Lest you think I've gone soft on you - this isn't really the Hays family Valentine's tradition. You see, we cowpool - and since we're the family with the guts to cook guts, we wind up with most of the offal -yum! Two years ago on Valentine's Day, I had an inspiration. (Note: link contains photos of raw offal) The tradition stuck, though unfortunately it's a bit difficult to fit into this blog!
This recipe didn't conveniently happen on Valentine's Day...it came to me in one of those random shafts of inspiration: I was acting as Sparky-chauffeur and dreamily listening to Corinne Bailey Rae on my ipod, and this idea popped into my head:
Choux Pastry Hearts
Pâte à choux – Choux pastry
1 cup milk
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
Dash of salt (if using salted butter)
Combine milk and butter in a pan and heat slowly to melt the butter (or, if you’re not lazy, cut the butter into small chunks and use a higher temp) When the mixture reaches a boil, dump all the flour in at once and stir vigorously until the mixture clumps together, pulls away from the sides, and becomes shiny - we’re almost there in the picture to the left.
Remove to a bowl and let cool for five minutes,
then beat in 4 eggs one at a time until you have a beautiful shiny dough.
At this point you can bake, or refrigerate the dough for up to a day and you can use it straight from the fridge.
Using a piping bag with a large tip (or a similar frosting press, mine eventually leaked, but was quite easy to use - choux paste takes some muscle to pipe) pipe your choux paste into hearts by drawing a fat “v” with your tip that’s about ½” thick and about an inch and a half long. If the pointy bits bother you, push them in with a wet fingertip after everything is piped.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 10-20 minutes more, until golden brown and set (they should be firm to the touch.) Allow to cool and fill as desired or freeze for later use.
It’s funny, I’d never made choux paste before, at least I don’t remember making it – but I remember as a little girl that my mother made crab puffs for a school bake sale (sometime in the late seventies) and they were all the rage. I remember hating the darned things because she made hundreds, and we spent hours poking tiny holes in them and squishing them full of mayonaise-y filling. The above choux recipe is technically geared towards savory applications like that one; most choux-paste dough for sweets contains sugar, but I don’t think it needs it. So, here are two very different ways to use this all-purpose dough, first, a dainty tea sandwich:
Crab Béarnaise filling:
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp water
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp cornstarch
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 tsp each tarragon, parsley, onion flakes and chives rehydrated in 2 tbsp wine, drained
2 tbsp chopped olives
1 tbsp capers
2 cans crabmeat, well drained
Combine the egg yolks, wine vinegar, water, and olive oil in the blender. Blend well. Add the cornstarch, salt, pepper, and drained herbs and blend to combine. Pour into a heavy bottomed saucepan (or a double-boiler) and heat slowly until thickened (note how it thickens so you can see the bottom of the pan when you swipe the spatula across it.)
Fold in remaining ingredients. Cut Choux Pastry Hearts in half, fill bottom with crab mixture, replace top and serve.
Next, a sumptuous and easy dessert, especially if you’ve socked away previously-made pastry hearts in your freezer:
Cranberry-Almond Fool Filling
2 cups sweetened whipped cream (about 1 cup of unwhipped heavy cream, whipped with about 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar or to taste)
½ can jellied cranberry sauce
1/3 cup slivered almonds
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp corn syrup
(If you’re not in a food desert you can probably sub almond paste or marzipan here, but you need to grind it up with some confectioner’s sugar so that it blends with the cream) Process almonds and confectioner’s sugar in food processor until fine. Add corn syrup and process again until it sticks together when pinched between your fingers (keep it loose) Mash cranberry sauce with fork. Fold almond mixture and cranberry sauce into stiffly whipped cream, chill for ½ hour. Place in piping bag. Pipe into halved choux pastry hearts. Serve.