Croquembouche

  • Serves: Makes one Croquembouche
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KELLY SAYS: "I made this Christmas croquembouche and my decorated Santa cookie adorns the top of the dessert!"

KELLY SAYS: "For this croquembouche, I made a butterfly topper out of the caramel, and added some fondant flowers for decoration.
I dipped a spoon in the caramel and traced out two wings and a body. When they were hardened, I 'glued' them together with molten caramel, holding the wings with my fingers, till they hardened in place."

KELLY SAYS: "I decided to make an Easter croquembouche and placed a chocolate bunny on top."

The Croquembouche, which translates as "Crunch in the mouth", is a delectable French dessert that is often served at weddings, in place of a wedding cake. 
It is a tower made up of pastry cream-filled cream puffs, made from Pâte à choux dough, all held together with crunchy caramel cage.
Many times, it is elaborately decorated with candied flowers, bows and spun sugar.
You need a mold to build a very large croquembouche, but a small one can support itself, and it is not as hard to make as you might think.
It is a very impressive dessert!
PASTRY RECIPE HELP

Sarah's
Secrets

Making the Pâte à choux dough properly is the single most critical factor in the Croquembouche's successful outcome. The dough is really a stable emulsion of fat and water, formed with the help of the yolk's emulsifiers. The dough is precooked and then, baked. For a Croquembouche, the puffs should be crispy and dry.

1. INGREDIENTS
1 recipe Pastry Cream Tutorial

1 recipe Pate a Choux Dough and Filled Cream Puffs; Make about 44 small filled cream puffs; Place the batter in a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe into circular blobs, about 3/4- inches in diameter, onto the prepared pans.
Leave 1 1/2-inches between the puffs to permit adequate expansion from puffing.
Or, quickly spoon the Pâte à choux dough by the rounded half-teaspoonfuls. Bake and cool. Fill cream puffs with Pastry Cream right before you assemble the Croquembouche. 

1 recipe Caramel, below

PROJECT TIMING:
STEP I - DAY 1
1. Make the pastry cream and chill overnight.  

2. Optionally make the cream puffs from the Pate a Choux Dough.  
NOTE: Do not fill the Cream Puffs with Pastry Cream in advance; once filled with pastry cream, the baked cream puffs will absorb some of the moisture from it, becoming very soft if they're allowed to sit too long before using.
You do not want to use soggy puffs for the Croquembouche because it will collapse.

STEP II - DAY 2 (MORNING)
1. Make the cream puffs from the Pate a Choux Dough, if not made Step I - Day 1.  

STEP III: DAY 2 (MORNING OR AFTERNOON) FILL THE BAKED CREAM PUFFS
Work quickly;
1. Take the chilled pastry cream from the refrigerator and stir it a few times.

2. Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/4- inch tube, with pastry cream.

3. Pipe the cold pastry cream into each puff, them set the filled puffs back on the baking sheet.
KELLY SAYS: I fill the puffs using the same hole that I made when I pricked the side of the puff to allow the steam to escape.

4. Cover and place the filled cream puffs into the refrigerator, while you make your caramel.

STORAGE
If the Cream Puffs are filled with pastry cream, refrigerate immediately and serve within two hours.
They can be filled chocolate ganache, as well. If stored longer, the cream puff shell gets soggy.  

STEP IV: DAY 2 (MORNING OR AFTERNOON) MAKE THE CARAMEL
A. Before you start:
KELLY SAYS: While the sugar boils for the caramel cage, set up your croquembouche building station: When your caramel is ready, you need to work quickly!
1. Choose a serving platter or cake stand on which to build your croquembouche.
2. Place a trivet on your counter. You will need this to place your hot caramel pot upon.
3. Prepare a large bowl of ice water for dipping your pot of hot caramel into to stop the cooking process.

B. While the caramel sugar boils:
1. Remove your baking sheet of filled cream puffs from the refrigerator and set aside. They need to warm slightly to room temperature and the filled puffs should not
be ice-cold when dipping in the cooled caramel.
CARAMEL by Sarah Phillips
INGREDIENTS
2 cups sugar; SARAH SAYS: I like to start with a fresh bag of sugar! Use a brand name CANE sugar for best results.
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons clear corn syrup

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Place the sugar and water into a 2-quart heavy bottomed saucepan.
SARAH SAYS: The pan must be spotlessly clean and dry, otherwise the sugar can crystallize.

