Saturday, December 31, 2011

~Wrapping Up a Year with Martha~


The countdown to midnight has begun.  For most of us this is a time of celebration, reflection and the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.  This rings true for me, especially since this is my last blog post on "It's a good thing...or is it?"  here at http://www.marthaandmorgan.blogspot.com/.  I committed to an entire year of exploring Martha Stewart's wonderful contributions to American culture, particularly in the kitchen, garden, and craft departments.  The idea to start this blog sort of came to me on a whim.  I embarked on this adventure when I realized that the stay-at-home life that I chose to embrace was much more difficult than I had first anticipated. 

Was I entirely new to Martha Stewart's recipes and ideas?  No.  For years I have been pulling out pages of her magazine and storing them in a file folder for when the time was right.  Guess what?  It never was.  The ideas kept on coming, the advice, good things and craft projects kept on rolling in, month after month.   In the past I would say that I was just "too busy" to explore many of the projects.  My year, in retrospect, has taught me some very important and practical lessons. 

1)  The time is never right.  There is no better time than the present to begin or finish a project. 

2)  When perusing Martha's magazine or website, respond to what captures your enthusiasm by marking the page or saving it on your desktop favorites.  That way when you sit down later you can pick several projects for the week that you would like to explore.  Or, maybe Martha will end up putting a blank page in her Living magazine for you to write out what you would like to try for the month?

3)  Mis en place.  This is French for "everything in its place", a term used by those working in fine restaurant kitchens.  Basically, before you begin firing up your stove, measure out all of the necessary ingredients that are required for the recipe.  This saves so much time and avoids tons of potential errors, especially if you are cooking several dishes at once.  If you are cooking several dishes at once, then place the ingredients for each recipe, mis en place, in its own separate tray as is done in fine restaurant kitchens.

4)  Gusto!  Courage!  Be fierce!  Guts!  Gumption!  Get the idea?  I had NO idea how to sew, I had never made a souffle and I was entirely new to knitting.  Oh how the list of new things could go on but I think you get the picture.  ALL of the blogs that I posted, including the recipes, were projects that I had never before experienced.  Most worked, some didn't.  Am I heartbroken?  No.  I had FUN!  Yup it's all about 'tude.  Anyone can do this if you really want to. 

5)  Do what makes you happy.  Whatever that may be. 

6) Several times this year I heard from people that it must be hard for me to try and explore myself while taking care of my children.  What?  I hold fast to the belief "if mama's happy then everybody is happy."  Believe me, it's true!

7)  I can multi-task?!  This was a new one.  Often I had several projects going at once, probably a little more so than I could have liked.  But, it made for an interesting life.

8)   Enrichen your life without riches.  That's right.  The glossy pages of Martha's mag in no way resemble my humble abode here at Paradise Basin.  I'm ok with that because I understand that I can build upon what I do have.  The Living magazine is about your life.  It's about doing things for your family. 

9) Make do with what you have.  So many times I came across a recipe or a craft project that required material that I didn't have.  I learned to look past this and use what materials that I did have in order to achieve similar results. 

10)  The happier you become the angrier some people will be.  Need I say more? 

11)  Once dinner is served who cares if they liked it.  Dinner was served!  (wiping sweat from brow).

12) Never cook for people you don't like.  The food will never turn out right.

13)  Do cook for the ones you love as their happiness will inspire you to become a better cook.

14)  Martha always has the good stuff.  Really!  I've been cooking and baking for about fifteen years or so (although not as heavily as I have this year).   Once you familiarize yourself with her amazing website, show and books you will find her advice very helpful.

15)  Everyone needs a hero.  I have never met Martha, and I think that I never shall. That's not the point.  What mattered to me was that there was a woman out there that role-modeled for me, and showed me how to live well, and within my means.  It was through the crafts, cooking, baking and gardening that I was able to take our daily living to new heights. I felt like one of the richest women in the world.  The smile on my children's faces, the giggles and laughter that filled the kitchen, and the time spent with my husband over a good meal (a late night snack of leftovers) made us content. Our creative explorations in and out of the kitchen increased our love of life.   Not ten years from now, or at some point farther down the road. 


