Posts tagged ‘girly’

August 3, 2011

Éclairs With A Flair

I’m very pleased to share with you the news of my recent enrollment in a 6-month pastry program at a French culinary school here in the DC area.  Classes started just a couple weeks ago and I’ve already learned so much about the technique and art of pastry… I couldn’t be more thrilled with my personal and career decisions that have led me to culinary school and the exploration of the wonderful world of pastry!

My favorite of all of the lectures, demonstrations, and lessons thus far has been that of a simple and delicious pastry cream.  Pastry cream has been a staple for my desserts for quite a while now, but, as I’ve enhanced my understanding and adapted my techniques, my entire idea of pastry cream has completely changed.  My new go-to recipe is about ten times more simple than my old version, and the finished product is a billion times more delectable.  I’ve edited the recipe on my instructional pastry cream page (found on the upper tab above) and have been itching to include it in a Pumpercake recipe.
I decided to incorporate another of the “basics” I’ve learned so far in class into today’s recipe, “Choux paste,” which is the dough base for cream puffs, éclairs, and other pastries.   The appeal of the choux is that it can be piped into just about any shape (swans, anyone?) and, once baked, it acts as a bit of a blank canvas as it is beautifully hollow and can be filled with a delicious custard, curd, or cream.

On a mission to make a super summer version of the ever-traditional éclair, I chose to fold some citrus-y sweet fruit curds into the vanilla pastry cream and used brightly colored white chocolate glazes to coat the tops of them.  An explosion of strawberry-pomegranate and orange-grapefruit flavors burst from a buttery crisp envelope of delicate choux, which is then topped off with a bright and sweet chocolate glaze to dress up the pretty little pastries.  These tiny sweet treats are decadent enough to feel indulgent, yet light enough to allow for continuous enjoyment of 2 or 3 of them.  In fact, I’ve found that making the éclairs extra-tiny can really help to rationalize eating at least 4 per sitting…

Sweet Summertime Éclairs

-In flavors of Strawberry-Pomegranate and Orange-Grapefruit

Inspired by: Éclairs

Choux Paste (Éclair Base)

100 grams unsalted butter
(about 7¼ tablespoons)

½ cup milk

½ cup water

150 grams all-purpose flour
(about 1 cup & 2 tablespoons)

½ teaspoon salt

3-4 large eggs,
plus 1 for egg wash

–recipe yield:
about 50 4-inch éclairs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, melt butter.  Add milk and water, increase heat to medium, and bring mixture to a full boil.  Remove immediately from heat and add combined flour and salt at once.  Stir together with a wooden spoon into a panade (thick, almost paste-like mixture).  Replace saucepan onto warm burner to evaporate some of the water and dry out the panade slightly, allowing easier incorporation of the eggs.  When panade can “flake” easily while breaking with a wooden spoon, transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Using a paddle attachment of an electric mixer on a low speed, turn and loosen the dough, allowing it to cool slightly until it reaches the point where you can touch the bottom of the bowl comfortably.  Mix in 2 eggs until absorbed, then add the 3rd egg, mixing until it has also been absorbed.  Beat the 4th egg in a separate dish and add gradually, as the entire egg may not be needed.  The choux paste is finished when it can be pulled up by the paddle attachment into a distinct point that easily folds when flipped (like a soft peak).

Transfer choux paste into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain round tip.  Pipe paste into desired size éclair rectangles.  Coat each mound with a small amount of egg wash (1 egg, beaten) using a pastry brush, and tap the tops surface of each brushed éclair with the back of a fork that’s been dampened with water.  The egg wash helps the pastry to achieve a golden brown color, while the fork marks create expanding ridges, much like ribbing in clothing.  Bake until puffed, golden, and firm (about 20-25 minutes).

