My family and I celebrated Thanksgiving this year at my mother’s home in New Jersey. We hosted a small party on Friday that concentrated on appetizers and desserts.
We served a very small main course (stuffed shells and salad), surrounded by delectable non-“serious” foods. We began the evening with shrimp, bruschetta, lots and lots of cheeses, hummus, my chipotle cranberry sauce, and nibbly nutty snacks.
Later I unveiled my favorite new creation: tiny cranberry cream puffs.
I was inspired to make them by reading about the annual Cranberry Festival in Warrens, Wisconsin.
Warrens doesn’t havea large population. About as many people live there, in fact, as in my tiny hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts (just under 400).
Each September, however, more than 100,000 people visit Warrens for a weekend-long tribute to the town’s signature crop, cranberries.
The festival features marsh tours, sales, a parade, a variety of contests, and of course lots and lots of foods made with cranberries.
Festival manager Kim Billiard sent me The Best of Cranfest. This cookbook offers recipes for cakes, salads, sauces, muffins, and meat dishes (to name a few) using fresh or processed cranberries. I plan to make and post one of these in the near future.
Kim admitted, however, that she didn’t have the recipe for the special cranberry confection I had read about online—the cranberry cream puffs sold each year by the local Sweet Adelines. She put me in touch with Mary Castner of the Sweet Adelines. I asked Mary how she made these treats.
“There really isn’t a recipe,” Mary told me. “All we do is we whip a quart of cream. And after it’s whipped we take jellied cranberries, and we mush them up. And we just swirl about a half a cup of them into the cream.”
She added that the group adds sugar and vanilla to the cream as well and explained that the Adelines put the filling into commercial frozen puffs to ensure uniformity.
“We sell a lot of them,” she asserted.
I decided to make my own cream puffs instead of buying frozen ones (I scoff at uniformity!) and found a simple recipe at the King Arthur Flour web site.
My nine-year-old nephew Michael helped me put them together. He worried a little about his ability to shape the puffs. “I’m not good with spoons,” he declared.
Michael really loved the idea of eating cranberry cream puffs, however, so he conquered his spoon phobia.
Michael stirs the puffs.
I was pretty sure I wanted a higher cranberry/cream ratio than 1/2 cup to 1 quart. So I upped the cranberry ante in our cream puffs.
The resulting puffs were, in Michael’s words, “just about perfect.”
The filling isn’t super stable so guests were encouraged to assemble their own puffs. Some chose a classic cream puff and hid a small amount of filling inside their puffs. Some slathered on the filling so you could see it a mile away.
My friend Wendy told me they were the highlight of her Thanksgiving weekend.
I urge you all to try them this holiday season. They’re easy. They’re festive (SO PINK!). And they’re sheer heaven to eat.
I also urge you to vote for them in the Bon Appétit Holiday Dessert Bake-Off. Bon Appétit magazine is collecting holiday recipes from bloggers all over the United States and asking readers to vote for them.
I know my chances of winning are slight; the contest began on November 1, and I’ve only just discovered it. It never hurts to try, however!
Here’s the link for voting (you have to register in order to vote, but you DO NOT have to subscribe to the magazine). I’m listed in the final category, “miscellaneous desserts.”
Voting ends December 13.
Thank you! Now, here’s the recipe, It looks long, but it’s really a cinch……..
Cranberry Cream Puffs
for the jellied cranberries:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12 ounces cranberries
for the cream puffs:
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1-1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature (place them in warm water for a few minutes to achieve the right temperature)
for the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
confectioner’s sugar and vanilla to taste (we used about 1/4 cup sugar—maybe a little more–and 2 teaspoons vanilla)
1 recipe jellied cranberries
a small amount of confectioner’s sugar (optional)
for the jellied cranberries:
Make the jellied cranberries early—ideally the day before—so they will have plenty of time to cool and jell.
Yes, of course, you MAY use canned jellied cranberry sauce. It won’t taste as good as the fresh version, however; the canning process and the high-fructose corn syrup in most cans diminish the flavor. Making the stuff is pretty darned easy so I would keep the can opener in a drawer while preparing this recipe.
In a medium saucepan combine the water and sugar and bring them to a boil. Add the cranberries, and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, and boil the sauce for 10 more minutes. (If it gets too fuzzy, add a tiny bit of butter.)
Remove the sauce from the heat, and push it through a stainless-steel strainer. You’ll end up with about 1-1/2 cups of sauce and a small amount of solid matter; you may discard the latter.
Cool the sauce, covered, at room temperature; then refrigerate it until you are ready to assemble your cream puffs.
for the puffs:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with silicone. (King Arthur Flour suggests using parchment sheets, but mine singed a bit in the hot oven.)
In a medium saucepan bring the water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil. Throw in the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon stir it in quickly until it becomes smooth and follows the spoon around the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.
Let it rest until it is cool enough so that you can stick your finger in and hold it there for a few seconds (this takes about 5 minutes).
Place the dough in a mixer bowl, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each egg. Make sure you continue beating for 1 minute after the last egg goes in. The dough will be stiff.
Drop teaspoonsful of dough onto the cookie sheets, leaving enough space between them so the puffs can expand to golf-ball size in the oven.
Bake the puffs until they puff and begin to turn a light golden brown. (King Arthur Flour estimated this at 20 minutes; my oven is a little hot so it took only 15 for me.)
Remove them from the oven and quickly use a sharp knife to cut a small slit in the side of each puff. (This keeps the puffs from getting soggy.) Return them to the oven for 5 more minutes.
Remove the puffs from the oven and cool them on wire racks. If your oven is hot like mine and you have burned the bottoms slightly, use a sharp knife to remove the blackened portions.
for the filling:
Just before you are ready to assemble your puffs, whip the cream until it is thick and forms nice peaks, adding the sugar and vanilla toward the end of this process.
Use a mixer or whisk to break up the jellied cranberry sauce into a thick liquid (instead of a solid). Gently fold it into the whipped cream.
Carefully cut open each puff in the middle; you will find that the puffs have what King Arthur Flour calls a “natural fault line.”
Decorate the bottom of each puff with the cranberry-cream mixture and replace the top. Sprinkle a little confectioner’s sugar on top if desired.
Makes about 40 cream puffs.
Mother Jan was queen of the cream-puff party.
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