Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Homemade Eclairs

So I learned how to make pastry cream in my baking class and didn't have the heart to throw it away. I searched for ideas on what to do with it and there are a number of treats.  Cream puffs and trifles but then I saw eclairs.  Who doesn't love eclairs?  Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than light pastry filled with cream... and then dipped in chocolate. Pastry cream is one of the most basic techniques that every chef has a recipe for.  It can be whipped up in no time at all with ingredients you usually have on hand.

When I was younger Gale Gand's show used to come on Food Network called "Sweet Dreams".  My love for baking and appreciation for the final dessert product was encouraged by her.  It's too bad the show doesn't come on anymore because she has some really great techniques that any home cook can benefit from.  Nevertheless, her recipes can still be found on Food Network's website.

Therapeutic topic of the week: Be kind.

An act of kindness doesn’t have to be extravagant to be meaningful. The key is to bring mindful intention to these simple daily acts. You can hold a door for someone, let someone who appears rushed go ahead of you in line, write a kind note to a friend in need. These acts of kindness benefit you as much as they benefit the person you have helped.

Homemade Eclairs
Adapted from Gale Gand


2 cups whole, 2 percent fat, or 1 percent fat milk
1 tsp vanilla
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter

1 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs, plus 1 extra, if needed
Egg Wash:
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons water
Chocolate Glaze:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the milk to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Add vanilla. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the saucepan. Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.

Pastry: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, add 3 eggs, 1 egg at a time. Stop mixing after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining 1 egg and mix until incorporated.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe fat lengths of dough (about the size and shape of a jumbo hot dog) onto the lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches of space between them. You should have 8 to 10 lengths.

Egg Wash: In a bowl, whisk the egg and water together. Brush the surface of each eclair with the egg wash. Use your fingers to smooth out any bumps of points of dough that remain on the surface. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until puffed up and light golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet. Fit a medium-size plain pastry tip over your index finger and use it to make a hole in the end of each eclair (or just use your fingertip). Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium-size plain tip, gently pipe the custard into the eclairs, using only just enough to fill the inside (don't stuff them full).

Glaze: In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it boils. Immediately turn off the heat. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm. The glaze can be made up to 48 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, and rewarm in a microwave or over hot water when ready to use.

Dip the tops of the eclairs in the warm chocolate glaze and set on a sheet pan. Chill, uncovered, at least 1 hour to set the glaze. Serve chilled.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Nutella Banana Bread Pudding

Rich and decadent challah bread is used for this delicious bread pudding.  If you make your own bread, it turns out even better and it makes the house smell amazing!  Bread pudding is a great comfort food and when you add bananas and nutella...just speechless.

Theraputic topic for the week: comfort foods

When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, a favorite blanket. Macaroni and cheese might mean comfort to you. Or perhaps your source of succor is beef stew or udon noodles.  Studies have shown that people cognitively connect important past associations with specific foods. Craving ice cream, for example, may stem from a desire to recapture carefree, childhood days of running after the ice cream truck.

Nutella Banana Bread Pudding Recipe
Adapted from Anne Thornton

Cooking spray or butter, for the pan
1 (13-ounce) container Nutella
12 (3/4-inch) thick slices challah or egg bread (recipe below)
8 large eggs
1 quart half and half
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup almond milk 
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 ripe bananas

Spray or butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish.

Spread the Nutella on all your bread slices, then put 2 slices together to make 6 sandwiches. Cut each sandwich into 8 pieces and toss them into a large bowl. Crack your eggs in another large bowl and whisk in the half and half, milk, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts. Pour this mixture over the sandwich cubes. Now, mash your bananas and stir that into the bread cube mixture. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Let stand at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours, occasionally pressing the bread into the custard mixture. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm.

Challah Bread

Challah bread is great for soaking up delicious custards.  You can use it for french toast or bread puddings.  It is a rich, strong bread with a slight sweetness and can be eaten plain.  There are many different braiding techniques, this one uses a four braid.  You can find different braiding techniques here.