Bottoms Up!  Knock back your glass of bubbly and let us embrace 2012.   All of us can have the life of our dreams.  All you need is you, an oven, and a few good things.  So many strange life experiences occurred this year.  Could it be from finding a passion, learning to notice even the smallest blessings and funny moments?  Who knows.  But I will tell you that it will be quite a ride once you begin Living.  For those of you that are, I'm sure you know what I mean.


Okay, here it is.  So is it a good thing or is it?  Here is my conclusion: It is!


Signing off.  I am thankful for everyone that tuned in this year. I have enjoyed this adventure, but as with all good things, they come to an end so that we can begin something new.

                                                                       Acknowledgements

This blog is dedicated to my three children, Jordan, Gabriel and Sarah.  Follow your hearts, dear ones and life will never lead you astray.  Run, don't walk towards the life that you know that you deserve. Live your life pure of heart and with an open mind.  Along the way don't forget to look back (only occasionally) so that you can appreciate where you are going.  I will always love you, and I will forever cherish our kitchen escapades, adventures, and time spent together in the garden.  I love you all.

To Ben.  I love you.  Thank you for being so patient with me.  For putting up with me asking you, does this look ok?  Does this totally suck?  Are you sure? And so forth.  Also, I will never forget how you have finally mastered the art of agreeing with everything that I say.  Hahaha.  I'm kidding.  I mean, thanks for listening to me ramble on about cooking, crafts, gardening, Martha, etc.  There is no way that you could have been that interested in what I was talking about, but you were there for me when I needed you most.  I love you.

Dad!  Where do I begin?  Let's see.  1)  You were an awesome editor.  I have a biology background, not English.  Thank you for skimming my blog, when you could, to make sure that I didn't make a complete fool of myself on the world wide web.  Well, I'm not too sure about the second part ;)  2)  Thanks for the moral support and encouragement.  It was like you were the gas station out in the middle of nowhere when the fuel gauge read empty.  I didn't run out of gas after all.  I love you, Dad.

To my mother.  I realized (even if it wasn't until the end of the year) that having you in my life is important.  As my daughter Sarah grows and our bond strengthens, I think about us.  Sometimes our relationship has been far from normal but I have learned to appreciate the good times. Having you back in my life is important.  One thing that I will always remember is how you taught me to stand up for my rights.  You go girl!

Yinzerella, aka Emily, thank you for your comments.  Often, your comments made me laugh or taught me something new.  Thank you for giving me feedback when all I heard was myself typing,lol.  I'm glad that we have "met".  Your blog at http://yinzerella.wordpress.com/ is fantastic.

To my followers.  Thanks for checking in now and again and for following my blog.  It is my most sincere hope that you have gained some insight into your own life as well.  I appreciate the nod of acceptance. 

To my friends.  Thank you to all my dear, sweet, cherished girlfriends.  I would like to especially thank Mary, Cheryl, Artemis and Ponni for being there for me this year.  Your words of wisdom, love and advice got me through it.  I love you, ladies.

Thank you Andrea, Kevin and Olivia for your help with the "Martha" bake sale.  We raised over $350 for Share Our Strength.  You rock!  Andrea, I'm so glad that we met.  I love having a chef, foodie friend.  We need to get together again soon for a good, home cooked meal.

To Martha Stewart.  On behalf of our family, I would like to thank you for listening to your "inner voice" when you decided to pursue your career.  You were right.  It scares me to think who would be in your place if you were still catering and not what you have since become. Also, thank you for never apologizing for democratizing good taste.  Your books, magazines, show, and website are all-inclusive.  You have made it easy for Moms (and Dads) to find wonderful, affordable, quality everything.  Yes, it IS a good thing, after all!



