Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Daring Bakers-- Eclairs

Éclairs. Just seeing the word makes my mouth begin to salivate. Both my mouth and stomach were extremely happy to see that the August Daring Bakers Challenge was a receipe for éclairs. My butt? Not so happy. I'll blame MeetaK and Tony for any excess weight accrued this month! They chose one of my favorite things to eat for their challenge choice.

I found the actual recipe to be easier than I thought it'd be. I had two major faux pas and one minor one. Both of the major ones were my own fault. I didn't go with the posted chocolate pastry cream as my filling because I thought that would be too much chocolate (yes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing) so I went with a standard vanilla pastry cream. My first mistake came when I didn't pay close enough attention to the recipe and instead of 2 teaspoons of vanilla, I used 2 tablespoons. (oops). It was really vanilla-y... which really wasn't that bad (and somehow almost took on a banana taste ???) but using that much vanilla ended up making my pastry cream more of a pastry spread and it got pretty thinned out as it cooled. So my éclairs didn't get nice and mounded and cute.

My second mistake was one that is rather gross and embarrassing. I had already made the pâte à choux (dough) and even tasted it before baking (please tell me I'm not the only one that still licks the beaters) and I had my éclairs in the oven baking (after freezing for a while... that's how far into the recipe I already was). I had the milk already scalded and had the eggs and sugar blending for the pastry cream. I sifted my 1/3 cup flour and noticed little reddish things in the bottom of the sifter. I looked closely and thought it looked like a little bug. I immediately ran to the computer and Googled "flour bugs" and realized that my flour had those weevils or weebles or whatever they are called!! Eewwww. And I had even licked the beater from the pâte à choux!!

I immediately pulled out the baking éclairs and threw them in the trash and I dumped all of the pastry cream down the sink. I headed out to the store to get fresh flour and started the entire process all over again.

My husband laughed... saying to go ahead and still use the flour since they get baked anyway............ he's so gross! I swear the man would eat anything.

My other minor mistake was that my eclairs deflated after I took them out of the oven. However, after thinking about it, I don't think I baked them long enough. My last batch I left in exactly one minute longer and they didn't deflate (but got really, really golden). So I'm wondering if they should have baked just a tad longer. Either way, it didn't stop me from eating any. :)

Other than those little problems, I thought the recipe was smooth sailing and I enjoyed making the éclairs (although I hated doing all of the dishes. It sure made a lot of dishes!)

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil.

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer (or if you still have the energy, continue by hand) add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.

You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. Preheat your oven to 375° F. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.

I didn't have a pastry bag so I just used a ziploc bag and put my coupler on it as if it were a pastry bag!

I filled it by placing it inside an oversized coffee mug (or bowl) and folding the bag down around the outside.

Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.

Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.

(I piped mine in long rows and then froze the dough until it was firm. I was then able to just cut four inch segments once the dough was firmed up. It gave the ends of the éclairs a much cleaner look once they were baked. I also piped a few blobs to have round little cream puffs as well as éclairs.)

The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

6) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continu baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

2) You can pipe the dough and then freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

3) The baked éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.


Vanilla Custard Pastry Cream Filling

2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup sifted white flour
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla

1. Scald 2 cups milk, set aside.

2. Beat 4 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar with mixer until pale and thick.

3. Add 1/3 cup sifted white flour and mix.

4. Very slowly, beat milk into eggs being careful not to curdle.

5. Pour back into pan and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil then turn heat to low. Cook on low for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

6. Stir in 2 Tbsp. butter and 2 tsp. vanilla. Turn off heat. Let cool, place plastic wrap on top and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.


Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.


Assembling the éclairs:

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104° F as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the
bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water,
stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cheesy Potato Soup

This is a recipe that my dear friend Carmel shared with me a few years ago. She gets a lot of flack from people about this soup recipe since it is not in any way healthy or good for you. People see the recipe and call it "Heart Attack Soup" or mention how their arteries are clogging just from scanning the ingredients list. BUT...... one taste of this soup usually stops the comments in their tracks. It's one of my favorite comfort foods. Everything in moderation, right?


1 stick butter
1 med onion - minced
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup of chopped celery

Saute these together until tender. I usually just chop the onions and carrots.

Add: 4 cans cream of potato soup
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cut into small chunks
8 oz sour cream
4 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste

I usually put this in a big crock pot and just slow cook it all day, but you can make it in a pot on the stove, as well.

If you make it on the stove, just heat, stirring occasionally until hot and melted. The same goes for using the crockpot, just use the cover. And throw the "never open the lid of a crockpot" rule out the window with this soup. You'll find yourself checking, stirring and tasting often with this one!

Carmel's disclaimer- There are a lot of ways to make this healthier....reduced fat soups, sour cream, don't use as much butter/margarine, fat free milk, etc.

