Maple Glazed Cream Puffs and Mini-Eclairs

DSC_0566 DSC_0569Let me set the record straight: I am NOT, by nature, a baker of fancy desserts.  Or overly involved desserts.  If you’d like any sort of crisp or pie, I can do that for you.  Cookies?  Coconut cakes?  Lemon bars?  I’ve got you covered.  But 30 layer crepe cakes?  Dyed, rolled and personalized heart cookies?  Homemade cream puffs and eclairs?  That train is driven by my daughter Hannah.

And Martha, of course.  Martha Stewart has, through her beautifully shot magazine and her PBS television series Martha Bakes, convinced my daughter that anything is easily achieved in the kitchen.  Our kitchen.  Admittedly Hannah and I watch the show together, but most of the time I would be content to simply observe the goings-on in Martha’s world of baking.  H wants to actually make it all.  Just yesterday morning, the first thing out of her mouth was, “Good morning Mommy.  Can we make cream puffs today?”  And because I’ve silently sworn to say no less often, cream puffs it was.

There were a few stumbles, a few tense moments, but we got messy and we laughed a lot.   We also agreed that the entire puff/eclair making process was much easier than anticipated, so you should seriously give it a shot.  The pate a choux dough was a snap with only 5 ingredients (butter, sugar, salt, flour, eggs), and if you aren’t interested in making pastry cream filling, you can throw in ice cream and top with chocolate or the maple glaze for profiteroles.  I say make the glaze – it was so good I could have bathed in it.

DSC_0577Thank you, H, for continually pushing me to try new things!  My world is brighter and much more delicious because of you.

Click here to check your local listings for the PBS series Martha Bakes.

Click here for the Maple Glazed Cream Puffs and Eclairs recipe.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake + A Very Happy Birthday

DSC_0132Oh my, was this cake a labor of love!  My daughter Hannah requested a crepe cake for her birthday after seeing a picture of one on Pinterest (doesn’t she know 99.9% of pinned recipes are for viewing pleasure only?) and she asked that we make it together.  How hard could it be?  I thought to myself.  After all, we’d made crepes several times before.  All we needed to do was make a big batch (30 to be exact) along with some pastry creme and a little chocolate ganache.  Right?

DSC_0978DSC_0972  DSC_0987DSC_0984DSC_0033DSC_0025The original recipe (found here) comes from Martha Stewart Living and it is a recipe (cake) within a recipe (filling) within a recipe (glaze/ganache).  Our only modifications were that we:

  1. used plain crepes for our base (recipe here) rather than the chocolate crepes in the Martha recipe
  2. made half of the suggested amount of hazelnut filling as the Martha recipe made a whopping 8 cups
  3. substituted Nutella (slightly warmed in microwave to soften) for the hazelnut creme in the filling recipe, and
  4. decorated with 4 oz chopped hazelnuts (toasted in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes then cooled)

DSC_0060DSC_0064Did it take several hours?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY.  The meringue based hazelnut filling was as fluffy as a cloud and the crunchy salty hazelnuts against the velvety chocolate ganache made for a heavenly match.  The best part was that I had Hannah all to myself for the afternoon, and she was so proud of what we created.  I had to laugh when I left the dinner table to fetch the cake and she asked me to please arrange her birthday candles in rainbow order.  The apple definitely does not fall far from the tree.

DSC_0121DSC_0106all photos via the aesthete and the dilettante

Anxiously Awaiting Spring

A detail from Cornelis van Spaendonck’s Vase of Flowers on a Stone Table with a Nest and a Greenfinch, 1789. The Louvre

I am desperately craving everything spring.  Crocuses.  Tulips.  Daffodils.  Longer days.  Cool breezes.  Light layers.  Skin-warming sunshine.  Open windows.  Digging in the dirt.  GreenI want green.

Daffodils exploding on Martha Stewart’s Bedford Farm

Is anyone else sick to death of wearing heavy knits and of boots as the only option for your feet?  Sadly, it is going to be awhile before we can pack them away here on the Third Coast (the Weather Channel is pushing a winter weather advisory as I type), but there are ways to bring elements of spring into our lives and wardrobes now.

