Sorry for the radio silence. We're out in the great state of Texas with J's family. I have been reading J's mother's scrapbooks like they were the rosetta stone. I love reading personal history (perhaps that's why I read so many blogs).
As with any other family, food is a big part of Christmas with te J family. Because J's sister had to have an early dinner with her in-laws, the J family Christmas celebration was an early brunch, complete with two spirited boys in football uniforms.
It always amazes me how organized J's mother is about making big meals. The night before, the table was set, all of the food was prepared and in the freezer The only thing to do was to reheat. One the menu was:
Sunday brunch egg casserole (complete with Jimmy Dean sausage)
Little smokies (made because J's nephew recently had pigs in blanket and only ate the pig)
Sausage balls (sausage mixed with bisquick)
Mini blueberry muffins
Cream puffs rolled in powdered sugar
Pumpkin brean with chocolate chips
Cranberry danishes (I made)
A HUUUUUUGE assortment of cookies and candy
And finally, a croquembouche. J's brother recently has gotten into cooking and is pretty ambitious about what he'd like to make. A croquembouche really intrigued J's brother and J is as adventurous a cook as he is an eater. So Christmas Eve, we made the vanilla pastry cream (quite delicious) and the cream puffs (or choux). The pastry cream went without a hitch but hell's bells the cream puffs bedeviled us. You see, choux paste is a very old recipe with very easy proportions. The basic recipe (which I got from Mastering the Art of French Cooking) goes like this:
1 stick of butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
You melt the butter in the water, bring to a vigorous simmer and dump the flour in all at once. Stir until the paste gathers together and is hard to stir. I like to stir in on low heat to make sure the flour incorporates. Many recipes say t take it off the heat once you add the flour. Once the paste is made, add the four eggs either big stirring even more vigorously (and building your forearms) or dumping the paste into a food processor and incorporating the eggs that way. Once done, quickly dump tablespoonfuls of the paste into an old ratty cookie sheet that is completely uninsulated. A pastry bag would be helpful here to pipe the dough and made sure the surface is smooth. Bake for around 20 minutes until the choux are puffed and golden.
That's how it SHOULD have worked but for some reason, the first batch of dough we ended up with turned into a batter. I grilled J over and over about our measurements and decided the dump the whole thing and start over. Luckily, the next batch was a sucuess. That night we filled the choux with the pastry cream and set them in the freezer.
In the morning we made the caramel sauce and the melted sugar to bind the whole shebang together. The melt sugar consisted of sugar, water and corn syrup heated to 320 degrees. on there we dipped one side of the choux in the sugar and stuck it onto another cream puff. Once we had a nicering of choux, we pour the caramel sauce on top. We had enough pastry to make a very nice castle wall with cream puff turrets. A little less than the big tower of cream puffs, but I pointed out, we only had 11 people for brunch. The best part though was dipping a few forks in the melted sugar and making spun sugar that glistened around the castle wall. it was nice collaboration between J, j's brother and me. And while I won't kid anyone about it being a pain in the ass to make, we all had a good time making it.