R2R: Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

One of my all time favorite soups is roasted butternut squach soup.  I love when I see the butternut squash start to appear at the public market because it means the weather is really getting cold and it’ll be time to make this soup soon.  I was so excited to find this month’s Recipe to Rivals challenge (picked by MegPug of Joy Through Cooking) was all about squash soup using home made stock.  I also have been looking to try my hand a stock since watching past episodes of Alton Brown on YouTube.

The recipe I’ve always used comes from the magazing Eating Well and it’s very simple:
– roast squash, pears, tomatoes, leeks, and garlic into oblivion
– blend with stock/broth
– season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, or whatever spices you fancy
– serve with crusty bread and consume.

Ok, I’ll be honest.  I forgot about the creme fraiche (one of the requirements to the recipe).  I don’t really like it, and I also don’t find much occasion to use whipping cream, so I didn’t buy any of that to add either.  However, I have a diary based suggestion that I’ve used in the past:  Stilton.  Yes, the stinky cheese.  The recipe from Eating Well called for a little Stilton sprinkled on top.  I suggest looking for a milder Stilton, but it does give a lovely flavor to the soup that works surprisingly well with the soups sweetness.  I also like to add a kind of garlic crouton (really, it’s just crusty piece of toast with some garlic rubbed on and a drizzle of olive oil; crusty sourdough loaves work great).  The crunch of toast contrasts the smooth soup wonderfully.

Here is the Eating Well recipe as I remember it (I’m typing this at my parents (home for the holidays), and the recipe is at home in another state).  It’s a pretty flexible recipe, so I’m not too concerned about amounts:

– One butternut squash, cubed
– 4 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeded
– 2 bosc pears, pealed, quartered and cored
– 1-2 leeks, rinsed well and sliced
– 4 cloves of garlic
– 4-6 cups of stock
– salt and pepper
– olive oil
– seasoning as desired at the end (I suggest nutmeg and cinnamon, true fall flavors)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 or 450.

2. Put the squash, tomato, pears, leeks, and garlic on a cookie sheet with high sides or a large baking dish.  Everything should cover the bottom of your pan, but not pile too high because it will take longer to roast.

3. Drizzle to coat with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Toss everything together

4. Roast everything to oblivion (1-2 hours), stirring every 10-20 minutes.  I’m serious, oblivion.  It should reduce to about half the volume and the squash should be browning around the edges.  Everything should be falling apart into mush.  The longer it goes, the more the sugars in the squash caramelize and make a sweet soup.  You will not be sorry if you over roast everything… just take it out before things begin to char.

5. Blend with the stock, using as much as necessary to get the desired consistency.  I use my stand up blender and scoop some of the roasted mush in, and then fill to the level of veggies with stock.  Hold the lid down FIRMLY with a pot holder.  Be careful hear or you’ll get 400 degree mush all over your kitchen and yourself.  Blend until a cyclone forms in the blender.  You also can put the stock and roasted mush into a pot and use an immersion blender.

6. Pour the blended soup into a pot (if it’s not already in one), reheat and season to taste.

7. Garnish with a nice Stilton and serve with toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic

For the stock, I used the recipe provided by MegPug:

Vegetable Stock:
4 quarts water
2 white onions
4 carrots, peeled
2 leeks
6-8 button mushrooms
Bouquet garnish (parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns)

Boil the hell out of it and strain through a fine seive or cheesecloth.

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 4:52 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , ,

Complicated Chocolate Eclairs

Eclair filled with almond pastry cream

Eclair filled with almond pastry cream

(Eeee, I’m posting a day late… That’s what I get for spending 12h in the library studying!)

It’s my first time as a Daring Baker and we’re taking on eclairs (click for challenge recipes) this month. I’m home for three days before I head back to NY and med school. I decided to tackle this challenge here at home because it’s the last time I’ll have time for a big baking project, mom has a bigger kitchen and it’s better stocked with equipment (including a more reliable oven). It’s also my brother’s birthday at the end of this visit, so I’m making a Genoise cake with buttercream frosting as well. It’s taken some careful planning to make it all happen. Since I’m not allowed to post until the end of the month, I’m going to try to write this up daily and post it all at the end.

