. While stirring, dump flour into saucepan, stirring constantly. Mixture will form into a ball. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking dough, while stirring, for another minute or two. Place dough in an electric mixer and allow it to cool down a little before adding the eggs. Mixture has to be at 140 degrees F, or below, before you start adding the eggs. I use the paddle attachment and beat the dough before adding the eggs. This cools the dough down faster. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Beat until dough is shiny. A spoon, lifted out of the batter, should leave a peak that does not fall down.

 

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. I used a silicone liner and was happy with the result. Don’t grease the pan. Using a piping bag, squeeze the dough into 1-inch balls on the baking sheet- leaving a little room in between.  Using a little milk on your finger, smooth down any peaks on the puffs.  I missed a few and did get a couple that had cracks on the top. The smoother the balls look, the nicer your puffs will look. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 375. Bake puffs 5- 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. Tap the shells. They should sound hollow. Turn off the heat and leave oven door open a crack, allowing them to dry completely. Cool before filling. Makes 3-4 dozen.

 

Custard Filling

 

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1⁄3 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

Using a whisk, combine milk, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium heat on stove top. Allow milk to scald (heat to the point when tiny bubbles form around edges of pan). Whisk occasionally to prevent cornstarch from clumping on bottom edges of pan. Remove milk mixture from heat, preferably to a burner that’s turned off.

Mix about 2 tablespoons of scalded milk mixture into eggs using whisk, then introduce eggs into milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking milk mixture constantly. Immediately return pan to heat and whisk gently until custard thickens, another two or three minutes. Do not allow to boil. (If you find that you have egg white strands in custard, feel free to pass it through a fine-mesh sieve into a different bowl now.) Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool before using. Makes 3 cups.

 

To fill the puffs, using a small piping tip with a pastry bag, filled with the custard. Squeeze filling in on the bottom, squeezing until it feels full.

 

Once cream puffs are filled, top with melted chocolate or chocolate ganache. I just dipped the tops of the cream puffs in melted chocolate. The chocolate hardened into a thin, crisp shell of chocolate on the puffs, adding a fun crunch.Filled puffs should be stored in fridge until ready to serve. They can be frozen.

 

Chocolate Ganache

4- 6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped- or 1 cup chocolate chips

2 oz. heavy whipping cream

 

In saucepan, heat chocolate and cream together until just heated through. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. You can also do this in a microwave safe bowl, in the microwave for about a minute. Remove and stir until smooth. Makes 1 cup.

 

 

 

 

Scrooge 2.0

I was thinking the other day, about how popular the story, A Christmas Carol, still is today. Charles Dickens first published the story in 1843. Dozens of versions of the story have been made into movies.

When someone is called a Scrooge, we certainly know what they mean. It isn’t good.

But, if you think about it, it is kind of unfair to old Ebenezer.

He was an awful person. Stingy, cold and uncaring. But he changed. Isn’t that the whole point of the story?  In Scrooge’s case it took three ghosts to wake him up. The point is, he woke up, before it was too late.

So I think we all have the chance to choose which Scrooge we want to be. We can be the first Scrooge, who makes poor Bob Crachit work long hours, for little pay, and cares more about money than people. It is a pretty lonely life.

Or we can be the second Scrooge. Scrooge 2.0, if you like. This is the guy who learns to love again. He learns to care and to find a generosity of spirit. According to the story, he lived the rest of his life that way. Better late, than never.

So what makes someone the new and improved version of Scrooge?

Well, the obvious stuff is to be generous. Which does not have to mean giving money to people. You don’t have to give money away. Heck, you might not have money to spare. But if you can afford too, sharing some of it is a nice thing to do.

It is about being generous in spirit, though. Spending time with someone who needs the company.

It could mean donating your time to a charity, or just helping out a friend.

It means trying to accept people who think differently than you. This one can be hard- trust me.

It means not assuming people are poor because they are lazy. There are lots of reasons folks may be down on their luck.

It means being more patient.  This is one I need to work on- especially in traffic!!

It means treating people with love, rather than hate.

It means trying to find value in people- even if it isn’t always obvious.

It means being a little less judgemental.

Be nice to kids.

Be nice to animals.

