Croquembouche

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He called me last week at 5pm on a Thursday afternoon from work and said, “Can you make a cake for 15 people for tomorrow?” Uh, err, umm…sure?!

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Oh how I love food challenges. So much that I can’t say no even if my better judgement is telling me that I should probably decline. It was for a small celebration with his colleagues and how flattered am I that they thought of me instead of a bonafide pâtisserie?

In lieu of an ordinary cake, I decided to go with a traditional French style cake typically served for special occasions – a croquembouche. Essentially a cone-shaped tower of profiteroles bound together with caramel, the name derives from “croque en bouche” which means “crunch in the mouth”.

Luckily for me, the Daring Baker’s Challenge for the month of May was croquembouche. Though I am not a participant, I was able to find guidance and inspiration from many talented food bloggers who created their own rendition of this cake. My utmost favorite came from a blogger friend of mine, Mimi, the creative genius behind Mimi’s Kitchen. Her croquembouche was simple yet elegant and I knew instantly that she would be my guru.
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I doubled the pâte a choux recipe from the chouquettes minus the pearl sugar topping, of course. The custard filling recipe came from Mimi’s Kitchen with minor adjustments – I doubled the recipe and substituted the vanilla extract for one Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean. Both the pâte a choux and custard were made on Thursday evening and refrigerated overnight.

The following morning, I baked the profiteroles and assembled the tower right before the scheduled delivery. I decided to add mashed fresh raspberries to half of the custard and kept the other as classic vanilla. The spun sugar was unchartered territories for me but with a little research on the internet, it turned out to be a lot simpler than I imagined.

I’m quite pleased with the end result and I will definitely be making this a lot more in the future!
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Ingredients:

Vanilla Creme Patissiere
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp cornstarch
6 Tbsp sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1/4 cup of milk. In a large sauce pan, add the remaining milk and sugar. Scrape the pulp of the vanilla bean into the milk mixture and add the pod as well. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Discard vanilla pod.
  2. Beat the whole egg into the cornstarch mixture then beat in the two egg yolks. Pour 1/3 of the milk mixture from the saucepan into the egg mixture while whisking continuously (so the eggs do not begin to cook!).
  3. Place the remaining milk mixture back on the stove and bring to a boil. In a steady stream, vigorously whisk in the egg mixture into the saucepan. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter.
  4. Pour custard into a ceramic bowl. Press a plastic wrap firmly over the top of the custard and refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. Fill a pastry bag with custard and use a plain decorating tip to inject custard filling into the profiteroles. Serve within a few hours of assembly so the puffs do not get soggy.

Ingredients:

Caramel
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water and cream of tartar. Heat the mixture until it turns a light amber color. Remove from heat. Dip the bottom of the saucepan into an ice bath until the mixture stops foaming.
  2. While the mixture is heating, make sure all your profiteroles are ready for assembly as you will need to work quickly.
  3. Begin to assemble the croquembouche by dipping the profiteroles in the caramel one by one. Start at the bottom and work your way up to a tapered cone. The caramel will begin to harden almost immediately which is necessary to keep the form of your cake. If the caramel becomes to hard, simply reheat the mixture and repeat.
  4. To create the spun sugar, take a fork or a wire whisk with the rounded end cut off, and dip into the caramel mixture. Drizzle and swirl around your croquembouche. Be careful as sugar will get EVERYWHERE!
  5. Keep croquembouche at room temperature. Also note that humidity will add moisture to your spun sugar so it is best to work in the driest condition. Refrigerating or freezing the tower to preserve until ready to use will not work so well with the spun sugar!

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