Strawberry Pomegranate Curd

½ cup strawberry pulp, strained

¼-1/3 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tablespoon cornstarch

1 egg, plus 2 yolks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon salt

Place strawberry pulp and ¼ cup pomegranate juice in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to simmer.  Allow liquid to reduce by about half (4-5 minutes) before removing the syrup from heat and stirring in lemon juice and an extra splash of pomegranate juice.  While syrup cools, whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk in egg and yolks until combined.  While continuing to whisk, gradually drizzle in the cooled syrup until it has all been added, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy.  Transfer mixture back into saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  After 6-8 minutes, when the curd has thickened greatly, remove from heat and push through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.  While stirring, gradually add in small pieces of the butter until it has all been dissolved into the curd.  Mix in salt, and continue to stir until curd has cooled.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that it doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Orange Grapefruit Curd

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup grapefruit juice

zest of 2 oranges & ¼ grapefruit

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1½ teaspoons orange extract

1/3 cup granulated sugar

½ tablespoon cornstarch

1 egg, plus 2 yolks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon salt

Place fruit juices in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to simmer.  Allow liquid to reduce by about half (5-6 minutes) before removing the syrup from heat and stirring in zest, lemon juice and orange extract.  While syrup cools, whisk together sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk in egg and yolks until combined.  While continuing to whisk, gradually drizzle in the cooled syrup until it has all been added, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy.  Transfer mixture back into saucepan and place over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  After 6-8 minutes, when the curd has thickened greatly, remove from heat and push through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.  While stirring, gradually add in small pieces of the butter until it has all been dissolved into the curd.  Mix in salt, and continue to stir until curd has cooled.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that it doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Additional Ingredients & Preparation:

A full batch of pastry cream should be prepared, and divided into two equal parts to be folded into the two fruit curds.  Pastry cream is the standard filling for éclairs, so one may choose to omit the curd portion of the recipe and fill the éclairs with only the vanilla cream.  Fruit curd-pastry creams should be stored the same as a regular pastry cream, refrigerated and covered tightly with a layer of plastic wrap draped onto the surface of the mixture.

A full batch of chocolate glaze should be prepared using white chocolate in the place of semisweet.  The prepared glaze can be divided in half and colored with pink rose and orange gel food colorings, if desired.


Transfer fruit curd pastry creams into pastry or zip-top bags fitted with small round tips.  Using a sharp paring knife, create two tiny slits on each end of the underside of each cooled éclair.  Place the tip of one of the bags of curd-cream into one slit, squeeze until slightly plumped, and then into the other slit, squeezing again.  This will help the éclairs to be filled evenly and prevent tearing or bursting.  Repeat this process with all the éclairs, filling half of them with strawberry pomegranate filling and half with orange grapefruit filling.

Dip the tops of each filled  éclair into the coordinating cooled chocolate glaze, and set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate glaze to set.  Éclairs should be served immediately to prevent sogginess, however, leftovers may be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

June 2, 2011

Macaron Mess, Part III: Practice Makes Perfect

I’ve been going a bit overboard with macaron practice and production lately.  The delicate cookie that I once loathed has recently become my favorite kitchen experiment and my favorite gift to give away.  I’m constantly thinking and talking about them, and I may have even had a few dreams revolving solely around the macaron and its endless flavor combination possibilities.  It became clear to me that it was time to re-visit the chocolate-peanut butter macaron recipe from my very first attempt (emphasis on the word “attempt”) about a month ago.  Regardless of the fact that I’ve been a mac-making machine lately, making chocolate macaron shells still brought about a whole new challenge for me.  The addition of cocoa powder into the batter scared the living daylights out of me.  And as David Lebovitz suggests cutting back on almond flour while Tartelette suggests cutting back on powdered sugar when attempting chocolate macarons, I was torn and confused.  What’s the difference between unsweetened cocoa powder and Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa anyway?

Luckily, my chocolate shells turned out very nicely due to David’s recipe (although that doesn’t mean that Tartelette’s wouldn’t have turned out just as well!).  I went with my original inspiration and filled the shells with a salted-peanut butter buttercream, mimicking my sister-in-law’s peanut butter buckeyes.  I kept my promise to my sister-in-law and my brother and made sure that they got to taste these less-fragile, correctly made cookies.

