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Peach Dump Cake

I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who often craves a sweet bite at the end of a meal or later at night. I fully realize that this isn’t doing me any favors, and so I try pretty hard to prevent catastrophe by resisting from buying any snacks or junk food when I’m at the grocery store. Instead, I buy fruit and tell myself that when I’m craving sweets, I can just reach over and eat a pear or an orange. Right, but I must be delusional whenever I go grocery shopping, because whenever I happen to be actually craving dessert, I never ever feel like having fruit. Let’s not even get into how much of my well-intentioned fruit purchases go to waste. Anyway, I came across a post on Bakerella about peach dump cake (which she politely re-termed “peach crunch cake”), and the fact that it was so incredibly easy to make pretty much sold me on it. The one thing I value the most these days is time, and if I can crank out a dessert with minimal time and effort, then I am a happy camper.

I can’t rave enough about how much of a no-brainer this cake is. Though it’s definitely more like a peach cobbler/crisp than an actual “cake”. But I’m okay with that. All you need is canned peaches, boxed cake mix, butter, brown sugar, and optional nuts (I used cashews because that was all I had on hand, which came out quite nice). Seriously, that’s it. It’s called dump cake precisely because you practically just dump the ingredients in a baking pan, one after the other. Then bake and you’re done! And it was really delicious, especially warm right out of the oven. The only thing I didn’t like about the recipe was that it had too much sugar in it, so it was too sweet, especially when served with ice cream. I ended up eating it with some plain yogurt to help temper the sweetness, which worked out quite well. On the bright side, that meant that only a few bites of the dump cake was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, and that actually was kind of nice for the purposes of getting that thrill of dessert without really indulging. In any case, I did reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe below. Dump cake is normally made with canned cherries and pineapple, but I liked the idea of canned peaches instead. You can substitute real fruit or other canned fruits of your choice (I imagine cocktail fruit would be great), and mix and match the cake mix as you please. I’ve heard that a black forest version of this cake using canned cherries and chocolate cake mix is delicious, mmm. Enjoy!!

Peach Dump Cake (serves 8-12) adapted from Bakerella

Ingredients:

1 large can sliced peaches in light syrup (approx 29 oz.)
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used cashews)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour canned peaches, along with syrup, into a 9×13″ baking pan, leaving out just 1/2 cup of the syrup. Gently cut up the peach slices into smaller chunks, and spread out evenly in pan.

2. Spread the yellow cake mix over the top of the peaches, covering evenly.

3. Cut up butter into 16 pieces and spread over the top of the cake mix.

4. Sprinkle brown sugar and chopped nuts over the top of the cake mixture. That’s all there is to the prep work!

5. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F, and remove to cool slightly before serving.

Dig in! Top with whipped cream, ice cream, or serve plain. The dump cake can be deserved cooled as well, but the top will be most crispy within the first day or two. I had the pan sitting in my room and would sneak spoonfuls of the dump cake whenever I was bored or craving sweets. Mmmm. :)


Hidden surprise heart cake!

Have I got your attention yet? :P I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day weekend! It also happened to be Chinese New Year on the same day as Vday, which is pretty rare. My mom called me and informed me that the next time Chinese New Year falls exactly on Vday will be in another 38 years, at which point I thought about how hugely different life will be 38 years later… Anyway, I visited my boyfriend in California this past week to celebrate Vday with him and to take a little breather after finishing a rough block of med school classes just now. We had a lovely time extending Valentine’s Day into a 3-day weekend of fun, which included lots of yummy food, of course! Since no Vday is ever complete without some baking, yours truly of course had plans to spoil her beloved. Turns out, he surprised me first, with a Baker’s Edge brownie edge pan for a present! He knows how much I absolutely adore brownie edge pieces, so I am a very happy girl indeed :)

