Thursday, July 24, 2014

Betsy: German Puffs, or A Not-So-Miserable Failure

Ladies and Gents, we have our first failure. And I'm utterly delighted by it.

For this challenge, I was very torn about what I wanted to make. I had a big case of the undecideds. Couldn't find a recipe that really stuck with me. Until I stumbled upon German puffs from Directions for Cookery by everybody's favorite busybody, Eliza Leslie.

I found other recipes for German puffs in my other period cookery books on Google books, but Miss Leslie's directions seemed the most promising and had the most information about amounts of ingredients. As I have done with pretty much every challenge so far, I halved the recipe.

Here I should mention that I have never taken a cooking class - not even a home ec course in school. The principles and science of cooking elude me. I gleefully flail my way through baking, learning more from trial and error than I do from reading a recipe. I also happen to have a good friend, Sarah, who is a food scientist and is only a phone call away. She'll feature later in the story.

First things first, I melted the butter into the milk. I used 2% for "rich milk" (and also because that's what I had on hand).

Next, I beat the eggs and mixed them into the milk, alternating with flour. This created a rich, eggy batter. It reminded me of a very thin pancake batter, almost crepe-like but more eggy. The cinnamon and nutmeg looked really pretty swirled in the batter.

Now, I have plenty of teacups, but I didn't want to test whether or not they were oven safe. So I went with some custard cups, figuring that was probably a good approximation.Realizing that I'd never made anything like this before, I sent one lone scout in on his own, at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Bon voyage, little buddy!

He never even set up. I didn't even take a picture of him because he was so shameful. This is when the phone call to Sarah occurred. She confirmed my thought of bumping the temperature up to 425. I would have gone straight to 450, but they are so small I was worried about burning. I popped another test cup in, and left him in for 20 minutes.

This was slightly more successful! You can see the top has developed a really pretty, custard-y skin and a lovely color, and puffed up quite nicely. Unfortunately, it was still really goopy. At this point, I started to wonder if there wasn't too much liquid in the mix, and that was prevented from setting.

Now that's more like it!
So then I put all four of the rest of the cups in. These looked even worse coming out of the oven, and fell almost immediately, but were probably the most successful in the end - the ones in the frosted glass cups could be turned out and put on a plate, like Miss Leslie directed, and I even tried a taste of them - yummy, but the texture was kind of funny. Goopy. Very goopy.

Pretty, but...goopy.

The Challenge: "Foreign"Foods 

The Recipe: Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery 

The Date/Year and Region: 1840/United States

How Did You Make It: See above

Time to Complete: An hour, but probably less for someone more successful 

Total Cost: Negligible. Probably about $4 and would make at least two dozen with the halved recipe.

How Successful Was It?: "Successful" is so subjective. Was it something I'd serve to someone else? Probably not. It's best I didn't set up a taste-tester. But we learn more from our failures than from our successes, and I learned a lot through this process, and if I had to fall flat on my face with something, this was a relatively inexpensive failure. I'm rather delighted with the whole trial-and-error process! Melissa, Sarah and others can attest to the fact that I was gleeful through the whole thing.
I have some theories as to why this didn't set up: it's possible I should have used whole milk instead of 2%, and it's also possible that something wonky happened when I halved the recipe. It's also entirely possible that they should have been baked at 450. However, I think the most likely culprit is that there were too many eggs in the recipe. I used four, and perhaps they were too large and there was too much liquid for them to really set up. I'm definitely entertaining suggestions for what to do next time (because I definitely WILL make it again) so if you're some sort of custard/dumpling genius, please do chime in with your thoughts in the comments. 

How Accurate Is It?: Woefully accurate; except, as always, I use an electric oven and stove.
And don't worry, Gentle Reader: this story has a happy ending. The oven was already heated up, and I had some homemade pizza dough on hand, so I made myself a homemade pizza. And that was quite victorious.

Nom nom nom


  1. Live and learn, right! The pizza looks delicious.

    1. Right! The pizza WAS delicious - crust recipe from The Smitten Kitchen. I'll never use another recipe again.

  2. I'm no expert at all (I failed at my own attempts at custard, too), but I'd definitely go with higher fat content for "rich" milk.
    It still looks like a yummy recipe!

  3. I was going to make those too but I've had bad luck with puffs in the past. I also had a failure of a German recipe. I'm going to try something else if I can get in the kitchen and no one has used all the eggs.

  4. Try German pancakes! After my failure at making German chocolate pudding, I made German pancakes - baked and it came out great!

  5. I salute you for giving these a try. They're the kind of recipe I avoid because I know I'll screw it up.