Christmas Cream Puffs

Spiked eggnog filled cream puff. Heaven!

Ooooooh. The challenge was issued in a perfectly friendly, non-snarky manner (she’s a doll!) by this month’s hostess of the book club I attend. She commented that she was making a yummy entree, so we could be as creative or pedestrian as we chose with our potluck offerings.

Pedestrian? I think not! I totally took the bait on this one, and ran with it. Here’s what I’m taking to club tonight. Pedestrian. Pfffft.

Peppermint marshmallow puffs with chocolate ganache, and spiked eggnog puffs with a caramel drizzle.

If you’ve ever wanted to make cream puffs but thought they were difficult, let me tell you a secret. They are easier than baking cookies! They’re wonderful stuffed with chicken or tuna salad, ice cream, berries and cream, or instant pudding mixed with non-dairy topping. (I don’t use that stuff anymore, but I have to admit, it’s great to use in desserts because it stays fluffy.)

You can bake the cream puffs ahead and freeze them if you like. If you’re going to do this, don’t cut their little tops off – just pop them in a freezer bag. You can also bake them, behead them, and pull their doughy innards out. Mmmmm…making this sound real appetizing, aren’t I? Put them in an airtight container and store for up to 24 hours.

I can’t do anything the easy way, so I make them just in time to fill them and dash. Adrenaline is my friend.

Here’s my basic cream puff recipe:

Cream Puffs
Makes 18-20 puffs.
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt (if you use salted butter, reduce this to ¼ teaspoon)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup bread flour (all-purpose is okay, too)
  • 4 eggs
  1. Heat oven to 425 F.
  2. Put the butter and water in a medium pan on high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in the flour and salt. Turn down to medium and stir until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Don't agonize over this...if it's sticking together in a shape that's even close to a ball, it's done! It won't take long.
  4. Put the dough into a large bowl. If you're using a stand mixer, use your flat beater or sturdy whips. If you're mixing by hand, a wooden spoon is perfect. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after adding each egg.
  5. On a large ungreased cookie sheet, drop by heaping tablespoons. You should be able to get them all on one pan.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the puffs are a medium golden color. You want them to be nice and dry, so if in doubt, give them another minute.
  7. Move the puffs onto a rack to cool.
  8. When cool, cut the tops off, pull out any doughy pieces, and fill.


Almost ready to add eggs.

Drop the dough onto the cookie sheet. (I use a scoop. Love my scoops!)

Baked, ready to move to a cooling rack.

I’m all about eggnog right now, so a spiked eggnog filling was a must. I also made a peppermint filling for non-imbibers.

Eggnog Filling
1 package (3.4 ounces) Cook & Serve Vanilla pudding mix
2 cups eggnog (don’t go low calorie here – it sets better with the real thing!)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon spiced rum (optional)

In a medium pan, whisk pudding mix into eggnog. Add nutmeg. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Pour into a large bowl to cool.

Multi-tasking! Whisking pudding and reading at the same time.

When cool, stir the rum into the pudding. Whip the cream until it holds its shape, and fold it into the pudding. Keep refrigerated until just before you want to serve the cream puffs.
Using a spoon or pastry bag, fill the puffs. Put the pastry top back on, and drizzle with caramel sauce if desired. Yes, I used sauce from a jar, warmed slightly so it would drizzle instead of glob!

Drizzling a filled eggnog puff.

Peppermint Marshmallow Filling
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 cup mini marshmallows
3 average candy canes, crushed (about 1/3 cup)

Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks.
Add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until the cream holds its shape.
Add the marshmallows and crushed candy canes, and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Two or three hours is even better. The cream turns a deep pink color and the bits and pieces of candy are softened.)
Fill the puffs and drizzle with chocolate sauce or ganache.

To make ganache, use equal amounts of a good dark chocolate and heavy cream. I used 4 ounces of chocolate and 1/2 cup cream. Chop the chocolate into tiny pieces and put in a bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer and pour it over the chocolate. Stir gently. Let it sit on the counter, stirring occasionally, until it’s the consistency you want.

Pouring chocolate ganache over a filled peppermint marshmallow cream puff.