2. Place over a medium heat, and stir constantly till the sugar is totally dissolved and the liquid is ready to come to boil.
Stir in the corn syrup.

3. STOP stirring, and raise the heat to high.

4. Wash down the sides of the pot with tap water and a clean brush. Dip the brush in water every time you use it.

5. Continue to let the sugar solution boil. DO NOT STIR or disturb the pot in any way, otherwise the sugar solution can crystallize.

6. Boil until the sugar takes on an amber color. This takes about 10-15 minutes.

7. When it reaches the right color, remove pot from the heat and plunge the bottom of the pot into ice water - hold for about 5 seconds.
This stops the cooking process!
IMMEDIATELY remove the pot from the ice bath and set on a trivet or a place to put your hot caramel pot upon.

Allow the caramel to cool SLIGHTLY:
1. Slowly stir the caramel, for about 5 minutes AT MOST, with a heat-proof handled fork or spoon, to assure the sugar cools evenly.
Do not use a whisk.

The caramel will begin to thicken as it cools. You want it to flow like molasses and still be quite fluid and hot.
You do not want it to cool so much that the mixture forms thin sugar threads when you lift the heat-proof handled fork or spoon from the pan!
NOTE: If you wait till the caramel is "slightly warm", it will be too thick. The problem with using really thick caramel to put the Croquembouche together is that the puffs want to stick in
the pan of sugar, and tear apart. Also, the caramel starts making sugar threads all over, which makes a big mess.

SARAH SAYS: If the sugar begins to thicken too much, rewarm it in the microwave, under 50% powder for 1 to 2 minutes at a time, until liquid again, this way the color will not change.
Stir after every microwave session.
If you reheat the cooked caramel over the stove, you run the risk of heating it too much and causing the sugar solution to darken and will not match the previous dipped cream puffs!
You can take a chance by reheating the pan over LOW HEAT, swirling the pan, just long enough to get the caramel moving again, but the microwave is the best place.

STEP V: DAY 2 (MORNING OR AFTERNOON) BUILD THE CROQUEMBOUCHE
Be extremely careful when working with hot caramel!
KELLY SAYS: For this croquembouche, I made a ring of ten filled puffs on the base, essentially gluing them together with the cooled caramel.
Build another ring on top of the first, gluing them together by first dipping the filled puffs partway in the cooled caramel.
Build four or more rows of caramel dipped puffs on top of the base; slanting each row slightly inward to make a conical shape.
Hold the puffs in place for a few minutes, till the caramel hardens, and then add more.
You may not use all of your cream puffs to build the croquembouche, depending on how many rings of puffs you build.
NOTE: Do not be too concerned about any caramel dribbles that fall on your platter. When the caramel cools, you will be able to chip them off, easily, to neaten things up.

Before you start:
Have a medium size bowl of ice water ready! The caramel is extremely hot! If you get hot caramel on your fingers, IMMEDIATELY plunge your fingers into the ice water. This will cool the sugar and stop the burning.

Partially dip the filled cream puffs and build the Croquembouche:
1. Working quickly with 1 cream puff at a time, dip it crown-side-down (on the opposite side from where the pastry cream hole is), into the cooled caramel.
The caramel should cover the top of the puff. Let the excess drip off back into the pot.
NOTE: The sugar should stay on the crown of the puff and not run much. If it does, the sugar is still to hot and runny.

2. Make sure each puff is glued to its neighbor on the platter with caramel that drizzles onto it when the puff is inverted onto it.

3. Build another ring on top of the first, gluing them together by first dipping the filled puffs partway in the cooled caramel.
Hold the puffs in place for a few minutes, till the caramel hardens, and then add more.

Build four or more rows of caramel dipped puffs on top of the base; slanting each row slightly inward to make a conical shape.
Hold the puffs in place for a few minutes, till the caramel hardens, and then add more.

Don't forget the top one!

