Strawberry Cream Soda

When I think of summer picnics, my mind wanders to a scene from Oklahoma. The one where they were raising money for the schoolhouse; the gals made picnic hampers and the pals bid on them. While we never actually saw the food; we were told that under the kitchen cloth, the baskets overflowed with ham and biscuits and pie. Food so good, it made people break out in song. I wish my picnics were as magical. I’m betting that if i whipped this cream soda out of my hamper, Mike would whisk me away in a surrey with fringe on top. White horses and all.

Strawberry Cream Soda
makes 1 serving

1 Tbs mashed strawberries or strawberry puree
sugar *
1 Tbs cream
1/2 cup ice cold ginger ale
ice cubes
*summer strawberries are so sweet the don’t need extra sugar, but if you like a really sweet soda, use at your discretion.
Place the strawberries and cream in a glass and give it a good stir. Add several ice cubes and then pour ginger ale to fill the glass. Serve immediately

Sugared Rose Petals

It has been mentioned before that our mountain cabin was once owned by the character actress Dodo Denny. By all accounts she was a lover of roses. Her rose garden is the talk of the neighborhood. The same people, whom collectively, may have been
a bit disappointed in our attention to it. I personally believe Dodo is a bit put off too. Let me explain. We purchased the home after Dodo passed. 4 years after. The grounds had been neglected, and the prized roses left to die. I am not fond of taunting the dead, so I pruned the bushes back to almost nothing. I retrained the trellis roses, pulled those that were not going to make it, and then I let them be while we worked on the rest of the garden. Finally, two summers later, Dodo’s rose garden is making a comeback. We are enjoying the scent and beauty of the flowers, but I couldn’t resist cutting a few to make sugared rose petals. Please don’t snitch Dodo is just starting to like us.

Sugared Rose Petals

freshly picked, pesticide free roses*
granulated sugar (about 1 cup per rose)

Wash the roses while whole gently, and allow to dry. I swish them in a bowl of cool clean water. Once the roses have air dried, carefully remove the petals. Discard any that are discolored or are browning (or set aside to dry and use as potpourri). Spread the petals out on paper towels while you work on the other flowers. Place about a 1/4 cup of vodka in a bowl. Pour sugar in a shallow dish about 1/2 inch thick. You will need more sugar, as it will get damp and become difficult to work with. do not pour in all your sugar at once. Prepare a sheet pan with wax or parchment paper on it to be used for your sugared petals. Dip each petal in the vodka, then lay it on the sugar. You can do 4 or 5 at a time, but work quickly, as the vodka evaporates. Once you have 4 or 5 petals resting on the sugar, spoon more sugar on top. Gently press the petals and turn once to coat evenly. Remove from the sugar and place on parchment lined sheet pan. Resist the urge to move/touch them. allow to dry about 12 hours, but can take up to 48. store in an airtight container, lined with paper towel in a single layer until ready to use.
note: i used vodka rather than egg white, for ease. you can use powdered egg whites with a bit of water and have a great result. if you choose to do it this way, use a paint brush to get the whites on the flower.

*it is very important that you know firsthand that your roses are free of pesticides

Chocolate Eclairs

While in Paris last fall Mike and I made a quick stop at Lauduree; a beautiful pastry shop known world-wide for gorgeous confections and beautiful tea salon. Only in Paris for the afternoon; arriving via chunnel from London in the morning
and scheduled on a sleeper train to Barcelona, later in the evening. We were making a whirl-wind day of it. While waiting in a very long taxi queue, I spotted a gentleman with a car for hire. Because it was Mike’s first time in Paris and we wanted to see as many sights as possible, in our short stay, I made a unilateral decision. A hired car was definitely the way to go. Thankfully Pierre was a good sport and negotiated fairly with me, despite my butchering of his beautiful language. As I waved Mike from the taxi queue, I saw a look I have never before seen; one that perfectly combined the relief he felt that we would be on our way, and worry that I had blown our entire travel budget on a frivolous luxury. He was partly right.
The day was perfect. We climbed the Eiffel Tower, stood under the Arc de Triomphe, glided down the the Champs-Elysees, spent hours in the Louvre, relished in a languid lunch with a bottle of wine, and shared afternoon tea with well dressed dames at Laudree. Drunk with culture and satiated with sweets, I eagerly purchased the Laudree Sucre Cookbook. It is a beautiful tome with a cover of suede, presented in a gift box so beautiful and full of promise, I tucked it away for the rest of our journey and promptly forgot about it. Recently I discovered this little jewel and became inspired. Which is why on a whim, I made eclairs.

Chocolate Eclairs
Bake the eclair shells up to 2 days in advance. If you see that they are beginning to get soft, you can place them back in the oven to crisp. do not place back in the oven once coated or filled. Once filled, they should be kept in the refrigerator until eaten.
Allow the pastry shells to cool completely, then dip in the ganache to cover the tops. Place in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to harden. When ready to fill, spoon the pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a “filling” tip, push the tip into the short end of the shell and slowly squeeze the filling in. You will see the pastry plump up a bit, but be careful to to over-fill as the cream will push out through the sides and make a mess if you do.

