November 24, 2011

It's German'S Chocolate Cake, People!

I have this theory that the type of frosting on a cake is what truly makes the cake, not so much the cake itself. I think red velvet cake as one of them. My theory is that people love the cream cheese frosting more than anything. And maybe the color... But there's really not enough cocoa in the recipe to make it a chocolate cake, so I have to laugh out loud when people try to qualify it as one. There are only two ounces per two layers' worth of batter!

The other cake I think is really made by its frosting is German Chocolate Cake. Or really German's Chocolate Cake. Many of you have probably heard the story by now. It was never really chocolate cake invented by the Germans. This link tells the rather humorous story of its come-about and how it went from being a recipe developed by a man named German to actually being considered German. And the original recipe from Baker's provides both the cake recipe and the complementary coconut pecan frosting, which is another topping that, in my opinion, makes the cake. When all is said and done, it's kind of a very basic, "barely there" sort of chocolate cake. It's that flavor carnival called coconut pecan frosting that's really (forgive the overuse of cliche) the icing on the cake!

I've tried out several different from-scratch recipes for coconut pecan frosting, all egg-based and a whole lot of work because you're building from a custard. None of them really turn out like I need them to... Most are too runny and make moving the cake for delivery very hard. Since I move this kind of cake on a regular basis, I need a more stable frosting. Also, a lot of folks hosting parties don't have room in the refrigerator by the time the cake arrives. It's so packed with party fixings, they can't make room for a three-layer monstrosity that might need refrigeration because of a dairy- or egg-based frosting. With your various holiday gatherings taking place near and far, you don't want a mudslide in the backseat before you get there!

So I've come across this great vegan recipe that holds together like a dream and is fine for situations lacking refrigeration. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is an excellent source for lots of vegan cake and frosting recipes, but its Coconut Pecan Fudge Frosting is the real winner in the book. I'm not really sure why it's called "fudge" frosting though, as there's no sign of chocolate in the recipe anywhere. Typo maybe? Who knows... But seriously, it's so good, you can eat it with a spoon. It totally makes the cake!

Coconut Pecan Fudge Frosting (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

1/2 cup rice milk
1/4 cup arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon

Whisk rice milk, arrowroot/cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat, stir together coconut milk and brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to boil. Turn heat down to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Whisk rice milk mixture once more and then slowly pour it into the coconut milk mixture, stirring continuously to incorporate.

Stir mixture continuously until it darkens again and gets very thick and smooth, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and beat in vanilla, whiskey, pecans, and coconut. Stir until everything is completely combined. Cool to room temperature before frosting cake. Makes enough to cover a three-layer 8- or 9-inch cake.

August 15, 2011

Liquered Up

As if I didn't already make enough things from scratch around here, I have now decided to take on homemade liqueurs. They're not difficult, just a little time-consuming, in that you have to wait a month or two to consume!

I have been fascinated with limoncello since a good friend of mine in St. Louis had me sample some on a night on the town. It is very much a special-occasion thing to me and worth every second of the immediate buzz I get upon the first few sips! The recipe below is outstanding and quite worth the wait as well (it needs about a month "stewing" time). Go ahead and splurge for the fancy hand-made gnocchi or ravioli at your local gourmet shop when your limoncello is ready to go. It'll be one of the best dinners and after-dinner drinks you've ever made.

At a recent get-together, Zesty Lemon recently graced me with the presence of his homemade amaretto. I won't divulge his recipe, since it came from a friend of his, but I can pass this one along that he sent me after our evening hanging out. This one uses real almonds and takes a little more time than the limoncello, but if it's anything like the speedy version he gave me, it's got to be good!

Last but not least, I highly recommend the book Infused: 100+ Recipes for Infused Liqueurs and Cocktails. Unfortunately, it's out of print, so it's only available used. I did find it at my local library, but then realized I was copying so many recipes, I figured I might as well buy it. It does use the same general rule of thumb throughout, which is a certain percentage of fruit, vegetable, or essence to a certain amount of alcohol, so maybe you won't really need the whole book once you've made a few.