But who would want to do that? Make it the fatty way and enjoy it! I've been known to throw in broccoli, cauliflower and/or bacon and ham bits on occasion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Homemade Shrinky Dinks

My kids love making Shrinky Dinks as much as I did as a child. We have a nifty Shrinky Dink maker, which is ironically the same thing as the E-Z Bake oven (which we also have, now that I think about it.... must dig that out soon). Today we made Shrinky Dinks the old fashioned way: in the OVEN!

What you need:

Plastic lids to disposable cake pans
Permanent markers

What you do:
1. Use the scissors to cut up the plastic cake lids/salad bar containers/etc into various sizes and shapes. We tried using decorative scissors but had the best luck with plain old straight edged scissors.

2. Use the markers to decorate the plastic pieces any way you'd like. You can use a paper punch to punch a hole in them to use as key rings or necklace charms.

3. Place the decorated plastic pieces onto a disposable aluminum tray (or a baking sheet with parchment paper).

4. Place into a preheated 350° oven.

5. Watch carefully!!! They only take a minute or less to puff up and then flatten back down.

I left our first batch in a tad too long and the transparent plastic turned solid white. It's still cool looking, but not as fun as see-through.

6. Remove from oven, carefully, and allow to cool on a rack.

This is a key chain my daughter made by punching a hole in the plastic before baking.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Ahhh....what better to ease the dog days of summer than a sweet, fruity popsicle? My mom made these for us when I was a child and I couldn't help but carry on the tradition for my own children. There is nothing healthy about these... but relax...... it's summer! Enjoy them!


1 - 3oz box of Jell-o, any flavor (not sugar-free)
1 pkg of KoolAid, any flavor (not sugar-free)
2 cups boiling water
2 cups cold water
1 cup sugar


1. Put all dry ingredients into a bowl (one with a spout works the best for filling the popsicle molds).

2. Add boiling water to dry ingredients and mix for about 2 minutes so that you know the sugar and Jell-o are dissolved.

3. Stir in cold water.

4. Pour into popsicle molds or paper cups. If you use paper cups, cover them with aluminum foil before adding popsicle sticks. That will help the stick stay upright in the center.

I've learned that placing the molds/cups onto a baking sheet helps with the transfer to the freezer!

5. Freeze until set (I usually just freeze them over night).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Paper Beads

What a great way to reuse some of those magazines and catalogs we've all got around our house-- make a bracelet or necklace out of paper beads! Super easy-- and way cuter than I thought it would be. It doesn't even look like paper when it's finished.

What you need:

Paper- magazines, junk mail, etc.
Glue Stick
A needle or other thin object to wrap the bead around

What you do:

1. Using the scissors, cut long, skinny triangles out of the scrap paper. You want your triangles to be skinny, no more than 1/2 an inch wide at the base. And you want them to be long. Mine averaged about 4 inches long.

2. To form your beads, you will want to use two triangles, stacked on top of each other. If the paper is thick, use just a single triangle. If the paper is very thin, like magazine paper, then use two triangles per bead. However, using two pieces of paper makes the bead much prettier than just one piece, especially if you use different colored triangles. Starting at the fat base, place a needle at the bottom, and begin to roll the paper around it. The needle, or thick stem/stick/wire, helps keep the bead hole open, so that you can thread the beads together with string.

3. Keep rolling the paper until you're almost done, or about 2/3 done. Smear a little glue on the inside of the last 1/3 of the paper, then keep rolling until at the end. The glue should keep the bead together. Let the bead dry.

4. Remember that the bottom of your triangle will determine how big the bead is. A thick bottom will mean a big bead, and a thin bottom will mean a small one. The longer and thinner the triangle, the more "round" the bead will appear. The shorter and fatter the triangle, the more rectangle and shapeless the bead will appear.

5. Once you have all of your beads made, string them onto a piece of wire and twist the ends of the wire to seal. Snip off any excess wire and tuck into a bead.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Paper Mache Bowls

I signed up for a weekly newsletter from Kids Craft Weekly and this was a featured craft a couple of weeks ago. I thought my kids would enjoy making a bowl that they could use for whatever they'd like (leave it to my kids to use it as a candy dish!).

It is a perfect rainy-day sort of craft since it took a little bit longer than either of them wanted it to. They were definitely ready to be done by the end. I didn't think it took that long; my son needed me to help assist guide do it for him. I think it was just that they didn't like being sticky... and your fingers definitely are sticky by the time you are done!

What you need:

• colored tissue paper
• non-toxic glue, such as Elmer's
• paintbrush
• jar
• food coloring (optional)
• a bowl (preferably plastic)
• plastic cling wrap
• something to sprinkle (such as sequins) (we skipped this step)

What you do:

1. Tear up the tissue paper into pieces. You'll need a fair amount of tissue paper, for this bowl we used three large sheets of paper. My daughter tore hers up really little and I think that was where she got bored doing this. Her little pieces took a long time to rip and a long time to apply onto the bowl. So I think the best size would be around 2 inches in diameter.