In other (much more exciting) news, Evan’s great friends, Sam and Megan, were married at a gorgeous black tie ceremony in Detroit this past weekend.  Evan selected some really nice wedding gifts to be shipped to their home, but I also decided to bake them something nice and have it waiting for them in their suite after the reception.  I wanted to make them something really special and pretty… something personalized just for them on their special day.  I didn’t even find out until after I’d given them the cookies that Megan just so happens to be allergic to gluten.  Thank goodness I’d ended up making these… one of the few fancy and gluten-free treats that I’ve come to grow so fond of whipping up!

As purple was one of the theme colors of their wedding decor, I chose to make Megan and Sam some violet shells with a blackberry buttercream filling.  I hand-painted some of the macs with tiny designs and flourishes, including one with their initials.  I saw the beautiful couple two days after the wedding and found out how much they enjoyed the cookies.  Congratulations, newlyweds!

Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons

Inspired by: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Buckeyes

Chocolate Macaron Shells

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s “French Chocolate Macarons”

1 cup confectioners sugar

½ cup almond flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

¼ cup superfine sugar

2 egg whites, aged & room temperature*

small pinch of cream of tartar

-recipe yield: about 17 filled macarons

Substituting the vanilla ingredients for the chocolate ingredients and proportions above, follow the French Macaron Shell directions portion of the recipe (as well as the extra tips listed just before the recipe).  The cocoa should be added into the food processor and ground along with the confectioners sugar and almond flour.  Baking time may need to be increased by an extra minute or so.

Salted Peanut Butter Buttercream

½ cup smooth peanut butter           ½ teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter        ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract              2 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and  butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla and salt.  Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and continue to beat.  When the sugar has been combined, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until fluffy, being careful not to over-whip.


Once macaron shells have baked and cookies have assembled and sandwiched with buttercream, prepare a small batch of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil over the stove, reduced to a syrup and cooled) to brush over top of the shells.  Sprinkle a little kosher or flaked sea salt over top of the syrup-brushed cookies for an extra salty bite.

Blackberry Wedding Macarons

Pretty Purple Macaron Shells

For purple (or any other color) macaron shells, follow the French Macaron Shell recipe (as well as the extra tips listed just before the recipe).  Desired amount of gel food coloring can be added to macaron batter just after dry ingredients are sifted in and just before starting to fold dry ingredients into the meringue.  A good way to do this is to squeeze the gel directly onto a clean spatula before using the same spatula to fold the batter.

Blackberry Buttercream

Adapted from sammyw‘s “Raspberry Buttercream Frosting”

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

¼ cup seedless blackberry preserves

2-3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

In a medium bowl, whip butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add in blackberry preserves and beat until homogeneous.  Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar until desired sweetness has been achieved.  Once sugar has been dissolved, drizzle in heavy cream and whip until fluffy.


To make the designs, I diluted some more of the purple food coloring with a drop or so of water and used a fine paintbrush to apply a small amount of the thick purple liquid to the tops of the cookies in different designs.  Allow painted shells to dry completely before stacking, packaging, handling or serving.

April 20, 2011

Thank Heaven for Little Girls (& Unruly Frosting)

Two days a week I am lucky enough to be a nanny for the prettiest baby girl in the whole world, Talia.  Yes, that is a pretty strong statement and I may be a little biased, but in all honesty, the kid is beyond adorable.  As you happen to be reading the blog and are probably a friend or family member of mine, chances are I’ve probably already shown you at least 5 pictures and/or videos of Talia or gushed to you about her latest “trick” of the day.  At which point you, more than likely, have gently reminded me that I am not, in fact, her mother, contrary to how I proudly speak of and brag about her.

Whitney (Tali’s actual mother, as well as my mentor and cherished friend) has always been a huge supporter of my baking and of the blog.  So, when I prepared some fancy pink champagne-inspired cupcakes for my great friend Claire’s 23rd birthday, I sent a quick picture of the sparkly, girlish cakes to Whitney for her approval.  Whitney fell in love with the idea and the look of the pink champagne cupcakes and thought they’d be the perfect treat to serve at the luncheon following Talia’s upcoming Christening.  I offered to make the cupcakes (along with a few other treats) as a gift to Talia, Whitney and Kevin… the wonderful family who have come to mean so much to me.