Hip Hip Hooray!

This is what it looks like when the typical, average American woman decides to evolve herself into one of the greatest jobs on earth...being a mom.


~That's a Wrap~

You can find me in 2012 on my blog http://www.thegreenmama.blogspot.com/ where I will be blogging about all things home related from various sources.  In addition, I will be digging up some old recipes from the beginning of fine cooking in Europe to the present.  For example, I will start with a few recipes from ancient Rome from the only surviving Roman cookbook entitled The Apicius, attributed to Caelius Apicius (also entitled De re coquinaria, or, "On the Subject of Cooking").  This series of recipes will extend all the way up to the present, for example, Thomas Keller's recipes from The French Laundry cookbook.

P.S.  Thank you to my French viewer.  I don't know who you are but in some sort of funny way, you too kept me going.  I would love to hear from you someday.

~Aura Cacia Essential Oil~

It's a good thing...or is it?




*I'm back home from San Francisco where I celebrated my 30th birthday.  Presently, I'm savoring the last bit of 2011 as it has been a very good year for us. One more blog will be posted and that will be that. My oh my, how a year goes by so differently when you are Living.  For those of you on board overseas, it is now New Year's Day, so Happy New Year to you.  A New Year presents us with a blank canvas on which we can paint any color that we choose.  Love it!*




Remember Cleopatra?  That lady must have smelled like heaven. Legend has it that Cleo lured Caesar with her heavenly scented body.  I have just discovered a wonderful blog called the Art of Being Feminine.  There, you can find out more information about Cleopatra while gathering up some recipes for making your own concoctions of oil.  Here is the link: http://theartofbeingfeminine.blogspot.com/2010/07/cleopatras-beauty-secrets-natural.html




Essential oils are versatile and uplifting.  The art of aromatherapy dates back thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians, Chinese priests, and alchemists all used essential oils to heal the sick.  From what I've read, aromatherapy is one of the oldest forms of medicine.  Once the oil is applied (bound with another carrier oil such as almond, or olive oil, etc.) it penetrates into the skin whereby the chemical constituents take effect.  This form of medicine, although very controversial, is claimed to have many benefits that can improve both your health your mood.

Keep in mind that each oil/fragrance contains unique medicinal and mood enhancing properties.  For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, Sarah, I liked to use lavender and peppermint essential oil to combat nausea; it helped me significantly.  These days, I reach for a different oil depending on what I need or how I feel.  Recently, I have expanded my oil repertoire to include things like cleaning agents. Aura Cacia listed some fantastic ideas for essential oil use in their advertisement (Living magazine December 2011).  Additionally, I have added some uses that we use at home.

Here is Cleopatra's Romance and Passion Bath oil that will make you feel like a Queen.  This recipe is shared via the Art of Feeling Feminine blog.


Queen Cleopatra's Romance and Passion Bath Oil

4 drops of ylang ylang oil
4 drops of frankincense oil
4 drops of jasmine oil
4 drops of sandalwood oil
4 drops of rose otto oil




Aura Cacia Essential Oil Suggestions from Their Living Ad


~Place 7-10 drops on hotel room floor for fresh air.  Just like home (almost).

~Place 2-5 drops on shower floor for an invigorating shower experience.

~Place 2-5 drops in bowl of steaming water, place towel over head and breathe deeply.  Ahhh...

~Add 3-5 drops to warm water and soak sore, tired feet.  Happy toes!

~Place a few drops on a cloth to remove stubborn stickers.  Easy peasy peelin'.

~Combine 12 drops with 1/4 cu of Dead Sea salts for a spa-quality bath.  Enjoy.

~Blend 1-3 drops with 1 tsp. sweet almond oil and rub chest.  Relax and inhale...

~Combine 24 drops with 4 oz. water, and spritz air space to clear your head and refocus.

~Use in a candle lamp diffuser to generate positive, energizing space.  Now, smile and be nice.

