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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Italian Cream Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Buttercream

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Today is a special Sweet Precision post for two exciting reasons. The first reason that I can’t stop thinking or talking about is that I am now engaged! Matt surprised me by coming to DC this week from Ann Arbor and proposing to me! When I heard the knocking outside my door on Tuesday night I was trying to ignore the intrusion assuming it was just another solicitor. But when the knocking continued, I finally opened the door to find Matt there with his suitcase in hand. He came into my apartment and proposed on the spot—I was completely shocked and elated! So the remainder of this week has been a whirlwind, but in an amazingly good way.

Oh right, was there was a second exciting component to this post? Today is our work baking competition and I’m revealing the Italian cream cupcakes that I’ll be entering. I created this recipe by combining ideas that I got from some of my favorite baking blogs. This is the second time I’ve made these cupcakes and with a few tweaks that I made, I think they’re just about perfect. Much like my triple salted caramel cupcakes, these little beauties are a labor of love. Make sure you’ve set aside a few hours in the kitchen to make these. I promise that the finished product is worth the work though!

As a post baking contest update, the cupcakes beat out some tough competition to take first place!! 

Italian Cream Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Buttercream

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Italian Cream Cake Batter
5 large eggs, separated at room temperature
2 cups superfine granulated white sugar (sometimes called baker’s sugar)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon sea salt
zest of 1 medium lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups cake flour

Preheat the oven to 325˚. Line two muffin tins with 24 paper liners.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar to the egg white until it thickens up and looks like meringue. Put aside.

Cream the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter, shortening, salt and lemon zest with a mixer until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides, and add the vanilla extract. Mix and add an egg yolk at a time (stopping periodically to scrape down the sides) until the mixture is yellow, thick and well blended.

Stir the buttermilk and the baking soda together and add 1/3 of it to the butter mixture. Mix and then add 1 cup of the flour and mix again. Repeat with the buttermilk and then the flour, ending on the buttermilk.

Using a large spatula gently fold in the egg whites. Divide the batter and spoon into the paper liners. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through. Cool the cupcakes in the pan for at least 10 minutes before removing.

Lemon Curd Filling
2 large eggs
7 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick unsalted butter

Add the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, zest and lemon juice in a double boiler and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens up – around 10 minutes, all the while whisking it. Once the mixture starts to thicken, turn the heat up to medium and cook until it thickens and “tracks” when you pull the whisk through it. Add the butter and strain, discarding the solids. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least an hour before using. You can store it in the fridge for a couple of days.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 cups (approx. 1 lb.) confectioner’s sugar sifted
Additional lemon juice or milk (optional)

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add lemon juice and zest; beat well. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, if icing is dry, add additional juice or milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Re-whip before using.

Candied Lemon Wedges

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1 large lemon
1 cup sugar

Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut lemon into 12 paper-thin slices; discard seeds and ends of rind. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, and add lemon slices; stir until softened, about 1 minute. Drain, and immediately plunge slices into ice-water bath. Drain.

Bring sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium skillet, swirling to dissolve sugar. When liquid is clear and bubbling, reduce heat to medium-low. Add lemon slices, arranging them in one layer with tongs. Simmer (do not let boil) until rinds are translucent, about 1 hour. As water boils, set a wire cooling rack over a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. With a set of tongs, remove slices from syrup, allowing excess sugar to drop off, and set on a wire rack to dry. This may take up to 48 hours.

Assembly Instructions
Take the cooled cupcake and cut a 1/2″ wide and 1″ deep cone in middle of the cupcake with a paring knife. Remove the cone, spoon the lemon curd into the cupcake, and replace the top of the cone on the cupcake (you’ll have to cut a little off so it fits back in). Take the lemon buttercream frosting and pipe onto the top of the cupcake. Garnish with candied lemon wedge.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
This recipe is originally designed for a wedding cake. It’s important to note that when you make wedding cakes you want flat level cakes to stack. This recipe results in a flat cake without a lot of dome. However, when making cupcakes, people seem to like more domed tops, which you won’t get with this one. The advantage of a flat topped cupcake is you get to put more frosting on top! However if you are one of those people who wants a domed cupcake top, increase the temperature of the oven to 375˚ for the first 15 minutes and then drop the temperature back to 325˚ for 10 minutes and then test for doneness.

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Lemon Bars

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It’s been a weekend full of excitement here in the Sweet Precision kitchen. I’ve had a special guest visiting me here in DC… my dad! We’ve been busy doing some touristy things around the city and also doing some baking and cooking in my apartment. One of my dad’s favorite desserts are lemon bars, so as a surprise I bought all the ingredients so we could make them together. I’m not that big of a lemon fan myself, but these lemon bars are tasty enough to convert a critic. 

Spring demands lemon bars, but too often these bright yellow and shiny treats have flaws hidden underneath a fine layer of powdered sugar as they sit alluringly in a glass case. Lemon zest is really the key to a truly successful lemon bar and this recipe has a lot of it, so get those lemon zesters ready! In addition, it boasts a strong crust that can hold up to the tangy curd topping. The perfect finishing touch is some vanilla ice cream on the side—it’s the perfect complement to the tartness of the lemon curd.

Lemon Bars Recipe 
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Ingredients
Butter for greasing the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
6 large eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Combine 2 cups of the flour, the powdered sugar, and the salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into the greased pan, pushing the dough all the way up the sides. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes, then remove and reduce the oven temperature to 315°F.

Meanwhile, in another large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Gently stir in the lemon juice and zest. (To minimize aesthetically displeasing little bubbles on the top of the bars, avoid whisking further.) Fold in the remaining 1/2 cup flour.

Pour the egg mixture over the hot crust and bake until the curd is set and no longer jiggles when you move the pan, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting into bars. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
To prevent a soggy crust on your lemon bars, brush the crust with an egg white wash before baking. The egg whites will form a protective barrier between the crust and the lemon curd that you add later. Because egg whites are almost tasteless they will be nearly undetectable in your lemon bar crust when baked.

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