Or maybe you think I'm insane that I'd take on the task of liqueur-making with everything else I insist on not purchasing ready-made. Isn't pie crust, buttercream, and granola from scratch enough?


Adapted from A Table in the Tarn: Living, Eating and Cooking in Rural France, by Orlando Murrin

5 lemons
4 1/4 cups vodka
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup sugar
5-6 clean 12-oz bottles

Rinse the lemons and soak them overnight in cold water. Drain and dry. Zest the lemons using a vegetable peeler, zester, or grater. (I used a vegetable peeler, making half-inch-wide strips and breaking those into 2-inch pieces.)

Stuff the zest into a 1.5-liter bottle. Pour the vodka into the bottle, seal, and shake well. Leave for a month in a dark, dry place, and shake once a week.

Heat water and sugar on medium-high heat until dissolved. Boil 1 minute and allow to cool (you are making a simple syrup). Pour vodka out of 1.5-liter bottle into bowl, and mix in simple syrup. Using a funnel and strainer, strain into clean bottles. Seal tightly and store in freezer. Shake well before serving. Serving size: 1 oz. Makes two 750-ml bottles or about 5 1/2 12-oz bottles for gift-giving!

June 7, 2011

We Are All Probably Screaming for Ice Cream Right About Now...

Chicago just went from cloudy, rainy, damp, and 40-something to hot, humid, and 90--in about a week. That's nothing new around here, a city that can see a 40-degree spread in a single day. But I've gone a little crazy lately with making ice cream and sorbet in order to debunk the heat, and I need to share the fun!

If you don't have a countertop ice cream machine, now would be a great time to get one. Most quality brands are $50 to $70 for the season, and many companies are offering rebates right now. I own both a Cuisinart 1-1/2-quart Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker and the freezer attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Both work really well and require only an overnight freeze of the mixing bowl. If you have a deep freeze or chest freezer, you can just store your freezer bowls in there all the time. Unfortunately, I cannot report on the old-fashioned ice-and-rock-salt electric or hand-crankers, as I've never worked with one, but I highly recommend a small electric one if you have the cabinet or counter space. They're affordable little workhorses (I've had my Cuisinart for more than 10 years), and you can purchase additional freezer bowls so that there's always one frozen and ready to go, making it easy to freeze multiple flavors at a time. It has recently gone through a redesign, and Cuisinart has also since introduced a 2-quart version, which I highly recommend. Most ice cream recipes, especially when adding mix-ins, tend to "enlarge" through the churning process, and so it's nice to have the extra bowl capacity. The Kitchen Aid attachment is pricier, but for those of you who already have a 4- to 6-quart stand mixer parked on the countertop, it's nice to just be able to purchase an attachment instead of a whole new machine. Please note though, with small electric makers and attachments, ice cream requires an additional setting time in the freezer for a couple of hours or overnight. I have heard from ice-and-rock-salt owners that you can eat it right out of the bucket when churned. Just know that those machines require purchasing the special salt and having lots of ice on hand to get started.

My favorite books on the subject include The Ultimate Ice Cream Book: Over 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, Drinks, and More, by Bruce Weinstein, and The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments, by David Lebovitz. I've actually lost count of the number of recipes I've done from the Weinstein book. Even the mix-ins (he provides sometimes up to 10 variations of several of the recipes) are amazing crowd pleasers. Favorites around here from that book include the ice creams cheesecake, corn (yes, kinda crazy but GOOD!), key lime pie, green tea, coffee, peanut butter (add some chocolate chips--he doesn't suggest it, but mini-chocolate chips are a great mix-in), peach, pumpkin, and white chocolate. And the sorbets banana, honeydew, and coconut. Weinstein provides two types: standard custard-style (heavy on the eggs, so very rich) and egg-free Philadelphia-style, which is much lighter and often has less sugar. Just a warning though... Philadelphia-style requires at least overnight in the freezer after churning, to make sure it's frozen solid enough for scooping. This most likely has to do with the lack of eggs, which provide a lot of structure and intensity to custard-style ice creams. Lebovitz's is a little more gourmet, with things like pear caramel and goat cheese, but he offers a lot more sauces, toppings, and mix-ins than the Weinstein book. Both authors take cooks through the custard making process rather efficiently, and you can churn/freeze according to your maker's manufacturer's directions. I am not as well-versed on gelato (which contains more milk than cream and is often viewed as lower in fat content as a result), and neither book really tackles that subject. I might be able to include an addendum to this entry, after I take the gelato class I enrolled in at Canady Le Chocolatier later this month. So stay tuned...