I chose to top the pink champagne cakes with my favorite marshmallow frosting, which might seem like a ridiculous choice for such a fancy-flavored cake, but I thought the marshmallow gave the cakes a fun, whimsical feel that seemed perfect to serve at a party for a little girl.  The marshmallow frosting can be a bit sweet, and with the added pink sanding sugars I used to decorate, it was important that I find a mellowing balance with the other flavors.  I cut back the amount of sugar in the pink champagne cakes a touch, and also chose a delicate and slightly tangy mascarpone filling that helped balance the sweetness of the dessert.

Alongside the pink champagne cupcakes, I decided to also serve a spread of special chocolate cupcakes (which are described in more detail in the post below, or here).  And as Kevin is a big fan of my gluten-free chocolate truffles, I decided to make a big batch of those especially for him.  I threw in a couple other surprise batches of some new truffle recipes I’ve formulated and have been working on, including some of my key lime pie truffles for him to try.

This is the point in which I wish I could include a comment about how well everything fell into place the morning of Tal’s Christening.  I wish so badly that I could say something to the effect of, “Yes, I had taken on quite a large project, but being as confident in the kitchen as I am, I knew I could complete each and every one of my desserts flawlessly and in no way was I being overly-ambitious.”  But, in all actuality, the morning of the Christening turned out to be a bit of a crisis, complete with several batches of inedible frosting and a small meltdown on my part.  Long story short, due to the humidity that day, my marshmallow frosting refused to set up correctly and upon making and remaking the icing, I ended up missing Tali’s Christening ceremony.  I was pretty upset about missing it, but the extra time did allow me to figure out the problem and adjust my recipe accordingly, and of course, share my experience here so that others can learn from it!

After correcting the frosting and finishing up, I was able to make it to Whitney and Kevin’s home before everyone else, giving me lots of quiet time to set up  the dessert table.   The table looked lovely, but the best part of my early arrival had nothing to do with how much I’d fussed over the desserts.  The thing that made my missing the ceremony 100% okay was the extra, quiet time it allowed me to spend with the lady-of-the-hour herself, my Tali.  I was able to lend a hand to the busy hosts, Whitney and Kevin, and get sleepy Tal off to rest before greeting her many guests.  And as much as I loved watching everyone enjoy the desserts, nothing beats some cuddle-time with Talia.

Pink Champagne Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mascarpone Filling & Marshmallow Frosting

Inspired by: Pink Champagne

Pink Champagne Cakes

Adapted from Gail Wagman’s “Champagne Cupcakes,” Cupcakes Galore

3 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

6 egg whites, room temperature

1/3 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups pink champagne, separated

-optional: 3-4 drops red food coloring

–recipe yield: about 24 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake tins with cupcakes liners and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.  In a separate, medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the whisks of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add in the vanilla extract, and, if desired, add 3-4 drops of red food coloring.  Keep in mind that the color will be a little lighter after the dry ingredients are added.  Beat well until the color is distributed evenly throughout the butter mixture.

Slowly mix about 1/3 of the sifted flour mixture into the butter mixture until it has combined.  Then, add in about half of the 3/4 cup of champagne and mix until combined.  Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix, and then the remaining half of the 3/4 cup of champagne and mix again until combined.  Add in the last 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until the mixture is completely combined, being careful not to over-mix.  Over-mixing the batter once the flour has been added can result in dry, dense little cakes.

Gently and in small batches, fold about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the batter at a time.  Continue to fold until all of the egg whites have been added and are fully incorporated.  Divide the batter between the cupcake tins, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 16-18 minutes, or until the center of the cupcakes are  springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then remove them and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

Once the cakes have cooled, use a toothpick to poke a few tiny holes in each cupcake.  If you’re planning on filling the cupcakes, avoid poking the holes near the very center of the cakes, as you’ll be hollowing out the centers anyway.  Soak a pastry brush or a small, clean paintbrush in the remaining 1/2 cup of pink champagne, and use it to lightly brush the top of each cupcake, coating it with the champagne.