~Add 2 drops to 1 cup water, pour on the hot rocks in sauna.  Breathe deeply.

~Use in a diffuser near bedside for clear breathing.  Now, get some rest.

~Add 12 drops per 1 oz.  skin care oil and massage aching muscles.  Good as new.



*  In addition to the previous recommendations, I like to do the following:


~Add 4-5 drops to a sachet that is losing its smell.  Now it smells like new.

~ Place a few drops into your homemade skin salves or lotions.  I like to add either eucalyptus or tea tree to my "boo boo salves" for additional antibacterial properties and for fragrance.

~Add generously to the kitchen sink or toilet bowl to eliminate odors. 

~Does your potpourri need freshening?  Add some essential oil.

~If you make your own cleaning agents, as I often do, why not add a few drops of oil for some aromatherapy while you clean?

~To a clean, folded paper towel or sachet, add 4-5 drops.  Leave in your car for a natural air freshener.  This is a natural, easy way to enjoy the aroma while you drive.  Maybe those crazy drivers won't get to you...this time?


Don't forget to check out http://www.auracacia.com/ for essential oil information, uses, ordering and for coupons.



~Happy Smelling~

~Good Things for December~

This is it!  My last "Good Things" post.  December is a month that is packed full of holidays and birthdays for our family.  So,  I found myself being limited on time.  Although I liked all the ideas in the Good Things section, I had to be choosy this time around. Hence, I chose a few Good Things to try while including a few extra projects that were enjoyable.  Here they are. 


Brownie Bow  December 2011

Think outside the box and wrap a cake with a pretty bow.  The powdered sugar stenciled bow was a fun and artsy addition to our Christmas Eve chocolate ganache cake.





Candle Trimming  December 1996


This was a great idea for trimming tabletop candles.  These "wreaths" adorn simple candle sticks making them a dressy addition for your holiday table.  The candles were decorated with leftover Cedar that was on-hand from the wreath making that I did earlier this month.  Ca-ute!




Snow Globes December 1998

Well, I know that I took a few pictures of the finished globes but I can't find them.  However, you can get the idea.  The directions said to add glycerin to the water but I didn't have any.  Also, I used a hot glue gun to affix the ornament to the jar lid.  Consequently, these are more of a short term snow globe as they held up for a week or so before the ornament separated from the lid and the water turned a funky color.



Two types of Martha Stewart glitter were used in our snow globes for the mock snow look.  Here is one type.







A Few Random Martha Projects

In the November 2011 Living magazine there was an article about cross stitching cartoon-like characters.  This demonstrated a unique way of capturing your family, other than the typical snap shot.  I only have time to do a few stitches here and there.  But, I am making progress.  Shown below is Jordan and Gabriel. 

This is my first-ever cross stitching project and as you can see, there is room for improvement.  Even though I am still learning, the cross stitching project appears to be very forgiving for first timers...somewhat so. 


This project has been sitting in our craft closest for a long time.  On an afternoon when Sarah and I were wanting to be creative, we decided to make these adorable felt flower accessories.


Sarah was proud of her felted flower hair clip.


After we played around with the felted hair pins we decided to paint our nails.  We tried using Martha Stewart sparkles with some clear polish for our nails.  Our conclusion?  It worked well for a day or so but the color from the sparkles ended up leeching into the clear polish container.  For short term use this works great. If you have an old, clear polish then consider adding the Martha Stewart sparkles for some nail bling.



 Beauty shop fun with Sarah.



~It's a good thing!~

~Happy New Year's Eve!~

Times Square1956


On the West Coast the countdown to 2012 begins.

May you and yours have a safe, healthy and happy New Year!

Three blogs will be posted before midnight tonight.   My last and final blog will be posted just before the ball drops.   See you soon!