Well, not to be outdone, I had my own ambitious project up my sleeve. Just the week before, I saw the most awesome heart cake tutorial on I Am Baker, and just knew that I had to try something that epic. It’s a cake with a hidden red heart on the inside! All the way through the cake! I was just so smitten with the idea of this cake, and my Valentine’s Day visit to see my boyfriend was going to be the perfect time to try it. My gears turned and I started planning to make a much smaller version of the cake since it was just going to be the two of us eating it. I decided that a 4″ diameter cake would be just the right size for two, and secretly purchased a 4″ diameter tall souffle ramekin to bake the cake layers (I think it was a 10 oz. ramekin). I wanted this to be a complete surprise, so I divided the task into two separate days. The first day I baked the cake layers while he was at work and then froze them overnight. I made the frosting and assembled everything the next afternoon while I kept him out of the kitchen. And finally after about 6 hours of total time baking and tinkering, it was done!!! And I rushed to bring him out so I could show him. Boy was he in for a surprise ;) At first… it just looked like a small and unsuspecting cake… which he really enjoyed the decoration of. It was my very first time decorating a cake with buttercream, and also my first time with a 4-layer cake. Daunting! I didn’t do a very good job with it, but I still had a lot of fun!

I eagerly encouraged him to cut into the cake so that he could see what surprise was in store for him inside. Not only did I want to show him, I really wanted to see for myself! This is one of those cakes where you spent all this time putting it together but have no idea how it’s going to look at the end until it’s cut open, so I was definitely pretty anxious. I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would at least look presentable, and I figured I could blame it on being my first attempt if it really bombed :P And so he cut out a first slice and saw the curious looking red center on his slice, but was not sure what it was supposed to be…

And then he cut out another slice for me and peeked into the center of the cake, and there it was! A pretty red heart going all the way through the center of the cake! I was so happy to see that it came out so nicely, and he was totally floored, though he had no idea how I did it. Whew, huge breath of relief! In hindsight, although I was worried when I made the cake, it was not actually that difficult to put together. I think the frosting was the part I had the most trouble with actually, and that’s only because I’ve never frosted with buttercream before and my recipe was a bit more runny than ideal for frosting because I didn’t want to make it too sweet. The cake itself was really very delicious, just the right amount of sweet to cure a sweet tooth and the aroma of vanilla was so lovely, it actually tasted kind of like a sugar cookie in cake form, sooo good. I used Magnolia Bakery’s famous recipe for their vanilla birthday cake/cupcakes and vanilla buttercream frosting, halving both recipes so that it was just the right amount for my 4″ cake. I did not have the ingredients on hand for the red velvet cake that the original cake tutorial called for, so I just set aside some of my vanilla cake batter and dyed it red to bake separately as a few cupcakes, which worked out perfectly as a shortcut. I made some alterations to the recipe itself which is specified below in my recipe. I really hope you’ll give this gem of a cake a try! It was so much fun for me and I felt really very accomplished when it came together in the end. And really, what a nice Valentine’s Day treat :)

Hidden Surprise Heart Cake (4″ cake – serves 2-4) Recipe adapted from Recipezaar.com
Assembly tutorial adapted from I Am Baker

Ingredients:

Cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar (I eyeballed for slightly under 1 cup because I didn’t want my cake too sweet)
2 eggs, at room temp
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (recipe calls for mix of AP and self-rising flour, but I did a substitution)
1 tsp baking powder (just a tiny smidge under 1 tsp is ideal)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
approx 1/2 tsp red gel food coloring, adjust as needed

Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, adjust as needed
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla


Directions:

Baking the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour two 4″ souffle ramekins (10 oz. size). Cut out a circle of wax paper to line the bottoms of the ramekins for easy removal later. Also, line 3 cupcake tins with paper liners. I know, this already sounds complicated, don’t get discouraged!

2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth with an electric mixer on medium. Then gradually add in sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in 3 separate additions, alternating with the milk and vanilla. Beat until blended after each addition, but do not overbeat.

5. Separate out 1/3 of the batter and set aside. Using the remaining 2/3 of the batter, fill the two ramekins 2/3 – 3/4 of the way to the top, and begin baking in the oven. They will need at least 35 minutes to bake, start checking after 35 minutes using a toothpick inserted in the middle, they are done when the toothpicks come out clean (tops will probably be somewhat domed and cracked, but that’s fine).