I decided to keep the chocolate frosting for the eclairs but use Julia Child’s pastry cream filling with a little Italian Meringue folded in (since I had to make some anyway for the cake’s buttercream frosting). It was my brother’s suggestion, and my mom agreed I should try a classic eclair. I’m not the biggest fan of classic eclairs because of the custard filling (it’s a texture issue I have with custards and smooth puddings). Luckily Julia also offers an almond custard variation so I’m trying that one too. I really need to buy my own copy of “The Way to Cook.”

Here’s what’s on the schedule:

Wednesday: Creams, Glazes, Sauces, Meringues and a Brittle

Julia’s Italian meringues
to add to…Julia’s pastry cream
and for…Julia’s buttercream frosting
Chocolate sauce
to make…Chocolate glaze
Almond brittle
to pulverize into Praline… just for the hell of it.

Thursday: Baking Day

Two Genoise cakes
Choux (Cream Puff Dough)
Assemble Eclairs


Assemble the birthday cake and play around with cake decorating

I compiled the ingredient list for everything and went to the store to buy:
17 eggs (2 dozen, really, since I’m bound to mess up)
1 lb of butter
12 oz of chocolate
1c heavy cream
2c whole milk
… and I don’t even want to know how much fat that adds up to.


I started with the custard. This I whisked by hand because it was all on the stove. Mom has a hand held mixer, but it didn’t seem like it would be that much whipping. I didn’t count on how thick the yolks, sugar, and flour would be. I need to work on my whisking arm. The only thing I would recommend is a third hand for dribbling in the hot cream. I made a bit of a mess trying to whisk with one hand while pouring with the other. The batter was so thick at first that whisking tended to move the pan around instead of the batter.

The Italian meringue came next, and this is always a bit of a nightmare. It requires boiling sugar syrup to soft-ball stage. Mom has a candy thermometer, but its accuracy is questionable. Thankfully we hit the upper end of soft ball stage and the meringue was perfect.

Next I folding in some meringue into the pastry cream, which really altered it’s custard-like texture and flavor. Next time I might use less meringue… or maybe I’ll just try the chocolate pastry cream from the challenge. I’m also looking forward to trying it with the praline (aka, pulverized toasted almond brittle… which doesn’t really remind me of praline all that much).

The chocolate sauce and glaze came together very easily. The glaze might be a bit lumpy, but I’m not too worried. It’s in the fridge right now and I hope I don’t mess up the mixture when I heat it up to glaze the eclairs.

At the end of the afternoon of cooking my dad came home and was impressed with all I had made, but he did point out that I still hadn’t learn to clean up as I go. Tee hee.

I’m writing up the recipes from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook.” She gives more detail than I do, and this book is seriously a huge help for some scary recipes. It even has step-by-step photos for some of the more complicated techniques. If you can’t buy it, or don’t own it, just swing by a bookstore and flip through some of the recipes for some great pointers.

Italian Meringue: From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
2/3 c egg whites (4-5 egg whites)
pinch of salt
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 1/3c sugar
1/2c water

The eggs:
Beat the eggs slowly at first until they foam, and salt and cream of tartar and beat on medium-high until soft peaks form.

The sugar:
Meanwhile, you want to make the sugar syrup so it’s ready about the same time as the eggs. Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved, then boil until it thickens to soft ball stage. Check it with a candy thermometer or by dropping a bit into cold water and checking that it’s soft when cool.

Slowly pour the sugar syrup into the eggs while the mixer is running on medium. Continue beating until stiff white peaks form.

Pastry cream: From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
Julia offers some variations. I’m writting up the recipe I made.
6 egg yolks
1/2c sugar
pinch of salt
1/2c flour
2c milk
1T vanilla
1T unsalted butter

Heat the milk. Whisk eggs, sugar and salt until lemon yellow in color. Whisk in flour. Slowly add the heated milk while whisking so the eggs don’t cook. Heat the whole mixture over medium until it boils. Whisk out any lumps that may form after it starts to boil, then you can switch to a spoon. Cook about 2 minutes to cook the flour. Pass through a sieve, then add the vanilla and butter. Allow to cool. Fold in one cup of the meringue. Technically this is called Creme Chiboust with the meringue in it, which lightens the custard and give it more hold.

Praline (pulverized toasted almond brittle): Scaled down from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”

1/2c blanched and slivered almonds, toasted in a pan on the stove
1/2c sugar
1/6c water

Boil the sugar and water until it starts to turn golden brown and caramel color. Leave it on the stove a few more seconds. Mix in the almonds and try to spread it out on an oiled baking sheet. Brittle is supposed to be thin, but if you’re pulverizing it anyway (I used a food processor), I doubt it really matters, as long as you can get it off the baking sheet. Julia suggests having a metal spoon and spatula on hand.

