How to Make Pâte à Choux

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I can hardly believe that Thanksgiving is next week! The fall season has been a whirlwind for our family. Matthew and I recently returned from a fantastic 10 day trip to France and Belgium. We struck a nice balance of relaxation and fun sightseeing activities. Highlights included a chocolate and beer tour in Brussels and tickets to the ballet at the Paris Opera! It seemed as though our vacation was over before we knew it, and then it was back to reality. That reality meant adjusting back to our time zone, recovering from a cold for Matthew, and both of us attending conferences out of state. Whew. It feels like we’re finally settled now!

Speaking of fall…I couldn’t be more excited that today marks our fall baking competition at work! I love brainstorming ideas and testing out new recipes. However, there is also a certain amount of pressure involved in a baking competition. I decided to think a little outside of the box with my dessert entry this year. Instead of going with the typical fall flavors of pumpkin or apples, I decided to try a LEMON dessert! I love lemon because it’s so light and refreshing.

So let’s talk about this lemon-inspired dessert. I decided to make miniature cream puffs and fill them with a mixture of lemon curd and whipped cream. I garnished them with lemon glaze and candied lemon. Cream puffs are made from a light pastry dough called pâte à choux. This dough is quite simple and contains only butter, water, flour, and eggs. There is no leavening agent, and instead the high moisture content creates steam during the baking process to puff the pastry. I really like this dough because it’s simple and you can fill it up with anything your heart desires. Since these buns are so versatile, I’m simply sharing the recipe for the choux pastry. After that, let your imagination guide the way!

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How to Make Pâte à Choux
The Pastry Cookbook by Michel Roux

Ingredients
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons butter, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 medium eggs
Egg-wash (1 medium egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)

Directions
Combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan and set over low heat. Bring to a boil and immediately take the pan off the heat. Shower in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Return the pan to medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute to dry out the paste, and then tip it into a bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon. Once the eggs are all incorporated, the paste should be smooth and shiny with a thick ribbon consistency. It is now ready to use.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. For small choux buns, put the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe small mounds in staggered rows onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or directly onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the choux with egg-wash and lightly mark the tops with the back of a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the outside of the buns is dry and crisp but the inside is still soft. Cool on a wire rack.

Once buns are cooled use a pastry bag to fill the choux buns with your filling of choice. Feel free to be creative. Pudding, custard, whipped cream, and jam are all viable option depending on the flavor you want to achieve. If you’d like a chocolate topping, melt chocolate over a double boiler and dip buns in the chocolate to coat. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Cool the dough slightly before adding the eggs. If you add the eggs right away, the hot dough will cook them, thereby preventing the eggs from doing their puff job. Some bakers cool the dough in the pan off the heat, while others transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat it on low speed for a minute or two to cool off.

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Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

There’s no doubt about it, pumpkin is a quintessential flavor of fall. Although I appreciate pumpkin in all its forms, I especially love it in desserts. Pumpkin desserts are no stranger to the Sweet Precision kitchen. In past years I’ve made pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin tiramisu. I’ve even written a post about how to make your own pumpkin pie spice! This year, I’m adding to the lineup with some tasty pumpkin bread that is sure to leave your kitchen smelling divine.

This week marked the four year anniversary for Sweet Precision. I made my first Sweet Precision post on October 4th, 2012. Looking back, Matthew and I were just beginning what would be a one year long distance relationship with him moving to Ann Arbor to start his PhD program. I was continuing to enjoy life in Washington DC, but found myself feeling alone in a city that we had once explored together. I needed something to funnel my newfound spare time into—and a new baking blog was the perfect project.

Since then, it seems as though time has flown. I’ve moved to Ann Arbor, Matthew and I have gotten married, he has completed four years of his PhD program, and we’ve even welcomed a new puppy into our family! In the midst of all this, I’ve continued baking and blogging.

What an amazing 4 years it’s been. Posts come and go (perhaps not as often as they once did), but what makes this whole blogging experience so amazing is your contribution as readers and followers. Thanks for reading my posts, trying out the recipes, and leaving your thoughtful comments. Here’s to another year of baking mishaps and masterpieces in the Sweet Precision kitchen!

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from All Recipes 

Ingredients
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice

Directions
Adjust oven rack to middle and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 9×5 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 60 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Avoid getting rims around the edges of quick bread loaves by greasing the baking pans on the bottom and only 1/2 inch up the sides.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffin Tops

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As a baker, it always feels good when someone appreciates the fruits of your labor in the kitchen. While Matthew doesn’t have a sweet tooth like I do, there are a few items that he frequently requests from my baking repertoire. Enter these delicious pumpkin muffin tops. The first time I made these cookies was Matthew’s first year of graduate school. Since then, I get about a yearly request for said cookies. When I was struggling to come up with a dessert to bring to a picnic this past weekend, he calmly looked at me and said “I think people would really enjoy your pumpkin muffin tops.” A couple days later when he saw me looking at the recipe he added, “We could always… (insert innocent pause) save just a few cookies for us to eat.” Uh huh. Game well played Matthew. Given the title of this post, you know how this story ended.

