Bake at a Moment’s Notice

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It all started with the egg yolks.
A few days ago, I was commissioned to make a pan of s’mores fudge bars by a lovely co-worker of mine (my first sale!), and the recipe uses egg whites to make the marshmallow topping. I absolutely hate wasting ingredients, and I wondered what I could do with the 2 egg yolks left over. A cake, perhaps?
So I went to work looking for a recipe. Apparently, I’m not alone in not wanting to waste ingredients. Cakes weren’t a prevalent choice of recipe, but here was mini eclairs for two! Was this something I really wanted to take on? I scanned the recipe and, what do you know? I just happened to have the exact amount of heavy cream it called for, another ingredient I was trying to find a use for! From then on, it was pretty much kismet. 😉
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Mini Eclairs
makes 6
For the pastry cream:
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
2 T. flour
pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla

For the eclair:
1/3 c. water
3 T. unsalted butter at room temp
1/3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 large egg, beaten

For the glaze:
1/2 c. chocolate chips or chunks
1 tsp. vegetable shortening

First make the pastry cream. In a small pot, heat the cream until the tiniest bubbles appear at the edge. Do not boil.
Meanwhile, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add egg yolks and whisk together. The mixture will be crumbly. Very slowly pour the warm cream into the yolk mixture while continuing to whisk. This process is called tempering the eggs, and you pour it slowly so that the yolks don’t cook while their temperature rises to that of the cream’s.
Pour the entire mixture back into the pot over medium heat. Whisk constantly while it starts to simmer. Once it noticeably thickens (bubbles will have a hard time getting to the surface), continue to cook and whisk a few more seconds. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. I whisked it in, which ruined the beautiful texture…but I’ll get to that in a sec. Scrape into a bowl and press plastic wrap directly to the surface of the cream. Chill in fridge for at least 3 hours.
After I added the vanilla, the mixture started to come apart. When I was pressing the plastic wrap to the top, a butter-like liquid was soaking through and I freaked out. I combed the web for tips on what to do; most people said to just wait the three hours to see if it thickens. So I did. And it worked! So don’t freak out if your cream separates.
Now, the eclair dough! In a small pot, stir together butter and water over low heat until butter melts without boiling water. Remove from heat and add flour, sugar and salt all at once. Stir until combined. Put pot back on burner (over low heat for gas stovetop, heat off for glass) and stir until dough pulls away from sides of pot, about 1 minute. Scrape dough into a bowl and mix on low until it’s only warm. Or let it sit out until warm…that’s what I did! Add egg and beat until dough turns pale yellow, about 2-3 min. Lay some parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat!, onto a cookie sheet. Put in piping bag and pipe 6 mounds, about 2 inches lengthwise with a 1-in opening on the bag. Alternately, you could use a spoon, but the piping bag is much easier and makes the mounds prettier!
Bake at 400* for 10 minutes, then open the oven door for 5 seconds and change the temperature to 350*. Bake another 18-20 minutes. When done, turn oven off and remove pan. Use a thin knife to poke a hole in the side of the eclair to release steam. Return to oven and let cool for 30 minutes with the oven door ajar. (I used a strategically placed wooden spoon.)
Next, slice eclairs in half horizontally. Fill with chilled pastry cream. For the chocolate, place chocolate chips and vegetable shortening in a small bowl. Microwave in 10 second intervals until melted, or set up a double boiler using a metal bowl and a small pot of water. Carefully dip tops of eclairs into chocolate. Chill until set for 15 minutes. Voila! A lot of words, an easy recipe and 6 delicious mini eclairs you just made yourself.

Love,
Feisty

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Spotlight On: The Pastry Blender

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If you love making homemade food like me, chances are you could use a pastry blender. Anytime you’re making a dough that requires cutting butter or lard into flour (like biscuits, pie crust, or tortillas), it’s a great time and energy saver. I was using forks frustratedly until I ventured out to my local grocery store and bought one for $3-$4. Using it also makes me feel like a real chef in the kitchen! 🙂
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Maybe one day I’ll replace my wine bottle with an actual rolling pin and truly be professional, but for now, spend a few bucks and invest in a pastry blender!

Love,
Feisty

Like (Mini) Strawberry Pie

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If you’ve been following this blog, you know that pies are nothing to be afraid of.  Easy as pie might refer to eating one (in most people’s minds), but not in Feisty’s world.  Mixing together a pie crust – easy!  Making the filling – usually, even easier! Going mini, well…that’s just the next step in food domination, isn’t it?  I like to think that every new thing I learn how to do will someday serve me well should I end up in a Chopped-like situation, having only 30 minutes to combine who knows what into a delightful dessert.

