Thursday, July 12, 2018

Bastille Day: Vive Les Cream Puffs




It seems summer is the perfect season for celebrations. While our own nation proudly boasts many festive patriotic holidays, why not also join our longtime french friends across the pond in a toast to their independence this July 14th with your own fete for Bastille Day?


With some similarities to our Fourth of July, Bastille Day, or Le Fete Nationale, marks the famous storming of the bastille prison and fortress in 1789 and what could be called the kick-off to the french revolution. Spurred by an oppressive regime, excessive lavish spending by the royals and country wide food shortages (the infamous "Let them Eat cake" quote was attributed, now controversially, to the queen at the time Marie Antoinette), the people of France revolted, eventually overthrowing their monarchy and establishing their own democratic republic.
Much like festivities in the U.S., Bastille Day is marked with historic military parades, lots of wonderful parties, firework displays and of course fabulous food, all adorned in red, white and bleu.
Versailles and Paris, France all photos CPaul

As an avid francophile with a serious sweet tooth, naturally my first instinct was to whip up some sort of french inspired dessert in honor their historic holiday.

Pastry is an art form in France and as I perused the elegant delectable recipes in my various cookbooks, I soon realized that my limited time and my less than stellar culinary talent might prove an obstacle. How could I concoct something simple yet party worthy?


    
 Assorted Croquembouche images found here on Pinterest

One dessert which caught my eye was a croquembouche. Translated as "crunches in one's mouth", this show-stopping tower of cream puffs is constructed with crisp caramel and adorned with wisps of crackling spun sugar. Especially popular at weddings and birthdays, I thought I'd create a my own simpler scaled down variation of this very french confection for July 14th. 
Previous efforts in making caramel has not gone well. Since the last attempt resulted in ruined pans and a kitchen spattered with cement-hard scorched sugar, I thought I'd try a quick and easy white chocolate alternative to construct my more modest dessert "masterpiece". 
Using store bought frozen cream puffs, white chocolate melts and a garnish of red and blue seasonal berries this is more of an assembly project than recipe but makes a surprisingly easy yet festive focal point on your french inspired table.


Thaw cream puffs slightly. Having them still semi-frozen makes working with the warm chocolate easier. 

Melt white chocolate according to package directions.
Dip bottom of cream puffs in melted chocolate and arrange in large circle on a plate or platter. Continue dipping and "building" layers of cream puffs making circles smaller with each level creating a large cone-like shape.
Place a puff or two in the center for support if needed.
Using melted chocolate adhere berries to tower and give a final generous white chocolate drizzle over puffs.
Unlike the creation by the talented gentleman pictured above, this embarrassingly easy process took less than ten minutes
Garnish with additional fruit, berries and mint leaves.
I added a bit of festive flare with mini battery operated fairy lights, costume pearls, some leftover Fourth of July ribbon and gold accented table ware.
Serve with sparkly champagne, after dinner coffee or tea
printout created with vintage frame image from thegraphicsfairy.com









and add a festive printable

Bastille Day Fun Facts

The extravagant 1889 Paris World's Fair which included the construction of the Eiffel Tower, marked the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille

The famous parade, or Fete de la Federation, which travels down the Champs Elysees is the oldest military parade in the world

Only seven prisoners were being held in the bastille at the time who were freed in the event but large amounts of ammunition and weaponry were confiscated by the french people

According to records of the time the Bastille's prisoners were described as four forgers, two "lunatics" and a deviant aristocrat, one of which allegedly refused to leave the prison until he had finished his dinner of roast pheasant 

For for a whimsical Marie Antoinette Cake pop over to our 2016 Bastille Day post
 Let Them Eat Cake








Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tea with George Washington: a 235 year old carrot cake recipe


