How to make a Croquembouche…
Wow… was all I could say when I saw the Daring Bakers challenge for the month. Are you kidding me? I have to make that? In this weather? I was excited and terrified at the same time. There is often a shroud of fear that hangs around this dessert, which is why I suppose its called “Daring Bakers” *sheepish grin*
Let me begin by explaining what a Croquembouche is. It is a tower of profiteroles filled with crème pâtissière and topped and held together with a caramel glaze. Then you can decorate it with other things such as chocolates, meringues, flowers, spun sugar (to name a few). I’ve come to realise that I’m quite purist when it comes to baking and decorating such things, as I was determined to stick to only spun sugar. (I like the plain look that emphasises the piece itself and not the add-ons) But the reason for my fear? I live in Cape Town, South Africa. The weather here is totally different to most other places that the Daring Bakers will be baking from. The humidity is a lot higher and spun sugar does not like humidity. Hmmm… luckily its Autumn and becoming Winter here… (I thought to myself) It took away some of the fear, but not all. I’m also not that experienced with caramel. Eeeek! Was this going to be a disaster?!
No it wasn’t! It actually turned out really well. *Phew* I survived it with not as many burns as I thought and a very proud smile on my face. I love the Daring Bakers for terrifying me every month, stretching my abilities and building my confidence one month at a time.
I even put a little heart on top because I’m totally amped that G is back! *happy dance*
The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.
Making a croquembouche is actually not as difficult as it sounds, but I knew you wouldn’t believe me so I took lots of photos (with the help of my sister N) to demonstrate the process. We had to make all 3 components, the choux pastry puffs, the crème pâtissière, and the caramel glaze. Since there aren’t that many mouths to feed around here and I’m already being accused of trying to fatten everybody up, I decided to make a mini croquembouche. I didn’t use a stand or toothpicks as I wanted to see if I could do it the hard way, but it really wasn’t that scary once I began assembling. The caramel glaze held everything together really well as it firms up quickly so it took care of everything.
So here, goes… are you ready? I’m ready. Ok lets go…
Vanilla Nougat Crème Patissière: (Adapted from the challenge recipe)
(Makes just enough to fill 10 large profiteroles)
(This is best made a day in advance and left to chill in the fridge overnight)
- 1 cup (225 ml) whole milk
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 6 Tbsp (100 g) sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 Tsp Vanilla extract
- 30ml Nougat Crème liqueur
Heat the milk, vanilla and nougat liqueur in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to simmer around the edges. While its heating up, combine the egg, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk to mix, without creating too many air bubbles. Add the cornstarch to the egg mixture and whisk again gently. When the milk mixture is ready, remove it from the heat and pour 1/3 of it into the egg mixture. Quickly stir it in so that it doesn’t cause the eggs to sieze and create lumps. Now place the heated milk mixture back onto the stove and pour the egg mixture into it in a slow steady stream while stirring continuously. Cook over a low heat, whisking gently and continuously until it has thickened up and bubbles begin to break the surface. (you need to whisk so that the whole mixture thickens as one instead of the bottom thickening first and then burning)
Remove from the stove and immediatly place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard. (This is to ensure that the custard does not form a skin.) Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge overnight (or until chilled through and firm).
Choux Pastry Puffs (Pâte à Choux): (Adapted from the challenge recipe)
(Makes about 16 large profiteroles)
- 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
Firstly and most importantly, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F and line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.
Combine the water, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over high heat.
Stir until the butter has melted and the sugar and salt have dissolved, then stop stirring and leave to come to the boil.