White Chocolate Mascarpone Filling

This recipe can be used as a filling or a frosting.  Preparation should start to the day before assembly.  I love the creaminess and delicate flavor of the mascarpone, but the cheese’s softness makes it difficult to use in frostings.  The white chocolate used here helps to keep the mascarpone thick and also adds delicious sweetness,  which the tangy cream cheese helps to balance out.

12 ounces white chocolate chips

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate chips.  As the chocolate is melting, pour into a separate,  small, heavy-bottomed saucepan the heavy cream and the 1/2 cup of cream cheese.  Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and, constantly whisking, allow the cream cheese to break apart and melt into the heavy cream, being careful to keep it moving and not allow the milk or cheese to curdle.

Once the cream is smooth and hot, add a small amount into the melted chocolate and stir.  If the chocolate beings to seize, the cream is not hot enough.  Return the cream back to the hot stove top, turn the burner on low and don’t panic!  Use an electric mixer to try and smooth out the seized chocolate mixture.  Once the chocolate is as smooth as you can get it and the temperature of the cream mixture is brought up, slowly add small amounts of cream to the chocolate and continue to beat until it has all been added and is beaten into a homogeneous mixture.  Allow the smooth mixture to cool slightly before covering it and refrigerating it overnight.

Once the chocolate-cream cheese mixture has chilled and hardened somewhat, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out and come to room temperature.  Once it has softened slightly, add in the mascarpone and beat the mixture until combined, homogeneous and fluffy.  When ready to be piped, transfer the filling to a pastry or plastic zip-lock bag.

Marshmallow Frosting

This recipe is comparable to an Italian Meringue or a ‘Seven Minute Icing’ and is whipped up over the stove.  Sugary delicious and beautifully whimsical, it’s my all-time favorite kind of frosting.  It should be prepared and served in the same day, as over time it’s texture can become granular and unpleasant.

2 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons water*

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

–recipe yield: about 3 cups

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Combine the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, water, and cream of tartar in the large bowl.  Beat the mixture on high speed over the simmering water until the mixture is thick, fluffy and marshmallow-y, about 7 minutes.  Beat in the vanilla extract, and transfer to a pastry bag to be piped.

* This frosting is temperamental in humidity and won’t stiffen up if there is a lot of moisture in the air.  As mentioned earlier, I had to make numerous batches before I found out that that’s what the problem was.  In this event, just reduce the amount of water in the sugar syrup.  In my hysterics, I even added a pinch of cornstarch as a precaution.

Optional Ingredients for Decorating:  colored sugars, jimmies, sprinkles, candy pearls, etc.


Using a round apple corer or a small paring knife, hollow out the centers of each cupcake.  Snip off the tip or a corner of the pastry or zip lock bag filled with the mascarpone filling and prepare to fill the cakes.  To do this, insert the tip of the bag into the hollowed cake and squeeze a small amount of the filling into the cake, just until it plumps and the filling barely reaches the top of the cake.  Continue to fill each cake, and when all cakes have been filled, replace the very tops of the inside “guts” that have been taken out of the cakes.  I prefer to tear off the bottom half of the “guts” before plugging each of the cupcake holes with only the top piece.

To frost and decorate the cakes, I used a few different techniques so that they all looked a little different.  I used a spatula to spread a small amount of the marshmallow frosting into a thin, even layer on a few of the cakes, and then dipped the cakes in colored sugar or sprinkles.  I then used a large star tip in a pastry bag filled with the marshmallow frosting to pipe a small rosette into the center of those cakes.  Large rosettes can be used to cover entire cupcakes, and round tips can be used to pipe little ‘blobs’ atop the cakes.  Decorate however you please with sprinkles, pearls, and sugars.