Cream Puffs

Channel surfing a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto the Kids Baking Championship on Food Network. Since I first started watching the Great British Baking Show, I’ve felt the urge to improve my baking skills.

One skill I never thought of adding was pate a choux (pronounced pat-a-shoe), the dough used to make cream puffs. Easier by far to simply buy frozen puffs in the store – something I never do because, frankly, I don’t think in terms of eating puff anything.

But the Kids Baking Championship challenged me to learn this new, intermediate baking skill. I mean, if 10 and 11 year old kiddos can make puff pastry, I should be able to make it too.

The recipe came from everywhere. The ingredients are easy to remember: 1 cup of water. 1 stick of butter. 1 cup of flour. 1 cup of eggs. 1 pinch of salt.

Really? One cup of eggs? Turns out, this means four eggs.

CreamPuffs-01-IMG_4665

The water, butter, and salt goes into a pot, brought to a rolling boil at medium high temperature. Remove from heat, then add the flour all at once. Stir, stir, stir until the flour is incorporated. Put the pot back on the heat for about a minute, still stirring, to let some of the moisture out of the dough.

CreamPuffs-02-IMG_4668

Let the dough cool somewhat so the eggs don’t scramble when you add them. I stuck my (clean) finger in the dough and figured if was safe to add the eggs as long as the dough didn’t feel hot. It was warm.

I beat the eggs into the flour, butter, and water mixture one at a time, using my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. (I imagine a hand mixer will also work). The result should be a glossy, thick dough that slowly drops off your beaters.

CreamPuffs-03-IMG_4677 (2)

Pipe into two inch rounds on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone pad. Brush with an egg wash (one egg, one Tbsp. water) to keep the edges and points of the rounds from burning.

Bake in a pre-heated 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees and back about another 15 to 20 minutes.

CreamPuffs-04_IMG_4678

I remembered from watching both shows that some contestants didn’t cook their puffs long enough. I may have erred on the other side. These looked a bit overdone to me.

Cool on racks. Meanwhile, put together your filling. I used whipped cream (2 cups cream, 1 Tbsp.sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla). When the puffs are cool, poke a hole in the bottom of each one and fill with your filling. You’ll need to use a pastry bag for this, which is more difficult than it looks. Again, I was thinking about those ten-year olds. Although I have to admit, Jim was curious and decided that my fumble-fingers needed help. Thank you, Jim!

CreamPuffs-05-IMG_4679

How’d they taste? Really, pretty bland. Since this was a first (maybe only) attempt, I kept things very basic. On my way around the Internet to find the recipe, I did see some yummy-sounding savory fillings (think cheese and mushroom) and some livelier sweet fillings (think lemon curd).

Meanwhile, the ones I made this morning might be improved by dipping them in chocolate ganache. Maybe next time…

Violets in Winter

VioletsinWinter-IMG_4641

I spent the morning propagating new African Violets from existing plants. Why? I’m nervous about the weather. This fall, I lost a couple of plants due to a sudden cold snap before we turned the furnace on. Lucky for me, I already had some leaves propagating.

The process is fairly simple. Cut a leaf from the plant. Taking leaves from the second row is best because they’re younger than those on the outer edge. Snip the top third of the leaf and cut the leaf stem – called the petiole – on a 45 degree angle. Plant it in a small pot filled with a light soilless mixture. I like to use half African Violet mix that you can buy in most nurseries and half perlite.

The cups are simply plastic with a hole poked into the bottom. I use a hammer and an ice pick to poke the hole and then I slip a bit of yarn or nylon string through the hole to act as a watering wick. What works best for me is twisted nylon Mason line #18.

Finally, place a larger plastic cup with holes in the top for air circulation over the smaller cup. This creates a mini greenhouse for humidity.

Then you wait.

VioletsinWinter-02-IMG_4642

In about three months, if you’re lucky, you’ll get something that looks like this.

VioletsinWinter-03-IMG_4643

Or this.

The trick is to never over-water or under-water. Figuring that out takes some practice and, frankly, some luck. I’ve switched from plain, filtered water to water with a bit of chamomile tea. Just as the tea prevents damping off with seeds, it seems to prevent leaf rot.

VioletsinWinter-04-IMG_4646

In about a year, I may have something that looks like this beautiful Bob Serbin violet.

I have several go-to places for information about African Violets. One is The Violet Barn.