6. Meanwhile, add the red gel food coloring to the 1/3 of the cake batter that you set aside. Add a little bit at a time and whisk the color in evenly until you get a nice bright pink/red color that you are satisfied with. If you choose to use liquid food coloring, I don’t know the exact proportions, but I believe 1/2 tsp of gel is equivalent to about 1 oz. of liquid, although it will interfere with the liquid proportions of the batter, so use at your own discretion.

7. Fill the 3 lined cupcake tins with the red batter (about 3/4 full) and bake in the same oven at 350 degrees F for about 20-22 minutes, until the tops spring back lightly when touched.

8. When cakes/cupcakes are done, remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pans before removing to cool on a rack.

9. When cakes are cool enough to handle, take a knife and trim off the domed/cracked tops of the cakes to flatten them (enjoy the incredibly delicious tops that you just cut off, it’s really very heavenly to munch on these scraps!). Then, split each cake horizontally in half to get 2 layers per cake. Allow layers to cool completely, then wrap each layer in saran wrap and put in the freezer overnight. For the cupcakes, peel off the paper liners and trim off the harder domed tops (but do not throw them away). Using your hands or a fork, break the cupcakes into crumbs. Seal the crumbs and the tops you cut off together in tupperware and leave on the counter overnight. The tops will soften and you’ll be able to break them into crumbs as well the next day.

Whew! Take a break! Enjoy your evening and come back for the fun stuff on day 2! :)

Making the Buttercream Frosting:
1. In a mixing bowl, place the softened butter and 2 cups of the confectioner’s sugar. Add the milk and vanilla, and beat until smooth and creamy.

2. Gradually add more confectioner’s sugar as needed to achieve a desired spreading consistency. I probably used about 3 cups of sugar total.

3. This frosting can be left at room temperature for up to 3 days, but do not refrigerate it before you use it or else it will set (although I found it sometimes useful to set it in the fridge for a little bit to firm it up before frosting, though that may be because my frosting was a little on the runny side due to my hesitation to add more sugar. The original recipe calls for up to 4 cups of sugar!)



Assembling the Cake:
now’s the interesting part, with more pictures too!

1. Take out your frozen cake layers and give them a trim to get them as flat as possible. I also stacked them on top of each other and trimmed around the edges to make sure they were more or less all the same size up and down.

2. Next, separate the 4 layers into 2 groups of 2 layers. Spread a layer of the white frosting between each of the 2 layers, to form two separate 2-layered cakes. The cold from the frozen cake should set the frosting very quickly and they will hold together well.

3. Now’s the trickiest part of the assembly. Take the first 2-layered cake, and make sure you have a way to identify it from the other one (I peeled off the outer browned cake layer from one of them so I could tell the difference). Make a little measuring tool using 2 toothpicks and a piece of string tied between them so that you can trace a circle around the inside of the cake (see I Am Baker’s example here). Now trace a circle on the surface of your cake, depending on how big you want your heart inside to be. This will be the widest part of your heart. After you trace the circle, use a knife and a slanted cutting motion, carve an upside-down cone shape out of your cake (this will be the bottom half of your heart), like thus:

4. Next, you’ll want to carve the top of the heart into the other 2-layer cake. To do so, again trace a circle with the toothpicks, trying to get as similar of a location as possible with the other 2 layers you just did. Taking your knife, now carve a small cylinder into the very center of the cake, but do not cut it out. Just carve a circle downwards into the cake. Next, using a similar slanted cutting motion, cut around the outer ring that you marked with your toothpick, trying to stop just at the cylinder that you carved in the center. Your goal is to make a channel around the cylinder.

5. After you’ve got the channel carved out, you can go back with a smaller knife and trim the center cylinder that is still standing so that it looks like a right-side up small cone. Make it as pointy as you can, as this will be the top dip of your heart shape, so a sharp point looks best. Then, using a small spoon, round out your channel around this central cone (imagine the rounded shape of the top half of a heart). This part takes some spatial imagination and I can’t tell you specifically how to do it perfectly, but I can show you my finished carving of the top half of the heart:

6. Whew! Flip the cakes over and dust out the crumbs for the best-looking appearance later. We’re not far from the finish line!

