Puff Pastry is my Enemy

December 30, 2010

Well, at least my waistline’s enemy. It’s just too darn easy to make beautiful and yummy treats out of the stuff!

But first, my apologies for my absence these past few weeks. I had hoped to find time to post a recipe or two, but the season’s production schedule and sales kept me busy. No complaints, but I’m glad for more free time to play in the kitchen, dig through those drawers, and find long forgotten toys!

Cream-Filled Puff Pastry Horns

Last winter, I bought a couple packages of “cream horn molds” from an outlet kitchen shop. Six metal tubes in each for $2.99. Stuck the things in a drawer and didn’t open them until last week when I decided it would be a lovely idea to experiment for our family’s dessert on Christmas.

Cream Horn Molds

Cream Horn Molds by Norpro

Now, I don’t generally recommend experimenting for large family gatherings, but anything that turns out this wonderful on the first go around gets two thumbs up. With puff pastry, it’s just too hard to go wrong. No time to find these molds? There are a dozen ways to prepare your puff pastry without them; from making two equal-sized circles, cutting out the center of one, and layering it on top of each other; to folding up these triangles.

The hardest part to making these yummy desserts is deciding what to fill them with. I couldn’t decide, so I made three:

  • zabaglione cream (tiramisu filling – mascarpone, eggs, sugar, vanilla), 1/2 batch with only half the eggwhites to make it more dense (1.5 whites to 3 yolks)
  • 1/2 batch easy chocolate mousse with chopped, dried cherries
  • 1/2 batch mocha chocolate mousse (just add espresso)

They’re all simple to make, but they do need to be made at least 4 hours before you use them so they’ll be firm enough to stay where they’re put.  No time? Whip some cream, spoon it into a Ziplock bag, cut a corner off the bag, and squeeeeeeeze into the baked horns. Grate a little dark chocolate on top and you’re golden. Kick it up a notch by adding fresh berries or flavoring your whipped cream with almond or lemon or….

What You’ll Need

  • one or more packages of puff pastry (2 sheets each)
  • cream horn molds or other creative way of making a receptacle for the filling (see “triangles” link above)
  • filling
  • whipped cream for garnish and for filling the very base of the baked horn
  • grated dark chocolate for topping
  • pastry tubes or Ziplocks to disperse the fillings

The Puff Pastry Horns

  • Thaw the dough for 40 minutes, unfold, and smooth with a rolling pin on a lightly floured board.
  • Depending on how many molds you have, each sheet of puff pastry (two sheets per box) can be cut into eight or nine 1″ strips.
  • Squeeze one end of the strip around the point of the mold and twirl the strip around the metal. Lay on a cookie sheet with the end of the strip facing down.
  • Per the instructions on the back of the mold package, let the pastry rest for 1/2 hour between wrapping and baking. We waited on the first batch, didn’t on the second, and didn’t notice any difference. See that  glass of red wine in back of the wrapped molds? Might of had something to do with it. (I highly recommend having one or two of those on hand during this process.)
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • Cool for a few minutes (just enough to not melt the fillings), and fill. The Ziplocks weren’t getting the dense chocolate mousse all the way to the bottom of the horn, so we dispensed just enough whipped cream in each one to fill up the point.
  • The zabaglione cream was by far the favorite, but I think the chocolate mousse complimented it well. Whatever you decide on, spoon it into a pastry tube or ziplock (cut off a small corner), flill up the horns, grate some dark chocolate on top, and serve.

Baked and Ready to Fill

Puff Pastry Cream Horns

Yum! Yum! Yum!

Between thawing, wrapping, baking, cooling and filling, it does take a bit of time to make these. Once the dough was thawed, we were filling and serving these to order within 40 minutes. During a large holiday meals, a break between the meal and dessert can be a welcome pause. If you want to serve them right after dinner, the horns can be made ahead of time, although the ones we ate that were still a bit warm were melt-in-your-mouth good. A minute or two under a broiler did the trick for leftover horns. We didn’t have any filled horns leftover, so I can’t tell you whether they’ll store well or not if once they’re filled.

My husband’s one complaint? Why hadn’t we ever made these before! They were such a success, I’m planning on making them for New Year’s Eve. Something tells me they’ll go very well with champagne.

Buon appetito~

Easy Chocolate Mousse

December 30, 2010

This recipe comes from my friend Danuta at Pfeiffer Vineyards in Junction City, Oregon. If you clicked on that link, you can imagine why everything that comes out of that lovely villa is spectacular.