      Live Well,


             Morgan

Monday, December 26, 2011

~Butternut Squash Risotto~




picture from marthastewart.com


Martha Stewart Living Television




  • Yield Makes 6 first-course servings







  • Ingredients

    • 1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), trimmed and peeled
    • 3/4 cup mild oil, preferably sunflower-seed oil
    • 1/4 small onion, diced
    • Coarse salt
    • 1 1/2 pounds (3 cups) Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
    • 8 cups hot Vegetable Broth
    • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    • Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

    Directions

    1. Cut squash lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Cut each half into 4 pieces. Using a knife or mandoline, slice squash pieces 1/8 inch thick. Set aside.
    2. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add squash, season with salt, and add enough water to cover. Cook, simmering, until squash easily breaks apart, about 20 minutes. Stir in rice, then add a cup of broth. Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes, adding one cup of broth at a time, as necessary; the rice should almost completely absorb the broth between additions.
    3. Add cheese, stirring to incorporate, then continue cooking, adding broth as necessary, until rice is al dente and mixture moist but not watery, about 8 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in butter, and adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary. Divide risotto between 6 serving plates, and drizzle with vinegar. Serve immediately.
    It's a good thing..or is it?


    Risotto will always remind me of my friend Kim. While I was studying at UCLA, Kim and I were in the same Physics class together.  One night, while chatting on the phone, she told me about the risotto that she was making.  "Risotto is so good!" Kim exclaimed. I have since forgotten her exact description of the risotto but I do remember how much I wanted to try it.  Years later I have finally made risotto for my family.  

    The butternut squash risotto was out of this world!  The creamy flavor from the cheese combined with the orzo rice and vegetable broth made this a very tasty dinner.  To coax the kids into trying the risotto I called it, "cheesy rice".  It worked!


    Photo Gallery

    The skinless butternut squash before it was chopped.



    The ingredients are prepped and ready.


    The onion, squash, salt and water simmered for twenty minutes until the squash easily broke apart. 


    I could not find the Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice at our local grocery store.  Instead I used Orzo pasta.  It seemed to work out well despite the switch.


    The vegetable broth was added to the risotto in small batches while letting the broth simmer down.  I found that it was very important to add the broth one cup at a time.  Otherwise the risotto will turn into a soup.   


    Say cheese!  Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese makes any dish come alive.

    The aged balsamic vinegar(shown below) mellowed out the strong flavor of the Parmesan cheese.  
    The butternut squash risotto will definitely be making a second appearance in our kitchen. 


    ~Dinner Was Served~

    ~Chocolate-Mint Crackles~

     
    Picture from marthastewart.com
     
     
    Martha Stewart Living, December 2011
    • Prep Time 45 minutes
    • Total Time 4 hours
    • Yield Makes 30

    Ingredients

    • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • 3/4 teaspoon pure mint extract
    • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

    Directions

    1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring.
    2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and cocoa in a small bowl.
    3. Whisk together granulated sugar, eggs, and melted butter in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in melted chocolate and mint extract until smooth. Stir in flour mixture. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.
    4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll tablespoons of dough into balls using your palms, then roll in confectioners' sugar to coat. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing each 1 inch apart. Bake until slightly firm in the center, about 15 minutes.
    5. Let cool slightly on sheets set on wire racks. Transfer cookies to racks, and let cool completely.

    Cook's Note

    Dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or rolled into balls and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Roll in confectioners' sugar just before baking. Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

    It's a good thing...or is it?

    *Okay, so maybe you are sick of cookies by now?  Sorry.  We actually made these a few days before Christmas but I've been on blogger backlog.  If you can't stand looking at cookies this time of year then just read through it and save the idea for another time.  These are a must try!*

    These cookies are like eating mint chocolate chip ice cream in cookie form.  Could it get any better?  Mint chocolate ice cream is one of my favorite flavors.   Therefore, having that flavor in a cookie is awesome.  To me, the mint rounds out the often bitter, rich flavor of the chocolate. 

