Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lessons in Royal Icing . . . by Crystal Thieringer, guest blogger

Lessons in Royal Icing

I'm not sure when I decided that I needed to learn how to decorate cookies.  It may have been when I made gingerbread moose for my husband at Christmas and thought they should have eyes.  Perhaps it was when I made the sugar cookie snowflakes that my mother-in-law enjoys.  It may even have been because my friend Kay introduced me to www.foodgawkers.com because she thought I had nothing else to do with my time.  Based on the number of hours I have spent gawking there, perhaps I didn't! 

In any case, I bought a simple heart cookie cutter and yesterday I made Sour Cream Sugar Cookies using a recipe I have in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine from 2004. The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute Greek-style yogurt for the sour cream.    When it came to the Royal Icing, I followed a tutorial that I found while blog surfing; I used it because it had a lot of how-to pictures and some good advice. 

The cookies turned out great!  The decorating was a bit more of a challenge even though the icing was a lovely texture. 

Here are the things that I learned: 

  • Royal Icing is used for cookie decorating because it (eventually) dries into a nice hard shell.  Another name for Royal Icing is Cement That Won't Come Off Your KitchenAid. 
  • The process is simple.  Pipe the border with a fairly stiff icing. Thin the icing and use it to "flood" the cookie.  The border will stop the icing from overflowing, and the thin icing will go into all the nice scalloped edges you decided to pipe.  Of course, this is all a myth.  Flood icing can take a lot of coaxing to go into the corners.  Adding more icing will render the border completely useless, but will adhere the cookie to the countertop with no problem. 
  • There is barely enough red paste food colouring in a container to make a true 'red' icing.   This is why pink is a Valentine's Day colour. 
  • Getting Royal Icing out of your hair isn't as easy as you might think. 
  • Taking pictures of your cookies is a great idea, especially if someone that you truly love invites you to add them to her blog.  Of course, you might wish to wait until they are dry first.  The zoom mechanism on your camera will cease to work if you get Royal Icing on it.  Don't ask me how I know. 

Here is the thing that matters: 
  • My husband, who will be surprised by the cookies, will love them in spite of their failings.   Well, he might not be crazy about pink, but the rest will delight him. He loves me in exactly the same way.  All is right with the world.  

Note from Angie:  Thank you, Crystal, for this wonderful adventure . . . and lesson.   The Lovin' Oven would love to hear from more of you!  

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Croquembouche

Begin with filled cream puffs (make puffs the day before; fill the hour before assembling croquembouche.)
Melt and boil sugar until it turns the color of caramel, remove from heat. Using tongs, dip cream puffs into caramel, then position inside oiled angel food cake pan or any pan with a sloped side. When you've filled the pan, invert onto a serving plate. 
With the foundation firmly in place, continue building cream puff layers, sliding them toward the center to make a cone shape. 
Built as tall as you like. Now decorate--I chose to drape my cone with spun sugar, but you could dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with chocolate. 
Close-up of my spun sugar. Next time, I'll formulate a plan. I like things a little neater. 
Ready for eating.  How to serve? Hand your guests  a cake knife and just let them go at it. :-) 
The croquembouche . . . being devoured.  Yes, it is hollow in the middle.  

Croquembouche (pronounced croak-em-boosh.  I think.)  

Well, it's done. I put the croquembouche together and served it to my book club. To rave reviews.

You always learn things when you attempt something, of course. Next time I'll not have any squat cream puffs (though not many of those went into the croquembouche--I made about three times too many, so ended up delivering them to my neighbor across the street. God bless them for eating all my experiments!)

Why did some of them come out squat?  Because one batch of my pate e choux (pronounced pat-a-shoo) had too many eggs in it. Plus, I didn't let it cool enough before adding the eggs. Like I said, we live and learn.

I filled the cream puffs with a chocolate filling and a kirsch-flavored vanilla pastry cream.  I used that long Wilton nozzle and a pastry bag.

I took a cue from Julia Child and started my croquembouche in an angel food cake pan, well oiled with a tasteless salad oil. Once I had built the base structure to the top of the pan, I simply turned it onto the serving plate and kept building from there. I did run out of sugar and have to melt a new batch (caramel--boiled sugar--serves as the "glue" to hold the puffs together, so you need quite a bit of it. But you can use any left over as spun sugar decoration.)

I went a little crazy covering the finished croquembouche with spun sugar. Next time I'll make a plan for all that sparkly golden goodness.

But it was fun, simple, and not too difficult.

So here are my pictures--and it served over a dozen, with plenty for the ladies to take home, too.

Very easy to make, especially if you spread the work over a few days.  Make the puffs one day and freeze. Make the filling another day and refrigerate.  Finally, a couple of hours before serving, fill the puffs and assemble the croquembouche.  You're done!


what I am making for book club tonight!

My book club read THE WEDNESDAY WARS this month, and the book features cream puffs in a starring role. So what better to make than this delectable confection?

I'll report back later . . . I've already baked the puffs and prepared two fillings, but have yet to put it together or to spin the sugar. We'll see how that goes today!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Baking with Children

The other day I bought a young baker's set . . . and even though my granddaughter is only nine months old, I'm already dreaming of the time when I can tie an apron around her, stand her on a stool, and watch her mix batter and lick the spoon.

Do you bake with your kids?  Have they discovered the joy of turning out some lovely, delicious, preservative-free something?

King Arthur Flour is featuring a blog about baking with kids, so I thought I'd pass it on.  Enjoy!

Note:  my book club read THE WEDNESDAY WARS, a story that features . . . cream puffs.  So I've been baking them every night, because on book club night I intend to build a croque em bouche.  :-)  Photos to come!