braised chicken with forty cloves of garlic roasted broccoli and farro salad with feta sparkling champagne margaritas cranberry hazelnut seed crisps


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when i was little

Recipe: 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.


hit the lifts early to beat the late morning rush

that’s jeremy freezing his bum off on the lift



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.

she’ll always be a puppy to me

sun setting on a quiet, snowy day

when the storm moves out, we get blue skies once again



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.

stick of butter

stir in flour



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.

mix in the eggs one at a time

piping hearts and rings



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.

the almond extract makes it

stir in the coloring



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.

maybe the green rings were wreaths?

you can make them any shape, but i love the hearts and rings



Puffy Hearts and Rings
[print recipe]

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 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).

45 nibbles at “when i was little”

  1. kathy says:

    It was fun reliving childhood memories with you.

  2. Michelle says:

    I love having something freshly baked when my kids come in from playing in the snow too. It goes well with the big mugs of hot cocoa.
    Gorgeous photos!

  3. Emily says:

    Hi Jen, Just wondering about the butter amount. 1 cup of butter is normally 2 sticks, or 8 oz but the recipe above calls for 4oz (1 cup butter). Just wanted to check what the right amount is.

  4. Belinda @zomppa says:

    What a lovely memory!! These are delightful and can only imagine how wonderful it must be to come back from a cold day skiing to these.

  5. Caitlin says:

    Too funny how the treats from your childhood are basically the ultimate in nostalgia. That’s how I am with thumbprint cookies! One thing – 4 oz of butter is a 1/2 cup, isn’t it? One stick, 4 oz, 1/2 cup? You have it down in the recipe as 1 cup…

  6. Cati says:

    I just wanted to finally say how much I love this site. I cook and bake as much as possible, and I like to do adventerous things, and I’ve come back to this website again and again for ideas. Also, although I currently live in Spain, I grew up in Colorado and I went to university in Boulder, so looking at all your pictures and reading about the things you see and do in Boulder makes me homesick, but in a good way! Here in Spain things are different, there are lots of ingredients which it’s pratically impossible to find (corn syrup?? allspice??) and some basic tools you can’t get (no one here has ever heard of a muffin pan, and I had to rig my own candy thermometer after failing to find one in 5 different specialty stores) and the tastes are different (I love cinnamon, but a lot of spanish people will say cinnamon gives them a headache) but thanks mostly to this website I’ve found the confidence to do a lot of experimenting and get my spanish friends and family to try things they wouldn’t normally eat, and enjoy them! I get a lot of compliments, but really the credit is mostly yours, because I get so many recipes and ideas and information from this site. I think between you Jenni and The Joy of Cooking, anybody could more or less make anything they have a mind to. So, anyway, thanks, I sincerely appreciate the beautiful pictures, the detailed instructions, and the benefit of your many trials and errors that you are kind enough to share. I hope you are enjoying the beautiful Boulder winter.

  7. Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon says:

    The hearts will be a perfect Valentine’s Day treat for my mister. I can’t wait to give these a try.

  8. Debbie says:

    Oh they look delicious and would be perfect for Valentines Day….love all the nice pics that you posted too…..

  9. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Jen, those hearts and rings are speaking to me–me!–the girl who doesn’t bake or even own a piping bag. But I know my girls would just love those.

    Always warms my cockles to see pics of Kaweah in the snow.

    And in my opinion, a girl’s never too young to lip-synch Da Doo Ron Ron. WTH was that song even about, anyways? xo

  10. Jennifer @ Jane Deere says:

    What a great treat…they look delicious!

  11. doughmesstic says:

    You grew up in Virginia? Whereabout? We are covered up in snow here today, with more on the way. You must be a Colorado girl at heart though, for heading out in it – you can have it! I’ll just stay inside and maybe make these! It never ocurred to me to shape my cream puff dough into hearts – but why not? Your look great!
    Loved the back story and the results…hope you have a great day! BW – Stumbled ya! To great not to share with others.