    I made the dough the night before serving.  When morning came I baked the cookies.  Before I knew it, the whole batch was gone! I guess you could say that we are a fan of this cookie recipe.  Maybe you'd like to give this one a try, too?

    Photo Gallery

    The chocolate-mint crackle ingredients.


    The flour, baking powder and the cocoa.

    The bittersweet chocolate was melted in my double boiler.


    Next, in a separate bowl, the eggs, sugar and the melted butter were combined.

    After the egg mixture was blended, the melted bittersweet chocolate was added.


    The dry ingredients are mixed. I was still using my whisk at first until I realized that I needed a different utensil, a large spoon.


    The mixing task needed the help of a strong man.  Gabriel told me that he was the perfect candidate.


    Wow! Gabriel did a great job with the mixing!


    Bedhead and all, the kids were ready to bake.  This is a great baking project for kids because they get to roll the dough into a ball and then coat it in powdered sugar.  I guess it reminds them of playing with Playdough?


    The chocolate dough and the powdered sugar meet.  Next up is the oven. 


    Here they are fresh from the oven.  The chocolate-mint crackle cookies are now ready to be enjoyed.  Grab one while you can.  Enjoy!



    ~Just Dessert~



    ~Croquembouche for Christmas Day~


    I found a parfait recipe in an old Living magazine.  What a great idea for a Christmas morning breakfast, don't you think?  After the morning madness occurs the last thing you want is to make a giant breakfast.  Well, maybe that's just me? 

    This simple and fast breakfast took me all of five minutes to prepare for the family. Layers of store bought granola and yogurt were layered in my glass trifle bowl.  Fresh raspberries were sprinkled on top. 

    Our Christmas Croquembouche



    picture from marthastewart.com

    Martha Stewart Living, December/January 1995/1996
    • Yield Makes 1

    Ingredients

    • FOR PASTRY PUFFS

      • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
      • 1/4 teaspoon salt
      • 1 teaspoon sugar
      • 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
      • 7 large eggs
    • FOR PASTRY CREAM

      • 6 large egg yolks
      • 1/2 cup sugar
      • 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
      • 2 cups milk
      • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
      • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate
      • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, mixed with 2 teaspoons hot water
    • FOR CARAMEL

      • 2 cups sugar
      • 2 tablespoons corn syrup

    Directions

    1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. To make the puffs: In a medium saucepan, melt butter in 1 1/2 cups water with salt and sugar. Remove pan from heat, and add flour. Return pan to heat and, using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes. (A film should form on the bottom of the pan.) Cool slightly, and add 6 eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously.
    2. Make a glaze by beating the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water, and set aside. Using a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and a 1/2-inch-wide plain tip, pipe out mounds that are 1 inch high and 3/4 inch in diameter on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze, and smooth the tops. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on racks. (The puffs can be made ahead and frozen until ready to assemble.)
    3. Make the pastry cream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks, gradually adding sugar, until mixture is thick and pale yellow. Beat in flour. Scald milk, and add in dribbles to egg mixture, reserving 1/2 cup. Place mixture in a clean pot over high heat, and stir vigorously until mixture boils and thickens. If it seems too thick to pipe, add reserved milk. Remove from heat. Using a hand whisk, beat butter into egg mixture, one tablespoon at a time.
    4. In a double boiler or heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate and espresso together until smooth. Add chocolate mixture to the pastry cream; let cool completely. Just before assembling croquembouche, fill a pastry tube fitted with a 1/4-inch-wide tip with pastry cream, insert tip into puffs, and pipe in cream to fill.
    5. To make the caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Cover pan, and boil until steam dissolves any crystals. Uncover, and boil 5 more minutes, or until syrup is amber in color. Remove from heat. Dip the bottom of each puff into the caramel, and arrange puffs in a pyramid.
    6. To make a spun-sugar web to wrap around the croquembouche: Cut the looped ends of a wire whisk with wire cutters, or use two forks held side by side, and dip the ends into caramel. Wave the caramel back and forth over the croquembouche, allowing the strands to fall in long, thin threads around it. Wrap any stray strands up and around the croquembouche. Serve.