It means loving yourself. You deserve to be loved.

 

I know there are plenty of the old Scrooges out there. Call me an optimist, I think a lot more people are like the new Scrooge. The Scrooge who knows what really matters in life. Most of those people didn’t have to be visited by three ghosts to figure that out, either.

I am also not sure we can change other people to be more caring and loving, at least not as easily as Dickens did. Dickens had three ghosts to help him out, after all.  But we can work on ourselves. In the end, only we are responsible for how we treat other people.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be in the post- dream Scrooge world? Surrounded by people who open their hearts to others, people who give, not for recognition, but just because it is the right thing to do.

I know those people are out there. I know a lot of them. I am blessed to have a lot of people like that in my life. I hope you are, too.

 

Happy Holidays.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

It is the time of year when a lot of people are baking cookies. I thought I would share one of my favorite cookie recipes with you. It takes the chocolate chip cookie to another level. Kind of dressed up for the holidays.

These little cookies are delicate and full of flavor. I will admit to being a big fan of shortbread cookies.I make a lot of different shortbread cookies for Christmas. This one is always on my list.

 

These are enhanced with mini chocolate chips and just melt in your mouth. I leave them as is, but you could add a drizzle of melted chocolate, if you like.

 

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

1 c. butter (no substitutions), softened
½ c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. flour
¼ c. cornstarch
½ c. mini chocolate chips
2-3 T. granulated sugar
With electric mixer beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla until well mixed. Stir in flour and cornstarch and then stir in chips. Form into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased baking sheet. Pour granulated sugar on a small plate and dip bottom of drinking glass into the sugar and use this to gently flatten down the cookies. Press small indent in each cookie with a teaspoon. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cookies start to brown on the bottom. Cool on sheets 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Makes about 3 ½ dozen.

Christmas Tree Coffee Cake

Christmas Tree Coffee Cake

This Christmas “tree” has become a tradition around here. I make one as a gift for a dear friend every year. If you are looking for something to serve for Christmas morning, or even as a dessert option, I suggest you make this coffee cake. The recipe actually makes 2 “trees,” so you can have one to give- and one to keep. Or perhaps, one for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day.

The dough is prepared, then chilled before rolling. You can do that a day, or even two days, ahead of time. The rolls are filled with a pineapple and cream cheese mixture and are very tasty.

The rolls are arranged in a tree pattern before baking. Then, after baking,  the “tree” is topped with a light glaze and gently sprinkled with red and green sugars. So pretty, and not that hard to make.

Here is the recipe.

Christmas Tree Coffee Cake

Dough:
4-4 1/2 c. bread flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. salt
2 packages active dry yeast
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. butter
1 egg
Filling:
1 lb. Cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 t. nutmeg
dash salt
1/4 t. vanilla
1 (20 oz.) can pineapple in its own juice drained and squeezed dry
Topping:
11 Maraschino cherries, halved
2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. milk
red and green sugars

For dough in large mixing bowl combine 2 cups of the flour with the sugar, salt and yeast. Heat together the milk, water and butter until very warm. Add to flour mixture and beat 2 minutes. Add egg and 1 more cup of flour and beat 2 more minutes. Stir in enough of the remaining dough to make a stiff batter, about 1 cup. Cover bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days before using. For filling combine all ingredients for the filling except the pineapple and beat until smooth. Stir in pineapple and set aside until ready to use. Remove dough from fridge cut in half. Roll out one piece on lightly floured surface into a 10×11- inch rectangle. Spread with half the filling, leaving an inch at the end of 11-inch side. Roll up from eleven- inch side. Use thread or dental floss to cut through dough in 1-inch pieces by placing thread under roll and crossing ends. Pull outward and thread should cut through dough. If you aren’t having any luck you can always use a knife, but they tend to flatten the rolls. On a greased baking sheet arrange the slices (you should have 11) into a tree shape. Start with one on the top and then a row of 2 below then 3 and then 4. The last roll will serve as the trunk. Cover dough with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. When dough is risen, about 1-2 hours bake in a 375- degree oven for 15 minutes then cover edges with foil to prevent over browning and return to oven for 10 minutes more. Cool on wire rack. Place half a cherry in the middle of each roll. Make a glaze with powdered sugar and milk and drizzle over. Sprinkle with the sugars. Makes 2 trees, 11 rolls each. Can be frozen up to a month ahead . defrost in a 350 -degree oven for 10 minutes and apply toppings.

