Tag Archives: food

Croquembouche for a Sweet Sixteen

Croquembouche 2

The end of the school year and all of the activities that come with it have left me behind in writing about some of the treats we have been enjoying here. So today I am going back a few weeks to the Sweet Sixteen celebration we had for our Middle K. She didn’t want a party, but was excited to come home with a driver’s learning permit. Three drivers under the age of 21: don’t even ask about our insurance rates!

Croquembouche 1

Instead of a traditional birthday cake, Middle K wanted a Croquembouche: a cream puff tower drizzled with burnt-sugar caramel that sticks the cream puffs together. We filled them with a simple butterscotch mousse made from packaged butterscotch pudding whipped with half milk/half cream.

Many croquembouche are very tall (2-3 feet tall) and are served as wedding cakes. We were not quite as ambitious with ours, but it certainly made for a fun birthday cake.

Croquembouche 3

Just-Baked Unfilled Cream Puffs



Croquembouche 2

Cream Puffs
½ cup butter
1 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Filling: Pudding, whipped cream, custard or mousse

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, water and salt. Bring to a boil. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball that doesn’t separate. Remove from heat. Cool 10 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons, 3 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack. Fill with desired filling (SEE ASSEMBLY TIP BELOW).

Burnt Caramel
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water

Place sugar and water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat until sugar turns light brown, about 15–20 minutes. Remove from heat. (If caramel begins to harden in the pan before you are done, place pan over low heat until re-melted)

To Assemble Croquembouche:

Prepare cream puffs and desired filling (whipped cream, pudding, custard, mousse). Place filling in a pastry bag with a long filling tip. Pierce the cream puffs (do not cut cream puffs in half) with the pastry tip until tip is about 1 cm into the cream puff. Squeeze pastry bag to fill cream puff.

Place one layer of cream puffs in a circle on a serving plate. Drizzle the tops of the cream puffs with a small amount of the burnt  caramel. Immediately place a smaller circle of cream puffs on top of the hot caramel (work quickly before the caramel hardens). Repeat with increasingly smaller layers of cream puffs topped with caramel. Once your tower is assembled, use a spoon or fork to drizzle hot caramel in strands around the outside of the tower. Serve same day as assembling.

Cream Puffs

Croquembouche 3

½ cup butter
1 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs
Filling: Pudding, whipped cream, custard, or mousse
Optional glaze: melted chocolate to drizzle over top

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, water and salt. Bring to a boil. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball that doesn’t separate. Remove from heat. Cool 10 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons, 3 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Cut cream puffs in half. Scoop out and discard any soft dough inside. Spoon in desired filling and replace top. Optional: drizzle tops of cream puffs with melted chocolate. Serve immediately after filling.


To make Eclairs: Prepare batter as above. Spoon into a pastry tube fitted with a Number 10 or larger tip. Slowly pipe strips of batter onto a greased baking sheet, making each strip about 4” long. Bake as above. Fill and frost with chocolate glaze.

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Homemade Fortune Cookies and thoughts on Japanese Gaman

Fortune Cookies 1

As we approach Chinese New Year which begins on  February 10,  I want to share a recipe for homemade fortune cookies and also my favorite fortune (from a cookie) ever.

A few years ago  I was serving in a responsibility at church that most of the time filled me with love and gratitude, but also involved a heavy time commitment and occasionally left me feeling heart-sick about things that I could not fix.

After one such day, Brian and I went to dinner with some good friends. After the meal, the traditional fortune cookies were served. I received the most timely fortune. It is the only one that I have actually held onto and occasionally reread.

Fortune 2

I know this doesn’t sound like an especially cheery sentiment, but it described exactly how I was feeling at the time. It was also a wonderful nostalgic reminder of the time we spent living in Japan. My Japanese is extremely limited, but one of the concepts that fascinated me there was the concept of uncomplaining endurance or perseverance, regardless of circumstance. From a religious perspective, we might call this “enduring to the end.” The Japanese have not just one word for this, but a vocabulary that covers an entire spectrum of levels of endurance and different situations which might require endurance.

The word “ganbatte”, on the low end of the spectrum might be called out to someone who has just one lap to go in a race or is about to take a hard test. It implies both an encouragement to keep going or work hard and also an admonition to do your best. It implies as well an unspoken wish of good luck in your endeavor.

At the other end of the spectrum you have “gaman”, which implies a self-sacrificing patience, endurance and perseverance through extremely difficult and often prolonged circumstances. It is a charge to endure with grace and dignity. “Work on in despair” is not meant to be a negative concept, but a positive character trait to develop that will bless both you and society at large.

So, as you make these cookies and the edges burn OR you wait too long to fold them and they harden, OR you make 600 of them for a Chinese New Year party and while you are changing your kids break open every single one to read the funny fortunes, all I can say is:


Fortune Cookies 2

Making Fortune Cookies:

Fortune cookies are made from a thin egg white based batter. You will need to line your baking sheets with a silicone liner or parchment paper. Spread batter in 3-4” circles on your baking sheets. I can get 6 on my baking sheet. The cookies will harden quickly after removing them from the oven. Start with just a couple of cookies on your baking sheet until you get the hang of folding them quickly.

