Sugar Nights

With the indispensable help of the lovely Kate, I threw a bachelorette party for my mercury glassmaking pal Amanda! But before all of THIS….

That's Amanda (right) who is clearly having the time of her life

…there were desserts from April’s Living! Other than a vague idea that I wanted to involve the color red (the color of strong ladies? I dunno!), I knew I wanted something springy and light as well as something dense, so I selected the Strawberry Mini Éclair and the Chess Tart. Both turned out a little differently than I expected, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the amount of champagne I’d consumed.

I’ll start with the tart! I have a very fond memory of a chess pie that some neighbor had brought us during a family crisis a few years ago. My brother and I sat down outside on the screened porch and ate the entire thing right out of the pan. I’m pretty sure nothing has tasted as good to me since. This tart wasn’t quite a contender, but it served its purpose (that’s what he said?)

Kinda buttery, eggy, custardy, and radical all at once.

The recipe said the tart should be gooey (almost liquid under the crust, according to the picture), but it wasn’t really. That’s OK, neither was the chess pie from my memory. Perhaps a “real” Southern chess pie should be, but since I live in the Actual South, and since “bringing a family a homemade pie after seeing an ambulance outside their house hours before” is about as Southern as you can get, I’m not going to bother defending authenticity. It’s chess tart! Everybody wins!

I also reduced the sugar, getting rid of it completely in the crust, which consisted of ground up VANILLA WAFERS. Yes, VANILLA WAFERS, everyone. I think they have enough sugar in them to last us all for weeks. As you’ll understand if you’re like me and you rarely eat sugar,* white sugar in anything is enough to make my tongue hurt and a headache instantly blossom, so I cut down in recipes whenever I can, and no one seems to notice.

The result was plenty sweet and beautiful to look at. A very comforting and easy to throw together tart. Perhaps bake for less time for a more gooey result? I think I might also have used a 10″ tart pan instead of a 9″ one, but I’m over it if you are.

Guys, I am so proud of myself for finding those baking cup things

The brevity and straightforwardness of the tart was balanced out by the undoableness of thepâte à choux recipe included with the mini éclairs. I’ve made éclairs before. I was living in a disgusting apartment with a kitchen I’d prefer not to think about, and I hadn’t been baking very long. Instead of a pastry bag, I cut a hole in a plastic bag, and the éclairs turned out perfectly. (I filled them by sticking a table knife in to make a hole, then turning on its end and spooning in pastry cream).

This pâte à choux,** I’m convinced, had some typos. That, or no one tested the recipe. The butter to flour ratio seemed way exaggerated, and I couldn’t get the right consistency. As a result, my first attempt ended up in delicious, buttery breadsticks. As luck would have it, they looked slightly inappropriately phallic, and so they ended up working well as a bachelorette party treat (sorry, mom). They weren’t éclairs, though.

I tried again. This time, I let the dough cook in the saucepan longer, thinking that maybe I just hadn’t given it enough time to firm up. Determined, I stirred on until my pâte à choux was a rust-colored mess that was starting to smell abominable.

The vanilla-bean whipped cream filling had already been made, as well as the macerated strawberries with mint. Pâte à choux really only takes a minute to put together, so dammit, I was going to put it together. I pulled out Martha’s Baking Handbook and turned to the recipe within. Just as I thought! A much higher flour content (I have since learned that there is a handy ratio I can use EVERY TIME! Check it out) And this time, I was going to trust my eyes and not the cooking time recommended.

It worked! My dough was at the right consistency right after I added the flour, no extra cooking needed, so I added the eggs, piped it into little ladyfinger-lengths, and threw it in the oven. What resulted were clearly mini éclairs.

Puffy relief!

So Martha saved Martha’s ass, I guess. But let’s be honest, would these ladies have been too upset if I’d just bought cupcakes and called it a day? Hell no, they were ready to rock with whatever I gave them! Best night ever?

You are very welcome here

That "lady" on the right is married to me

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2 comments

  1. marthaandme · April 9, 2010

    These are on my list to make too. I love eclairs and I’m glad to know how to avoid trouble with this recipe!

  2. Steff · April 11, 2010

    If at first you fail… I’ve similar problems with scones, pimento cheese and others. Typically, second time around they come out right. Sometimes the third or fourth attempt was necessary.

    And yes. It looks like y’all might’ve had the best night ever. =)

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