Both the Weinstein and Lebovitz books include sorbet and granita recipes, sauces, cookie recipes for making ice cream sandwiches, and lots of other ice cream accompaniments. I've been cooking out of the Weinstein book for as long as I've owned my little Cuisinart, and I'm nowhere near done with everything I could make out of it!

If you're a cone lover like I am (the extra crunch of a sugar cone really makes the treat for me), you might want to consider getting a pizzelle or waffle cone maker. You will need to purchase cone rollers (most pizzelle makers don't include them but some waffle cone makers do) in order to make cones, or you can make (rather large!) ice cream sandwiches.

I'll leave you with an absolute must this season--hot fudge sauce! This is an easy recipe that cans and freezes well, and reheats perfectly. You can even steep spices (cinnamon sticks, ginger) or herbs (lavender, basil, orange or lemon zest) in the heavy cream at the heating stage to add flavor. So go on... scream for ice cream! You deserve a cool blast this already-hot summer!

Hot Fudge Sauce

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup (Karo makes a 33% less fat version)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a microwave-safe container, heat the chocolate and butter in the microwave on half power in 30 second intervals until melted. Set aside to cool.

Heat cream in medium saucepan over low heat. Add sugar and corn syrup and stir until sugar dissolves completely. Add cream mixture to melted chocolate and return to pot. Continue to heat mixture over low heat, stirring constantly. Add the vanilla and serve hot. Makes about 1 cup. Can be pressure canned or frozen for later use.

May 31, 2011

The Big O

Oprah, that is... The curtain's been called, the lights are out, and she's probably relaxing poolside at her mansion in California by now, but I managed to get my foot in that door before it closed by landing a spot on a baking team for one of the final shows.

For William and Kate's wedding, Oprah hosted a royal tea party, where crumpets, cookies, and William's favorite chocolate cake were served. Chef Darren McGrady, Diana's personal chef since her wedding to Charles until her death, came to town, courtesy of Oprah's peeps, and through a few highly valued connections, I got to work with him to make all the menu items for the show. My pictures from the two-day experience don't do it all justice (and unfortunately, neither did the actual episode, where he hardly got any face time with Oprah and our goods were hardly glimpsed by viewers), but as they always say, the experience is what counts. Chef Darren was so charming and full of fun stories cooking for the Queen, Queen Mum, Diana, and the boys. It was a great experience, and I think I made some connections for a lifetime. That's "The Word" in this business of who you know and how you know them!

Check out our Flickr roll for more pictures from these day(s) of thunder!

April 20, 2011

Breakfast of Champions!

No, not Wheaties, but something better... Stuff that really sticks to your ribs and keeps you going until lunch. We're talking the types of breakfast foods that really truly help you get a good workout regimen going this spring and can help maintain that diet when you're back in shape.

Most manufactured cereal brands contain that dreaded HFCS anyway, so you want to really avoid those at all costs, especially when you're working out and trying to lose weight. As you can tell from our absence in Cyberspace, we were kind of fresh out of blog ideas at Spoonfoolery until I posted recently on our Facebook page, asking fans what they'd like to know. I got a resounding request for breakfast food. So here goes...

Granola and yogurt are two of the best things you can do for your body to kickstart the day. You've got protein and calcium in the yogurt, along with fruit and fiber in the granola. Most manufactured granola brands are high in fat and sugar. Try this one on for size. I've been making Cooking Light's Maple Almond Granola for years, and we love it every which by loose... In a bowl with milk, mixed in with yogurt, even sprinkled on top of ice cream! (You know, to make dessert worth something more than it really is!) I mix it up a bit each time too, using the following interesting combinations to replace the recipe's existing fruit/nut combination:

*pecans and dried cherries
*pistachios and dried cranberries
*walnuts and unsweetened banana chips
*cashews, unsweetened coconut, and dried pineapple or mango

