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Homemade Éclairs

26 Mar

Recipe courtesy of Tartine 

For the choux paste:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1/2 cup unsalted butter 
1 cup all-purpose flour 
5 large eggs 

For the pastry cream:
1 cup milk
1/4 vanilla bean, seeds scraped 
1/8 teaspoon salt 
2-3 tablespoons corn starch 
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar 
1 large egg 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 

For the chocolate glaze:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
1 tablespoon light corn syrup 
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream 

Makes 12-16 éclairs

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
2. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, milk, water, salt and butter until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan and some of the moisture has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a standard mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time and mix at medium-high speed, incorporating each egg before adding the next. Once all the eggs have been added, transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a half-inch tip. Pipe out fingers about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide, spacing them about 2 inches apart. If you end up with a bulge or tail at the end of the piping, smooth it over with a damp fingertip. 
3. Bake the fingers until puffed and starting to show some color, about 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until the shells feel light for their size and are hollow inside, an additional 12 minutes. They should be nicely browned all over. Remove from the oven and, using a metal skewer, poke a small hole in the end of each shell to allow steam to escape. Let the shells cool on wire racks. 
4. To make the pastry cream, pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt to the mixture, place the pan over medium-high heat, and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. 
5. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream. Remove the cream from the heat and immediately pour it through a sieve into the bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, sitting occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skim from forming on top. 
6. Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. When the pastry cream is ready, whisk the butter into the cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon. To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream, and place in the refrigerator. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. 
7. To make the chocolate glaze, combine the chocolate and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for about 2 minutes without stirring until the chocolate melts, and then stir gently with a rubber spatula until smooth and shiny. 
8. To complete the eclairs, stir the cooled pastry cream until smooth and then spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch opening. Fill the shells by splitting them in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. Dip the top half of the shell in the glaze and then place upright on a wire rack and allow the glaze to set. Pipe the cream into the bottoms of shells and replace the glazed tops. Serve the pastries at once, or refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving. Ideally, they should be eaten the same day they are filled. 

          With so many wonderful recipes available online, old-fashioned cookbooks can often be neglected. The beautiful photos, relatable descriptions, and daily updates of food blogs make it easy to forget about the dusty stack of books scrunched in a corner of the kitchen. So how was it that I woke up yesterday morning, picked Tartine off the shelf, and decided to make a pastry tucked away in the back of the book without a single accompanying photo? Well, I had the feeling, the emotion that only a baker can describe when a recipe just feels right. When an item speaks to you immediately: no second-guessing or unsureness, no mental processing if you have all the ingredients on-hand, just eagerness to get to work and eventually enjoy the fruits of your labor. 
          With that mindset, I embarked upon making this quintessential Parisian dessert. I performed each step slowly and carefully to ensure that I created the perfect éclair. My diligence paid off in the end; these delicate puff pastries were fabulous. The dough is barely crisp on the outside and turns soft as you sink your teeth into the decadent vanilla bean pastry cream on the inside. And of course, everything is better when dipped in chocolate. As a result of this experience, my cookbook collection has earned a more prominent spot in my kitchen.  Éclairs

Moist Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Bread

18 Oct

Recipe slightly adapted from Saveur

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
2/3 cup pecan pieces
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
Non-stick baking spray or butter

Serves 10-12 slices.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9″ * 5″ * 2 3/4″ loaf pan with baking spray or grease with butter and set aside. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Add the mashed bananas, pecans, and chocolate chips and whisk gently. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden brown, 60-65 minutes. Let the bread cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

This banana bread developed out of necessity. During a weekend packed with non-stop studying, my mind and body needed a break. In a sheer impulse, I stopped what I was doing and determinedly headed down the stairs to the kitchen. This simple recipe required 20 minutes to prepare and spread a fragrant, enticing aroma throughout the house. I tried my first slice with a friend and the two of us single-handedly devoured half the loaf. The bread combines two of my favorite snacks: bananas and chocolate, into a single moist, nutty treat. My piece was slightly warm when I bit into it; the semi-sweet chocolate chips melting on my tongue. Best of all, the baking process provided relaxation and enjoyment during a dull Sunday afternoon and allowed me to look forward to a delicious homemade good as a reward for my hard work.

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chunk Cookies

3 Sep

Recipe adapted from Not Without Salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 1/2 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, cut into chunks using a serrated knife
Sea salt

Makes around 50 cookies.

