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

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
 our friends overseas
A Happy Summer