Food Memories – Puffy Hearts and Rings

Today’s Food Memory comes from Jenny Yu of Use Real Butter.  URB was one of the very first blogs I started reading when I jumped onto these here interwebs, back when I could manage the blogs I read in my browser’s Bookmarks.  While the bookmarks have been replaced by Google Reader, one thing that hasn’t changed is my admiration for Jenny.  She cooks.  She writes.  She takes stunning photos.  And she has a spirit that inspires.

I had the opportunity to meet Jenny last summer at a food blog conference.  It was a thrill to finally be able to meet her in person after being a fan of her blog for so long.  Successful, yet approachable, gracious and encouraging, I consider Jenny to be one of the leaders of this crazy tribe to which I belong.  She understands the power of food and community.

When I read her Puffy Hearts post last month, I knew it was a story that I wanted to include in the Food Memories series.  But what would Jenny say?  I’ve had people say no before but the only way anyone ever says yes is if I get over my fear of rejection and ask.  So I did, thinking that it would make a perfect post for Valentine’s Day.  And I was elated when she said yes.  Evidently, this was the post that The Universe wanted me to share with you on this day of love.

My thanks to Jenny for allowing me to share with you her memory of snow days, special pastries, and Shaun Cassidy.

Puffy Hearts and Rings appeared on Use Real Butter on 10 January 2011.  While I’ve done my best to capture the beauty of the Puffy Heart that came out of my kitchen, you really need to click that link and see them through Jenny’s lens.

Puffy Hearts and Rings

When I was a little kid growing up in Virginia, snow storms would catch me by surprise. The only way I knew anything was in the works was when Kris would stay up late tuning the radio to find out if school would be closed the next day. On those very rare snow days we would stay home playing games, running around the house like maniacs jumping off the stairs, building forts, watching television, lip syncing Shaun Cassidy while standing on top of the coffee table, and sledding down our steep driveway. I have a lot of good memories of Kris.

Living in Colorado, we can get snow as early as September and as late as May. It snows in our mountains in June and July too. Even though it is a common occurrence I still get excited – I just don’t lip sync Shaun Cassidy from the coffee table anymore (I have that very coffee table in our great room). These days I suit up and head out.

After we return from a ski – be it at a resort or in the backcountry – it’s Kaweah’s turn to play in the snow. When she was a wee pup in Ithaca, New York, we’d take her out into the snow and find the deepest drift to drop her in. She’d expend an enormous amount of energy bounding about in the snow and would sleep all night long at home. Yay! Now in her golden years, Kaweah doesn’t wander as far into the snow nor does she handle the cold as well as she did in her crazy years (years 0-10). She sleeps much of the day and all of the night.

As a kid, I never remembered being cold when I played in the snow. Maybe that’s because as kids, we’re crazy people? I would barely recognize myself today, grabbing a warm hat, gloves, boots, jacket, sunnies, chapstick, sunblock… While thinking back on those snow days of my youth, I grew nostalgic for my mom’s baking projects. She wasn’t much of a baker, but she did have a handful of sweets she could make for potlucks and parties. What I loved most were these things called puffy hearts and rings.

Have any of you heard of puffy hearts and rings? I just knew it was an involved process for my mom because I’d watch her patiently shape the dough into hearts and rings with two spoons as I bounced up and down singing “puffy hearts and rings!” in anticipation of my favorite treat. It was a super sticky dough and she only made them once or twice a year – usually around the holidays. I can close my eyes and recall the properties of that dough. I knew the taste and texture of the baked pastry, the icing, the almonds. The flavor was almonds. I am a complete sucker for almonds.

One morning I woke up and said to myself, “It’s cream puff dough.” I pieced together what the puffy hearts and rings were from memory and set about recreating them. Cream puff dough would most certainly be a sticky mess to shape into hearts and rings. I opted to pipe the dough into the desired shapes. Then there was the icing: confectioner’s sugar and milk or cream. Since I’m lactose intolerant, I used water instead. The flavor was most certainly almond extract. Then a little coloring – they were always pink hearts and green rings.