And these pies scream summer to me.  Strawberries are bright, sweet, and refreshing, everything you want in a summer treat.  I can just picture a few lazy kids sitting in the sun, drinking watered-down white wine & gorging on their own single serving strawberry pie.
The mini pies travel and share well; I can attest to this since they were my “dish to share” for my girl, Jessica’s Memorial weekend party in Culpeper.  I will say, though, that it seems the warmer they get, the more they fall apart.  I personally preferred them more cool than warm, and the pie crust definitely tastes better after a few days.

MINI STRAWBERRY PIES
Makes 9 pies

For crust:
1 c. cake flour
1 c. regular flour
3/4 c. cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
2 eggs
Mix both cups of flour together in bowl.  Add butter and mix with paddle attachment on Low for 1 minute.
I do not have a paddle attachment, so I ended up treating this like biscuit dough and cutting the butter through the flour with a fork.  Just make sure you get the butter mashed up pretty good.
Add 2 lightly beaten eggs & mix on Medium Low until dough forms cohesive mass.  Put dough into disc, wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge.
Once mixed, the dough did not come together as described so I used my hands to form it together.  You can tell when the dough is ready for this; it will hold together easily and stay formed into a ball.

For filling:
1/2 c. regular flour
1 T. cornstarch
1/2 c. UNPACKED brown sugar
1/4 c. white sugar
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
4 c. halved strawberries (you will need slightly more than 1-16 oz container)
1 T. vanilla extract
In a clean bowl (I use same bowl after washing it out), mix together flour, cornstarch, both sugars, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  In different bowl, toss strawberries with vanilla extract, then toss into the dry ingredients. One suggestion: cut strawberries into uniform shapes.  I halved all strawberries the same, big and small, and as a result I had a harder time fitting those bigger ones into my cups.

Now for the hard part…:)

Place your cupcake pan in freezer.  On a clean surface HEAVILY FLOURED, roll out 3/4 of dough until 1/8″ thick.  Return remaining 1/4 of dough to fridge.  Cut out circles 3″ in diameter for 9 total circles.  In my opinion, larger circles wouldn’t hurt!  Lightly grease pan with butter.  Gently press dough into cups, leaving small rim of dough at top.  Important: That rim is needed to attach top lattice crust. Make sure its big enough to be used effectively.  Use dough from fridge to patch any holes.
Overfill each cup with mixture (will shrink).  Don’t make my mistake and push filling down into it or it will not shrink so much.  Roll out remaining dough and slice into 1/4″ to 1/3″ strips.  Lay strips across each pie in crisscross pattern, pinching seams into rim as you go along.  Place cupcake pan on baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  If crust starts browning too fast, cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake.  Let pies cool in pan for 30 minutes, then remove and cool on wire rack. They are easy to remove; I just used a cereal (soup?) spoon.

My only edit would be that these pies needed some sweetness.  Yes, they were filled with sweet strawberries, but with the brown sugar and regular sugar in it as well, I thought it would be sweeter.  I am pretty sure that the lack of sweetness was detected from the pie crust, because it has no sugar in it.  You might want to add sugar if you like really sweet desserts.  I drizzled honey over my pies, but you couldn’t really taste it.

Easy Recipe of the Week: Flaky, Delicious Biscuits

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With snow on the ground, a permanent scarf around my neck, and a blanket always by my side, weather like this calls for warm and homey meals.  Growing up in Virginia, I suppose I am predisposed to prefer southern meals like chicken & dumplings, or the very simple biscuit.  Yes, these are EASY EASY EASY to make and so dynamite delicious too.

BLAZING BISCUIT DOUGH

2 1/4 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

4 tsp. baking powder

1/3 c. butter, very cold

1 c. milk, very cold

Combine dry ingredients & sift together.  Cut butter into small pieces and mix in to dry ingredients with fork.  You could also do this with a food processor, but I don’t have one, or your fingers, but that gets real messy.  I usually end up doing a combination of using the fork & my fingers.  Butter should be roughly the size of peas.