Pale pink hyacinth.
Pale pink hyacinth.

A high impact/low cost must is to grab a bunch of spring flowers from the market.  I bought the above bouquet at Trader Joe’s for a mere six dollars.  The fragrance was amazing and they lasted for an entire week!

The next easy way to get a spring fix is to inject color into your wardrobe.  Almost every shade of colored denim (above pair available here) looks fabulous with grey, black, or winter white, so wear your spring hued jeans with a chunky neutral sweater (don’t you think the above outfit is crying for an oversized grey cardigan?) and throw on a pair of ankle boots.  Done.  I’d add a messy updo and a thick chain link bracelet but that’s just me.

Bold black and white was a heavy hitter on the Spring 2013 runways.  This body skimming number (here) is a great transitional piece.  Wear it now with tights, booties and a jacket, then bare your arms and legs as the mercury rises.

This soft and flowy iris print blouse (available here) will look perfect peeking out from under a blazer and paired with rolled up boyfriend jeans.

I was thrilled to see ultra-feminine lace return as a spring trend.  This dress (available here) would look chic with a loose blazer or a hip length jacket now.

Spring stripes and pastel button downs are a breath of fresh air for men and women.  This cotton cashmere sweater (available here) will transition beautifully through the next three seasons.

I’m crazy over this silk tie with its pale pink back ground and graphic chain-link print (available here).  Justify it as an Easter Sunday splurge and wear it all spring and summer.

Let’s ignore the fact that the above model looks like an extra from Less Than Zero and focus on the fabulous floral prints from the Prabal Gurung for Target collection.  Run, don’t walk – it’s flying off the shelves (see the entire lookbook here).  If you’re on the fence about investing in florals, this ultra-reasonable line would be a good place to start.

J. Crew’s spring collaboration with Liberty of London showcases the latter company’s famous floral prints on everything from the above collared shirt to shoes, pajamas, swimsuits and pocket mirrors.

A spring inspired pedicure will make you smile every time you glimpse your toes.  Mint green polish (above available here) is on every beauty editor’s hit list for spring, but I say choose whatever cotton candy color makes you happiest.

My daughter has this light purple on her fingers right now and I am a little jealous.  Must copy.

Uniqlo is finally available online, and this ultralight down jacket (available in several colors here) is a steal at $69.90.

Leather is another huge trend this spring, and this muted metallic cap-sleeved top from Skaist Taylor (available here), while definitely not a steal, would be a fabulous layering piece now and an absolute stand out when the weather breaks.  It truly makes me weak in the knees.

So from now until sunshine coaxes the first crocuses through the snow, I will plan my gardens (finally getting to the landscaping this year), watch spring training games on mlb.tv (the Cubs, of course) and shop like it’s already here.  You?

Image one via The Louvre, image two via The Martha Blog, last image via The Gifts of Life Tumblr.

Now THIS is Love

Yesterday I spent four and a half hours on these cookies.  I am not making this up.  The most ridiculous part, however, is not the amount of time that it took.  It’s that I made them for my son’s classroom Valentine’s Day party.  I’m sure all of those 8th grade boys will spend LOADS of time appreciating the work that went into them.  And by loads I mean the 2 seconds it takes to either shove them into their mouths whole or use as projectiles in a sugar fueled food fight.

In retrospect, I think dying the dough three different colors was a wee bit ambitious, though my favorite cookies turned out to be the ones made from rolling the scraps together.  And yes, I am aware that Martha Stewart is not losing sleep over facing me in a cookie decorating throwdown.

Speaking of Martha, here is the recipe I used if any of you have a spare half day to devote to baking cookies.  I didn’t even get to the making of the filling and turning them into sandwich cookies part!

I doubled the recipe and ended up with 58 cookies using a 2 1/2 inch wide cookie cutter.

photos via the aesthete and the dilettante