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Friday, December 9, 2022

Pâtisserie, Chocolate Eclairs, and National Pastry Day

Today is National Pastry Day. I know that the term pastry covers a huge range of baked goods that includes flour, butter, sugar, eggs and milk, but I thought today I'd mention the pâtisserie.  

I can rarely pass a Pâtisserie here or in France without going in and sampling the pastries. But the term pâtisserie has a very specific meaning in France and Belgium. It refers to a French or Belgian bakery that specializes in pastries and sweets. In those countries it is a legally controlled title that can only be used by bakeries that employ a licensed master pastry chef.

I am not a maître pâtissier, and I imagine you're not either, but for National Pastry Day, I thought I'd post my go-to pastry recipe for Mini-Chocolate Eclairs.

My favorite eclairs are not the long thin "traditional" hotdog shaped eclairs (although I like those, too), but rather, the mini-eclairs. Pâte à choux.. little puff pastry. I've been making for years. They are simple to make and easy to fill. They're so easy and yet look so beautiful and taste fabulous! Hope you enjoy making these as much as I do!

I've adapted this recipe for Mini Chocolate Eclairs from Paula Deen. It is one of my favorites because it's easy and fabulous! I never use margarine, so I've dropped that alternative from the recipe. Real butter is always best. As always, I use the very best dark chocolate for the topping. I've changed a few measurements and directions in the recipe for the novice Eclair Chef. If you're a purist, just click on Paula Deen's recipe above.

Because these eclairs are so small, feel free to have 3 or 4. Yield depends on how small you make them, but I can get about 40 small eclairs from this recipe. They're great for a crowd!

Want to make these even more chocolate? Add a handful of chocolate chips or chocolate chunks to the egg cream filling or fill with chocolate cream instead: just add 1/4 dark cocoa to the dry ingredients. To fill the eclairs, I use a pastry bag, but if you don't have one, you can always fill a Ziploc bag and cut the tip off to pipe the filling into the eclair.

You will probably have some extra icing. Half the recipe if you ice sparingly. I'm all about chocolate, so there's never much left.

MINI CHOCOLATE ECLAIRS

Pastry:
1 cup water
8 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Filling:
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla

Icing:
3 ounces unsweetened dark chocolate
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400F.
Heat water and butter to boiling point. Add flour and stir constantly until mixture is smooth and forms a ball when tested in cold water. Remove from heat and let cool. Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. Drop dough from teaspoon, elongate slightly to form small eclairs (or drop in 'puffs'), onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes or until light brown. Set aside to cool.
Prepare filling by mixing all dry ingredients. Very slowly add milk over low heat and cook until mixture thickens (don't let heat get too high), so you don't have any lumps. Then pour this custard into the beaten eggs, stirring quickly (so eggs don't cook). Cool and add vanilla.
With serrated knife, slice pastry puffs lengthwise (or if you have puffs make a hole), but not all the way through. Pipe custard mixture into the center.
Melt chocolate for icing, add sugar and cream. Cook over medium heat until soft ball stage.
Let cool and beat until smooth.
Ice tops of eclairs.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

History of Cotton Candy & Recipe for Cotton Candy Hot Chocolate: National Cotton Candy Day

Today is Cotton Candy Day which seems odd since I always associate Cotton Candy with summer. Growing up we bought Cotton Candy fresh from the spinner at the Fair, the Carnival, on the Pier, and at the Amusement Park, all summer activities in my hemisphere. Now, you can buy Cotton Candy already made and packaged at the candy store or supermarket. You can also make your own using a Cotton Candy home machine available on Amazon and elsewhere. Cotton Candy used to be pink only, but now Cotton Candy comes in all kinds of bright colors -- pink, blue, yellow and more. It even comes in a chocolate flavor.

So because it's winter, I'm posting a recipe for Cotton Candy Hot Chocolate. The cotton candy is used as you would use marshmallows--on top of the cocoa. The cotton candy also acts as the sugar for your cocoa, so you can reduce the sugar in your hot chocolate recipe. This would be a great recipe for Valentine's Day. Just add some sugar heart candy! Bookmark the recipe. Of course you can always just make your own cocoa your own way and top with Cotton Candy, but I always like to have an alternate cocoa recipe.