This is actually the second time I’ve posted these cookies on Sweet Precision. This updated recipe has more spices (hello ginger and nutmeg) and more butterscotch chips, because… butterscotch. I was excited to break out my first pumpkin recipe of the year because it signals that autumn is almost here. I saw my first sign for a pumpkin spiced latte last week which truly signals the start of the season! So break out a can of pumpkin, embrace autumn, and give these delicious cookies a try!

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Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffin Tops
Makes approximately 24 cookies

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups butterscotch chips

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, mix the oil, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended. Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate it. Mix in 1 cup of the chips.

Using an ice cream scoop with a 1/4-cup capacity, scoop mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 1/2-inches apart. Use a thin metal spatula to smooth and flatten the rounds. Sprinkle remaining chips on top of the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, about 16 minutes. Cool them on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
When baking cookies, it’s best to put one batch at a time in the oven. Cookies need to bake on the middle rack for even baking. If you can fit two pans on the middle rack without touching, you’ll get the baking results you want. If you add additional sheets of cookies on higher or lower racks, they might bake unevenly. You may save some time, but the cookies will suffer.

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Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

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As much as I love spending time in the kitchen baking, there is one part of the process that I really detest. I hate going to the grocery store. I’ve hated grocery stores and grocery shopping all my life. My list of complaints could go on forever—from inadequate parking, to confusing store layouts and poor food selection—it seems as though the deck is always stacked against me when I walk through those sliding doors.

Given my grocery store-averse personality, I often plan my desserts around what ingredients I have at home. If a recipe requires only a few items that I don’t have, I’ll prioritize that recipe over one where I’d need to purchase more items. All this leads us to these delicious coconut macaroons. What inspired me to bake these cookies? I only needed two items from the grocery store—an obvious win in my book.

So let’s chat about these cookies a little bit. Coconut can be a pretty polarizing ingredient when it comes to desserts. If you aren’t a fan of coconut, steer clear of these little beauties. I brought these cookies into work this week for a baby shower. I usually do most of my baking on the weekend when I have more leisure time. When it comes to work-week baking projects, I’m always on the lookout for something that comes together rather quickly. These cookies take about 15 minutes of prep work and need about 15 minutes in the oven. It doesn’t get any easier!

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 1/2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
2 cups melted semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, coconut and salt. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla using your hands until well blended. Use an ice cream scoop to drop dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about golf ball size.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until coconut is toasted. Once cooled, dip cookies in melted chocolate and cool completely on waxed paper.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
I chilled my mixture for 15 minutes before baking. This helps things firm up a little bit and produces a rounder shaped macaroon that is perfect for dipping in chocolate!

Homemade Pop Tarts

As a Minnesota girl at heart, the heat and humidity of summer can feel a bit oppressive at times. I’m usually okay up to about 80 degrees, but anything beyond that is just… hot. Add in some humidity and I’m far from a happy camper. The heat and humidity have both settled on Ann Arbor recently, and it leaves me dreaming of mild autumn days. That being said, the hot days of summer do bring some things that I love. Matt and I recently went camping which was great, and who doesn’t love s’mores cooked over a campfire?! We also went on a kayaking adventure, which (minus one tip over) was a fun time. The passing of the summer solstice also reminded me that summer never lasts forever. The change is ever so slight, but I can already tell it’s a little less light when I wake up for my early morning workouts.

But enough about the passing of the seasons. Let’s talk about revamping a classic breakfast “dessert” many of us love. When I was growing up, I never ate Pop Tarts for breakfast or even as a snack. It wasn’t until later in life that I tried one and I was far from impressed. This homemade version elevates Pop Tarts from a simple “meh” to a definite “wow” factor. While you can’t stick these in a traditional toaster, you could pop them in a toaster oven. However, I think you’ll find they are just as delicious at room temperature. I made these to bring to a brunch and I found myself wishing that I had some left over to snack on when we got back home!

Homemade Pop Tarts
Original Recipe from Smitten Kitchen 

Pastry Ingredients 
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

Cinnamon Filling Ingredients
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, to taste
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling

Directions
For step-by-step directions along with beautiful pictures, check out the original recipe at Smitten Kitchen. You will also find some suggestions for alternative fillings such as chocolate and jam.

Heather’s Helpful Hints 
There is a fine art to rolling out pastry dough that only comes with practice. I’m still learning as I go along but have found two things that always help with the process. First, always work with well-chilled pastry; otherwise, the dough will stick to the counter and tear. Second, never roll out dough by rolling back and forth over the same section. Each time you press on the same spot, more gluten develops that can toughen the dough.