This mousse is pretty enough for a party when served in wine glasses topped with whipped cream and berries, or it can be used as a filling for things such as a chocolate cookie crust or these Puff Pastry Cream Horns. Her plain chocolate is yummy, but don’t hesitate to experiment with additions.

Danuta’s Easy Chocolate Mousse

  • 2 cups chocolate chips, blended until fine
  • 2 T light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups whipped cream

First, turn the chocolate chips into near powder. I tried blending these, and it worked okay, but after a minute or so, the chocolate on the bottom melted and prohibited the blade from spinning properly. I dumped the contents into my handy dandy food processor and it was ready in about 5 seconds.  If you don’t have a way of chopping these fine, you can make the recipe with whole chips, just keep the flame low on step two and stir constantly until they’re melted.

Second, boil the corn syrup and water for one minute and mix in the chips until smooth.

Third, while the chocolate is cooling to room temperature, whip a pint of light whipping cream. Mix and chill for 4 hours.

And that’s it. Yummy chocolate mousse in three easy steps!

  • As mentioned above, this is great just like it is and can be served right out of the bowl.
  • For fancier serving, divide into wine glasses before chilling. Top with whipped cream and berries.
  • Chill in a homemade or store-bought chocolate crust and top with whipped cream and grated dark chocolate.

Want to experiment with additions?

  • Add a shot (1 oz) of strong espresso to the chocolate and syrup mix before it cools.
  • Chop some dried cherries and mix in while combining with the whipped cream. (Note: my food processor was not so handy dandy with the cherries. The darn things were impaled on the blade within seconds, so I had to resort to old fashioned chopping with my Alaskan ulu knife (also a handy dandy tool!).
  • Almond flavoring ??
  • Orange zest ??
  • ??
  • ??
  • Don’t stop here — the possibilities are endless!

Enjoy~

THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

December 5, 2010

Christmas came early to Elmira, Oregon this year, in the form of a dozen or so mahogany chestnuts. I grew up singing about roasting chestnuts every holiday season, but had never tasted one until living in Italy with my then-boyfriend, Stefano. In Milan, his hometown, a crew of wizened men dot downtown streets, huddling over

Raw Chestnuts

coals, hawking newspaper cones of fire-roasted chestnuts. As romantic as it is to lean against the stone wall of a castle on a wintry day sharing warm chestnuts with your lover, we left that bit of romance in Italy when we came to America. Years have passed since either of us has even pondered eating one, so imagine our surprise and delight to find a pile of raw chestnuts in our driveway. Mind you,we’re more likely to celebrate Festivus than Christmas, but when the universe makes such a perfect gesture, The Christmas Song seeps into even the Scroogiest mind, and Jack Frost nips at heels. I’d also like to note that my husband and I don’t make a habit of eating food we find on the ground. Sure, in a lifetime of travels and some living on the edge, we’ve both ingested the occasional ground score, not really knowing if it was contaminated with botulism or drugs. But we’re forty-somethings now. We know better. This was okay because we found it in our driveway, our gated driveway. Chestnuts. We jokingly called it a Christmas miracle.

We’d had a dinner party the night before, and through the morning-after limoncello haze, Stefano pointed through the kitchen window, calling my attention to a patch of what resembled bulbous, brown mushrooms poking through our gravel drive, surely brought on by the recent rains. He went to investigate and soon burst through the front door looking like a kid who’d just met Santa. “Chestnuts!” Stefano called, cinnamon-brown bounty tumbling from his hands as he showed me his treasure. “They must have spilled from someone’s car last night—I’ll roast them tonight for dessert.”

I flicked one shiny nugget with the tip of my finger. “You’re sure they’re chestnuts?”

Stefano scoffed. “Of course I am,” he said, separating the nuts from the gravel he’d hauled in with them.

The man hasn’t lived in Italy for almost twenty years, yet he holds fast to his Mediterranean blood. Food is his specialty. Of course, he specializes more in the consumption of food than the preparation of it, but, dammit, he knows a chestnut when he sees one. The chestnut is a staple of Italy’s cuisine, and her people have long been nourished by the tree. From the fruit, Italians bake tortes, grind flour, cook jam, make candies, distill liqueur, and even mash polenta. No wonder they hold festivals in its honor.