When the puffs were done baking and cooling, I iced each one and sprinkled slivered toasted almonds over the icing while it was still wet to make sure the almonds adhered. I bit into one. This is what I remembered – almond flavor, sweetness, the egginess of the soft dough. I liked it. I had Jeremy try one just to be sure that it wasn’t just me and my nostalgia that thought it tasted good. We have another fan and I have happily brought an old memory back to life.

Puffy Hearts and Rings

BAH Note: I scaled Jenny’s recipe down by half because I thought 2 dozen puffy hearts might be a little much to handle.  In hindsight, I wish I would have made more.  The puffs are tender and light while the frosting is the perfect balance of sugar and almond.  I got six very large hearts out of the dough and The Mistah and I polished them away in just a few hours.  While Jenny’s recipe has you mixing by hand, I entrusted the dough to my stand mixer.  You do what makes the most sense for you.

BAH Tip: If you’re artistically challenged, like I am, trace the outline of hearts in pencil on your parchment.  Then flip the parchment over and pipe the dough into the outlines.  When I went to decorate the hearts, instead of dipping them into the glaze, I filled a small sandwich bag with my frosting, cut one corner off and then piped away.  I started with an outline, let that set up for a few minutes, then went back and filled it in using a toothpick to carefully drag the frosting so that the entire outline was filled.

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) butter
  • 8 oz (1 cup) water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsps water (or cream/milk)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • food coloring (optional)
  • almond slivers, toasted (optional)

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Heat oven to 400°F.

Heat one cup of water  and the butter in a medium saucepan over high heat until butter is melted and the liquid is boiling. Remove the pan from heat and add the flour all at once. Stir until the dough forms a ball. Add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition until the egg is completely incorporated and the dough is smooth and satiny.

Scoop the dough into a piping bag with a medium plain tip (about 1/2 inch in diameter). Pipe rings and hearts on the parchment with enough room for expansion (2 inches of space in between). Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden in color. Remove from baking sheets and let cool completely on cooling racks.

Mix the powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons of liquid, and almond extract in a medium bowl. Add food coloring as desired. I split mine in two batches and color one pink and the other light green.

When the puffs are cooled, dip them face-down into the icing or drizzle them with icing. While the icing is still wet (it dries very quickly here) sprinkle almond slivers over the icing and gently press them into the icing.

Makes about 2 dozen (depends on how big your puffs are).

{printable recipe}

23 thoughts on “Food Memories – Puffy Hearts and Rings

  1. Um, wow!! These look fantastic. Is there anything much better than cream puff dough? I think not.

    I love this story – and yes, when we are kids we are crazy people. 🙂

    1. Jennifer, my crappy piping skills aside, I had a lot of fun with this recipe. I love how everything worked out so that this could be my Valentine’s Day post. My thanks to Jenny Yu and the Universe for making it happen.

    1. Jessica, I couldn’t agree more. Who knows, you might already have everything you need to whip up some puffy hearts today. If you don’t have a piping bag, fill a large ziptop bag with the dough and then snip off part of one corner.

    1. Elizabeth, I’m making 6 hours chili for Saturday. Besides, I would be completely intimidated to bring these to that gathering. But maybe I’ll talk myself into it between now and then.

  2. I’ve discovered that a lot of the favorites that my mom/grandmother/someone special made for me as a kid are actually pretty easy to make, ingredients or preparation-wise. But when you’re a child, you’d swear they were made with magic.

    I love everything about these puffy hearts: the simple ingredients, the cute pink frosting, the photos and the memory that goes with them.

    1. Ali, you are spot about the magical nature of our fondest food memories. What I like best about these is that they’re like a handmade valentine. Sure you could get a prettier one at the store but this was clearly made with love.

    1. Kristen, thanks for letting me share this over at Love Feast Table. You could totally pull these off this afternoon. Let me know how it goes.

  3. URB was also one of the first food blogs that i followed & have mercy if i didn’t pester her with questions at first!

    these look so delightful, absolutely perfect for Lurve Day!

    happy valentine’s day Wendi!

    1. Lan, Jenny was very gracious in person. How about you and I make a date to get together and bake up a batch of these? Happy ❤ to you Lan.

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