7. Now, add a few spoonfuls of your frosting to the red cake crumbs until they are nice and dense. If you’ve ever made cake balls before, the texture will be like that. I eyeballed about 1/2 cup of frosting for the red cake crumbs probably.

8. Now using a small spoon, carefully spoon your red cake into the carved out portions of your two cake halves. Press down gently to get it packed in, and only till each half so that it is level. Don’t forget to identify which half is which! When you assemble your cake together you don’t want an upside down heart… I did not use up all of my cake crumbs, which is okay. You can eat the rest :)

9. The original tutorial has you spreading a rim of frosting around the edge of the heart before putting together the two halves, but I omitted that because I was worried I might get it into the middle of the heart and look like my heart was being cut in half. I think it came out better without the center frosting in this layer, but perhaps the cake is more in danger of toppling over… haha. I didn’t have that problem though, it’s a small cake! Now just put the 2 cake halves together! Easy peasy! You can see my cake layers aren’t perfectly even and are missing a few bits here and there, but that’s okay, you won’t be able to tell later :)

10. Now all that’s left to do is to frost the cake! I added some blue gel food coloring to my frosting to get a light blue, since my boyfriend’s favorite color is blue. I set aside a few spoonfuls of the white frosting for piping on top later, and put that in the fridge to set a little. Then I applied a light coating of the blue frosting to the entire cake to seal off any crumbs (this is the crumb coat). I set the cake into the freezer for a few minutes just to let that set.

11. And then I just put on the rest of the frosting, playing around with it as I went since it was my first time working with buttercream. I put my cake back into the freezer multiple times just for a few minutes so that my frosting could set better and it was easier to layer on more frosting. While that was going on I also piped some melted chocolate onto wax paper in various shapes and put those in the freezer too for decorations. I cut up a fresh strawberry to fan out on the top of the cake as well (if you do this, do let the cut strawberry sit on a paper towel for a few minutes to make sure it does not leak juice onto the frosting). Finally, I crushed up some of my cake scraps into yellow crumbs and used that as sprinkled decorations around the bottom rim of the cake and a little on top! The chocolate decorations came out a little goofy because they melted when I touched them to adjust them. But here is the final product!!

This cake was so much fun to make and eat! I hope you enjoyed reading about the process, and get inspired to make something similar yourself :)

A Duck L’Orange to mark 18 months of happiness

Dear Vox, I have a confession to make. I have been dating the most wonderful person for the past year and a half. He has been my best friend for the past 6 years, and he makes me happy like nobody else can. They say you can’t possibly know that you’ve found the one when your eyes first meet. And I can’t pretend to be quite that astute. But I will never forget the way my heart skipped a beat in my chest the day I first met him more than 6 years ago. What happened over the next several years is probably a story fit for a romantic comedy screenplay, and one that I’ll spare you the details of for now, but we found ourselves together just before I started medical school, and since that day I will never again doubt the voodoo they call true chemistry.

:)

I am immensely lucky to have found a man who not only shares my sense of humor and cherishes my strengths and vulnerabilities, but also a man who encourages my passion for baking and cooking. Perhaps he is quite familiar with that glimmer of joy in my eyes that only a few things in my life can bring out in me. Our first official date was, as I’ll always fondly recall, a candlelight dinner that we made together. Juicy pan-seared scallops over a bed of risotto and vegetables, followed by strawberry cream puffs. Whether it was the sentiment or the food that made that night special, it will always remind me of how content I felt to be spending that evening with him. Since then, we have celebrated several special occasions by planning out nice dinners to make together. There’s something so wonderful about being able to work side by side in the kitchen to create a special dish together. Sure, we haven’t yet quite mastered the skill of keeping our finished dishes warm while we put on the finishing touches of these dinner dates, which includes slipping into nice clothes, breaking out special beverages, and taking pictures, of course, to remind us of our accomplishments. But therein lies the magic of food that you’ve spent the time and effort to make, even more so when you’ve done it together with the one you love. No matter how your dishes turn out, they still taste amazing. This effect is further magnified by the fact that I see him only once every few months, as we have been in a long distance relationship since the day we began dating. They always said, food is a powerful aphrodisiac after all!