Challah Recipe
Makes two large loaves

1 1/2 cup warm water, divided
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons instant yeast
6 cups flour -- either all white or half white whole wheat
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup mild honey, plus an extra tablespoon for eggwash, if desired
2/3  cups flavorless vegetable or canola oil
4 eggs, plus one yolk for eggwash, if desired
1 pinch ground cardamom, optional 

Put 1 cup warm water in a small bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar, sprinkle the yeast over top, swirl the bowl just to combine, and leave it to proof for five minutes. 

While yeast is proofing, mix flour, salt, 1/4 cup of sugar and cardamom, if using, in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.) Stir to incorporate or blend on low speed.
In a medium bowl, mix remaining water, honey, oil, and eggs. 

When yeast has finished proofing, add it to the flour, immediately followed by wet ingredients. Mix with a large wooden spoon or on medium-low speed in the mixer, just until combined, about 30 seconds. 

Switch to dough hook and begin to knead on low speed, making sure to incorporate what's at the bottom of the bowl if the dough hook misses it. If kneading by hand, stir using spoon until dough becomes to thick to stir. Empty dough onto well-floured surface and knead by hand. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, adding flour with a light hand as needed, 7-10 minutes. 

Split the dough into two equal pieces. Set each in a large oiled bowl, cover both bowls with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size. If using white flour, this should take about 2-2.5 hours. If using white whole wheat, it will take closer to 3.5 or 4. Feel free to let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight instead; if you do this, be sure to set out the dough in plenty of time before shaping, so it can come to room temperature. 

Preheat oven to 375.
After the rise, the dough should be soft and pliable. Separate each mound of dough into three equal balls, for a total of six. Roll each ball into a log almost 1-foot long. Braid the logs together to create your loaf. For the nicest-looking braid, do not pinch the top edges of your logs together before braiding; simply place one log over the next and braid until you reach the bottom, then pinch those edges together. Then, flip the unfinished loaf the long way, so that the unfinished edge is now at the bottom and the loaf has been flipped over and upside down. Finish braiding and pinch these edges together. This way, both ends look identical. Tuck the very tips beneath the loaf when braiding is finished. 
Repeat with second loaf. 

Put each loaf on its own silpat-lined baking sheet. If using egg wash, mix yolk with a 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon honey. Brush over loaves. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until challot are golden and baked through.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pear and almond tart

Pear and Almond Tart
This is truly a French classic tart that is so delicate and delicious it is really hard not to eat the whole thing.  Sometimes it may also be called "frangipane" which is the almond custard made in this dessert.  Usually you poach the pears but it is difficult to get it to the right texture without ruining the shape of the fruit.  For this reason, I use the canned pears in water only.  Be sure to buy a good brand, it is not something you want to cheap out on because it will make a difference in your final product.  If you don't like pears then substitute with canned apricots or peaches!

Therapeutic topic of the week: Recall a past success.

Taking five minutes to reflect on how you pulled through other stressful situations like your last breakup or when you switched jobs can help you reconnect with your resilient side.
In the moment, it may feel as though you'll never get over your present problem, but when you look back, you realize that you felt similarly before and found a way to overcome it.
If you're going through a divorce or recently lost a loved one, you also may want to seek out a support group: Research on grieving presented by the Center for the Advancement of Health in Washington, D.C., suggests that talking with peers is even more beneficial than one-on-one counseling in the initial months after a loss.

Pear and Almond Tart Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1/4 cup ice water

1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1 stick plus 6 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon almond extract
5 canned pear halves in water, sliced

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Pulse in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Sprinkle the egg mixture on top and pulse just until a dough forms. Scrape the pastry onto 2 sheets of plastic wrap and form into 2 disks or 10 small disks for tartlets. Wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Whisk in 1 egg and the salt. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then return it to the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until thickened and just beginning to bubble around the edges, about 4 minutes. Strain the custard into a bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 12 tablespoons of butter with the sliced almonds at medium-low speed until the almonds are slightly crushed. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and the remaining 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 2 eggs, then beat in the custard and extract.

