Home Made Croissants

Home Made CroissantsCroissant Crazy
Over the years, my sister and I have taken a lot of cooking classes. So many, in fact, that there isn’t a whole lot out there that we haven’t taken. By no means have we mastered the art of cooking. Far from it! But, you do reach a point that, unless it is something very specific, you can pick up any recipe and produce a better than average result. There was one thing that both of us were fairly intent on learning—and that is how to make croissants. Or, to be more specific, the laminated dough used to make croissants and other flaky goodness.

I’ve always been a fan of a really good croissant. I mean what’s not to love? You just can’t go wrong with flakey buttery pastry, with or without filling, fresh from the oven. Am I right?

This particular drive to learn the art of croissant was born out of an obsession with the orange morning buns that are produced by our favorite bakery in Tahoe City, CA. I can’t even with these morning buns. No trip to the lake is complete without these for breakfast at least once but they’re up there and we’re down here. We had to figure out a way to recreate them but to do that we needed to learn the basics.

This was how we found ourselves spending a lovely Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago learning to make croissants. It was great. It was challenging. And I have found that having an industrial grade sheeter would make the folding process so much easier but, alas, that is not an option.

To be frank, croissants are not a thing you make on a whim. They are a project that requires hours. It is something you do as much for the process as for the end result. It is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday when you have absolutely nothing going on.

This weekend for me is one of those rare weekends where we will not be running around shuttling kids here and there and my plan is to make a batch of croissants just to make sure I can do it without the instructor there. Should be interesting…

For those adventurous spirits out there below is a great recipe for those who are willing to give it a shot. For the rest, there is definitely something to be said for letting someone else do the work and grabbing a dozen or so from your favorite bakery.

Home Made Croissants
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields about 2 dozen Read more…

Stuffed French Toast

Stuffed French ToastToast of Christmas
Like a lot of families, we celebrate the holidays in multiple houses. Christmas Eve is generally at my place (though my sister is hosting this year). Christmas morning has been at my place the last couple of years and will be again this year. For Christmas dinner, we are all scattered. This might seem kinda strange to you to have all the celebrations with the same family at different locations. I mean what’s with musical houses? The answer is that it is not always the same faces at each celebration.

Christmas Eve is with my family, my sister’s family, and my sister’s in-laws. Christmas morning is my family and my sister’s family. Christmas Dinner is my family and my in-laws. By doing it this way we make sure that everybody gets to see each other to celebrate and exchange gifts. It also allows for some side celebrations. Let me explain…

While my family is enjoying our traditional Ebelskiver on Christmas morning, my in-laws are kinda left to their own devices. So, for the last 10 years or so, my brother-in-law hosts breakfast for their side of the family at his place. It is a much smaller and definitely quieter affair that always features a decadent French toast along with great coffee and fruit. It also means that by the time they get to my house, everyone is stuffed and thus begins the annual debate over when we should eat dinner…

French toast is a great option for a crazy holiday morning because it takes very little time and effort to put together and there are so many options out there for jazzing it up a bit. My brother-in-law has what is apparently a secret recipe that involves poppy seeds. For me, I like any version that includes fruit and/or nuts. Then, of course, you can get really wacky and stuff it for extra decadence…

And for those elves who have stayed up all night assembling a bike or a toddler-size kitchen, there is always the overnight version to make life a little easier…this Ina recipe is one of my favorites.

For those who want to go all out, here is a recipe to consider for some out of this world Stuffed French Toast….

Stuffed French Toast
Adapted from Morning Food by Margaret Fox
Yields 6 servings
Read more…

French Fruit Tart — A Classic

French Fruit Tart — A ClassicCamp de Cuisine
I’ve written about my daughter and her summer kitchen shenanigans a few times over the past weeks. And, you might be happy to know that things are still going full steam (just ask my dishwasher). Right now, she seems to be in a French pastry phase. While I fully support her curiosity and creativity, I am wondering when she’ll get to the one bowl or less phase….

Though she hasn’t quite reached that Julie & Julia work her way through an entire cookbook level of obsession, she’s pretty close. For Fourth of July, she made Pâte à Choux for red, white and blue cream puffs with raspberry cream and blue sprinkles. That same week, she tackled French Macarons and they turned out way better than any of my attempts. The macarons actually had feet—and anyone who’s watched any of the baking championships knows how important feet are. Thankfully, my sons are her taste testers or there would be no way for my husband or me to fit into our pants.