1. Using an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Continue mixing while adding the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined, ensuring not to over mix. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks.
3. Using a small ice cream scoop, place the cookies one inch apart on a baking sheet. Gently press down the dough balls with the palm of your hand and sprinkle each scoop with a bit of sea salt. Bake at 360 degrees for 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to bake an additional two minutes on the baking sheet. Place the cookies on a cooling rack to cool.
*You can store the dough in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

With thousands of available variations of this beloved cookie, why try mine? Why stray from your reliable chocolate chip cookie recipe- one you have already established as the best -into unknown territory? Allow me to explain. The brown sugar provides an organic sweetness and fluffiness to the dough that contrasts perfectly with the decadent milk chocolate chunks and savory sea salt. So good was the first time I tried this cookie that I savored each bite, not leaving a single crumb on my plate. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this heavenly cookie makes the perfect, crowd-pleasing dessert. The raw dough is sinfully addictive and almost too dangerous to store in the refrigerator on its own. This recipe will soon become a kitchen staple, on-hand whenever you are in need of a quick dessert or a special treat to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Double Chocolate Bliss

7 Jul

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk

For the filling and frosting:
3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 pound white chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Serves 12-14 slices.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the parchment. 
2. Stir the semi-sweet chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. 
3. Using an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl until well blended. Beat in the lukewarm, melted chocolate and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add in the cocoa powder mixture in three additions, alternating with milk in two additions.
4. Divide the batter equally between prepared pans. Bake the cakes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Make sure not to overcook the cakes, they should be soft and airy after 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in pans on drying racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each pan to loosen the cakes. Cool the cakes completely on the racks. Peel off the parchment paper.
5. Bring one cup cream and butter to simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts. Once the butter has completely melted, add the white chocolate and the vanilla and stir until smooth. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the white chocolate filling into a small bowl; cover and freeze until cold, about two hours.

6. Let the remaining white chocolate mixture stand at room temperature until lukewarm, about 20 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining two cups cream and almond extract in a large bowl until peaks form. Working in three batches, fold in the lukewarm white chocolate mixture. Refrigerate the whipped cream frosting just until medium peaks hold, folding occasionally, about three hours.
7. To frost, place one cake layer on a platter. Spread the chilled 1 1/2 cups of white chocolate filling over the layer. Top with the second cake layer. Spread whipped cream frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Chill until cold and set, about one hour. 

          For a Fourth of July family barbecue, my sister and I embarked on an highly-anticipated baking adventure: the making of our very first cake. We searched the internet and flipped through pages of several cookbooks before ultimately deciding upon this recipe from Bon Appetit. We slaved over each component of the dessert; a process that started in the morning progressed late into the afternoon. When I finally took my first bite of the cake, the hours of labor all paid off. 
          I savored the dessert slowly, in disbelief that such a creation had come from my own kitchen. Two layers of perfectly moist chocolate cake, separated by a sliver of white chocolate ganache, and slathered with the fluffiest, cloud-like white chocolate frosting you will ever taste: a chocolate-lover’s dream. You are missing out on dessert heaven if you have not tried this cake. The recipe requires multiple steps but each and every one is completely worth it. Do not be intimidated by the involved process because, while somewhat lengthy, it is difficult to mess up. Even for a first-timer such as myself, this cake fell nothing short of flawless.

Nutella Thumbprint Cookies

19 Jun

6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2+1/8 cups all-purpose flour 

For the nutella filling:
1/2 cup nutella 
1 tablespoon milk 
1 tablespoon butter 

Makes 12 cookies.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
2. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together  butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla on medium-high speed until smooth, about two minutes. Beat in flour gradually, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium high.
3. Roll dough by teaspoonfuls into balls and place on an un-greased baking sheet one inch apart. 
4. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and make indentations using thumbs (if the dough is too hot to handle, use a teaspoon measure or watermelon baller for the same effect). Return to oven and bake for an additional seven to nine minutes.
5. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool completely before adding the nutella filling. 
6. For the filling, combine nutella and butter in a small, heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until smooth. Add the milk and stir the mixture until completely combined. 
7. Spoon the filling into the cookies using a teaspoon measure. Cool the cookies in the refrigerator for 20 minutes until the nutella filling is firm. 

These delicious, nutella-filled thumbprint cookies spice up your standard snack break. Dip in coffee for added flavor or pop one in your mouth for sweet satisfaction. I love the contrast between the buttery crunch and silky, chocolate-hazelut filling. An easy and efficient recipe, impress your party guests with this tasty dessert. Happy baking!