Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Chickens and the Eggs

What came first--the chicken or the egg?

Well in my case, it was the chicken.

I bought 3 day-old pullets last summer--too late to get eggs before the cold, short days of winter came, but I figured their extra growing time would stand my egg production in good stead. So I fed Henrietta, Laycey, and Megg (who I've subsequently lost to a racoon...very sad) organic feed and cracked corn, along with suitable kitchen scraps. On extra cold days, I make extra oatmeal or hot farina when cooking my own breakfast so I have enough to give them a warm breakfast. They love the treat!

On the morning of January 16th of this year, I heard the girls out back clucking and realized the sound was different--it was the sound a hen makes when she's announcing that she's just laid an egg. I waited several more minutes and then hurried outside to see what was up, and sure enough, there was a fresh, warm egg in the hen house. Oh boy! I was in business!

On day two both of my hens laid an egg, and they've been doing that every single day since. That's slightly more than a dozen each week. I'm thrilled, and it's also true that I'm quickly being inundated with fresh, organic eggs:

You've never truly had a fresh egg until you've had one straight from the hen house. The yolks are bright orange/yellow and the whites just sit there in a hump instead of spreading out in the pan when you crack them open. And they taste...well...eggy. Divine!

But since I'm so egg rich I've been attempting to make food that uses a good share of eggs just to try to keep up with the onslaught. Here are some of the recipes I've made recently:

Cream Puffs
 1 cup water
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup flour, sifted
4 eggs
sweetened whipped cream

Heat the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a full rolling boil in a large saucepan. Add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a thick, smooth ball that leavers the sides of the pan clean, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon well after each addition, until paste is shiny and smooth. This takes a while.

The pastry will be sticky, but do your best to shape into puffs. I usually make mine about two inches across; you don't want them too large or they won't get dry enough in the center when baked. Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for 5 more minutes. Cut a slash in the side of each puff about two-thirds of the way down (I use a sharp knife for this and poke the knife into the center and then slash while taking it back out) and continue baking for 10 minutes or until puffs are firm, dry to the touch, and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Cut tops off, fill with sweetened whipped cream, place tops back on top of the whipped cream, and serve.

I make homemade sweetened whipped cream by adding to 1 cup whipping cream about 1/8 cup of sugar, a pinch of cream of tartar (it helps to keep the whipped cream from separating; if you don't have any, don't worry), and about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. I use my electric beaters for this step, and beat the cream until stiff peaks form and it looks about right.

I usually double this recipe and get to use up 8 eggs in a hurry. But when I do double the recipe, my arms about fall off after I've beaten in all those eggs into the paste. Consider it your exercise for the day.

Chocolate Chiffon Cake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Whisk together 3/4 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened). Allow to cool and then whisk in 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 5 room temperature egg yolks (save the whites for later in the recipe), and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl whisk together 1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the cocoa mixture and whisk until smooth.
In another large, clean mixing bowl and using clean electric beaters, beat 8 room temperature egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Turn speed to high and gradually beat in 1/4 cup sugar; beat until the peaks are very stiff.
Use a rubber spatual to fold a quarter of the egg whites into the cocoa mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and spread evenly. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted just off center comes out clean. Invert the cake to cool. My cakes are too high to invert without smashing so I use an upside down canning jar, but you can also use a coke or wine bottle or an upside down canning funnel. Let the cake cool for about 1-2 hours.
To remove the chiffon cake from the tube pan, use a knife to go around the edge of the pan to loosen it and then gently tap it out onto a clean counter or serving plate.
I often serve this with sweetened whipped cream or spoon sweetened berries over the top and put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
Make these two recipes, doubling the cream puffs, and you'll use 16 eggs in a hurry. And even better? Your family will rise up and call you blessed!