I’m going to make these again next week for our Homemaker’s Club Christmas luncheon. (Stop snickering. We still have clubs like that here in the country!) Think I’ll try making “poppers” so they aren’t as messy. I’ll let you know how they turn out. In the meantime, make the puffs and use your imagination when it comes to the filling…and please let me know what you come up with!

Humble Pie

I have so many things (and people) to be thankful for, I don’t know where to begin. So in keeping with my personal philosophy, dessert should come first! There will be a flurry of posts with Thanksgiving ideas, but nothing is as important as “Humble Pie!”

Dancing around this pumpkin pie are little pie crust figures that represent the things I am most grateful for. In the picture above, starting at 12 o’clock and going clockwise, you will see my cats, gardening, Granddaughter #1, my chickens, our new grandson that will be born in February, warm clothes, food, Granddaughter #2, our dogs, warmth, sunshine, and family and friends. In the center is our cozy house. There is more – so much more that it would probably take three pies to even come close to naming all of the wonderful things in my life – but this covers the big stuff.

Your pie would look different, so I can’t tell you what to put on it, but I can give you instructions for creating your own humble pie. It’s time-consuming, but if you consider it a labor of love (and possibly a work of art) it is totally worth it. And if you opt for pre-made pie crusts or decide not to bother with the leaves around the edge, I promise I won’t tell.

Here’s my basic recipe for pumpkin pie. Instructions for the dough bling are below. Spend some time in reflection, list the things that are important to you, and have fun with this!

Pumpkin Pie
Serves: 8
This was adapted from the recipe on the label of Libbey's Pure Pumpkin to make it a little spicier and fluffier.
  • 1 unbaked deep-dish pie crust
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons whiskey or brandy (Optional. Replace with milk if preferred)
  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 5 ounces heavy whipping cream
  1. Heat oven to 425 F.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt, and spices.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and whiskey together. (Or omit the whiskey)
  4. Add the spice mixture and the pumpkin to the egg mixture and stir.
  5. Add the evaporated milk and cream and whisk until it is thoroughly combined.
  6. Pour into pie crust and bake on center rack for 15 minutes.
  7. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake for about 45 more minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when it is inserted in the center of the pie.
  8. Cool on a rack.


The best pie crust recipe I’ve ever tried is one that’s been around forever, sometimes called “Never Fail Pie Crust.” I love this recipe because even if you mess up and (gasp!) have to re-roll it, it still turns out flaky. I have substituted lard with great results, and today I used part lard, part shortening, and part butter, and it was perfect. Here’s the original version:

Never Fail Pie Crust
(makes 2 crusts)

1 cup chilled shortening
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/4 cup milk

  • Mix flour and salt in medium bowl. Cut in the shortening until it looks like coarse crumbs.
  • Mix vinegar into milk. Combine all at once into flour mixture.

    Cutting the shortening into the flour.

This can be rolled into crusts immediately, or flattened into disks and placed between sheets of plastic wrap and chilled first in the refrigerator. If you chill it for more than an hour, let it warm up a little before rolling it out.

Here’s how I first envisioned the pie (things are always so much more beautiful in my imagination), but I learned that the little cutouts don’t stay on the edge of the pie. They sort of dive into the filling or fall over the side, or just curl up in a manner that is very painful to see. The concept is the same with the leaves, though…brush on an egg wash and place the cutouts where you want them.

Okay, this didn’t work very well.  See? I mess up a LOT!

If you’re game, here are the instructions for humble pie:

On card stock (or paper, if that’s all you have) draw the shapes you want for the center of the pie. I took some of my shapes from pictures on the Internet, some from clip art, and drew some. Cut them out neatly. For the leaves, cookie cutters are the easiest, but you can draw or trace a few onto card stock and hand cut them. It’s fun to cut them freestyle, too.

If you’re going all out and putting the leaves around the edge of the pie, you probably should make a double batch of pie crust, because you’ll be making a bottom crust, leaves, and little cutouts of things you’re thankful for. You won’t need it all, but it’s better to have too much than too little. You can always put any extra in a zipper bag and freeze it for another time.

If you are doubling the recipe, after you blend the shortening into the flour mixture, divide the mixture in half and put into two bowls. If you have a kitchen scale, weigh the dough to get the amounts as even as possible. Now, add approximately 1/4 cup of the milk/vinegar mixture to one of the bowls. Toss with a fork until blended. Using your hands, form two balls of dough. Flatten them each on a piece of plastic wrap, cover, and put in the refrigerator.