You are looking for something that’s called a “rolling boil”, it looks kind of like this…
But with more bubbles than you see here. Next, remove from heat, throw all the flour into the saucepan at once (very NB) and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a paste that leaves the sides of the pan, like this one…
Transfer the mixture from the saucepan to a wide metal bowl and smooth it up the sides of the bowl to spread it out thinly, (This is so that it cools quickly and evenly) like this…
Leave it to cool until the mixture is at room temperature before adding the eggs. This is NB, too hot and the eggs will sieze. Add the eggs one by one until you have the right consistancy. It is best to beat the last egg gently and add little bits at a time. You want a consistancy where the mixture is firm enough to just hold its shape but not too firm that it won’t pipe nicely. This was how I got to mine…
Add the first egg…
It will look a bit funny and feel like you won’t be able to get it to come together but fear not, just keep going…
There we go, it must look like fluffy mashed potatoes at this stage. Add the second egg…
Same thing here, just keep going…
Softer mashed potatoes but mashed potatoes none the less. Add the third egg…
No, still too thick and not shiny enough. Break the last egg and mix it up a little with the whisk, then add a little bit…
Now stir away…
Still a little thick, add some more…
Ok, now test! (lift the spoon quickly out of the batter) *sigh* No, still too stiff. Add a little more…
Come on, now? It must be done! We’re getting tired and our arms are falling off! No? *sigh* Ok, a little more…
No again?! But its shiny! Oh, still to stiff? Only one more time? Ok, we can do that…
And there it is. What you’re looking for at this stage is a batter that is shiny and just holds its shape. Perfect. Now for the piping…
Notice the drops of water that have been flicked all over the sheet after piping? They create steam which helps the choux puffs to puff up during baking.
Then into the oven at 220°C/425°F and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 180°C/350°F and bake for a further 20 minutes. Watch them however, because you don’t want them to get too brown!
They are baked when they have a nice golden brown colour and are crisp to the touch. (But not too crisp! Crisp + too dark = overdone)
Next, remove them from the baking sheet immediately and poke a hole in the bottom of each with a skewer to release the steam built up during baking. This is very NB because if you don’t do this the trapped steam can cause them to go soggy. Eew.
At this point it is a good idea to build your choux puffs up into a croquembouche to get an idea of how you will assemble it later on.
Now, get your things together for filling them. You’ll need a piping bag with a nozzle, (you can also use a ziplock bag with one corner cut off if you don’t have a piping bag) a big spoon, and the Crème Pâtissière you made earlier. Use the nozzle of the piping bag to make the hole in the bottom of the choux puffs bigger. Spoon the custard into the piping bag and pipe custard in through the hole in the choux puff. Be gentle as you don’t want to get custard everywhere, and when you feel a slight backwards pressure stop piping and remove the bag.
Ok, that was the easy part. Now for the part that terrified me. The caramel.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
Put the sugar and lemon juice into a small saucepan and stir with a spoon until it is the texture of wet sand. Turn on the heat to med.high and just let it sit. No, don’t touch it, it won’t burn as long as you watch it for the right time.
When you see the sugar at the edges of the pan melting and beginning to caramelize, (turn an ember colour) grab hold of the handle and gently swirl the pan to mix the caramelized sugar with the rest. This will help the rest of the sugar to caramelize.
Continue doing this until you have a pan full of hot golden caramel. Caramel can overcook really quickly so as soon as you have the colour you want (the darker the caramel the more bitter it will be) place the bottom of the pan into a sink full of cold water to stop the cooking process. Be careful here because the water will sizzle and spit a bit and you don’t want to get any water into your just slaved-over caramel.
Now you get to the assembling. This must be done as soon as the caramel is ready as it will cool quickly and become hard. (If during the process, the caramel gets too cold, hard and difficult to work with, just heat it on the stove again to loosen it up.)
Dip the top of each choux puff into the caramel glaze and place it bottom down onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick paper for the glaze to harden.
Once the tops are set, assemble the croquembouche by dipping the bottom of each choux puff in the glaze and then placing it into position on the plate, board, or on top of other choux puffs. Like this…
Wow, that wasn’t hard at all! Maybe it was beginners luck? I hope not. Anyway, on to the decorating.
As the caramel in the pan cools, it becomes sticky and will form strands (that go everywhere) when at the right temperature. I used chop sticks, (suggested by Angelica, one of the other daring bakers) dipped them into the caramel, lifted them out and swirled them around the croquembouche to create the strands.
And there you go. My mini, easy, very yummy and not so scary croquembouche.
Hope you enjoyed making it with me! If you have any questions, leave a comment, I’ll do my best to help!