2. Make up a watery glue mixture in a jar using equal amounts of white glue and water. Add a drop of food colouring just for fun. I started by using 1 tablespoon of each but needed to mix up more while making our bowl, twice.

3. Put your plastic bowl on the table (open end down) and cover with cling wrap.

4. Paint on a layer of the glue mixture and cover with a layer of tissue paper.

Repeat until you're out of tissue paper or until you feel the bowl is going to be thick enough.

5. For extra bling, sprinkle some sequins or stars over the outside of the bowl when you've finished. (Neither of my children wanted bling)

6. Allow the bowl to dry – this may take some time (as long as several days in winter or 24 hours in summer).

When you think your bowl in dry enough to stay in shape on it's own, carefully ease it off the bowl and from the cling wrap. The inside of the bowl will be wet but it too will soon dry after it gets some exposure to the air.

Use your bowl to hold special trinkets and treasures or give as a gift to a favorite person!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Campfire Cabbage

Here is another easy side dish to make in a unique way. This is a recipe I found when looking for foil-packet meals for camping. I made this at home in our fire bowl on our patio. It tasted really good and my kids loved it, too!


Head of Cabbage (possibly two, depends on the amount of people)


Cut the cabbage up into wedges.

Cut up the butter and add a couple teaspoons/tablespoon to each wedge, sprinkle the seasonings for taste.

Place individual wedges in foil and wrap tightly.

Place foil wedges in a fire.

Let cook for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally and going back and forth between embers and flames.

- If you cut the head of cabbage up into greater than 4 wedges the cook time is reduced slightly.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cucumbers and Vinegar

Mmmm.... does anything scream summer more than cukes and vinegar salad? This was a staple growing up in my house. Ironically, I just got off the phone with my mom asking her for the ratio of vinegar and water. I'll never need to write this recipe down-- it's that simple. And so delicous to eat on a hot summer day like today.


1 cucumber
1 onion
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon or so of sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup cold water

Slice the cucumber and onion and put in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper. Mix vinegar and water and add to bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (this is so refreshing when it's ice cold)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Recycled Tote

I saw the instructions in Family Fun Magazine for making a tote out of the plastic bags you get at a grocery store or Target or Walmart (why do they use only plastic?). The directions seemed simple enough and looked sort of fun. I had saved some bags from my daughters favorite stores with the intention of making a tote for her. I came ---> this close <--- to quitting halfway through and throwing it all in the trash. It worked out in the end (sort of.... it looks better in photos than in real life) and is actually pretty cute (if you're nine). I strayed a bit from the actual instructions and just sort of made it up as I went along.

What you need:

8 plastic shopping bags (use only those labeled No. 2 HDPE)
Parchment paper
Ironing board

What you do:

1. Cut the handles and bottoms from 8 shopping bags.

2. Arrange the bags neatly into two equal stacks. Make sure any printing on the top bag of the pile and the bottom bag of the pile faces inward and make sure that any "pleats" in the bags are straightened out as much as possible.

3. Sandwich one of the stacks between two pieces of parchment paper, making sure the plastic is entirely covered.

Beginning with the iron on a low setting, such as synthetics, move it steadily over the stack until the bags shrink and fuse together. If the bags do not fuse after 2 or 3 minutes, increase the iron's temperature. You may need to experiment to get the heat just right. Avoid touching the plastic directly with the hot iron. Set the fused sheet aside and repeat with the other stack.

(and don't do what I did and leave the hot iron on the bags while you take a picture. If I was smart, I would have staged this photo with a cold iron. The plastic shrivels up and melts very quickly once you find that "perfect" temperature.......grrrrr...)

4. To create one long sheet of plastic, lay the two sheets end-to-end, overlapping by one inch. Then iron the overlap between layers of parchment paper to fuse the sheets together.

(no, I still have not removed all of that nail polish from my fingernails from weeks ago, thanks for noticing.)

Here are the two piles of bags fused together. This is where I just about threw it all in the trash and called it a night. It was really hideous in person-- all bumpy and melty and shrunk unevenly... just plain ugly.

5. Choose colored plastic bag strips to decorate the outside of the sheet. Iron these plastic pieces to the sheet between parchment paper, as in step 2.

(some of mine weren't #2 HDPE and I found that these really actually melt rather than fuse. So be careful! I still used them because all of the cute colored bags aren't #2's!

6. Lay the sheet decorated-side down. Fold it so that the short ends match up, and tape the sides of the bag together. I actually taped all three closed sides, just to have it look uniform and pretty. Trim the top of the bag to even the edges.

7. For each handle, lay a 9-inch-long piece of tape in the center of an 18-inch-long piece, sticky sides together, then tape the handles to the inside of the bag. I actually used a 12 inch piece over a 24 inch piece.