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each pastry disk to a 12-inch round 1/8 inch thick. Fit the pastry into two 9-inch fluted tart pans with removable bottoms. If making miniature tarts such as I did, roll each disk into a 5 inch round 1/8 inch thick for each tartlet pan.  Fold the overhang onto itself. Using a sharp knife, trim off any excess pastry.

Spoon the filling into the tarts. Place 1 pear half in the center of each tart; arrange the slices trying to keep the original shape of the pear. Bake the tarts in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the pears are very tender and the custard and pastry are deep golden. Let the tarts cool for 30 minutes, then unmold and serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Trifle dessert

Mixed Fruit Trifle
When I was growing up everyone and their mother was your "auntie".  No, I'm serious.  We called all females, auntie.  Over the weekends my parent's friends came over with their kids for get togethers. When they came to her house she was known for her trifle trifle dessert. When the parents called us down for "dessert time" we all raced each other down the stairs for who would get auntie's trifle first.  This incredible crowd pleaser would be scarfed down in minutes by adults and children alike.  That's how good this dessert is.  Now of course I have tweaked it to make it mine but the base stays the same:  layers of cake, fruit, and custard marrying together absorbing each others flavors.  That is the key, letting this dessert sit for a hours allowing the cake to absorb the custard and the fruit juices.  And it's so simple to make.  I just use whatever fruits are in season but for me bananas and strawberries are a must.  Makes for a great breakfast the next morning -- my ultimate favorite leftover.

Fruit Trifle Recipe
Adapted from Zubeda Kazi

1 (13x 9 inch) white cake, baked and cooled or use one Sara Lee pound cake from the freezer section
2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced, half cup reserved
1 pint fresh blackberries
2 bananas, sliced
1 can of peaches in water, chopped, drained
1 can of pineapple chunks, drained
1/4 cup orange juice
2 (4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix or make custard from scratch
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Follow directions for pudding mix until set. Cut the cake into 1 inch cubes. Combine the fruit with the pudding until evenly distributed.  Use half of the cake cubes to line the bottom of a large glass bowl. Layer half of the fruit and custard mixture.  Repeat layers in the same order.  In a medium bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks, add powdered sugar and vanilla to combine.  Spread over top of trifle. Garnish with reserved strawberries.  Allow to sit in the fridge for at least four hours.  Serve and enjoy.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Best ever banana bread

Banana Walnut Bread
When we were young my mom would always have banana bread on hand.  I don't know how she did it or when she had the time but somehow there was always banana bread in the house.  My favorite way to eat it was for breakfast.  I take a slice and put it in a bowl and drench it in milk.  Then I would break into small pieces and eat it with a spoon like cereal.

Banana bread reminds me of comfort and warmth.  I almost get excited when I see the bananas are getting brown in the fruit basket because no one has eaten them.  This recipe allows you to make the bread and freeze for up to two months!  Just warm it in the microwave for 30 seconds and it's amazing.  It is really moist and the walnuts give it a good textural contrast.  The trick is to stop at just one slice.

Banana Walnut Bread Recipe
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/4 cups of flour with the baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the oil, sugar and mashed bananas. Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients.  Fold in the walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, until the bread is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes, then turn the bread out onto the rack and let cool completely. Cut into slices and serve.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

b&w angel food cake

Black and White Angel Food Cake
Let's face it, angel food cake can be a little boring.  But grate some chocolate and pour some more over the top and you got the best angel food cake ever!  It's still light and airy but with a little bitter chocolate.  Add some fresh berries for a perfect pairing.

Therapeutic topic for the week:  

Can Your Diet Make You Feel Depressed?