Fig Kolachy Cookies

Fig Kolachy

These cookies really speak to me about the holidays. I have fond memories of making these delicate cookies with my Mother every Christmas. I still make them.

I often make them with a cherry filling, but have also used blueberry, apple or nut fillings. I decided to make a batch with fig jam, for a change.

I made my own fig jam, ( recipe follows)  but you could use store bought, if you prefer. You can also finish off the cookies with a light dusting of powdered sugar, if you like. I really love the way they taste. Something rich about the cookie. Perfect end to a holiday meal.

 

Fig Kolachy

Dough

3 sticks butter

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

3 cups flour

Fig Jam– recipe follows

Powdered sugar, optional

Mix dough ingredients together and chill well before using.

Roll out chilled dough into squares or circles. Spoon a little fig filling into the center and pinch 2 ends or corners together. Bake in 350-degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until golden on edges. Cool and dust with powdered sugar. Makes 4-5 dozen.

 

Fig Jam

1 lb. dried figs
2 c. water
1-2 c. sugar- I used 1 cup, but use according to your taste
Zest of 2 lemons
2 t. cinnamon
Chop up figs and place in saucepan with the water and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add sugar, zest and cinnamon and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking. Puree mixture and set aside to cool.

 

Cinnamon Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Cinnamon Pecan Shortbread

It seems I am always making variations on shortbread cookies. I love shortbread. I am not alone- so many friends have told me the same thing. There is something about the crumbly texture of shortbread that makes them a favorite for a lot of people.

This recipe is a classic shortbread, topped with cinnamon and pecans. They are really good. You just make a batch of dough, top with a cinnamon – pecan mixture, and bake. Could not be simpler.

As soon as they come out of the oven cut them into little strips. I got nearly 100 out of one batch. It depends on the size you cut them. If you are looking for a simple, yet wonderful cookie, you might want to try these.

 

  Cinnamon Pecan Shortbread Cookies

1 c. butter

1 c. sugar

1 egg, separated

2 c. flour

1 T. water

½ c. finely chopped pecans

2 t. cinnamon

 

Lightly grease jellyroll pan (10×15). Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk then stir in flour. Pat into pan. Beat egg white with water until frothy and spread over dough. Combine pecans and cinnamon. Sprinkle on nut mixture and bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut immediately into tiny strips, makes 50- 100 .

Cream Wafers

Cream Wafer Cookies

Cream Wafers  are a little more work than most cookies, but they are worth it. They are the most requested cookies of all the ones I make. The secret is the dough, which contains no sugar. It is made from only three ingredients- flour, butter and heavy whipping cream.

When baked, they turn into flaky layers that melt in your mouth.  Seriously, if you want to really impress this holiday season, show up at a party with these cookies.

Cream wafers are coated in sugar before baking. You can use tinted sugar, if you like. Once baked and cooled, they are made into little sandwich cookies, using a buttercream frosting. You can also tint the frosting if you like.

Because they puff when baking and become thicker, and you are using two of them to make the sandwich cookie, be sure to roll them out pretty thin.

Here is the recipe. Hope you enjoy!!

 

Cream Wafers

1 c. butter
1/3 c. heavy whipping cream
2 c. flour
extra fine or granulated sugar
Frosting:
¼ c. butter, softened
¾ c. powdered sugar
1 T. milk
1 t. vanilla
food coloring, if desired

Mix butter, cream and flour well. Wrap and chill at least an hour. Roll chilled dough 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured board. Cut out into 1½ inch rounds or even little hearts or stars. Transfer cookies to a sheet of wax paper heavily coated with extra fine or granulated sugar and coat both sides. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and prick each cookie 4 times with a fork. Bake at 375-degrees 7-9 minutes until lightly browned and puffy. Cool on rack. Mix frosting ingredients. Put 2 cookies together with frosting to make “sandwiches”.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

I never met a shortbread cookie I didn’t like. These are no exception.  With the addition of cocoa, you end up with a cookie that has the traditional delicate texture of shortbread, with the added bonus of a rich chocolate flavor.