Stefano washed and dried the chestnuts, carved a perfect slice in their bottoms, and set them aside while he rattled the cabinets searched for a roasting pan—something we didn’t own. Hubby concluded he’d have to make one, so I directed him to a stack of old frying pans we’d stored in our barn. Half an hour’s labor, a table-top drill press and my persistent Italian turned a well-used, thick-bottomed Revereware sauté pan into our new roasting pan.

We’d barely finished an early dinner of asparagus risotto when Stefano hightailed it onto the back deck, blasted the barbecue’s side burner on high, and began tossing the chestnuts around in the pan, flipping them over and over, shells clattering against metal, their burnt aroma tainting the autumn air. It took forever. Finally, we sat side by side at the dinner table, a kitchen towel spread between us, blowing on the steaming honey-colored meat that peeked from charred shells.

Stefano’s never been one to take his time eating. He’d peeled, chewed, and swallowed before I’d even scraped a bit of flesh onto an hors d’oeuvre fork. I knew something was wrong the moment the spec of nut meat hit my tongue.

“Hmmm…” Stefano murmured, scraping his tongue on his teeth repeatedly before sticking it as far out of his mouth as he could. “Thumpthing’s not right.”

To say the least, these chestnuts were not worthy of song. They tasted bitter and metallic. It took less than a minute for us to wonder if drilling holes through the pan’s Teflon coating had allowed its essence to bake into the nuts, two minutes for Stefano to discard the remaining chestnuts into the woodstove, and three minutes for us to start swigging port straight from the bottle in a mad attempt to wash the awful taste from our mouths. Within forty minutes, the gas started. Five hours later, Stefano rolled out of bed, nauseous and stomach churning. By six in the morning, he’d suffered through seven bouts of diarrhea.

To the untrained eye, Horse Chestnuts look much like the sweet chestnut—castagne, in Italian, also knows as marrons. But rather than some confectioner dipping them in glaces, mother nature has filled the horse chestnut with aesculin, a poison which breaks down blood proteins and inspired the common rat poison Warfarin.  Though rarely fatal, chestnut poisoning can damage both liver and kidneys. It causes vomiting, loss of coordination, and stupor, occasionally paralysis or respiratory failure. In a nutshell, one should not eat gathered chestnuts unless they are from an identifiable tree. The horse chestnut, Esculus Hoppocastanum, has palmated leaves with five to seven finely-toothed leaflets; its bark is covered with markings that resemble a miniature horseshoe. The sweet chestnut, Castanea Vesca, has long, single leaves that alternate from side to side on the twig; its deeply furrowed bark resembles a hefty cable.

Needless to say, we felt pretty foolish the following day. When not sleeping off the toxins, Stefano moped from couch to toilet and back to couch, looking sheepish. I wasn’t sure if he was more upset from general malaise, his err in judgment, or because that mistake had forced him to exchange an entire day’s meals for a bowl of boiled rice. I spent the day quietly thankful. Considering Stefano suffered only severe diarrhea for consuming one whole nut and I but a bad case of flatulence for a mere taste, I’d say we were let off relatively easy—our true Christmas miracle.

Yes, point taken. Lessons learned. We won’t eat foreign objects found in our driveway. We’ll buy a proper roasting pan. And whether we celebrate Christmas or not, it always arrives on December 25th.

Old-Fashioned Fire-Roasted Chestnuts

First and foremost, purchase or gather your fresh chestnuts from a reputable source, a half dozen or so per person. Chestnuts spoil fast, so don’t purchase more than a week or two before using and store in a paper bag within your refrigerator’s vegetable compartment. Chestnuts should be firm, uniform in size, and have glossy shells. Discard nuts that rattle.

Rinse and dry the chestnuts, and then cut or an X into the flat side of the shell to prevent the nuts from “exploding” like popcorn. You can forgo the cut if you’re using a covered roaster such as a long-handled popcorn popper.  Roast over a low fire for 15 to 25 minutes. Shake the pan often and watch for the shells to curl back if slit or pop open if not. A hot fire can cook the nuts in as little as 8 minutes. Don’t worry about charred shells, they’ll only add to the romance. To retain moisture, wrap the chestnuts in a towel as soon as you remove them from the fire. Peel as soon as they’re cool enough to handle and eat while hot—either plain, dipped in butter, or drizzled with olive oil.

Enjoy ~