Monday, December 26, 2011

~Croquembouche for Christmas Day~


I found a parfait recipe in an old Living magazine.  What a great idea for a Christmas morning breakfast, don't you think?  After the morning madness occurs the last thing you want is to make a giant breakfast.  Well, maybe that's just me? 

This simple and fast breakfast took me all of five minutes to prepare for the family. Layers of store bought granola and yogurt were layered in my glass trifle bowl.  Fresh raspberries were sprinkled on top. 

Our Christmas Croquembouche



picture from marthastewart.com

Martha Stewart Living, December/January 1995/1996
  • Yield Makes 1

Ingredients

  • FOR PASTRY PUFFS

    • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
    • 7 large eggs
  • FOR PASTRY CREAM

    • 6 large egg yolks
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups milk
    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate
    • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, mixed with 2 teaspoons hot water
  • FOR CARAMEL

    • 2 cups sugar
    • 2 tablespoons corn syrup

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. To make the puffs: In a medium saucepan, melt butter in 1 1/2 cups water with salt and sugar. Remove pan from heat, and add flour. Return pan to heat and, using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes. (A film should form on the bottom of the pan.) Cool slightly, and add 6 eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously.
  2. Make a glaze by beating the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water, and set aside. Using a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and a 1/2-inch-wide plain tip, pipe out mounds that are 1 inch high and 3/4 inch in diameter on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze, and smooth the tops. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on racks. (The puffs can be made ahead and frozen until ready to assemble.)
  3. Make the pastry cream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks, gradually adding sugar, until mixture is thick and pale yellow. Beat in flour. Scald milk, and add in dribbles to egg mixture, reserving 1/2 cup. Place mixture in a clean pot over high heat, and stir vigorously until mixture boils and thickens. If it seems too thick to pipe, add reserved milk. Remove from heat. Using a hand whisk, beat butter into egg mixture, one tablespoon at a time.
  4. In a double boiler or heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate and espresso together until smooth. Add chocolate mixture to the pastry cream; let cool completely. Just before assembling croquembouche, fill a pastry tube fitted with a 1/4-inch-wide tip with pastry cream, insert tip into puffs, and pipe in cream to fill.
  5. To make the caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Cover pan, and boil until steam dissolves any crystals. Uncover, and boil 5 more minutes, or until syrup is amber in color. Remove from heat. Dip the bottom of each puff into the caramel, and arrange puffs in a pyramid.
  6. To make a spun-sugar web to wrap around the croquembouche: Cut the looped ends of a wire whisk with wire cutters, or use two forks held side by side, and dip the ends into caramel. Wave the caramel back and forth over the croquembouche, allowing the strands to fall in long, thin threads around it. Wrap any stray strands up and around the croquembouche. Serve.


It's a good thing...or is it?


A croquembouche is French.  When translated it means, "cracks in your mouth".  Yup, that is exactly what happens.  Chewers beware.  The caramel coating (aka cement) hardens and provides the "bite".  In retrospect, I think that the caramel needed to be just a touch softer.  The crunch was very crunchy.

Overall the baking process was straight forward. Martha's directions were great which lead to another successful dessert.  If you are thinking about making one of these yourself this is a really good recipe.

After reading some croquembouche history, I learned two amusing facts.  1) wisegeek.com said that it typically takes several days to construct a croquembouche.  In my opinion this can be done in several hours.  2)   Historically, the croquembouche was cut open with a heavy knife or sword.  Since most people do not carry a sword with them, today we employ the pick apart method. 


The spun-sugar croquembouche was our Christmas finale.  The children have been tucked into bed, Santa has come and gone and now I'm ready to move past the holiday season. Merry Christmas! 


Photo Gallery

Here we go.  It was nearly five o'clock in the evening when I began working on the croquembouche.  I got busy in the kitchen and began the process. 

The first step was to make the puffs.  The saucepan contains the butter, water, salt, sugar and the flour. 


After stirring the dough vigorously for three minutes, the pate a choux is complete.


 
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, mounds of dough were piped from my pastry bag.  Then an egg wash glaze was applied.  It turns out that these puffs were way too small.  After baking the first batch of the puffs I decided to double their size. It was much better!


They already look like micro-croquembouches, don't they?   


I got started on the pastry cream while the puffs were in the oven.


The scalded milk and the egg mixture before I whisked the heck out of it.


And here you have it.  The pastry cream filling. 

The last step was to melt the chocolate and the espresso together. 

The finished cream filling with the chocolate and the espresso.  I liked the addition of the espresso as it provides a little kick during dessert time.  Do keep this in mind if you are feeding small children this dessert.  I found myself wondering why the children were still wound up until I remembered the espresso addition.

I did notice that the cream was lumpy.  The reason for this beats me. This did not affect the flavor or texture negatively as far as we could tell.  However, I'm sure that there is some professional explanation for what happened. If you know then please do share.


When it came time to fill the puffs, it was difficult for me to penetrate its exterior with my pastry tip.  In order to move things along, I punctured the bottom of the puffs with a sharp utensil.  The cream was then added to the puffs and the bottoms were pulled closed. 


Once golden brown, the caramel sauce was finished.  Be careful!  This is super hot! 

Remember NOT to stir the caramel at all!  For a long time I failed at caramel making. In the past I was not successful with caramel because I stirred the pot while the caramel was cooking.  Do not make that mistake.  The only task that is required for this step is to watch for the color change. That's it.


After the caramel was done, I began dipping (very carefully) the bottom of the puffs into the caramel.


When working with caramel you have to move quickly because the sauce thickens fast.  The spun-sugar shown here was leftover from the caramel sauce. I wanted to make more spun-sugar for the croquembouche but Ben told me to call it quits because it was getting late.  So, this is it.

I'm pleased to report that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was avoided. 

I tried my best to get that tree-like shape.  I need a little more practice.  Croquembouche making has become our new Christmas Day ritual.  Maybe next year I'll nail it?


Gabriel and Sarah enjoyed the demolition process.


Here comes Ben.  After seeing the excitement at the dinner table, he decided to give the croquembouche a try.

The puffs had a sponge-like texture that tasted of crunchy-espresso-chocolate.  As Ben says, "It's sweet, crunchy goodness."




This completes our holiday season.  A Christmas croquembouche has now become our family tradition.


~Just Dessert~


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