For the Chocolate Sauce and Glaze, I send you to the original recipe (link to come).


This day started with two genois cakes for my brother, and then the choux. The batter really did come together quite quickly. I pipped mini-size eclairs which were perfectly two-bite sizes. With the bit of choux left over, I made a few round eclair shells, too. I made two sheets of mini-eclair size, which each baked up very differently.

Choux pastry

The one on the left, with the crack down the middle, was baked on a heavy, thick pan, started on the lower shelf in the oven, and when turning pans and shifting shelves during baking, I set this pan down a little hard and it looked like it caused these choux shells to collapse a bit. They puffed up again beautifully in the last 8 minutes of cooking. The choux on the rest of that pan has beautiful cracks all over the place that really reminded me of eclairs.

The one on the right, with the very smooth top was baked on a thin pan, started on the upper shelf in the oven, and wasn’t jostled at all during the pan rotation. Every eclair on this pan had a similar smooth top with some cracks around the bottom where the choux touched the baking sheet. I ended up flipping these over to remove the bottom “pedestal” of the choux (which came away very cleanly) to coat with chocolate. You really can’t tell that these eclairs are upside down. In fact the few I didn’t flip kept tipping over with the heavy pastry cream.

I wish I knew a little more about how choux worked so I could figure out why this happened.

I took over the entire kitchen table to put these together.

Setup to glaze and fill choux

Setup to glaze and fill choux

The pastry cream kept very well in the fridge. The chocolate glaze was nearly solid when I took it out of the fridge, but a quick turn in the microwave on a very low power setting softened it right up. I folded the praline into some of the cream. Perhaps I folded in too much, or the damp day added some moisture to the praline, because the almond pastry cream lost a lot of it’s hold. Really, it was a runny mess… but a very tasty runny mess. The pastry cream on the other hand help up quite well in the choux. For the round choux, I just stick the tip of the pastry bag into the middle and filled up the puff with cream. I added some slivered almonds on top of the eclairs with the almond filling. I was having so much fun piping the custard I accidentally piped it into some intended for the almond pastry cream.

Filled and glazed choux

Filled and glazed choux

Photographing this was a lot of fun. I didn’t let anyone eat any of them until I had all my pictures… until the camera tipped over on it’s tripod and fell on two of the eclairs. Those were up for grabs. And thankfully none got on my lense!

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 7:11 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

On the side of the road

Big, plum, juicy, sweet blackberries

Big, plum, juicy, sweet blackberries

How delightful is it to run across wild blackberries on the side of the road? How about a cherry plum tree? I was visiting one of my best friends, A, in San Francisco when we took a trip to Muir Woods on a Sunday afternoon. The place was pretty packed, especially the parking lots, so we parked on the side of a twisty and windy road…right next to blackberry bushes. We already ate our fill at the farmer’s market that morning, but that didn’t stop us from picking a few handfuls. It reminded me of the blackberry bush my family discovered one summer in the back yard. It was a tasty few weeks of blackberries and ice cream, blackberry tarts, and purple fingers.

I’m just going to take a minute and tell you how much I love farmer’s markets. Not only do I get to support local growers, but there’s just a sea of fresh produce all over the place. This farmer’s market even had tasties (ya know, like the plates of cut up fruit and whot-not at the grocery store that qualifies as lunch on a Saturday. My boyfriend and I call those tasties). Ever single stall selling any peaches or plums had pieces cut up to try before you buy. Another stall was happy to let us taste the cherry tomatoes. One grower had a pile of chestnuts. I love chestnuts, but I only ever see them in the fall. This grower handed us each a big plump, juicy and sweet blackberry as he explained he kept his chestnuts in cold storage and sold them all summer until he ran out. We chatted for a bit with this nice gentleman, who also fed us these delectable little plums: “Cherry plums, you know, like from the Nutcracker, ‘Cherry Plum Fairies.’ I guess they’re Sugar Plum Fairies, actually.” These plums may well have been called sugar plums, they were so so sweet!

Wild cherry plums, so sweet!

Wild cherry plums, so sweet!