STORAGE
Refrigerate the finished Croquembouche for a few hours, and then you could reheat the caramel and do the spun sugar right before service if you want to:

The filled and assembled Croquembouche can be stored, UNCOVERED, in the refrigerator for a few hours, but after that (and sometimes during that time), the cream puffs start to become soggy and the caramel becomes sticky.

Press a piece of plastic wrap on the SURFACE of the caramel and set it aside for STEP VI.
The caramel can be stored overnight on the countertop with a piece of plastic wrap pressed on its surface. Do NOT refrigerate.
SARAH SAYS: Do not allow the caramel to form a thin sugar crust on top; hence the plastic wrap pressed on its surface will help prevent it.
If you stir a sugary crust into the caramel, you can cause it to crystallize with hardened bits of sugar and you will have to make the recipe, again, in STEP IV before
going to STEP VI.

STEP VI: BUILD THE SPUN CARAMEL CAGE AND ADD THE FINAL DECORATIONS
A Croquembouche is surrounded with threads of spun caramel, encasing it in a beautiful golden cage.
KELLY SAYS: Many bakers spin the sugar directly on the croquembouche, which can be a difficult way to do it; the sugar strands can get all over the place and
sugar drips everywhere, making it a very difficult task to accomplish.
I devised a more foolproof and easier way to make a caramel cage for the Croquembouche.
I first make it on an elevated dowel, on a parchment covered work surface, so I can pick it up, and place it on the croquembouche when it cools.

NOTE: Once the spun caramel cage is on the dessert, it needs to be served; you cannot store it in the refrigerator because the sugar
will become sticky and melt from the condensation it attracts.

Before you start:
1. FIRST, prepare your work surface by covering it completely with waxed paper or parchment paper. Be prepared for your kitchen to be quite sticky after you spin the sugar. smile.gif
2. Elevate a large dowel or French rolling pin by placing on two foil covered bricks, or large books of the same size.
3. You can spin the sugar using two forks, back to back. I like to use a metal whisk, with the end cut off. I just cut the end of the whisk off, with metal snips.
This makes several strands of sugar at once. It is a GREAT tool for this purpose.

4. Warm your caramel so it flows like molasses. This can be done on the stovetop: Reheat the pan over LOW HEAT, swirling the pan, just long enough to get the caramel moving again!
NOTE: The sugar needs to be cooler when you start to make the spun sugar, though, or it will fall in blobs, instead of making threads.
You can tell if the caramel is at the right temperature when you try making the spun sugar. If it falls in blobs, it needs to cool a little. If it starts making threads, it is right. If your fork starts to stick in it, you need to reheat it a little.

Build the caramel cage:
1. Stand on a chair in front of your work surface so you are well above the dowel.

2. Dip your whisk or forks into the caramel and quickly wave it back and forth, over the dowel with a flicking motion.
Continue doing this until you have a blanket of golden spun sugar over the dowel.
NOTE: If your caramel stiffens to much during this process, you may reheat the pan gently, over a low flame, stirring constantly, until it loosens up a bit.

3. You can make the spun caramel blanket as heavy as you would like! You may choose to cover your croquembouche in a halo of spun sugar, or use just a little, it's up to you.
KELLY SAYS: My son, Devon, wanted a very thick blanket of spun caramel for his Croquembouche this year!

When you are done spinning the sugar, place the back of your hands GENTLY under the mass of sugar and lift it carefully off the dowel.

4. Wrap the spun sugar around the croquembouche and gently pat it in place.

5. You can also stick on decorative elements with the caramel in the crevices, like candied violets, gold balls, gum paste flowers, sugar covered almonds, etc.

SERVE
To serve croquembouche, lightly shatter the caramel cage with back of a knife, into large pieces, and dismantle, 1 puff at a time. Serve both!

STORAGE
You CANNOT store the spun sugar, itself, for more than a couple hours. If it is humid or the kitchen is warm, the caramel cage will immediately take on condensation and melt.

You CANNOT store the Croquembouche with the spun caramel cage on it for more than two hours outside of refrigeration.
The spun sugar starts taking on moisture very quickly.
KELLY SAYS: I made and put the spun caramel on ours right before we went to our friend's house. By the time
dessert rolled around, about 1 1/2 hours later, it was still in good shape. It was on the table, as a centerpiece. They were amazed by it.

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