As someone with a serious sweet tooth, come The fourth of July, while others may be scouting out firework displays, picnic sites or new gas grills, I find myself considering what sort of delicious cake would be worthy of celebrating our country's birthday. Of course, all of the usual desserts featuring fruits and confections in patriotic tri-color red, white and blue predictably came to mind. For many a past year, I admit to carefully arranging rows of berries in neat flag-like patterns on a bed of whipped cream covered cake, but this summer, I thought I'd try something a bit different.
 Being a holiday celebrating our nation's history, I found myself wondering what sort of desserts were popular as our country was just getting it's start? What treats did our founding fathers and mothers enjoy centuries ago? 
Happily there are countless resources available, from books to websites to video tutorials, featuring authentic American recipes from the colonial era. After a fascinating online search, I thought I'd try a rather simple and admittedly bit unglamorous favorite of George Washington himself: a carrot tea cake.
  

Apparently this is a cake Washington enjoyed at a farewell feast for his officers in Fraunces Tavern in 1783 in New York City after our victory in the Revolutionary War. Washington, who would become president six years later, was so smitten with his meal that he hired the tavern's owner Samuel Fraunces as his personal steward at Mount Vernon.


Washington's Farewell to his Oficers, Alonzo Chappel c1866

"With a heart full of love and gratitude,
                                   I now take leave of you."
                                                         George Washington

Carrot Cake Recipe
While carrots naturally play a starring role, this more basic treat omits the heavy handed helping of raisins, nuts and cloyingly sweet cream cheese icing we associate with today's version.
I found several sources for this historic recipe all very similar to this one from  In Erikas kitchen. I tweaked it slightly by using a bag of matchstick carrots (which I roughly chopped) rather than grating my own 2 cups out of sheer summer laziness. 
Since I noticed several of the other recipes called for cooking the carrots first, I quickly microwaved mine about two minutes, loosely covered on 50% power to soften before baking.
patriotic image above from The Graphics Fairy

Unable to find my bundt pan (how does one lose a bundt pan?) I opted for two layers; a round for the base and square which I trimmed into a circular shape for smaller second layer.
While hardly a beauty, a generous dusting of confectioners sugar, fruit and fresh mint leaves help camouflage imperfections and add flare. 
I served fresh blueberries and, appropriately for George, cherries. 
adding some must-have red, white and blue
While maybe not a crowd pleaser for a lively Fourth of July picnic, this historic cake makes a rustic but flavorful breakfast or afternoon tea treat to enjoy during the holiday week.
 
just add a dollop of whipped cream and brisk cup of tea

For more July Fourth ideas and recipes simply type "July" into our search box
or for some patriotic decor 
 pop over to our post a-red-white-and-blue-birthday for our easy vintage inspired decorative candy cones  


Wishing our US Readers
A Very Happy July Fourth
and
 our friends overseas
A Happy Summer






Thursday, March 29, 2018

Naturally Beautiful Easter Eggs



How many fondly remember the magic of dying Easter eggs as a child? Simply dropping a store-bought pellet into a glass of water and vinegar produced vivid colorful concoctions in mere minutes. While admittedly quick and convenient, I thought I'd go with natural hues this year and dye my eggs with recipes using vibrant veggies, spices and fruits. 
A few attempts in the past have garnered murky lackluster results but after some more research I felt confident to give it another go and share the results, for better or worse. 
A trend for many years now, recipes for natural dyes are all over the internet and while they involve more intensive dying time, the formulas are fun and easy to whip up with many ingredients you may have on hand.
I started with a limited palette of blue, pink and yellow from recipes I discovered on the delightful sites Live Well Travel Often and thekitchn which used used beets, red cabbage and turmeric. I tweaked the pink formula by substituting a can of sliced beets for fresh. 
Most of the formulas I discovered simply involved boiling water, salt and the colorful natural ingredient of your choice, pouring the dye into large containers to cool, adding vinegar, and popping in the hard boiled eggs to soak in the refrigerator. Various sites recommend dying times of several hours to overnight for different results- (I dyed mine in the morning and let set in fridge for about eight hours) 
The dye colors were surprising vibrant 

The results are in and the winner is Turmeric with a bright vivid yellow and smooth finish! The cabbage yielded a lovely speckled blue and sadly the beets a drab khaki brown- (maybe I should have used a fresh beet instead of canned after all)
My eggs did seem to scratch easily while still wet, so next time I'll handle with more care and clean surface gently prior to dying.