I am often asked whether eating particular foods can enhance mood and treat the symptoms of depression. With very few exceptions, the answer is no. In contrast, our mood can be easily depressed by our diet. Why? For adults, the brain responds primarily to deficits, not surpluses, in the diet.

For example, scientists once thought that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed or eating a large meal of protein made us drowsy because of tryptophan loading – the current evidence does not support this explanation but the claim makes an important point: we must get enough of any particular nutrient into our brain in order for us to notice any effects. Unfortunately, tryptophan has difficulty getting into our brain, particularly when consumed within the context of a large variety of other amino acids, i.e. meat.

So, what’s the scientific evidence for considering the cognitive effects of these foods? Mostly, it’s related to what happens when we do not get enough of them. For example, studies have shown that consuming too little tryptophan makes us depressed and angry; historians now blame low tryptophan diets for multiple wars and acts of cannibalism. Too little water-soluble vitamins (the B’s and C) in the diet will induce changes in brain function that we will begin to notice after a few weeks of deprivation. Many authors naively jump to the conclusion that giving high doses of such nutrients will rapidly improve our mood or thinking: sadly, this is rarely the case.

Can dietary supplements increase brain tryptophan levels and improve mood? The answer is no. There is no evidence for improving mood through dietary manipulation of tryptophan primarily because it is difficult to change plasma tryptophan levels through diet alone. Tryptophan supplementation and depletion studies suggest that altering tryptophan levels may only affect certain groups of patients who have a personal or family history of depression. Popular media articles often recommend diets and foods to increase blood tryptophan levels and raise brain serotonin levels. Such recommendations, while superficially appealing, are misleading and not supported by any current scientific studies.

The production of serotonin requires the absorption of the amino acid tryptophan from your food. Transport of this amino acid is influenced by the level of other amino acids in your blood; that level, in turn, is also influenced by what you eat. Within the neurons of your brain, tryptophan is converted to 5-hydroxy-tryptophan by tryptophan hydroxylase, an enzyme that is usually not saturated with substrate. Therefore, if you eat less tryptophan, your brain generally produces less serotonin. Conversely, providing additional tryptophan in the diet may lead to increased production of serotonin within neurons. It is worth noting, however, that simply producing more serotonin does not guarantee that the neuron will actually release it. If too much serotonin is produced inside the brain, then the excess is simply discarded. Studies have shown that depletion of this amino acid in the diet can negatively influence serotonin-controlled brain processes such as mood and sleep.

A recent study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology (2014, v. 39) investigated whether it was possible to deplete the brain’s reward chemical dopamine in humans by restricting access to the amino acid tyrosine that is required for its synthesis by the brain. Within a few hours the subjects showed a blunted reaction by their brain’s dopamine centers in response to a monetary reward. Overall, their mood was also slightly depressed. Fortunately, the effects of this experimental diet were temporary because the subjects were young and the brain was able to compensate quickly.

The overall lesson here is that if you’re feeling down, it might be your diet. However, do not expect your diet to make you feel happy; most often, a good diet will only prevent you from feeling depressed.

Written by Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D., author of Your Brain on Food (Oxford Univ Press)

Black and White Angel Food Cake Recipe
Adapted from Ina Garten


For the cake:
2 cups sifted sugar
1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups egg whites at room temperature (10 to 12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely grated semisweet chocolate

For the glaze:
4oz semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour and sift them together. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs form medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar by sprinkling it over the beaten egg whites. Beat on high speed for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Add the vanilla and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute. Scrape the beaten egg whites into a large bowl. Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it very carefully into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour in 3 equal additions, sifting and folding until it's all incorporated. Fold in the grated chocolate.

Pour the batter into an greased 10-inch bundt pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 to 45 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack. When cool, run a thin, flexible knife around the cake to remove it from the pan.

For the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate chips and the heavy cream in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate over the top of the cooled cake to cover the top completely and allow it to drizzle down the sides. If you have chocolate glaze left over, you can serve it on the side with the cake.


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