Monday, May 31, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Croquembouche

OK! This months Daring Bakers Challenge is croquembouche, submitted by Cat from Little Miss Cupcake in Paris, France. It should have been done already, but I've been working pretty much 7 days a week and today is my first day off. But, on the upside, I needed to make something for a friends birthday tomorrow. Granted, this thing should be made day of...but, this afternoon until tomorrow morning delivery...close enough. What do they want for free? Their money back? LOL She'll love it, if not, I'll eat it all myself! HA!

Croquembouche is a classic, cream puffs mounded high and glued together with caramel, usually wrapped in spun sugar. I've made these before, usually around Yuletide for parties. Guests can just grab one and go. I think that "monkey bread" was probably an attempt at making something similar without all the "work". I freely admit, this is NOT the prettiest one I have made. Nor the tallest. But, it's for a group of women who will say they cannot eat another bite and let it go to waste. So, we get cream puffs here at home and they can pick at this all day tomorrow. It was just too humid to work with the sugar, so no beautiful spun sugar surrounding it today. I probably should have used chocolate, but I did not have the day to ripen a chocolate, this is what it is today.

Although, it is not that much work. There are a lot of steps, true. Making the pate a choux (pat ah shoe), making the pastry cream, making the caramel, spinning the sugar, etc. But it worth it!

The challenge required using their choux recipe, which was a new one for me, but it is all pretty basic. In the past I have used Martha Stewart's recipe. (Oh gods, remember years ago when she had Julia on her Holiday Special and they made this? Martha's was all piled and perfect and poor thousand year old Julia's was a lop sided mess and Martha patted her hand and said, "I'm sure it tastes wonderful, dear". OMG I wanted to deck Martha at that point! Condescending cow...Grrrrrr)

So, let's make Croquembouche! WORD OF WARNING! Your pretty black anodized aluminum pans? DO NOT USE THEM for any of these recipes. Especially if you are on an electric stove top. They do not cook the same way, things will thicken before they boil, your pate a choux will thicken before it cooks, your pastry cream will thicken before it's cooked leaving you with the taste of raw flour in your cream. Yum. Don't use them! Dig out the old beaten up ones you don't want anyone to see!

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)

¾ cup (175 ml.) water 6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:

1. Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.
2. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
3. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.
4. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.
5. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.

6. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Piping the Pate a Choux
1. Fill your pastry bag with the choux. Place a 1/2" tip into the bag and fold the top over, place into a glass and fold the bag outside the glass to hold it upright while you load the pate a choux. This is the second filling, so it is not as pretty. Deal.

2. Pipe into 1x1" balls 1" apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.

3. Wet your finger and gently round over any points without flattening the choux.
4. Beat the egg with a pinch of salt. (I also add just a bare splash of water) and whisk well until nice and smooth, no runny or stringy bits left.

5. Brush the piped choux with the egg wash. Tap your brush on the top, then from the sides upwards. This will help round out any that you accidentally made flat.
6. place in 425 oven for approcimately 10 minutes, until they puff up and become golden. Add another 5 minutes if you need, once it happens, it happens quick. At ten minutes, I was beginning to wonder if I needed to remake the choux. 2 minutes later POOF, nicely puffed and beginning to brown.
7. Drop the heat to about 350 and allow to cook another 15-20 minutes, until they are dry but not crunchy or brittle.
8. Cool on rack. OK, I admit it, I got 49 out of this batch. I always tend to make these smaller. I want them to be just one bite, not squishing cream all over in two, and, you get more and can make a higher Piece Montée. And, a croquembouche is as much show as it is eating.
Make your pastry cream. (OK, I diverged, she gave three recipes for pastry cream, but I love the one from Martha Stewart with 2 Tbls of Cognac for the flavoring. The flavor of the booze, the cream, the choux and the caramel...heavenly)

6 Egg Yolks
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour, sifted
2 cups Milk, scalded
3 Tbls unsalted butter
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 Tbls Cognac
pinch of salt

1. Beat egg yolks, gradually adding sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy.
2. Beat in 1/2 cup flour
3. Slowly add hot scalded milk, drizzling in while continuing to beat. Reserve 1/2 cup of the milk.

4. return all to pan in which you scalded the milk and bring to a boil. STIR constantly. It will become lumpy, but smooth out as you stir vigorously. I find using a whisk helps this step.
5. Once thickened, remove from heat. Stir in butter, 1 Tbls at a time. Stir in flavorings and salt.

6. Pour cooked cream through strainer into a bowl to cool. This is not required, but I don't care what I'm making, custard, creme brulee, if it has cooked eggs in it, I strain it. It just ensures smoothness and no egg membranes remain in your cooked custards or creams. Yes, it's thick. Yes, it's a pain in the ass. But if your arm hasn't fallen off yet from all the stirring of very thick stubstances, do it, this will finish it off. Let it cool and go have a drink! (Vodka tonic with a lemon, please)

Fill the puffs. (no pics here, it's pretty dull. Shove it in, squeeze, next one)
1. Fit your pastry bag with a 1/2" or large star tip. Fill with the cooled pastry cream.
2. Insert tip into puff and fill, gently.
3. Continue until all puffs are filled. Set aside until ready to assemble with the caramel. (I find chilling them will make the puffs soggy.)
4. Sort your puffs by height. This will make assembly easier. Separate the taller, fat ones from the smaller. use the larger towards the bottom and work your way down in size as you build up. This will help keep your rows even as you build.

Now, it's time for a caramel.

2 cups Sugar
2/3 cup water
2 Tbls Corn Syrup

1. Bring all to a boil in sauce pan, WITHOUT STIRRING.
2. Cover and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes, this will wash any sugar crystals down from the sides of the pan.
3. Remove cover and allow to continue to boil until thick and amber colored. I like to take it between hard ball and soft crack. Test to see if it will thread. Remove from heat. As this cools, keep JUST warm so it does not set.


Dip the puffs in caramel and begin arranging and building your tower/pyramid, using the caramel as glue.

Now, if it is NOT humid where you are, lay two wooden spoons, handles out on your stove or over the edge of your counter. Place newspaper on the floor. Grease the handles of the spoons. Drizzle the caramelized sugar back and forth between the two spoons. It should make brittle threads. Once you have amassed a nice amount, gather and use to decorate the croquembouche. I was HOPING the humidity was low enough to spin the sugar. Nope, too humid. Do this when it's DRY!This is why I generally only make this in winter time. Living here in Virginia Beach, it is just too humid to play with sugar except in winter. period. However, my mom's neighbor has her ginormous gardenias in bloom. The look and the smell of the gardenias around the plate...HEAVEN!

serve it! eat it! love it! Revel in the "ooh" and "ahh" from your friends.

1 comment:

  1. Cognac pastry cream... omnomnom! Definitely need to try that one of these days :) Well done, and awesome croquembouche!