Monday, April 2, 2007

Two Oldies (One Goody)

I’ve made my Almond Cream Puff Ring for many parties -- but never in the 20 years that I’ve been married. Until last weekend.

Baking is tricky. It’s chemistry, and while chemistry hasn’t changed in those 20 years, agriculture and eggs and dairy farming certainly have. Would those changes make the ingredients in my present-day kitchen too different from their predecessors in my 1980s recipe? Isn't that why recipes are updated -- because things change over time, and baking can have disastrous results if we ignore the changes?

Admittedly, I was still skittish from a laundry debacle a few days earlier. I’d wanted to use another object from the 1980s -- one of those luxurious Vellux blankets -- on the bed this spring until the weather was warm enough for only the light summer quilt. The blanket just needed a wash to freshen it from years of storage in a sealed bag.

But upon removing it from the bag, I’d ignored my surprise that the blanket looked tan now, instead of pink. I’d ignored having to brush away lint from wherever the blanket touched my shirt and pants. Instead, I filled the washer, added detergent, loaded the blanket and heard the deep whoosh-whoosh of the agitator. To be sure I’d chosen a cycle with enough water to cover the blanket, I lifted the lid and peeked inside. In just ten seconds, the blanket had completely disintegrated into a huge skeleton of mesh and what looked like a tub full of bean soup. I stopped the wash cycle and used a kitchen strainer to hand-empty the material into a trash basket.

So, my eyes narrowed in suspicion, I began to make the pastry. I watched the butter melt in the water and wondered about the changes in dairy farming over the past two decades -- five or ten generations of cows. The butter foamed more than I remembered and I wondered whether to proceed. But the mixture promptly came to a boil and I had no choice but to dump in the flour and hold my breath while I vigorously stirred. And magic! (chemistry!) -- it balled up perfectly. And the rest of the recipe was perfect, too, and the finished dessert -- delicious.

Almond Cream Puff Ring

Pastry Ring
1 cup water
½ cup butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Heat water, butter and salt until butter melts and mixture boils. Remove from heat and vigorously stir in flour all at once until mixture forms a ball and leaves side of saucepan. Add eggs, beating after each. Cool mixture.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease and flour a cookie sheet. Drop mounds of batter in a 7"-diameter circle on cookie sheet. Bake 40 minutes; turn off oven and keep pastry ring in oven 15 minutes more. Cool on wire rack.

Slice pastry ring horizontally. Lift off top half and fill bottom half with Almond Cream Filling (see below). Replace top half and drizzle with Chocolate Glaze (see below). Refrigerate.

Almond Cream Filling
Prepare one 3½-ounce package instant vanilla pudding as label directs but use only 1¼ cup milk. Fold in 1 cup whipping cream (whipped) and 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Chocolate Glaze
Melt ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon butter, 1½ teaspoon milk, and 1½ teaspoon light corn syrup. Stir until smooth.

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