Merry Christmas everyone!  The atmosphere is certainly charged with the excitement that always comes before big holidays, and our annual Christmas eve party kept every surface in the kitchen covered some form of cooking project from stuffed mushrooms, to twice baked potatoes. I was able to weasel myself a few square feet of counter space though, to create my Sunday dessert.  

This Christmas I was looking for something different to make. I had already made Christmas cookies and bars and appetizers. So I decided to make something completely unrelated to Christmas just for kicks. So naturally strawberries were the first thing that popped in my head was strawberries. I looked at my favorite blog, tartlette for a recipe, and I decided on Pistachio Strawberry Mousse Mille Feuilles.  Click on the link to go to Tartlette, the blog where this recipe is from.

What I did in this recipe, was I simply cut the puff pastries in half instead of using two pastries for one Mille Feuilles. 

Pistachio and Strawberry Mousse Mille Feuilles: 

Makes: about 10
For the rough puff pastry, adapted from Michel Roux.
2 1/4 cups (300gr) all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup (300gr) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon (3gr) salt
1/2 cup (125ml) ice-cold water

Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the butter and salt right in the well and work them together with the flour, using your fingertips, gradually drawing in more flour into the center. When the butter pieces have reached pea sized pieces and the mixture appears grainy, gradually add the ice water and mix until it is all incorporated. Do not overwork the dough. Roll it into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.
On a lightly flour work area, roll the dough to an 8x4-inch rectangle. Fold it into three and give it a quarter turn. Roll it into another 8x4-inch rectangle again and fold it in three again. These are the first 2 turns. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for 30 minutes.
Give the chilled dough 2 more turns, rolling and folding as previously described. The pastry is ready then. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
When ready to use, roll the dough to a 1/8- inch (3 mm) thick rectangle and cut out 4x2 pieces. Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Dock the dough with a fork to let the steam out while baking so your rectangles will be evenly puffed. Bake at 350F until golden brown. (This took me about 20 minutes). Let cool completely before filling with the mousses.

For the pistachio and strawberry mousse:
8 oz (240gr) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100gr) sugar
1/4 cup (30gr) finely ground raw pistachios
1/2 cup pureed fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups (375ml) heavy cream, kept cold, divided

In a large bowl, whisk together the mascarpone and sugar until completely smooth. Take half the mixture and place it in another large bowl. Add the pistachios to one of them and mix until incorporated. Add the pureed strawberries to the other mascarpone mixture. In a mixer, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold half into the pistachio mascarpone mix and the other half with the strawberry one. The pistachio mousse is probably stiff enough to be used right away but you might have to refrigerate the strawberry one until the mascarpone hardens a bit otherwise it might be too soft to pipe easily. Divide the mixture into piping bags fitted with medium plain tips. Pipe dots of mousse onto half the puff pastry sheets, alternating the pistachio and strawberry. Top with another sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

I also have my fingers crossed that I'm getting a camera to replace my cousins that I am currently borrowing, because you never know when she is going to want it back...

This weekend I had the ability to go with a friend on a bake shop tour around Minneapolis, and let me tell you this was an amazing experience. We went back into kitchens to learn how the bakeries work and how the operation is run. Not to mention all of the samples that were heaped up in front of us. Cupcakes, breads, macaroons, tarts, you name it, we tried it. The experience not only gave me so many creative ideas, but it opened my mind up to all the things that a pastry can be.

The first place we went was Salty Tart, home of the amazing macaroon. This tiny little shop was certainly not to be forgotten. It was amazing how all of the chefs could work in such a small space, but as they mentioned to us, "We are all a family, and we learn how to work around each other."

Second Stop: Cupcake
This was one of the shops I drew most of my inspirations from. The flavors of the cupcakes they had I knew I want to recreate soon, passion fruit chocolate being one that caught my eye as a different combination. The buttercream they used as well was one of the best I have had, so now I'm determined to recreate the perfect texture they seemed to have perfected at Cupcake.

This was my favorite stop on the tour, and it was Cupcake Carmel. This cute little shop was dedicated to the love of cupcakes and sugar arts. The cakes that graced the displays were amazing and every detail was poured over by dedicated pastry chefs. The use of techniques that I saw and learned about was incredible. I would highly recommend this bakery to everyone and anyone, because of the amazing food and the amazing people behind that food.

Patisserie 46 I will remember for the amazing breads they had. We got to sample three different kinds: a honey wheat, a baguette, and a chocolate orange bread. All of them were so differently delicious and you could tell this quaint little place worked hard to achieve these breads. Along with that, they dished out some pretty amazing mango carmels.

Overall, this was a great experience for me and I'm excited to get into the kitchen next weekend to try out something I learned from these great bakeries. 

What can I say, having to make 10 dozen Christmas cookies for the family cookie exchange was daunting me in the back of my mind these past to weeks. What to make, what to make? After looking through all the December Bon Appietit magazines that have a special place on the shelves in my basement, I had nothing. Until, I found this recipe online. It seemed very simple and with a lot of leeway for creativity I decided to use this recipe.

1/2 cup butter softened
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
food coloring (optional)
1 1/2 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
dates, nuts, chocolate chips, or maraschino cherry's for cookie filling

Heat oven to 350. Mix butter, sugar, vanilla and few drops food coloring (optional) thoroughly in a standing mixer. Work in flour and salt until dough holds together. (If dough is dry, mix in 1 to 2 Tbl of light cream or milk.
Mold dough by Tbl around cherry (or whatever filling you choose). Place cookies about 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until set but not brown.
Cool; dip tops of cookies into icing. If desired, decorate with sprinkles, coconut, nuts, etc.

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 1/2 tablespoon light cream or 1 1/2 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix ingredients until smooth. Add food coloring if desired. For chocolate icing, increase light cream to 3 Tbl or milk to 3 Tbl and stir in 1 ounce melted unsweetened chocolate.

These cookies were very good and simple enough that I could whip out 10 dozen in a little under three hours, and that includes decorating. For the cookies, I chose chocolate centers, and with the decorating, I did green and pink icing with wither pink and green coconut or ground chocolate and hazelnut. I think they ended up being very cute and I think they will be one of the favorites.