For something you can grab and go, try the Hearty Breakfast Cookies at CDKitchen. I make them with whole wheat flour, add nuts (any kind), and even chopped cooked bacon or diced ham (if you buy prepackaged diced ham, drain in paper-towel-lined bowl overnight in your refrigerator before adding to cookie dough). These have become an integral part of our Healthy Snack lineup at the youth center where I teach, an endeavor that requires us to stay within the guidelines of a reduced sugar and fat after-school snack. And by the way, try and avoid margarine in actual baked product of any kind (this recipe suggests it, but I never use it). It contains too much water and wreaks havoc on the structure, is not as flavorful as butter, and don't even get me started on the whole trans fat thing!

Last but not least, here's a recent find that I unearthed during the last zucchini season: Low-Fat Chocolate Zucchini Muffins. These can almost pass as a cupcake, they're so rich and moist, but you're getting the power-packing benefit of a green vegetable in there, so you can feel good about the fact that you're feeding your family a chocolate muffin for breakfast! I've tried several of the mix-ins people mention, like chocolate chips (well, when you're a pastry chef, sometimes you just can't suppress your devilish nature), nuts, and even applesauce to replace the oil. All renditions turn out fine, and this recipe can be poured into a loaf pan and made into a zucchini bread as well.

There's no reason breakfast has to be boring. Be a champion, a baking champion, and make it from scratch your way, every day!

February 25, 2011

Rolling Out the Red Velvet

Valentine's Day brings out all things pink and red, including everyone's lust for that indelible favorite, red velvet cake. I'm not sure what it is about it that everyone loves (with anywhere from only 2 tablespoons to maybe 1/3 of a cup of unsweetened cocoa, it's not really chocolate, but then it's not really just vanilla with red food color either), but secretly, I think it's the color plus the cream cheese frosting.

Everyone loves cream cheese frosting! It goes well with carrot cake, devil's food, lemon, and of course, red velvet. With wedding cakes, I encourage brides to go with a white chocolate or cream cheese filling so that guests can still get a little "alternative flavor" kick along with the standard wedding vanilla buttercream.

But at this time of year, you might even want to go for an alternative item on the red velvet spectrum. How about red velvet doughnuts? I pulled a recipe off Gourmet Live recently, but after some rather interesting results at home, I revamped it a bit to come up with the one below. The first few attempts were too airy and fluffy--much like a cupcake in a circle, if anything else. A good cake doughnut should be soft and melt-in-your-mouth tasty, like a good cupcake, but it also needs to be dense, buttery, and eat like a meal, like a hearty doughnut should! I played around with the egg and butter ratios, replaced the flour with cake flour for tenderness, and added a cream cheese glaze, and voila! Here's a little something you can roll out the next time you have overnight company. (But they may not want to leave, so beware the extended stay!)

Baked Red Velvet Donuts
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a doughnut pan with cooking spray with flour in it, or butter it with pastry brush and flour it.

In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

In the microwave in a small heat-proof bowl, heat butter and chocolate together on 50% power in 1-minute intervals until melted. DO NOT ALLOW TO BURN. Stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In another bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. Add the melted butter/chocolate mixture to the egg/sugar mixture. In a glass measuring cup, whisk buttermilk, extract, and food color until combined. Add to egg/sugar mixture and stir well.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture in three intervals, mixing with a spatula each time just until combined. Using two spoons or a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch wide tip, fill the doughnut pan with the batter, filling each cavity about two-thirds full. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes.

Cream Cheese Glaze

1/2 package cream cheese (4 ounces), room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk, room temperature

In small bowl, using electric mixer, blend cream cheese and butter until combined. Add
powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla extract and mix well until no lumps. Add milk and mix until smooth and a little drippy. Add more milk if you like a thinner glaze. Spread on doughnuts while warm and let glaze drip over sides. Makes about 1 dozen.

February 16, 2011

A Chili for the Chilly

February. The dead of winter. Cold and gray. Outside of the Super Bowl and impatiently waiting on spring to arrive, with little else to look forward to, it’s a great time to add some spice to the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

You’re probably thinking, “All right, already, King… Get to the point!”