Our most recent dinner date was to celebrate our one and a half years together (that’s 18 months), since I happened to be visiting him for Thanksgiving at the same time.  We agreed to tackle the quintessential French dish Duck L’Orange for this dinner, and poured over a handful of recipes before deciding on one that seemed to work with the ingredients we had on hand yet still sounded similar to some of the other more complicated recipes. Looking back on our kitchen escapades, I realize that we rarely ever follow recipes down to a T, and this duck l’orange was no exception. We did not have access to duck breast, so we substituted with duck legs instead. A lack of sherry vinegar was remedied with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and red wine. This improvisational cooking brings an excitment paired with perhaps nervousness, but I like to think that it makes our food that much more personal :)

This recipe does a wonderful job with perhaps the most important part of duck l’orange, the orange sauce itself. I was initially skeptical about the process, and how so few flavors could be blended together to make a complex flavor (sugar, sherry vinegar, chicken stock, and orange), but after the first sip I was sold! This sauce is simply wonderful, with just the right balance of sweet, sour, and and salty to complement the duck meat. The one thing I would change the next time I make this recipe (and I really think it would be a great recipe for guests because it looks and tastes to elegant when it is really not very difficult to make), is that I would definitely go with duck breasts instead of the duck legs. Duck legs are deceptively difficult to cook thoroughly when you are simply pan-searing them. We had to sear them on all sides and finish them off with a stint in the oven, after which point we discovered that parts of the duck were overcooked while other parts were perfectly done medium-rare. So, make things easy for yourself and go with duck breasts! I did make several stylistic changes to the recipe, but its proportions are maintained. It is fancy fare made absolutely accessible to the casual cook, and it made for a lovely dinner date that I’ll never forget.

Duck L’Orange (serves 2) Recipe adapted from About.com

Ingredients:
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp red wine
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp onion, minced
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 large orange, sections cut from membranes
2 duck legs, seasoned with salt and pepper
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp orange zest, plus more for garnish
chopped green onions or chives for garnish

Directions:

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepot. Boil on high heat for several minutes, until the syrup caramelizes and turns a golden brown color. (I have to admit I had trouble with this step because my saucepot was a bit big, so the water kept boiling off and leaving me with sugar crystals. Use a small saucepot or double the amounts of sugar and water and simply just use half the syrup for the sauce). I ended up just using my syrup that had not caramelized, having only turned a light tinge of yellow, and it came out just fine.

2. Add the vinegar, wine, orange juice and onions. The liquid will bubble vigorously at first. Stir well and boil until 1/4 cup of liquid remains.

3. Add chicken stock and boil until the sauce is reduced to 1/3 cup volume. Remove from heat and stir in orange zest. Set aside until just before serving. This sauce can be made ahead of time. When it is ready to be served, add butter and warm up on medium heat, stirring to melt and incorporate butter. Gently stir in orange segments.

4. Meanwhile, prepare duck legs for cooking. Score duck skin with a knife just through the skin layer. Season with salt and pepper. Over high heat in a very lightly oiled skillet, sear the duck legs about 10 minutes on each side, rotating as needed to obtain an evenly cooked leg. If needed, finish cooking duck in a 350 degree oven to prevent outside from over-cooking.

5. Rest duck legs for 10 minutes on a cutting board, then slice through meat before plating. Drizzle with warmed sauce and garnish with extra orange zest and green onions. Reserve remaining sauce in a sauce terrine on the side to use as needed.