Fortune Cookies 5

The cookies are done when the dough is dry, but not brown. Don’t be discouraged if you ruin a cookie or two trying to get the exact time right (no two ovens are exactly the same).

Fortune Cookies 3

To fold: While the cookies are still hot from the oven, flip a cookie over and place a fortune in the center of the cookie. Gently fold cookie in half (do not flatten center crease; just make the edges meet). Using a mug or drinking glass, fold the cookie in half again over the edge of the mug. Transfer to a muffin tin to keep cookie from unfolding while it completely cools.

Fortune Cookies 4

Cookies should be eaten the same day, or stored in an airtight container. They will quickly become soft in a humid climate. Making them in the winter here in dry western PA, they will keep for several days without becoming soft.

You can write your own fortunes, or here are some links for pre-written fortunes:

Traditional Fortunes:

Funny Fortunes:

For Kids:


Homemade Fortune Cookies

Fortune Cookies 1

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbs cornstarch
½ tsp salt
4 egg whites
1/3 cup oil
2 Tbs water
1 ½ tsp orange or almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Fortunes cut into strips about 3 ½” long by ½” wide

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

Use a whisk to mix flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar in a small bowl.

In a separate bowl, use the whisk to lightly beat the egg whites, oil, water, vanilla, and orange or almond extract until frothy.

Stir the flour into the egg white mixture and mix until you have a smooth batter. The batter will be thin, with the consistency of a sticky pancake batter and not stiff like a normal cookie dough.

Place one tablespoon of batter onto the cookie sheet. Using the back of a spoon, spread batter in a circular motion to make a circle about 3-4 inches in diameter.  Place 4-6 cookies on a baking sheet (start with fewer cookies until you get the hang of folding quickly). The batter should be very thin on the baking sheet. If it’s too thick the cookies won’t fold without breaking.

Bake for 11-14 minutes, or until the outer edge of each cookie barely begins to brown.

TO FOLD: Immediately after  removing baking sheet from the oven, working very quickly, remove a cookie with a thin metal spatula and flip it over onto a clean plate or mat. Place a fortune in the middle of the cookie (let one end slightly extend beyond edge of cookie, if desired). Fold the cookie in half, but do not flatten center crease; just make the edges meet gently. Fold cookie in half again by gently pulling the edges downward over the rim of a mug or glass. Place the finished cookie in the cup of a muffin tin so that it keeps its shape while it cools. Continue with the rest of the cookies.

Let cookies sit, uncovered, for 1-2 hours (so that they harden completely). Cookies are best eaten the same day, especially if weather is humid. In drier climates, cookies will keep well for several days.

Yield: 36-40 cookies



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Stained Glass Valentine Cookies

Stained Glass Valentine Cookies 1

Here is a fun Valentine treat to make with kids and is easier than your traditional frosted sugar cookies. All you need is a good sugar cookie recipe, a package of Jolly Rancher hard candies and two different sized heart cookie cutters.

To begin, you will need to line your baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper. Non-stick foil might work as well, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Prepare your dough and cut out large hearts. I usually like to make nice thick sugar cookies, but these need to be about 1/8” thick, or the center “window” will be too thin compared to the cookie. Place cookies on baking sheet and then cut out the smaller heart in the center of each cookie. Cutting out the smaller heart after the cookie is on the baking sheet helps the cookie dough retain its shape. It is harder to move cookie dough with the center cut out. You can bake the little hearts along with the big ones, or reroll them with your dough scraps.

Place one Jolly Rancher candy (whole) in the center of each cookie. If your openings are smaller than the candies, you can crush the candies first, but I found that there are fewer bubbles in your windows if you leave the candies whole. And it is so much easier than crushing hard candy!

Stained Glass Valentine Cookies 3

While the cookies bake, the candies will melt and fill in the centers.

After baking, let the cookies completely cool and the candy window centers harden before removing from baking sheet.

Store covered between layers of waxed paper or parchment paper. The candy centers will stick together if they touch.

Stained Glass Valentine Cookies 2

You could also make these into cookie pops by inserting lollypop sticks into the bottoms of each heart before baking.

It would also be fun to make some for other holidays using different cookie cutters, or a linzer cookie cutter (crush candies first if using a small linzer cutter). Or a gingerbread man with a tiny cut-out heart.


Stained Glass Valentine Cookies

Stained Glass Valentine Cookies 1

3 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
About 7 – 7 ½ cups flour
1 package Jolly Rancher candies
2 heart cookie cutters (one large and one small)

In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar, butter, sour cream and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.  Mix in baking soda, salt and enough flour to make a moderately stiff dough (Start with 7 cups and add more if needed).

Chill for 20 minutes to 1 hour, if necessary, for easier handling. Roll out dough to about 1/8” and cut with large heart cookie cutter. Cut out a smaller heart inside of each cookie. You can bake these plain smaller hearts, or re-roll them with the dough scraps.

Place hearts on a baking sheet lined with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper. Place one whole Jolly Rancher candy in the center of each heart.