Chili is the point. In this long overdue rendition of a recipe, the Burger King shares a legendary version of everybody’s favorite winter fill.

1 lb. 96% extra lean ground beef
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped, seeds and juices discarded
1 can red kidney beans (15.5 oz)
1 can black beans (15.5 oz)1 jar plain marinara sauce (16 oz)
2 cans tomato sauce (15.5 oz each)
about half a white chocolate bar (about 2 oz)
1/4 cup of buffalo sauce (such as Frank's RedHot)
Spices: cinnamon, black pepper, brown sugar, sea salt, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper

In a large pan over medium-high heat, brown beef, breaking it up as you move it from the container to the pan. As it begins to brown, add 1/2 teaspoon of each: cinnamon, black pepper, and brown sugar. This will take about 10 minutes.

While beef is cooking, prepare vegetables, garlic, and onion as noted above. Add these ingredients to the beef, along with some sea salt to taste, and continue cooking another five minutes, or until the peppers have become tender.

As this mixture cooks, chop the four tomatoes, discarding the seeds and juices, and drain and rinse both cans of beans. Add tomatoes, beans, marinara sauce, and tomato sauce, as well as 1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, about a half of one white chocolate candy bar, and 1/4 cup buffalo hot sauce. Stir ingredients well to combine and reduce heat, adding a few of pinches of cayenne pepper to taste.

His Highness suggests letting the chili simmer for about two hours, which brings out the creamy, sweet notes of the brown sugar and white chocolate, along with the kick of the cayenne and buffalo sauce — a unique, yet delicious contrast.

Although the recipe has some quirks, it’s one that has been through many tweaks and variations by this hardcore chili hound. And, most importantly, it’s the best one I’ve had the pleasure of coming across.

February 1, 2011

For Perfect Roast Chicken, Get Yourself a Brick

The next must-have kitchen gadget isn't at Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma. It's at Home Depot.

This isn't to deny my affection for fancy kitchen implements. The only way you'd take away my Le Creuset Dutch oven is from my cold, dead hands! But I must confess my adoration of the humble brick. I owe it my gratitude for its role in helping make the most flavorful and moist roast chicken I have ever made.

I take roast chicken seriously. There's perhaps no better test of a cook to get it right. It's simple, but not easy. Two things usually foul (fowl?) up roast chicken. The first is insufficiently brown, or worse, rubbery skin. A more glaring fault is dry, stringy breast meat. That's because chicken breasts, like those of other birds, cook more quickly than the legs and thighs. By the time the latter cook completely, the former too often have entered shoe leather territory.

A brick (and pair of sturdy scissors) address these shortcomings. You'll need the scissors, or a sharp knife, to remove the chicken's backbone—an easy feat that will take no more than 1 minute—so that it lays open like a book. The brick forces the chicken flat, ensuring even cooking. In 45-50 minutes—much less time than conventional roasting techniques—you'll pull a perfectly cooked bird from the oven, with the requisite crisp, golden skin to match.

A note about the chicken itself: I highly recommend the Empire kosher brand, which I find at Trader Joe's. I won't pretend to be an expert on kosher slaughter techniques, but I know the process involves salting the meat, a practice that boosts flavor and helps the chicken retain moisture. (You can achieve the same effect by soaking your chicken in cold salted water, a procedure known as brining. Click here for a primer.) I give the chicken an added boost with a marinade of equal parts lemon and olive oil and fresh herbs. Rosemary and thyme are classic chicken-friendly herbs, but tarragon would pair nicely too.

Below you'll find a step-by-step guide to chicken under a brick, or as the Italians call it, chicken al mattone. (It always sounds better in Italian, doesn’t it?)

First, turn the chicken breast down, and with a sturdy pair of scissors, cut along one side of the back bone. Cut from one side to the other. Repeat on the other side of the backbone. The bone will be your guide. (When you attempt this maneuver, you'll see what I mean.)