This week, my kitchen (and the dishwasher) is getting a much-needed break as my teenaged chef de cuisine is attending a summer pastry camp. (Where was this when I was 12?) Yesterday they made a classic French Fruit Tart and I actually learned something new. If you spread a thin layer of semi-sweet or white chocolate on the bottom of the tart shell and then put the pastry cream in, the tart will not get soggy. (My mind is blown.)

These tarts are so versatile and fairly easy to make that you will find it easy to whip one together for any of your summer get-togethers. To make it even easier, I will substitute a good quality vanilla pudding mix like Dr. Oetkers or even Bird’s custard mix instead of making the pastry cream. Feel free to use any combination of ripe summer fruits to finish.

French Fruit Tart — A Classic
Adapted from Sur la Table
Finish the top with the ripest, most luscious seasonal fruit you can find. Summer berries are an obvious choice, but also try slices of nectarines, plums, poached pears, mango, or kiwi, depending upon the season.  Read more…

Peach Scones

Peach Scones Recipe

Peachy Keen
For the past few weeks, I have been getting rather dire predictions from my produce manager about the state of this year’s stone fruit crop. The short version is this: small crop, big prices. (Thank you Mother Nature). I look forward to stone fruit season every year. Even my kids have been asking if it is time for nectarines yet but the outlook hasn’t been great.

Imagine my surprise when, the other day, I was walking through our produce department and saw a lovely stack of peaches from California. It made me stop in my tracks and stare for a while because if anything is a beacon of Summer and warmer weather, it is the arrival of the peaches.

I have to admit I have been losing hope of there ever being summer weather. Last Saturday I sat in the bleachers at a baseball tournament freezing to death. (It was Cinco de Mayo! It should be warm enough already to melt your margarita not cold enough for Kahlua and coffee!) This weekend looks to be a bit better and Sunday is Mother’s Day—the perfect opportunity to make something I want…‘cause it’s all about me!

So I‘m gonna make these Peach Scones. They are a perfect tasty treat for Mother’s Day brunch, or just because. And, the peaches are there to remind you that summer is not too far away. One thing to be aware of, early peaches aren’t necessarily sweet peaches, You might need to toss ‘em in some sugar before you use them…or go with frozen.

Peach Scones Recipe
Yields 12 scones
The simplest way to make these scones is to drop the batter by the 1/4-cupful onto a baking sheet. If you want to get fancier, you can form the dough into a disc that is about 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick, and slice it (like a pizza) into 12 sections—first, cut cross-wise at right angles, and then divide those four sections into three wedges each. Either way, make certain there is enough space on the baking sheet for the scones to rise while in the oven. Read more…

Strawberry Rye Tart

Strawberry Rye TartStrawberry Fields Forever
I planted my summer garden the weekend we got back from our Spring Break trip and already the plants are getting big.

I chose to move my garden closer to the house this year for a few reasons. The first is that with our busy schedule it is easier to remember to water the plants if the droopy garden is staring you in the face.

The second reason is chickens. My chickens will eat my entire garden if I let them—not just the bugs. Tomatoes are their favorite with peppers a close second.

The last and probably the most important reason is that having my veggies in a planter box by the side of my patio forces me to only grow the stuff that we will actually eat. I have a tendency to over-plant because I find it fun to share the wealth with others who love home grown veggies but don’t like to garden (or can’t because of space). My husband doesn’t see it the way I do. He just sees waste—and he may have a very tiny point. So I limited myself to four tomatoes, a bell pepper, green beans, cucumbers, and snap peas.

However, our plans went sideways because I took my daughter with me on the trip to the nursery. She is my gardening partner-in-crime and a bit of a bad influence. When she gets excited about growing something, I have a hard time saying no. This is how I ended up with two square planters full of strawberries…

Assuming I can keep the kids from devouring them off the vine, the potential for a lot of strawberries means that I have been looking for something other than shortcakes, jams, or pies as a way to use them.

This recipe came up in two different searches on two different websites. I couldn’t escape it. So I had to try it—if only because I was intrigued by the rye flour. The original recipe called for vanilla sugar in the mascarpone. I decided to use regular sugar and the seeds from one vanilla bean because I love that vanilla flavor. I also substituted honey for the sugar in the mascarpone because it tastes like spring.

Strawberry Rye Tart
Adapted from King Arthur Flour 
Read more…