They are great just plain, dusted with powdered sugar or, my favorite way, brushed with a little melted bittersweet chocolate. Simple, tasty and a nice treat for the chocolate lovers you love.

I used a heart shaped cookie cutter, but you can cut them out in seasonal shapes, too, like snowflakes or trees.

 

Chocolate Shortbread

1 c. butter, room temperature

3/4 c. sugar

2 c. flour

1/3 c. cocoa

1/4 t. salt

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Beat together butter and sugar until well blended. Mix together dry ingredients and slowly beat into butter mixture, stirring it in at the end. Roll out dough about 1/4 inch thick and cut out with cookie cutters. Re-roll scraps and cut out the remaining dough. Place on an un-greased baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees until cookies are firm around the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.  Melt chocolate and dip cookies in it or use chocolate to hold 2 cookies together. Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on the size.

Polish Butter Cookies

Polish Butter Cookies

Don’t let their simple appearance fool you. The flavor and texture of these cookies is really special. They have a secret ingredient that you probably haven’t used in cookies before. The ingredient is eggs.

 

I know, you use eggs in cookies all the time. But you probably haven’t used COOKED eggs in cookies. More specifically, hard cooked egg yolks. Cooked yolks are pressed through a fine sieve and added to the dough. The end result is a cookie with an amazing delicate texture and rich flavor. If you don’t want to have a bunch of cooked egg whites to use up, you can do what I do. I separate the whites and yolks of raw eggs. I always have recipes that call for egg whites, so they don’t go to waste. Then I simmer water in a small saucepan. I gently add the egg yolks, and poach them until they are cooked through. Drain well, pat dry and cool before using them in the cookie dough.

 

Polish Butter Cookies

 

Dough:

1 c. butter

3/4 c. sugar

5 hard-cooked egg yolks, pressed through a fine sieve

1 t. vanilla

2 1/4 c. flour

1 t. salt

Glaze:

1 egg white

1 t. water

1/3 c. sugar

1/2-1 t. cinnamon

 

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in flour and salt. Wrap dough and chill for at least an hour. Roll out 1/4 of the dough at a time into scant 1/4 -inch thickness. Use extra flour sparingly and use a marble rolling pin or one with a cloth sleeve.  I also keep extra dough chilled until ready to roll. Cut out with cookie cutters and place on greased baking sheet. Mix egg white with water and brush on cookies. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on cookies. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10-12 minutes. Cookies will be golden. Makes around 5 dozen, depending on the size of the cutters.

 

Soft Butter Cookies

Soft Butter Cookies

If you are looking for a truly tender cookie, this may be it. These cookies are so delicate, they just melt in your mouth!! The secret ingredient might surprise you. It is oil. Yes, I know I said butter cookies – they also contain butter. But the combination of oil and butter makes them soft and delicate, even days after baking.

They also contain both granulated and powdered sugar. Not your typical cookie recipe, for sure.   This just may be my “go to” butter cookie recipe from now on.

I found a sheet of paper with the ingredients written on it. No directions, just ingredients listed and a notation about cooking time and oven temperature. I wish I knew where I got the recipe. I would certainly give the source credit. I did increase the amount of vanilla a little. You don’t have to chill the dough and they roll very easily, without sticking to your fingers. You could chill the dough, but let it warm up a little before rolling. The dough can also be made ahead and frozen- I tested it.

I dipped the tops of the raw cookies in sprinkles, but you could leave them plain and then roll in powder sugar, once baked and cooled, or drizzle with melted chocolate.

 

Soft Butter Cookies

1 c. butter

1 c. oil, I used avocado oil

1 c. sugar

1 c. powdered sugar

2 eggs

1 T. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

1 t. cream of tartar

½ t. salt

4 ½ c. flour

 

In mixing bowl, beat together butter, oil, sugars and vanilla. Once well blended, beat in eggs. Stir in the baking soda, cream of tartar and salt, then add the flour, mixing until well combined. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into one inch balls and press tops of cookies in sprinkles or colored sugar, if desired. Place one inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes, or until light golden on bottom. Leave cookies on baking sheets 3 minutes before placing on cooling rack. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.