Next, flatten the chicken with the palm of your hand as if you were mistreating a book. Rub the marinade on the front and back of the chicken. I prefer an all-day marinade, but an hour or two will do in a pinch. Any longer, though, would be a bad idea. The lemon juice may start "cooking" the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In an oven-proof frying pan, saute the chicken, breast side down, in a couple tablespoons hot olive oil for approximately 7 minutes. The chicken should be well-browned.

Wrap the brick in foil (see below) and set it atop the chicken, with the chicken remaining breast side down. This will ensure even cooking and perfectly browned skin. Insert pan in oven and roast for 30 minutes. (When my chicken is on the smaller side, around three pounds, I usually roast it for a little less, around 27 minutes.)

Remove the brick and carefully turn the chicken so that it's breast side up. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. (After 10 minutes, I check to see if the chicken is done. Some fancy-pants cooks might advocate use of a thermometer. I prick the leg or thigh with a fork, and if the juices run clear, it's done.)

It's important to let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes after roasting. As tempting as it looks, resist the temptation to carve into it. Its juices will end up on the cutting board rather than in your mouth. Loosely cover it with foil to keep it warm.

When you're ready to eat, you'll find it easy to cut into serving pieces. I love to serve roasted chicken with crusty bread and white beans, briefly sauteed in olive oil and rosemary. I'll also braise a hearty green, such as kale or Swiss chard, in olive oil and garlic. All complement the simplicity of the chicken so elegantly.

The last step is optional, though highly recommended: This dish, like any meal, is best enjoyed with special company. In this case, it was my equally zesty boyfriend, who just loves this dish.

January 21, 2011

Choux, Choux, Kachoo!

People have often asked me what the next big thing in pastry will be, especially after this crazy cupcake ride we've been on for some time now. For years (and I am not saying this because they seem in fact to be the next big thing), I've been saying it'll be the whoopie pie. Bon Appetit in fact did a feature on this recently, pitting the whoopie pie against the French macaron and having readers vote on which would be the Next Big Thing.

However, I daresay at this point, the cream puff may very well be giving all these sweet treats a run for their money. Cream puff patisseries like Beard Papa's are opening up everywhere, and the lines are out the door! And profiteroles (see the difference between cream puffs and profiteroles here) are appearing on dessert menus in everyday cafes from here to D.C. This holiday season, I catered dessert for a party where the centerpiece was a good old-fashioned French croquembouche.

I recently ventured over to Beard Papa's here in Chicago's Loop to investigate this puff proliferation. Theirs are some seriously large Marges, I must say, and I think French chefs everywhere would balk at the size of these things. Cream puffs, or chouquettes, are true petit fours and should be consumed, by definition, in one or two bites. So the fact that Beard Papa's are like burger buns is a little disconcerting to the average French pastry chef, but at least it makes them good for sharing. I got the standard "eclair" (another thing I had issue with--eclairs are the long "hot-dog-bun-like" puffs; chouquettes are the round, more "meatball-looking" puffs), which was coated in a rather hard chocolate shell for some weird reason. Since Beard Papa's version is neither round and meatball-looking, nor is it long and hot-dog-bun-like, I guess they can call it whatever they want! They are more or less bumpy and hilly, but generous in portion and nice and airy inside. I had some problems with the hard chocolate shell business. That is not at all the way it's done in France. Most typical French-style cream puffs and eclairs have a smooth, thick ganache glaze over the top that's soft and nice and drippy upon biting into them. But I will give BP some kudos on the strawberries-and-cream filling. Yum! Nice touch to add the fresh strawberries to the cream!

The other cool thing about BP is the "Chipotle-style" ordering system. You decide how many you want (single or various multipacks), order your puff (naked or chocolate shell), order your filling, and voila! It's filled fresh right there in front of you, so you're not getting some soggy, day-long-filled blob. It is a low-cost/high-return venture for these folks, so talk about a winning business plan!

Believe it or not though, these are very easy to make at home, and so you should save yourself the bucks and try whipping up a batch. Ina Garten's choux paste (cream puff batter) recipe is ridiculously easy and five-star review on Food Network's site, so you just can't go wrong with it. Use real whipping cream for your filling (no cheating and using that heart-attack-in-a-bowl Cool Whip crap). And when it warms up again, you can make them profiteroles and serve them with ice cream!