  12. tinibee says:

    I want to know the correct butter amount as well, please!!

  13. jenyu says:

    Hey everyone! Sorry about the mix up on the butter, it is 1/2 cup (4 ounces) – that’s what happens when you post at 3 am… I fixed it :) Thanks for catching that! xo

  14. Susan says:

    Lovely, Jen.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful childhood memories and photos.

  15. Chris says:

    Lovely post and always enjoy your pictures. The Puffy Hearts and Rings look fabulous and fun!

  16. justcooknyc says:

    i’ve never heard of these, bu tthey’re so sweet. love the dog pic, by the way.

  17. michelle@sugarswings says:

    these look so pretty and delicate! love the photos :)

  18. Penny in Rollinsville says:

    Jen Thanks for sharing those memories! You brought back my memories of my Dad….making fudge only once or twice per year. It was such a HUGE treat! And after he made it we had to wait overnight for it to chill! He made it from scratch and I remember so vividly the anticipation. Anyway your pics and recipe are fabulous. They look delish. And thanks for sparking my memories :)

  19. Anna says:

    These are adorable, and what a lovely memory! I think I might make these and bring them over as a treat for my friend and her daughter. I’m all about cuteness and sweetness in these dreary gray days.

  20. Russ says:

    My daughter and I just made a batch! They are a hit! Thanks!

  21. Collette says:

    This makes me want to send you an iTunes gift certificate if you would PROMISE, PROMISE to only spend it on Shaun Cassidy songs.

  22. dinewithleny says:

    Wow this looks so pretty and delicious. Must be such a treat to have it, esp with kids as well. They’ll love it i think.

  23. sweet road says:

    Oh man this looks awesome! Not quite a doughnut, not quite choux…. a happy medium that seems easier to make than both of those things!

  24. AmyC says:

    Thanks for sharing that memory of Kris :-) Oh, and the recipe too :-)

  25. annie@butterybooks says:

    Kaweah is lovely! I enjoy your blog, wonderful photos, and delicious recipes.

  26. Margie says:

    I’ve had ‘Valentines’ on my brain all day. This post is a treat to discover, in more ways than one. I love the discovery of a new technique on an ‘old’ item. I recall my own mother, in her kitchen, whipping up cream puffs. How magical I found that creation; I was always in awe of the artistry and flavor that abounded from those puffs of magic. I can still remember her working the dough between two teaspoons, and planting them, just right, upon the baking sheet.
    :)

  27. dario @ foodpixels says:

    Childhood memories are so important, I really enjoyed reading this post and I’ve made a vow that I’m gonna cook more often for my kids, as I want them to have these type of memories when they grow up.
    Love the images and miss the snow :))
    Dario

  28. Nan says:

    These look like the perfect little Valentine’s Day goodie! There are so many kitchen memories of my mother that cooking draws to mind. I wish I’d saved them all up and bundled them together. I love to look through her recipe boxes and handwritten books. Her handwriting brings her close to me again…

    Love the photos — as usual!

  29. Barb Gornick says:

    I just love your blog! So clean and fresh and you feel like you are there when you are reading your posts!
    Thanks for adding some pleasure to my day. Your blog is so refreshing!

  30. Jaya says:

    Jen, sorry if this question has been asked before (and it’s a bit off topic), but can you offer any advice on cold weather photography? I don’t think my camera has been out in weather colder than about -20C, but it’s spectacular outside these days and hovering closer to -30C. I only own one lens, so it’s very precious to me and I want to do everything I can to enjoy it responsibly, but I’ve heard that you have to be very careful about condensation when you bring cameras in from extreme cold temperatures. Any advice/guidance?

  31. Jessalyn says:

    The baked good that my mom made when we went out to play in the snow in my youth (also in Virginia) was cinnamon rolls. So comforting.
    Hadn’t thought about using pate a choux dough in this format before. Thanks! Do you think vanilla extract is an appropriate substitute for almond?

