Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Croquembouche Project

I received my first Martha Stewart book from my sister Kathy in 1988.  Since then, the traditions of Christmas have never been the same. Let's face it.....Martha raised the bar on Christmas. Once upon a time, I was content making a batch of toll house cookies and serving them on a festive snowman plate for the holidays. Until Martha.

The first book that I received was all about the holidays.....lots of recipes and decorating ideas.

I was mesmerized.

I slept with the darn thing under my pillow. Since that time I think I have recreated almost every single item from that book. Except for one. The Croquembouche. Martha's Croquembouche from the book would feed 100 guests and was made with spun sugar "glue" to hold the puffs in place. It was stunning.


That Martha.......aside from the fact that she has a staff of about 100 people to help her.......How does she do it? From that moment, I secretly resolved to add this one to my bucket list..............and this was the year that I was going to do it.

When I announced my plan to my sister Kathy, she roared with laughter.....especially since I have been talking about making this Croquembouche for about 20 years. Herein lies the problem with making that type of declaration..... YOU. HAVE. TO. DO. IT.  CRAP.  What did I get myself in to? Every year I spend Christmas Eve at my sister's house with lots of friends and family stopping by, so I knew that the Croquembouche would be one of the highlights on the buffet table.

No pressure.

First, a bit of history on the Croquembouche.  Croquembouche is a French dessert made by stacking cream puffs in a conical shape and cementing them together with a toffee. The dessert is typically ornamented with sugared almonds, or other ingredients, and it is designed to be displayed as the centerpiece of a table. This dessert has been used at French weddings, christening and celebrations for centuries, and it is served outside of France to add a French flair to an evening's events. It appears to have been invented by French pastry chef Antoine Careme (1783-1833) in the late 1700s, when it became very popular as a wedding cake. Many of the individual components such as the cream puffs date to the 1500s, illustrating the long history of fine pastries in France.

Since it was Christmas Eve and I was really pressed for time, I was a bit remiss in my photography. time I will be better prepared, I promise.   :)

The first thing I did was to make the creampuffs, alias profiteroles. Kathy and I got this recipe from the former head baker of a famous North End we know it works.

Cream Puff Recipe

1 cup water
2 sticks of butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Using a large pot (I used my favorite Big Blue), bring water and butter to a vigorous boil, then remove from the heat and add the flour, quickly stirring with large a wooden spoon until the mixture coagulates and pulls away from the side of the pot.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and using the wooden spoon, spread the mixture out along the sides of the bowl to help it cool down. After about 5 minutes, start the mixer and add one egg at a time, beating vigorously in between each one.  After adding the fourth egg, you will notice that the mixture has taken on a smooth and thick consistency. When this happens, it's ready.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls (or pipe with a pastry bag) onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches in between each one.  You want to keep the portions on the smaller side for the Croquembouche.  Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven quickly and set on a rack to cool off completely.

Cream Puff Filling

1 box Vanilla Pudding, follow the directions on the box and place in the fridge to cool.

When pudding mixture is cooled, I used a piping bag with a 1/4 inch tip and injected about 1 tablespoon of the cream into the center of each puff. Then I put them on a large baking sheet in the fridge until I was ready to build the structure. 

I made a mold for the Croquembouche out of poster board, packing tape and parchment paper, then I used a fat glass vase to hold it upright.

Now, a traditional Croquembouche uses carmelized sugar to "glue" the puffs together............but since when have I ever been "traditional"?  Since I was working against the clock, I decided to use a more familiar medium. Or should I say, "Medi-YUM"!

In my research I discovered that there are a couple of different ways to construct a Croquembouche. Some pastry chefs use a Croquembouche mold and stack the puffs outside the cone. It's the easiest method of construction and if you are making the dessert to bring to someone's house, your chances are considerably better that you will arrive in one piece. You can also freeform the cone, but this means that you will need to have many more creampuffs on hand to make the foundation. Of course, if you like to live on the edge, you can build the tower inside of the cone too.  A little trickier, but much more fun I think.   Guess which way I did it??

Working quickly, I dipped each puff in melted chocolate and placed it inside the cone along the outside. The idea is to attach each puff along the inside of the cone. The center of the cone is supposed to be hollow. When I got to the top, I tried to make it as level as possible. Okay, I'll let you in on it...... I had to  squish down some of the creampuffs to level it out. Then I put the whole thing in the fridge for about an hour to chill and harden up.   

Once it was was chilled, I placed a plate on the widest part of the cone and carefully inverted it. After a few strategic taps on the side of the cone, the croquembouche unmolded itself.

It's not as pretty as Martha's, BUT with the exception of actually baking the creampuffs, I finished the whole thing in just under an hour. Seriously.

A few red raspberries dipped in chocolate and fresh whipped cream piped in between the puffs and I was ready to go. Kathy whipped up a small crockpot full of hot fudge so guests could help themselves to dessert. 

 It was a Christmas Eve show-stopper!

Happy New Year everyone!!