I won’t lie. We are pretty proud of this! Croquembouche seems like the kind of thing that would be inordinately difficult, but it was surprisingly pretty simple.
When we found out that this was the Daring Bakers’ May challenge, we felt a little intimidated. But it all turned out well.
There are three fairly easy steps. First, make the pastry cream. Next, make the choux balls. Finally, construct your tower!
I was in charge of the pastry cream. I based this on a recipe by Pierre Hermé included in The Cook’s Book. I reduced the sugar a little because I found it quite sweet, but otherwise all was good. I got a little inventive and decided to make three flavours: dark chocolate, raspberry and coffee.
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (optional, depending on flavourings)
9 egg yolks
¾ cup castor sugar
70g cornflour, sifted
70g dark chocolate, chopped or grated finely
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen, cooked to a jam in a saucepan for ten minutes
About 200ml espresso coffee, reduced to 1 tbs in a saucepan
- Bring the milk, vanilla pod, cornflour and half the sugar just to the boil in a heavy based saucepan, whisking all the time. Remove from heat.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar until they are thoroughly combined. Pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture, in a steady stream. Whisk continuously.
- Transfer mixture back to a clean pan and bring to the boil once again. Continue to whisk constantly. When boiled, immediately remove the pan from the heat. Remove the vanilla pod. Divide the mixture into three and add your choice of flavouring. To cool quickly, place saucepan in a bowl of iced water and stir. Leave to cool in the fridge (or freezer) for a few hours.
- Stephanie recommends mixing these with some whipped cream to reduce the richness. We tried this but the cream became too liquid. If the mixture is too liquid, you can reheat in a saucepan again with some cornflour. Be careful of overdoing the cornflour though, the pastry cream can become claggy. (We speak from experience here.)
- My personal favourite was the raspberry. Yum.
We based our choux pastry on Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from our old favourite, The Cook’s Companion. It’s just such a reliable old tome; I can’t go past it. This probably makes about 60 choux – plenty for constructing and eating.
120g unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1½ cups water
300g spelt flour (or use 250g normal wheat flour), sifted
- Preheat oven to 180 Celsius.
- In a saucepan, combine the butter, salt and water. Bring to the boil and remove from heat.
- Add the flour in one go and stir to combine. Return pan to a medium heat.
- Continue stirring until the mixture dries out a little and starts to leave the sides of the pan. For us, this happened immediately (see picture).
- Put mixture in a food processor or mixer with a paddle beater. Add the eggs one at a time. Ensure that each egg is well combined before adding the next one.
- Pipe or spoon the mixture onto baking paper lined trays. We piped balls of about an inch in diameter. Leave some space in between for them to puff. You can push down the tips with a finger dipped in hot water to make a spherical ball.
- Pipe a few long ones if you want to make eclairs as well!
- Bake in an oven for 40 minutes until they are golden on the outside, but dry on the inside. Cool.
Next up, you must construct your croquembouche. For this, you must make a toffee, which is basically the cement for your little tower.
Ingredients for toffee
1 cup sugar
½ tsp lemon juice
- Fill your piping bag up with the pastry cream.
- Use a small knife to make a hole in the balls, and stick the nozzle of the piping bag in. Pipe away until all your balls are full.
- Finally, make the toffee/cement. Simply combine the sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and stir.
- Place saucepan on a medium heat. Dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil. When the syrup becomes a light caramel colour, remove it from the heat.
- Working quickly, dip the choux balls into the toffee and begin your construction. If the toffee begins to harden, you can reheat it. Be careful; it burns! (But you survive. I had many a toffee burn on my fingertips after the gingerbread house construction and I lived to tell the tale.)
- When the croquembouche is constructed, it is time to decorate. We went down the traditional route and spun some toffee round and round. We then decorated it with some little rose buds from the garden.
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.