  32. swan says:

    thanks so much for reliving my undying love of cassidy (i was 13 in ’76–scary!) as well as sharing memories kris and of snow days, things that never get to happen for CA kids.

    as always, any post and photos of kaweah always make me smile. she is such a lucky girl to have you and jeremy in her life. sweetest dogs, those labs!

    xo
    swan in san ramon, ca

  33. Joy says:

    Those are adorable.

  34. Dina says:

    what a great story! i loved reading it. “puffy hearts and rings” caught my eye with the pretty pastel colors. they look yummy and i’m glad you were able to recreate them!

  35. Christy says:

    Thanks for sharing a great childhood memory with us! I am going to try making these WITH my kids this weekend. I think I’ll let them design their own shapes, as well. Thanks again!

  36. Brittany Trei says:

    Your pictures are so crisp and alive; Kaweah is so beautiful!

  37. jenyu says:

    Oh yay! I’m glad so many thought these looked cute. I was worried that my childhood memory might seem a bit too odd. These really flood my heart with warm feelings xoxo And I hadn’t even made the connection between the hearts and Valentine’s Day! You guys are *smart* :) I also realize after reading through so many comments, how precious our food memories are of watching our loved ones bake or make treats when we were young. Something to definitely pass on to the children of our generation and beyond.

    Cati – you are so sweet. Thank you for sharing. Boulder does indeed find a way to wiggle itself into your heart, no? I’m glad you’re baking and being adventurous. I know just how hard it is to bake in another country that doesn’t carry the same ingredients of have similar baking tools. More power to you.

    TKW – you know it, girl! I don’t know what the song was about, but that dude was sooooo popular. Children of the 70s ;)

    doughmesstic – Williamsburg! Where are you?

    Penny – I love that food can have such strong triggers for us. I think the general population forgets that. We as cooks know this, but… it’s so important for kids and adults, right? :)

    Russ – yay!! xo

    Collette – ha ha ha!! That’s a GOOD one :)

    AmyC – love you, girl.

    Annie – thanks.

    Margie – I think cooking with loved ones is one of those special bonds that we should all be blessed with growing up.

    Dario – good man!!

    Jaya – no worries. It’s never been asked before, I don’t think :) The main issue is to make sure your camera can warm up slowly when you bring it in from outside. I live in a really dry climate, so it’s probably less of an issue here (and I also beat the hell out of my equipment) – but yes, seal it up in something like a ziploc bag and place it in your camera bag before coming inside and then let it come back to room temperature slowly. Good luck!

    Jessalyn – I’m sure vanilla extract would work too. I just *really* like almond extract :)

  38. Tina says:

    I used to make one of this during school days for my kids snack at school but mostly chocolate flavor… maybe I can try yours for a change. It is really amazing to make all of these things on your own. I am actually proud to be a mother.

  39. Ally says:

    I’m planning on making these for Thursday…do you think they would dry out if I made them a day in advance?

  40. Charlene says:

    Those look so delicious! Can you tell me what kind of tip you used?

  41. jenyu says:

    Ally – they should last a few days if you keep them in a tupperware.

    Charlene – plain tip, 1/2-inch opening.

  42. Nat May says:

    Finally got around to making these — halved the batch, and the size of the pastries. Substituted orange for almond (I’m allergic), and even so they’re absolutely delicious! Thanks so much for sharing!

  43. Food Memories – Puffy Hearts and Rings | Bon Appetit Hon says:

    [...] 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. [...]

  44. Raquel says:

    I did these, they turned out delicious, but yet they kinda lost all the fluff if you know what I mean… In the over they were normal but then, perhaps it was all hot air, they turned flat :\
    do you think I did something wrong?
    Thanks for the recipe anyway :)

  45. jenyu says:

    Raquel – well, puffs tend to do that, the deflating thing. So you were probably fine and didn’t do anything wrong :) xo

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