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Friday, December 17, 2010

Small Oven - No Oven?

I was watching a House Hunters International show on HGTV earlier this week and they were talking about how many European and tropical Caribbean homes have no ovens.  This was not new news to me...but it really struck me because all of the next 5 days I will be baking cookies and other holiday goodies...and almost every single item requires an oven.  Yikes...how do you do without?  Even if you have an oven...what if it is small, like a toaster oven?  Are there counter top ovens that can bake a good cookie?  I switched over to the Martha Stewart Show, which I had DVR'd earlier...and had to laugh - there was a Breville "Smart Oven" being touted as being able to bake cookies and cakes!  Which, then, led me down the mental path...cookie pans would have to be really small....I guess 9x13 pans wouldn't work...you'd have to miniaturize everything!

I have a friend who lives in Italy and she has mentioned having a small stove from time to time...but I never really thought through the challenges a baker might have without the appliances I am accustomed to having ....it is just expected to have a big oven in the U.S. - even two ovens (I had that in a previous home - it was wonderful!).

This all led me to thinking about recipes for small ovens...and crock pots!  There are tons of recipes out there for crock pots....less for toaster ovens and small ovens.  I think it boils down to adjusting to smaller cookie sheets and being creative in adapting recipes to small space appliances.  I must say, it makes me happy that I live where I do, which enables me to churn out large quantities of Christmas treats.

I have two recipes that I am going to make this year which could be prepared in a small Italian or Dutch kitchen...or on a tropical island with no built in oven (assuming you have a crock pot and a toaster oven!).

My children love Apple Butter.  The December issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food has a recipe for crock pot Apple-Pear Butter.  I'm making it today or tomorrow.  The grown kids will each get a jar for their home and I'll have one in my fridge.  Love, love, love it on a fluffy hot buttered biscuit with a side of fried breakfast sausage (which I also like to dip in the Apple Butter).  Yum, can't wait for that one.

This week-end, I will make miniature cream puffs.  I'm thinking, on a small tray - these could quite possibly be done in a toaster oven that has the ability to set a temperature. (Not all do)  After these cool, I'll fill with lemon curd and glaze them.  If I get really industrious, I might make pastry cream, and fill them like eclairs...topped with a yummy chocolate icing.  We'll see how that goes...depends on my piping skills.  It's easy to make the dough (a classic pate a choux)....and pipe little mounds of dough...but I've had trouble with the longer eclair shape before - they were not consistent, no matter what I did!  That was a long time ago, though...surely I've improved?

Here's the basic recipe for a cream puff...and look for the other recipes and photos over the next couple of days.  Just wanted to let my international readers know "I'm thinking of you"... I'd love to know what YOU cook in a tiny oven for the holidays.  The whole idea is very intriguing. 

MINIATURE CREAM PUFFS (Pate a Choux)

Prepare your pans - line shallow baking sheet with parchment paper.
If you want to ensure you have uniform puffs - use a template to draw circles with a pencil on the parchment paper (leave at least 2 inches between circles) and then turn it over - you can see through the paper to pipe the dough!  Me, I'm a free-hand piper...you get what you get!

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick)
1 tsp sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs (should equal 1 cup of eggs - if your eggs don't equal one cup of eggs - add an egg white or another egg to get it to the right volume)

Method:
In a saucepan, bring water, butter, and sugar to a boil over high heat.  Immediately remove from heat.
Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from the side of the pan. (takes just a couple of minutes).  Let cool for a couple of minutes to the point you don't curdle the eggs when you add them next (just about 5 minutes) OR you can move everything to the bowl of a stand mixer at this point which hastens the cooling process (me, I don't want another dirty bowl to wash).

Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition with the wooden spoon until smooth.  It gets gummy looking.

Transfer batter/dough to a large pastry bag with a 1/2 inch round tip (if you are doing the miniatures) OR you can use a Ziploc bag (I prefer the freezer bags as they are sturdy and less likely to pop on you).  If you use that method, move the dough to one corner and twist down the excess bag so the dough doesn't move backwards when you pipe.  Snip the corner of the bag about 1/4 inch up, and start piping.

Pipe batter into mounds - keeping at least 2 inches apart - if your paper slips around, anchor it by putting a dab of batter in each corner between the bottom of the parchment paper and the cookie sheet.  It will hold it in place.  After all your piping is finished.  Smooth the tips of each batter mound with a lightly wet finger (put a little water in a ramekin and dab your finger to keep it moist while smoothing the tops of the batter mounds).

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes - reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake until puffs are golden brown - another 20 to 30 minutes.  They should feel light and hollow if you lift one off the parchment.

Allow to cool - and I'll get back to you on my fillings and icings later ...or you can Google the tons of options you'll find online!  I'll tell you now, I'm leaning towards lemon curd filling with a simple lemon sugar icing.  However, I have been known to change my mind at the last minute ;-p so stay tuned!

Bon Appetit Y'all! StumbleUpon

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