Pate A Choux
1 cup water
4 oz unsalted butter cut into pieces
1 cup flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 extra large eggs (about)
Sift sugar, salt and flour together. Place water and butter into a saucepan Heat and bring to a simmer, you want the butter to incorporate into the water, not just float on top. Remove from heat and add flour mixture all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, until it is all mixed together. Place back on heat and continue to stir until the mixture begins to come from the sides of the pan. You do not want to dry out too much, but you want to reduce the amount of moisture a bit. Stir over heat about a minute or two. Place mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Turn mixer to medium speed to assist bringing the temperature down a bit, but not fully cooled. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. After adding the last egg check for consistency. You want the mixture to be a bit firm, and sort of webby. When I say webby I mean it has a consistency where is stretches between the parts sticking to the sides of the bowl and what is on the paddle. 3 eggs should be enough.
Place in pastry bag and pipe in 6″ rods approximately 1″ wide, onto a lined pastry sheet. You can use this same batter for cream puffs, or deep fry for delicious donuts. The batter can be refrigerated for a max of three days before using.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
Bake in a preheated 425 oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 until the eclairs are browned and crispy. The interior needs to be dry. Let cool
6 large egg yolks
5 Tbs cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk ( i used 2%)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbs unsalted butter
For pastry cream: Whisk the egg yolks and the cornstarch in a bowl. set aside. In a saucepan, simmer milk, sugar and salt.
Once it is simmering, temper the eggs with the hot milk. Return to the saucepan and whisk continuously until the custard begins to thicken.
When you see large bubbles coming up through the middle of the pot, remove from heat. Pour into a clean bowl
(use a sieve if you feel you have overcooked), and stir in butter and vanilla. Place clingfilm over top and refrigerate until ready to use.
Allow to cool completely before filling the eclair shells.

Chocolate Ganache
1/2 lb bittersweet chocolate–chopped
1/2 cup cream
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1 Tbs corn syrup
2 Tbs butter
Heat cream with sugar and corn syrup over medium heat. Once cream begins to simmer and sugar is dissolved, pour over chocolate and butter.
Let chocolate melt and then whisk together until it is thick and shiny.

Strawberry Harvest

This evening I worked my way through our strawberry patch delicately cupping clusters of sun warmed crimson fruit. Hunched like a greedy troll while on tip-toe, I may have looked like a mountain dancer. While in reality I was minding the space underfoot, careful not to crush those berries not yet at perfect pitch. Last year we planted 4 varieties of strawberry; two June bearing chandler and sequoia, one everbearing quinalt, and finally a variety we brought back from Italy alpine. The berries grow different sizes, at different rates, each with its own flavor profile. They are equally sweet, very sweet, with strawberry flavor that saturates your tongue. Our first harvest is strictly for eating one by one until our bellies are full and our lips rosy red. I’ll let you know if there are any left for sharing.

Strawberry Cake

It wasn’t that long ago, so I am sure you remember my caramel cake story. Well, you may also remember that part of my bounty was a strawberry cake. It was amazing. The only other strawberry cake I had ever eaten was while in culinary school. One of the gals brought it in for a birthday celebration. It was good and very popular. I about died when she started listing the ingredients; box cake, jello, cool whip. I do give her credit. It takes major “cakehones” to bring a less than semi-homemade cake to culinary school. I was training to be a pastry snob, so I never made it. Then i went to Mississippi; where they know their cake. I found myself on a whole new quest. I had to develop a great recipe for completely homemade strawberry cake. I think i got it. And now, I give it to you. Enjoy!

Strawberry Cake
*inspired by rose levy birnbaum’s white velvet butter cake*

1 cup chopped strawberries
1 Tbs powdered sugar
mix together and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients
4 oz egg whites (about 4 1/2 egg whites)–at room temperature
1 cup milk–at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
12 Tbs butter–at room temperature
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup good strawberry jam
Combine egg whites and 1/4 cup milk with vanilla in a bowl. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment mix together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add to it the butter and mix until crumbly. Turn the mixer to low and add the remaining 3/4 cup milk stirring until completely moist. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 1 minute. Add egg white mixture 1/3 at a time, scraping down the sides between additions. Stir in strawberry jam and sugared strawberries by hand. Divide mixture between 2-8″ pans that have been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 30-40 minutes (use the skewer test to ensure the cake is baked properly). Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

strawberry-pecan icing
1 lb cream cheese–at room temperature
3/4 lb unsalted butter–at room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar (more or less)
1/2 cup good strawberry jam
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup pecans–toasted and chopped
Beat the cream cheese and butter together. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. Add the jam, vanilla and salt and beat until fully combined. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time. Check for preferred sweetness after the 4th cup of sugar–add more if you like. I like it with the 6 cups. Stir in the pecans and use to generously frost your cake. (i don’t split the layers…this is a 2 layer cake with a 1/4″ thick of icing as filling).