Mix in milk until dough barely holds together.
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Turn out onto floured surface and knead for a few strokes until it comes together nice and smooth.  NOTE: FLOUR IS YOUR BEST FRIEND.  One of my pet peeves is dough sticking to my fingers (I can be quite paradoxical like that; an artist & chef who hates messy hands), so I flour it up!  It feels like a waste, but you don’t want to lose your biscuit dough, sticky finger by finger.  Make dough into a cohesive ball.
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Now, apparently fluffy biscuits come from cold dough, so if you have time, wrap your dough in lightly floured plastic wrap and refrigerate for a bit.  When you are ready to gobble down these babies, roll out your dough until its about 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick and cut out biscuit-sized circles.  I should call myself the resourceful chef because I always find ways around not having certain things needed.  Like a biscuit cutter.  Use an appropriately sized glass and it works just as well. EDIT: Apparently it does not work just as well. A sharp cutter or knife (for square biscuits!) is better at producing clean edges which leads to good layers. I use a round cookie cutter now!
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These biscuits will rise, so don’t worry if they look short.  Place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet & bake for 8-10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Don’t crowd them or they will take longer!  Brown them to your liking; any way you do it, they will be splendidly delicious!
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One note about leftover dough: Unless you need all the biscuits you can get out of this dough, wrap up the leftover dough into a ball and save overnight.  The biscuits will be better than if you rerolled the dough immediately. 

Pretty Tasty Pasta Dough

If you don’t have a pasta press, turn around & buy one right now.  Using the pasta for anything (ravioli, manicotti, etc.) will be painful, if, for example, you think using a champagne bottle (rolling pin) instead of a pasta press will work in flattening that dough to 1/8″.  Once you get it, here’s my recipe for Pretty Tasty Pasta Dough.

PASTA DOUGH

3 cups of flour
2 eggs (better make that 3)
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. water

Mix dry ingredients together.  Mix wet ingredients together separately.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.

With the original recipe (2 eggs), I came to the realization my dough was REALLY REALLY DRY. (Not coming together) I added a tsp. of water at a time, but it wasn’t working out.  Investigating online, I came across a gem to consider — 2 eggs per every 1.5 cups of flour.

Reading this, I decided to add another egg.  My dough came together like a champ, but now it was too wet!  So, again the old bread dough knowledge kicked in and flour was added, 1 tsp. at a time.  Your dough SHOULD NOT BE STICKY!   If its sticky, add more flour until it does not stick to anything.

Once your dough comes together and is not sticky, knead it.  This will be a bit of a workout.  Once you’ve kneaded as long as you can take (do at least 5 minutes), roll it into a ball and wrap it with plastic wrap.  Let it rest in the fridge for an hour.

 

I made ravioli with mine and the pasta was too thick, and therefore uncooked where the two pieces of dough met.  It also took me 2 hours from rolling out the dough to serving it for dinner.  So please, learn from my story & only use a pasta press!

Make Your Own Bread

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It may seem daunting, but do it enough times and it becomes something you can bang out after you get home from work, make & eat dinner in the time it takes to rise, & have bread to make sandwiches for lunch the next day.

I have tried a few different recipes, but this one is the easiest, quickest, and has the most common ingredients.  It gets the job done, which is soft, white fluffy insides with crunchy delicious crust outsides.

WHITE BREAD
375* for 30 minutes

3/4 c. warm water
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (amount of one packet)
1 T. shortening
1 tsp. salt
1.5 T sugar
1/2 c. milk
2-3 c. flour (I use bread flour, you may use any kind you have)

Add water to large bowl and slowly stir in yeast (I sprinkle it on top, then stir).  Add salt, sugar, shortening (cut into pieces) & milk.  Stir.  Mix in first 2 cups of flour.  Add more flour, 1 heaping T. at a time, until the dough comes together and holds together as you stir it around the bowl.

Turn dough onto floured surface and flour your hands, kneading until dough is soft & smooth, not sticky.  Don’t clean up that floured surface, you will need it again later.

Put dough in clean, buttered bowl (Butter can be replaced with oil.  I use the same bowl after cleaning the dried dough out of it, saves on dishes and I only have 2 mixing bowls.  Boyfriend likes to mess them up with popcorn too.), and turn dough over so top is greased.

Cover with plastic wrap.  I just started buttering the inside of the plastic wrap, which will help when your dough has filled the bowl and the entire area of the wrap.  Let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot.  I like to turn the oven on and let it rise on the stove top.  Under a vent would be fine too, provided you don’t like a cold house.

After the hour, punch the dough down with floured fists and again, turn onto floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes.  Remember to continue to add flour as the dough sucks up whats on your surface.  You will need to continually keep your hands and surface floured so your dough doesn’t stick to everything.

Form dough into a loaf and set into a buttered pan.  Cover and let rise for 30-40 minutes.  Score dough by cutting 3 slashes with a razor at top (looks nice, but I don’t think its really that important).  Put in oven and bake until golden brown.  Bake for full 30 minutes — it will look ready sooner, but its not.  Cool bread on rack or clean dish towel.

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