We paired the duck l’orange with sauteed green beans and some garlic mashed potatoes with roasted onions and red peppers. The sides went nicely with the duck, and the potatoes did not need any gravy owing to its own flavor from the chicken stock I added and some of the duck drippings from the skillet. Mmmm. And I really couldn’t get enough of the orange sauce, the flavors came together nicely and the orange zest imparted a sophisticated touch that was just right. At first taste it might seem like the sauce is a bit reminiscent of sweet and sour sauce, but the flavors are really more rich than that. The night was just perfect as I relished the dish slowly over the candlelight and wonderful company :)



Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

So a few weekends ago, my friend was having a birthday potluck that I was going to attend. I made plans to make these cookies and cream cupcakes that I have seen on many others' blogs. I found a recipe on We're So Starving for these cupcakes (came from the Edmonds Cookery Book), and I used the cupcake portion of the recipe while substituting in a buttercream frosting adapted from Cupcake Project that sounded simply amazing. Turns out that I had a headache the day of the potluck, so I ended up making these cupcakes and sending them off to the potluck with another friend (after keeping a handful for myself, of course).

These cupcakes were indescribably amazing, I think my eyes rolled to the back of my head with the first bite. The cupcake itself is moist and soft, and not too sweet. But better yet, with the chunks of oreos mixed into the cupcake batter, they baked up to be soft and cakey surrounding pieces of still somewhat crunchy oreo chunks, which made for the most wonderful texture combination I have ever had in a cupcake. And really the showstopper for this cupcake is the frosting. It is simply perfect – smooth and buttery, with the perfect amount of sweetness that makes each bite of the cupcake just right. It's the kind of cupcake that you could eat one of and want at least 3 more, because it's not overly sweet or rich at all. Not kidding at all, but at least three people who tried these told me that they were the best cupcake they've ever had, and I got requests to make more of them right away. Try these cupcakes for yourself, I promise you'll be glad you did!!

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes    (makes 34 cupcakes)                   
cupcake recipe adapted from Edmonds Cookery Book "Fail-safe Cupcake" recipe
frosting recipe adapted from Cupcake Project

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
2 stick + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 package Oreo cookies, crushed (divided amongst cupcake and frosting)

Buttercream Frosting:
1 stick + 6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioner's sugar
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
crushed Oreo cookies

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners.

2. Cream butter, vanilla, and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Don't worry if the eggs start to separate out from the butter after it sits for a few minutes, just stir it back together.

4. Sift flour and baking powder together, and fold into creamed mixture.

5. Stir in milk, then add crushed oreos. Choose the bigger oreo chunks for the cupcakes and leave the smaller chunks as well as the cookie dust for the frosting. I used maybe 4/5 of the crushed oreos from 1 package for the cupcakes, and the remaining for the frosting. Adjust as you see fit.

6. Spoon batter into cupcake liners until about 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until cakes spring back when lightly touched (they will be a bit browned on top).  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

7. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Beat together the butter and powdered sugar until smooth.

8. Add the vanilla and milk, and beat for 1 minute more. Finally, fold in the oreo crumbs left over from the cupcakes, saving a handful to sprinkle on top of the cupcakes. The more you stir the oreo crumbs into the frosting, the darker it will get, so don't stir too much if you'd like your frosting to be more white (mine came out quite gray).

9. When cupcakes are completely cooled, frost them with the buttercream frosting, and sprinkle the tops with any leftover oreo crumbs.  Serve the same day, or refrigerate to store (don't want to leave them out because of the butter in the frosting, but you can warm them to room temperature anytime and they will still be just as good) Enjoy!


Upside-down Eclairs

I was visiting my family in Massachusetts the week before summer vacation ended, and I just had to bake them something delightful that could be enjoyed in the sweltering heat that captured our town during that time. I didn't have a whole lot of ingredients on hand, so I turned to something I've done before in cream puff form… the eclair. I adore eclairs! They are so wonderful to bite into when fresh… the delicate crunch of a pastry shell filled with cold and creamy custard, and sweetened with just enough chocolate. Perfection. Luckily for me, elcairs use the same dough as cream puffs, which needs only basic ingredients found in every kitchen. The same goes for the pastry cream filling as well.