Bake at 375°F for 9 -10 minutes, or until candies have melted; cookies should not be browned on the edges.  They should look white when done. Cool completely on the baking sheet. When candy centers are completely cool and hardened, remove cookies to a sheet of parchment paper.

Store covered between layers of waxed paper or parchment paper. The candy centers will stick together if they touch.

Makes 5-6 dozen, depending on the size of the cookie cutter


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Baked Raspberry Custard Cups (Sugar Free)

Raspberry Custard Cups 2

These innocent little dessert cups created a fair amount of contention in our home recently.

I have two of these  Crème Brulee Ramekin Sets:

Creme Brulee Ramekins

While this is definitely not a necessary kitchen item (it was a gift), I do enjoy using it. I like that the rack keeps the bottom of the ramekins from touching the bottom of the pan when using a water bath. And it is really easy to remove the ramekins from the water bath with the rack. However. With 8 little cups and 6 people in our house right now, this creates conflict regarding the two “extras”.

Raspberry Custard Cups 1

Brian eats very little sugar, so every now and again I try to make a dessert that he will eat. Custards are an easy dessert to substitute out sugar without compromising the texture of the dessert. I make these using a combination of stevia and Splenda, but you could certainly make them with sugar as well.

So when I made these sugar-free custards, Brian assumed that I had made them for him and promptly ate a second one later that night and a third for breakfast the next morning. From the sad, droopy faces I got when kids came home from school asking about the “extras”, you would think that summer vacation had been cancelled.

Luckily, these are super easy to make, so I threw another batch in the oven before dinner. I wish I could say that everyone was happy that they got a second dessert, but unfortunately, it just created the same conflict two days in a row with who was going to get the “extras”.

Next time I’ll just hide the two extras, announce that there are only six, and eat the extras myself while everyone is at school. No more conflict.


Baked Raspberry Custard Cups

Raspberry Custard Cups 2

3 cups half-and-half ( or 1 ½ cups milk + 1 ½ cups cream)
3 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar (or 1/3 cup Splenda + 10 drops vanilla stevia)
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
Pinch of salt
Raspberries (about 2 cups), fresh or frozen (do not thaw)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare a pan for a water bath: place eight 6-oz ramekins in a larger baking pan. Heat enough water to come halfway up sides of ramekins.

Heat half-and-half in a saucepan over medium heat until very hot, but not quite boiling.

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until well combined.

While whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot milk in a steady stream into the mixing bowl with the eggs and sugar. Do this very, very slowly at first, or you will curdle the eggs. (I transfer the hot milk from the saucepan to a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup so that it is easy to pour)

If necessary, strain custard through a mesh sieve to remove lumps. If you have no lumps, then just skim the foam from the top of the bowl using a mesh skimmer.

Place 5-6 raspberries (if using frozen raspberries, do not thaw first) in the bottom of each ramekin. Pour custard over raspberries. Fill bottom of larger pan with enough hot, almost boiling, water to come halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set completely at the edges, and only slightly jiggly in the center. NOTE: If you are using frozen raspberries, bake for 35-40 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes in waterbath. Remove ramekins from waterbath and refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving.


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Roasted Butternut Squash Gratin

Squash Gratin

I love butternut squash in the winter. Squash are great, inexpensive vegetables that can be cooked many different ways, both sweet and savory. If you want to pay a little more, you can also buy them pre-peeled and diced. But then you don’t get any of those great seeds for Roasting.

This gratin is a savory side dish that is really flavorful and goes great with roast chicken or beef.


Roasted Butternut Squash Gratin

Squash Gratin

2 lb butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp chicken bouillon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tbs Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a 2-quart baking dish, combine squash cubes, garlic, onion, olive oil and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, cream, bouillon and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Stir into roasted squash. Combine panko bread crumbs and 2 Tbs Parmesan. Sprinkle over squash. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until bubbly. If topping is not browned, broil for 1-2 minutes before serving.



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Fourth Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies Recap

A Recap of our Fourth Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

Happy Baking!

Ginger Dulce de Leche Cookies1_thumb

DAY 1: Dulce de Leche Ginger Cookies

German Chocolate Cake Cookies1

DAY 2: German Chocolate Cake Cookies

Pumpkin Cookies1

DAY 3: Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Cookies

PB Snowflake Cookies

DAY 4: Peanut Butter Snowflake Cookies


Snickerdoodle Bars1

DAY 5: Snickerdoodle Bars


Almond Joy Cookies2_thumb

DAY 6: Almond Joy Cookies

Butterscotch Cinnamon Chip Cookies2

DAY 7: Butterscotch Cinnamon Chip Cookies


21112 029

DAY 8: Hot Cocoa Cookies

Buttermilk Cookies2

DAY 9: Chocolate Buttermilk Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips


Oatmeal Apple Cookies 1

DAY 10: Oatmeal Apple Cookies


Chocolate Orange Cookies 3

DAY 11: Chocolate Dipped Orange Shortbread Cookies

White Chocolate Cherry Pistachio 1

DAY 12: White Chocolate Cherry Pistachio Cookies

Our family’s wishes to yours for a healthy and happy
Christ-centered Christmas season!

Want more cookie ideas? Try these:

First Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies (2009)

Second Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies (2010)

Third Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies (2011)


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