Where did Cotton Candy originate?

Most people think the origin of cotton candy (also known as spun sugar" "fairy floss" or "candy floss") is a simple documented fact. It's not. There are several stories recounting the invention of cotton candy. All are interesting. None are definitive. Most accounts credit the invention of cotton candy to enterprising American businessmen at the turn of the 20th century. The Cotton Candy machine was patented in 1899 by William Morrison and John C. Wharton. The 1904 Louisiana Exposition in St. Louis is often cited as the place where cotton candy was introduction to the American people. The truth? Spun sugar was known long before this time. Mid-18th century master confectioners in Europe and America hand crafted spun sugar nests as Easter decorations and webs of silver and gold spun sugar for elaborate dessert presentations. At that time, spun sugar was an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor and was not generally available to the average person. The invention of modern machines changed all that.

COTTON CANDY HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients 
1-1/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened cocoa
3/4 Tbsp cornstarch (or flour)
1 Tbsp sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
Cotton candy

Directions
In saucepan over low-medium heat, combine cocoa powder, chocolate, cornstarch, and sugar with small whisk. With a little bit of milk, whisk chocolate to avoid lumps. Add milk gradually while whisking continuously. Turn off heat when hot chocolate thickens and reaches consistency you like. If it's too thick, add more milk. Serve hot with cotton candy on top. The cotton candy serves as the sugar, so adjust the sugar amount to your taste.

Monday, December 5, 2022

SACHER TORTE: History & Recipe for National Sachertorte Day


Today is Sachertorte Day (aka Sacher-torte or Sacher Torte). Sacher Torte is a dense chocolate cake with a layer (s) of apricot jam and coated in chocolate icing, served with unsweetened whipped cream. It's one of the most famous cakes in the world.

According to Hotel Sacher in Vienna, "The original Sacher-Torte has been the most famous cake in the world since 1832 and the original recipe remains a well-kept secret of our hotel. Only the Original Sacher-Torte is produced according to this original recipe. The basis of the entire confection is a chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam. The chocolate icing on top of it is the crowning glory. It tastes best with a portion of unsweetened whipped cream.

Like many historic stories, the Sacher-Torte was conceived through serendipity when renowned statesman Prince Metternich was hosting a dinner party in 1832. The story goes that he wanted a fabulous dessert for his guests but that his chef was ill. Instead, the 16-year-old chef’s apprentice was given the task. His name was Franz Sacher and that evening he served up his Sacher Torte – a soft, fluffy chocolate cake with apricot jam beneath the icing – to the approval of Metternich’s guests.

After Franz completed his apprenticeship and became a fully qualified cook, he offered his successful experiment to the public once again, this time on a larger scale. He was successful and soon the "cake by this man Sacher" was in great demand, and the victorious career of the most famous of all chocolate cakes truly began. Franz’s son Eduard opened the Sacher Hotel in Vienna in 1876, but that’s another story.

You can still get the 'original' sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna or Salzburg, at the Sacher branches in Innsbruck and Graz, the Sacher Shop in Bolzano, and the Duty Free area of the Vienna airport. The cake is also available online with delivery worldwide. It's really quite exquisite.

The recipe for the Hotel Sacher's version of the cake is a closely guarded secret. Those privy to it claim that the secret to the Sacher Torte's desirability lies not in the ingredients of the cake itself, but rather those of the chocolate icing. According to widely available information, the icing consists of three special types of chocolate, which are produced exclusively by different manufacturers for this sole purpose. The hotel obtains these products from Lübeck in Germany and from Belgium.

Daunting, but as with everything there are many recipes available on the Internet and in cookbooks. As a home baker, I love this easy recipe from Wolfgang Puck. You can always experiment with different chocolate with different amounts of cacao and from different chocolate makers to perfect the flavor. You won't be disappointed, though, in the ease and results of this recipe.