On a few eggs, I tried a resist technique with letter stickers for a monogram and wax crayon swirl to add some flare. Several of these didn't turn out as the stickers floated off in the long dying process but I was pleased with this blue version with my husband's initials.
Either way, my "helper" Bijou was fascinated!
  
Bright Blue-red cabbage and Sunny Yellow- Turmeric
Since the blue and yellow hues were the most vibrant I thought I'd use them as my models and set them among some sunny yellow flowers in blue and white pots.

The conclusion: This activity was lots of fun and a nice way to get creative in the kitchen- next time I would love to experiment with some new and different ingredients - (cherries, berries and bright herbal teas come to mind)

Vintage image from the Graphics Fairy

Egg Fun Facts 
   Egyptians and Persians are among the people of many ancient cultures who decorated eggs in vibrant colors to symbolize Spring's season of rebirth

Early Christians dyed eggs red- often using onion skins - to represent Christ's blood

In medieval Europe pretzels with two hard boiled eggs were hidden for children to find on Easter, an event much like modern egg hunts today

The first Faberge Egg was created in 1885 for Tsar Alexander the third for his wife and opened to reveal an enameled yellow yolk, golden hen and small diamond and ruby crown

The world's largest chocolate egg measures eight feet tall and weighs 176 pounds. The sweet treat boasts pink and yellow polka dots and has a whopping 436,000 calories. It was created at the Fairmount Hotel in Dubai

for more eggstraodinary Easter facts visit the fun site theholidayspot

Wishing everyone all the Joys of Spring!
   
For links to more Easter recipes and crafts hop over to Easter at Pennywise

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

St. Patrick's Day: Whimsical Wee Folk


No matter one's heritage, the seventeenth of March is always a day to celebrate all things Irish. Whether whipping up authentic recipes from the Emerald Isle, imbibing in a hearty Guinness or adopting the wearing of the green, embracing a touch of Ireland, however small, on St. Patrick's Day is a fun way to brighten those wintry grey (at least here on the East Coast) not-quite-Spring days. 
Maybe it's the mystical magic of the Irish landscape, or its rich storytelling tradition, but few cultures share such an enchanting passion for whimsy and folklore, fairies and fantasy. This year I thought I'd create some Wee Folk of my own to join me in celebrating their homeland and add a little luck of the Irish to my day.

I can always count on The Graphics fairy for delightful vintage images to use in my projects and her collection of Irish images did not disappoint. While leprechauns are the norm, I chose some cheerful ladies in green along with the little seated gent.

Simply print out image and use as is or if desired embellish with your favorite craft or scrapbooking supplies you might have on hand.
after their makeover- I opted for gold and green puffy paint, stick on jewels and a dose of some glittery sparkle
I attached these Wee Folk to foam board for support. Impossible to cut neatly, I glued on a rough shape smaller than the image, adding a triangular prop. Not pretty but this works just fine to hold up these lightweight figures and remains unseen in the back.
Then simply set among your decor,
or add some Irish magic to teatime.....
with classic soda bread of course

or make a mini scene: One lass plays shepherdess under a cloche with some tiny white lambs
 (a wooly staple of the irish landscape) 

Short on time?- The original images feature charming sayings and backgrounds and can be printed out for quick cards, labels for baked treats, or festive decor. Find these and more on The graphics fairy

 You might recognize the same little gentleman in our Lucky Leprechaun Shoe craft from our past St. Patrick's post

Ireland, it's the one place on earth
That heaven has kissed
With melody, mirth,
And meadow and mist.
                                                         Irish Saying 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!