Perfect Party Puffs

DSC_0011-1As we all anxiously await the party of the year on December 31, here are some tasty Choux Paste puffs that can be whipped up in no time from ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. They’ll be the perfect pairing to the many glasses of bubbly you’ll be enjoying over the next couple of days. Choux Paste is so versatile, easy and fast to make…..the flavor choices are endless. Depending on how you flavor the base dough, the puffs can be sweet (as in Cream Puffs a.k.a. Éclair) or savory if adding herbs or cheese (use Gruyère cheese to create the French classic puff Gougère). Make them large for an appetizer or dessert portion or small, like I have here, for a delicious hors d’ oeuvres certain to please a crowd.
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I’ve chosen three of my favorite puffs to share with you for this New Year’s Eve celebration: Curry Curry, Thai Spice, and Chocolate Orange. The Curry Curry Puffs use the warm spices of India such as Garam Masala, tumeric and curry powder. The Thai Spice Puffs showcase the exotic aromatics of South East Asia with lemongrass,  fresh ginger, Kaffir lime leaves, and for a slight kick– Bird’s Eye Chili powder. And my Chocolate Orange Puffs partner the intense chocolate flavor of Dutch Cocoa, fresh orange zest, and Cointreau (orange liqueur) to make an indulgent sweet treat. All three basically used the same Choux Paste base, and I varied the flavor additions from there. Whether you’ll be drinking French Champagne, Sparkling Wine or Prosecco, these little clouds of yumminess will disappear before the clock strikes midnight! Oh, and here’s what I’ll be drinking on NYE along side these poofs of perfection.


Basic Choux Paste
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter, unsalted (1 stick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar (for sweet puffs)
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a standard baking tray with a non-stick mat or grease pan with butter. In a medium sauce pan over high heat, bring water, butter, salt and sugar (omit if making savory puffs) to a boil. When butter melts, remove pan from heat and add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously to ensure there are no lumps and that the paste is well blended. Bring pan back to heat and stir for 3-5 minutes, until the paste forms a ball in the center and leaves the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and cool for 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon to incorporate. The paste will separate/break upon adding each egg, but no worries, just blend vigorously to bring paste back to a smooth consistency. Add flavor additions at this point and stir until well blended. Let paste rest for 10 minutes.

Shape puffs using a pastry bag with a plain hole tip or a cookie scoop as I did for the chocolate ones, which was 1 1/4 inch size. They don’t spread much when baking so you ought to get 24-30 per pan, depending on the size you’re going for.  Tip: use the cookie scoop as it will give you more consistently sized & shaped puffs, resulting in an even bake and a nicer presentation. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Yields approx 2 dozen medium size, or 4-5 dozen cocktail size puffs. Cheers and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!!   :>)

Ginger & Coconut Milk Crème Brûlée

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Here’s a classic that’s been jazzed up for the holidays with the spicy flavors of ginger and creamy coconut milk to create a lactose-free delicious dessert. I made these Crème Brûlées for Thanksgiving, but used heavy cream as most of the recipes you’ll find call for. But I’m going to be making these again for Christmas and some of my family are sans-dairy milk, so I wanted to re-create the exotic flavors of the ginger, but just with a different “cream” base. First thing that came to mind was almond milk, but then upon further research, I learned that it doesn’t have the weight (fat content) and viscosity needed to create a custard that will set firm. So I rummaged through my pantry and found a can of full-cream coconut milk– bingo! — this would do the trick.

The other secret to this recipe is using ginger two ways. First,  I infused the coconut milk with fresh ginger slices and secondly,  added crystallized ginger chips to the bottom of the ramekins (for a little surprise). By doubling-up on the ginger, it really locks in that flavor,  but isn’t overpowering in the least. The final custard is a deep yellow color (due to the increased egg yolks) making this a rich and decadent treat!
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DSC_0032-1Ginger & Coconut Milk Crème Brûlée
1 cup full-cream coconut milk
2-3 large slices of fresh ginger root (skin on is fine)
4 teaspoons crystallized ginger chips (I like brand The Ginger People)
1 tablespoon softened butter
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/2 cup white sugar + 4 tablespoons for shell

Preheat oven to 325F. Get a full tea kettle of water on the boil. Add coconut milk and fresh ginger slices to a medium size saucepan. Warm gently over medium heat just until milk comes to the simmer. Do not let it boil. Once warmed through, take it off heat to cool and allow the ginger slices to steep in the milk for 20 minutes. Gather 4 ramekins (4 ounce capacity) and place on a rimmed sheet tray.  Use the softened butter to coat the inside of each one. Place 1 teaspoon of crystallized ginger chips into the center of each ramekin. In a large mixing bowl, add egg yolks, eggs, and sugar. Whisk until light and foamy. Remove the ginger slices from the coconut milk and add to egg mixture. Gently whisk until custard is light and frothy. Pour mixture into a 2-cup glass measuring cup (this makes it easier to fill). Gently pour custard into the ramekins being careful not to move the ginger chips around too much.

Place sheet tray in oven and then carefully pour the hot water onto the pan until it comes a quarter way up the sides of the ramekins. The water will help create steam during baking and aid in setting the custard. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Custard will have a slight jiggle when it’s finished, but a cake tester should come out clean. Chill covered for 6 hours- or even better- 1-2 days in fridge. When you’re ready to serve, remove chilled ramekins from fridge. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly across the top of one ramekin. Using your kitchen torch*, heat sugar until light golden brown and a hard shell has formed on the surface. Enjoy!
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*Note:
A kitchen torch may seem like an extravagant tool, but honestly, they’re not that expensive nowadays and you’ll get so much use out of it. It’s perfect for making the above dessert of course, but it’s also a whiz at finishing meringues, melting cheese, glazing a ham…. you name it. For this recipe, I borrowed the Bon Jour torch from a friend (as my Bernzomatic was on the fritz), and it worked a charm. It has a little more “umpf” (longer flame life) and you can also regulate the flame power depending on the size of the job. It’s on my Christmas Wishlist….hoping Santa thinks I’ve been a good girl this year!