This is Wolfgang Puck's recipe for Sachertorte from the episode: Secrets of Viennese Pastry. Love the addition of apricot brandy

SACHERTORTE

Ingredients 

Cake:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3 ounces butter
4 egg yolks
1 ounce sugar, plus 3 ounces
5 egg whites
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup flour, sifted

Apricot Filling:
1-1/2 cups apricot preserves
1 Tbsp apricot brandy

Glaze: 
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 ounce butter
2 ounces heavy cream or whipped cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 by 2-inch cake pan.

In a bowl, combine chocolate and butter and melt over double boiler. Set aside to cool. In mixer, using wire attachment, whip egg yolks with 1 ounce sugar until light and ribbony. Beat in chocolate mixture.

In another bowl, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks. Slowly add remaining 3 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks. Fold in flour and then fold in 1/3 of egg whites into  chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in remaining egg whites, gently but thoroughly. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 40 minutes or until done. To check for doneness, insert paring knife in center of cake. It should come out dry. Remove from oven and cool on rack.

To make apricot filling: 
Puree the apricot preserves. Stir in brandy. Slice cake into 3 equal layers. Spread half of apricot filling on bottom layer. Top with second layer of cake. Spread remaining apricot filling and top with last layer of cake. Chill for 30 minutes or more.

To make glaze:
In bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Melt over double-boiler. Bring cream to boil. Stir into melted chocolate. Cool until reaches glazing consistency. Spread over and around cake. Chill for another 30 minutes before serving.

Serve a slice with thick unsweetened cream or whipped cream.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

RICH CHOCOLATE REINDEER COOKIES: National Cookie Day!

Today is Cookie Day, but the cookie making continues throughout this week which is National Cookie Week! Well, really, the baking continues throughout the month! Let's face it. It's Cookie Month!

If you're like me, you can never have enough cookies -- or cookie recipes. As much as I love Chocolate Chip cookies, Rich Dark Chocolate Cookies are my favorite. I love a good crisp chocolate cookie with a rich chocolate-y taste. As always that is achieved by using an excellent quality chocolate or cocoa and a perfect recipe.

I saw this recipe in the New York Times a few years ago as the cover story of The Holiday Issue, and I realized I'd made this recipe in the past. And, since the holidays are coming up, I advise you to get out your holiday cookie cutters for this cookie. Reindeer Cookie Cutters are my favorite, and I have several because my last name is Rudolph! For the red noses on chocolate cookies, use a bit of red icing. You can make it, or buy a can or mix at the store. These cookies can be decorated, but why mess with a good thing? I like my cookies unadulterated. If you do decorate these cookies, use royal icing. Of course, you can use other shaped cookie cutters, such as Santa, Stars, Christmas Trees. Get creative with your cutters!

This recipe was sent to The New York Times several years ago by Mari Pfeiffer, a reader in California; it’s from the cookbook “Great Cookies,” published in 2003 by Carole Walter. The cookies have the great flavors of cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate, and espresso powder.

RICH CHOCOLATE REINDEER COOKIES

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sifted Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup superfine sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1/2 tsp boiling water
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted in double boiler (I use 90% cacao from Guittard and cut back a bit on sugar)

Optional: Royal icing, for decorating

Directions
Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In large bowl of standing mixer, beat butter on medium speed until creamy and light in color, about 3 minutes. Add sugar in steady stream, continuing to beat for 2 minutes. Add egg, vanilla, and espresso mixture. Continue beating, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, then mix in melted chocolate.

Reduce speed to low. Add dry ingredients in two batches, mixing just enough to combine after each addition. Divide dough in two and form into two flattened disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Roll out chilled dough between 2 sheets of parchment or wax paper until it's 3/16-inch thick. Cut into shapes, using cookie cutters of different sizes to use as much dough as possible. (The dough will not be as good if it is rolled out a second time.) Transfer cookies to baking sheets, 1/2 inch apart.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating sheets once to ensure even baking, or until cookies look set on top and have slight sheen. Remove from oven and wait 2 minutes before transferring cookies to wire racks to cool.  

Frost with royal icing, if desired.