If A and I hadn’t stopped at this stall, we wouldn’t have know what to call the tree that stood right next to the blackberry bush, the one we didn’t notice until we got back after the hike around Muir Woods. We were running late to pick up my boyfriend in the city, so we gathered as many as we could off the tree and tossed them into the cup holder in the car, eating them as we drove along.

Since I’m hoping to post these photos to a food porn website, I feel like I should provide a recipe. I think I’ll go with the mixed berry pie I made a few weeks before we left. After all, it did contain blackberries (but not plums). I used frozen blackberries, raspberries and blueberries because that what I could find. I mashed up the berries a bit with a potato masher, just so I could fit more in the pie. Use any combination you want (I’m sure the plums would have been a lovely addition), just make sure it only goes up to the level of the crust, but not over. Otherwise, there will be a big mess in your oven 45 minutes into baking.

One quart of mixed fruit, mashed a little.
1/2 c sugar (white or raw)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2T flour
Dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mix all ingredients, pour into a pie crust (recipe and pointers here), drape strips of pie crust over the top to make a lattice. Brush top with a beaten egg. Bake at 350 until bubbling in the middle.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Almond Tuile Cannoli: Batch 2 of the tuile and filling.

Cannoli with Almond Tuile (batch 2 foreground, batch 1 background)

Cannoli with Almond Tuile (batch 2 foreground, batch 1 background)

Our Italian dinner party was quite a success, and my cannoli were voted tastier than those a guest bought from the fancy grocery store in town. I was surprised, however, to find that my first thrown-together batch of tuile was much tastier than the second. Better in all accounts, in fact, except perhaps aesthetics, but that’s easily debatable.

To recap, Friday I made this batch: tasty batter, crispy tuile, but they stuck to the parchment paper and were hard to fold. Saturday I messed around with a few ingredients (used two egg whites, found almond meal at the grocery store without the large chunks my food processor leaves behind, and replaced half the almond meal with more flour, I also saved 1 tablespoon to add later for adjusting the consistency). I have to say, the batter wasn’t as tasty, the tuile not as crunchy, but the batter was much easier to spread on the baking sheet and roll around spoon handles.  The second batch didn’t stick at all to the parchment paper, and so I baked them less, trying to make a beautiful, all-white cannoli roll.  The cannoli with some browned edges were crunchier than the all-white ones, so perhaps I didn’t bake them long enough to have the perfect crisp.  I’m not sure how to balance even browning and crispness. In any case, I think I will stick to batch 1, as tastiness never fails!

Lastly, filling the cannoli.  You really need a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe the filling into the tuile tubes. I bought myself a little set of pastry tips (which I’ve been meaning to get for a while) just for this occasion.  Add the filling just before serving, and sprinkle with any variety of confections: powdered sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, or chopped candied fruit.

Almond Tuile: Recipe #2

1/4 c. almonds meal
1/2 c. (save 1T) all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
2 egg whites
5 T. melted butter
1/4 t. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325. Whisk together the almond, flour, sugar, and salt. Beat in the egg whites, butter, and almond extract until smooth.  Add in the saved tablespoon of flour if the batter seems too liquidy.  My batter dropped off the whisk in large plops.  Drop a rounded teaspoon size onto parchment paper and spread out with the back of the spoon to make a 3-4in diameter circle. Bake 6-8 minutes, until edges just start to show a hit of brown.  Thinking about it now, you might be able to leave them in just a bit longer, as long as you are ready to roll them as soon as they get out of the oven.  Something to try another time.

Immediately after removing from the oven, form over desired kitchen object and leave to cool for about 1 minute. If the tuile gets too hard, pop it back in the oven for about 30 seconds to soften. Let formed tuile cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Cannoli Filling:

8-9 oz ricotta, as fresh as possible and drained of any extra juices.  I found some locally made goat cheese ricotta.
8 oz marscapone.  This cheese I could only find from commercial brands.
1/2 c sugar
1 t Vanilla
zest of 1/2 lemon

Mash everything together, adjust sugar to taste.  Other recipes call just for ricotta, some for half as much Marscapone, others for twice as much sugar.  I almost thought I added too much sugar, so I suggest starting the sugar at a 1:4 ratio with the cheese, or even less, and add more to taste.  

Just to let you know, this was not enough filling to fill the two batches of tuile I made.  It probably is enough for one-and-a-half batches (again, I was snacking on the filling).  Both shells and filling are tasty on their own, so in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 7:39 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: ,