    It's a good thing...or is it?


    A croquembouche is French.  When translated it means, "cracks in your mouth".  Yup, that is exactly what happens.  Chewers beware.  The caramel coating (aka cement) hardens and provides the "bite".  In retrospect, I think that the caramel needed to be just a touch softer.  The crunch was very crunchy.

    Overall the baking process was straight forward. Martha's directions were great which lead to another successful dessert.  If you are thinking about making one of these yourself this is a really good recipe.

    After reading some croquembouche history, I learned two amusing facts.  1) wisegeek.com said that it typically takes several days to construct a croquembouche.  In my opinion this can be done in several hours.  2)   Historically, the croquembouche was cut open with a heavy knife or sword.  Since most people do not carry a sword with them, today we employ the pick apart method. 


    The spun-sugar croquembouche was our Christmas finale.  The children have been tucked into bed, Santa has come and gone and now I'm ready to move past the holiday season. Merry Christmas! 


    Photo Gallery

    Here we go.  It was nearly five o'clock in the evening when I began working on the croquembouche.  I got busy in the kitchen and began the process. 

    The first step was to make the puffs.  The saucepan contains the butter, water, salt, sugar and the flour. 


    After stirring the dough vigorously for three minutes, the pate a choux is complete.


     
    On a parchment-lined baking sheet, mounds of dough were piped from my pastry bag.  Then an egg wash glaze was applied.  It turns out that these puffs were way too small.  After baking the first batch of the puffs I decided to double their size. It was much better!


    They already look like micro-croquembouches, don't they?   


    I got started on the pastry cream while the puffs were in the oven.


    The scalded milk and the egg mixture before I whisked the heck out of it.


    And here you have it.  The pastry cream filling. 

    The last step was to melt the chocolate and the espresso together. 

    The finished cream filling with the chocolate and the espresso.  I liked the addition of the espresso as it provides a little kick during dessert time.  Do keep this in mind if you are feeding small children this dessert.  I found myself wondering why the children were still wound up until I remembered the espresso addition.

    I did notice that the cream was lumpy.  The reason for this beats me. This did not affect the flavor or texture negatively as far as we could tell.  However, I'm sure that there is some professional explanation for what happened. If you know then please do share.


    When it came time to fill the puffs, it was difficult for me to penetrate its exterior with my pastry tip.  In order to move things along, I punctured the bottom of the puffs with a sharp utensil.  The cream was then added to the puffs and the bottoms were pulled closed. 


    Once golden brown, the caramel sauce was finished.  Be careful!  This is super hot! 

    Remember NOT to stir the caramel at all!  For a long time I failed at caramel making. In the past I was not successful with caramel because I stirred the pot while the caramel was cooking.  Do not make that mistake.  The only task that is required for this step is to watch for the color change. That's it.


    After the caramel was done, I began dipping (very carefully) the bottom of the puffs into the caramel.


    When working with caramel you have to move quickly because the sauce thickens fast.  The spun-sugar shown here was leftover from the caramel sauce. I wanted to make more spun-sugar for the croquembouche but Ben told me to call it quits because it was getting late.  So, this is it.

    I'm pleased to report that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was avoided. 

    I tried my best to get that tree-like shape.  I need a little more practice.  Croquembouche making has become our new Christmas Day ritual.  Maybe next year I'll nail it?


    Gabriel and Sarah enjoyed the demolition process.


    Here comes Ben.  After seeing the excitement at the dinner table, he decided to give the croquembouche a try.

    The puffs had a sponge-like texture that tasted of crunchy-espresso-chocolate.  As Ben says, "It's sweet, crunchy goodness."




    This completes our holiday season.  A Christmas croquembouche has now become our family tradition.


    ~Just Dessert~


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