This was my first time trying the cream puff recipe from JoyofBaking, which sounded like it was going to bake for a really long time. The eclair shells actually turned out quite well, with just a slight problem, which was that the bottoms were so thin and delicate that when I tried to peel them off the wax paper I lined them with, the bottoms broke right through, leaving me with a gaping hole on the bottoms of my eclairs! Thus I decided to simply turn them upside down and fill them with pastry cream as is, since the work to make a hole had already been done for me, clearly. I used the pastry cream recipe for the fruit tart from the same website. I've made the filling once before for mini fruit tarts, and they were delicious. Drizzled with melted chocolate on top, these eclairs were just wonderful, even though they looked funny. I wish I knew of a good way to make cream puffs or eclairs without always having to worry about the bottoms breaking. Does parchment paper really make that much of a difference? I thought wax paper or foil would do it, but those have not saved me from the breaking bottoms. The trial and error continues! And deliciously so :)


Eclairs Filled with Vanilla Pastry Cream (makes 12)     recipe adapted from JoyofBaking.com

Ingredients:

Eclair Shells:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp (half stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
1 egg white, beaten

Pastry Cream Filling   (adapted from JoyofBaking.com)
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water (more as needed)

Chocolate Icing
handful of semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vegetable oil

Directions:

Eclairs
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rack in center of oven. Line baking sheet with parchment paper (I used wax paper).

2. Stir together flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. Combine butter and water for the eclair shells into a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil.  Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in the flour mixture all at once, stirring until a ball of dough forms in the pot. This should happen pretty quickly.

4. Let the dough cool slightly (you can stir it up to release the heat), then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition until the egg is well-blended to form a smooth batter.

5. Spoon the dough into a ziplock bag and snip off the tip to about 1 inch in diameter. Pipe the dough into 3-4 inch long stripes onto the lined baking sheet, spacing the eclairs 2 inches apart.

6. Gently brush the surface of the piped eclairs with the beaten egg white.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down oven temperature to 350 degrees F to continue baking for another 30 minutes. The shells should be a nice golden-brown color. Turn off the oven and leave door ajar, with the eclairs sitting inside for another 10-15 minutes to let them dry fully. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack, peeling eclairs off carefully (this is where all of my eclair bottoms broke off). They will have a wonderful cracked appearance on top.

 

Pastry Cream
1. In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix together sugar and egg yolks.

2. Combine flour and cornstarch in a separate bowl, then add to egg mixture and stir until a smooth paste forms. Add vanilla.

3. In a saucepan (preferrably stainless steel, I find non-stick pans to be awful for making custards), heat milk on medium until just boiling. Remove from heat and slowly whisk into egg mixture, careful not to let egg curdle.

4. When fully incorporated, place egg and milk mixture back onto the stove to cook on medium heat, whisking constantly until it starts to boil. Keep stirring and it should thicken up very quickly. When it has reached a desired thickness (I prefer mine to be pretty thick), remove from heat immediately and whisk in the water. You can add more water if your pastry cream is too thick.

5. Chill pastry cream in fridge for several hours, covered with a layer of plastic wrap touching the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.

Assembly
Normally you would slice the eclairs open by cutting horitzonally on each one to cut off the tops. Since mine had holes in the bottom I just pried the holes open until they were the same size as the eclair and piped in the pastry cream (using the same ziplock bag trick that I used for piping the elcair dough). Fill each eclair with enough pastry cream to fill out the shell, but not so much that it bursts. If using cut open shells, replace the tops once the filling has been added.

Finally, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, and stir in the vegetable oil to thin out the consistency enough to drizzle. I just eyeballed this, so you can adjust the chocolate icing how you like. Take a fork and dip it into the chocolate to drizzle it over the eclairs. Serve immediately for the best taste and texture. If not serving right away, I suggest you not fill the shells so that they don't get soggy. Fill them just before serving and you will wow your guests with how fresh they taste, nothing like the pre-filled ones you buy at stores!


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