Divide the mixture in the other bowl and put half into the empty bowl. Add half of the remaining liquid to the ingredients in one bowl, form into a ball, and set aside. Add orange or red food coloring to the remaining liquid, and mix into the remaining dough. Don’t try to blend it thoroughly – it looks better when it’s marbled.

If you’re only making a single batch of pie crust, separate the flour and shortening mixture in half. Add half the liquids to one bowl, form a ball, and refrigerate it. Split the other mixture into two parts. Add half of the liquid into one part and form into a ball, and put food color into the remaining liquid and add to the other part and form a ball. The refrigerated dough is for the crust, and the two small balls of dough are for the cutouts and the leaves.

Form colored dough into a ball and place on a well floured board. Roll out a fairly thick dough – almost 1/4 inch. With cookie cutters or a sharp paring knife, cut out out as many leaves as you can, re-rolling as necessary. (To give the leaves a serrated edge, use a large serrated bread knife and cut at an angle.) Put plastic wrap on a plate and lay the leaves flat, not letting them overlap. If necessary, put another sheet of plastic wrap over them and start another layer. Make big leaves and small leaves. If you want to get crazy, you can even “paint” them with an egg wash with food coloring mixed in. Put in the refrigerator until needed.

Cutting out pie crust leaves.

Using a serrated knife to put a pretty edge around a leaf.

Roll out the disk of plain pie crust and with your templates and sharp knife, cut out your chosen objects. There will be some that don’t cooperate…just shove the rejects into a pile and try again! This dough is really forgiving and will let you re-roll it several times. Move slowly, and flour the knife if you need to. Think of this as fragile play doh; you can add fun details after they’re cut out. Use a thin, flat spatula to set each finished piece onto a cookie sheet. From experience, I recommend that you make extras in case some break when you’re decorating the pie. Set this cookie sheet aside.

Cutting shapes out of pie crust. Time consuming, but satisfying!

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

Now…time to make your pie crust! Use lots of flour on the board and roll out one of the remaining crust discs at least 1 inch wider than your pie pan all the way around. It may help to put a piece of plastic wrap on the crust while you’re rolling it out. Gently roll it up with the rolling pin and lay it in the pan. Fold the edge under and flute. (If you’re adding the leaves, you could get away without fluting it.)

Make an egg wash by beating an egg with 2 teaspoons of water in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, paint the edge of the pie and lay the leaves in different directions all the way around, pressing lightly as you go. Carefully move your pie pan onto a cookie sheet so the leaves won’t get broken off when you remove the pan from the oven.

Mix up the pumpkin pie filling and pour it into the pie crust. Put it (on the cookie sheet) on the middle rack of the oven, and put the pan with the little figures on the top rack. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the little pie crust figures are a light golden color. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Leave the pie in the oven and turn the temperature down to 350 F.

Allow the pie to cook for 40 minutes. Carefully remove (cookie sheet and all) and set on a heat-safe surface. Place your cutouts on the pie and return to the oven for 10 minutes. Move to a rack to cool. Admire it and take some pictures, because after all the “oohs” and “ahhhhs” it will disappear before your eyes.

Pie crust leaves, flaky and warm. Yummmm.

For another (easier) option, try a “Friendship Pie”.  You will need a double batch of crust because this pie has a top and bottom crust, and you’ll still need a crust to roll out and cut into little men and women. This is an apple pie – because I wanted something that would mound up well without bubbling out of the top of the pie. Use a paper template and put the people on the pie at the beginning instead of pre-cooking them and adding them later. My crust looked better in real life, honest! But I’m guessing I was a little generous with the shortening, because it didn’t hold the fluted edge well. That’s what happens when I’m slam-dunking too many things at once.

This project has put me in a reflective mood, and I can’t think of a snarky thing to say; my heart is full of gratitude. If this lasts too long, I’ll have to pull myself out of it by thinking of all the things I’m NOT thankful for. Let’s see – dog hair on my pillow, chicken poop on my shoes, dirty towels on the floor, flour everywhere…pffft!

She’s baaaack.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Chocolate peanut buttery goodness.

Oh my word. This is over the top, even for me!

My son loves the combination of chocolate and peanut butter (I’m pretty sure it’s genetic,) so I’m always happy to oblige by making him a chocolate birthday cake with peanut butter frosting. This year, since I was making peanut butter cookies for my niece, I upped the ante a little and got creative.

Using a jumbo cupcake pan and liners, I dropped a spoonful of “crust” made with crushed peanut butter cookies (see the previous post for a good PB cookie recipe), melted butter, and chocolate syrup in each liner. A regular sized peanut butter cup went on top of the crust, and then I added devil’s food cake batter and baked them. When the cakes were cool they were frosted with a whipped peanut butter frosting.

I admit (gasp!) that I used a cake mix. Don’t judge me! I have other pressing things on my schedule right now, and my son wouldn’t notice the difference between a boxed mix and scratch.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 9
  • 1 cup crushed peanut butter cookies
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons chocolate syrup (like Hershey's)
  • 9 peanut butter cups (.75 oz. each)
  • 1 prepared box of chocolate cake mix
  • .....
  • Frosting:
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line 9 cavities of a jumbo muffin pan with paper liners.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the crushed cookies, melted butter, and chocolate syrup. Divide between the 9 liners, pressing to cover the bottom of each.
  4. Set one peanut butter cup in each liner on top of the cookie mixture.
  5. Divide the cake batter evenly. This should fill each one about ⅔ full.
  6. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the top half of the cupcake. (If you put it down too far it will be covered with the chocolate from the peanut butter cup.)
  7. Cool on a wire rack. Frost and serve! Make sure you refrigerate any that are left.
  8. To make frosting:....................
  9. Cream together the butter, shortening, peanut butter, and vanilla.
  10. Add the powdered sugar and mix together.
  11. On low speed, slowly add the whipping cream. Turn up the mixer to medium high and whip for 1 minute, scraping bowl often.
  12. Adjust the thickness by adding a little powdered sugar to thicken the frosting, or a little whipping cream to thin it.


Crush enough PB cookies to make 1 cup of crumbs.

Put crumb mixture in the liners and top with peanut butter cups.

Add cake batter until 2/3 full and bake.

Whip up the icing, nice and fluffy!

Frost them and serve!

There is nothing more I can say. Not because my mouth is stuffed full of a cupcake that has, on the chart, passed “indulgent” and is hovering between “decadent” and “toxic”, but because the picture at the top of the page speaks for itself. As a dear friend used to say: “It’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!”

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies…come to Mama!

It just doesn’t get easier (or yummier) than peanut butter cookies. I’ve tried a lot of recipes, with mixed results. My absolute favorite recipe is, of course, the one that is the least healthy. Sigh.

Even though I post a lot of sinfully-bad-for-you recipes on my blog, in my “real” life, (as opposed to my make-believe alter ego blog life) I try to make good food decisions to offset my  frequent occasional indulgences. I believe strongly in buying organic whenever possible, and I grow a lot of my own fruits, vegetables, and grains. But frankly, a green salad topped with slices of chicken breast is probably not going to get a lot of Pinterest hits! And we all love baking porn, right?

I love to use fresh ingredients like milk, cream, and butter, and I try to stay away from shortening, knowing it is really, really not good for you. But…there are a few things that just demand the use of Crisco: pie crusts, biscuits, and…peanut butter cookies.

Shortening makes these cookies very light and crispy. Nothing is worse to me than a heavy, chewy peanut butter cookie. I’d rather make these twice a year and have them melt in my mouth than compromise. (Yes, I know how weird that sounds, thinking of butter as a “compromise”!) Here’s the recipe for you – see if you don’t agree!

Peanut Butter Cookies
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 375 F
  2. Mix together shortening, peanut butter, vanilla, white sugar, and brown sugar.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each egg.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients.
  5. Roll into small balls (or use a scoop - it's a lot easier!) and "criss cross" them with a fork to flatten them.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until lightly browned. Cool on a rack.


Mixed cookie dough should be light and fluffy!

Put balls of dough 1″ apart and “criss cross” them with a fork to flatten.

Trade a nice cup of green tea for your double white chocolate mocha, and have a couple of cookies with it. See? It’s all about tradeoffs.