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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recipe: Croquembouche

Decorated Croquembouche

Recipe: Croquembouche



Behold! The towering, celebratory spectacle that is the Croquembouche - the quintessential party pastry. Served as a traditional French wedding dessert, the Croquembouche, which translates to "crunch in the mouth", is often touted as the most difficult dessert to make. That's likely an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless a more challenging undertaking. Fortunately, the final product truly is a spectacle to behold. And as a way to celebrate the birth of our son, no Caramel burn is too severe.

Assembled from cream-filled, Caramel coated Puffs of Pate a Choux, the Croquembouche is just as much a showpiece as it is a practical dessert. And in the challenge lies the fun!

Candidly, no single component of a Croquembouche is particularly difficult, but assembling one of these beauties does take time. If there were ever an occasion on which to be organized and to work clean, this would be it.

The individual Puffs are dipped in Caramel forming a crunchy exterior coating. The Puffs are also typically filled with Crème Légère, which is Pastry Cream that has been folded with Whipped Heavy Cream to lighten the texture. The Puffs are then held together with more Caramel and assembled into a tree or cone shaped Croquembouche. Sugar work, particularly Spun Sugar, is a common final adornment. 


Displayed Croquembouche
This is the traditional look for a Croquembouche: stacked rings of Caramel-dipped Puffs of Pate a Choux that form a tree or cone. The Caramel-dipped Puffs may be further adorned, dipped in decorative sugar or nuts. Sometimes additional decorative elements, such as monogram initials or abstract shapes, are piped with leftover Pate a Choux.

A Croquembouche is often finished with strands of Spun Sugar. Effectively, the Pastry Chef in the kitchen gets bonus points for each delicate, decorative flourish.

Pate a Choux Puffs for Croquembouche
The first step in making a Croquembouche is to bake a large number of Puffs of Pate a Choux.

The Puffs are piped to 1" in diameter.  A #4 round tip works well. Keeping the Puffs uniform in size is important for creating a structurally stable Croquembouche. If the Puffs are not the same size, the individual tiers will be uneven, and the Croquembouche will look sloppy.

When preparing for the Croquembouche, it is best to make more Puffs than you need. This allows for some waste during the production process (e.g. irregularly shaped Puffs, broken Puffs... snacks).

With each tier that is added to the Croquembouche, the number of Puffs required increases exponentially. Each additional tier requires one more Puff than the last tier. 

A Croquembouche that is five tiers tall requires 19 Puffs in total: six Puffs form the base followed by a ring of five, then four, then three and finally one. There is no tier with just two Puffs.

If you were to increase the height to just seven tiers high, you would need 34 Puffs - nearly twice as many Puffs for just two additional tiers. Keep this in mind before getting too ambitious with size.

Mise en Place for Assembling Croquembouche
The Puffs can be made in advanced and stored in an airtight container for several days until you are ready to assemble the Croquembouche. Five minutes in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) will restore crispness.

With a multitude of Puffs in hand, the next step is to coat the tops with Caramel. Given the burn risk associated with working with Caramel, it is important to completely set up a proper work station before you begin. Have all of your Puffs close at hand. Set up a towel onto which you can rest the pot of hot Caramel. Lastly, set up a cooling rack onto which the dipped Puffs will be placed to cool and harden.

When making the Caramel, do not use high heat. Slowly heat the Caramel so that when it is removed from the stove, it does not continue to caramelize and darken too quickly. Alternatively, when the Caramel reaches the desired color (approximately 340 degrees Fahrenheit or 171 degrees Celsius), place the pot in an ice bath to slow the caramelization process.

Working quickly but carefully, dip the tops of each Puff into the Caramel and set them aside on the cooling rack to cool and harden. If the pot of Caramel cools and becomes too thick as you are working, reheat it gently. However, the pot of Caramel will inevitably become darker with time. Sometimes you may need to make a fresh batch of Caramel to complete the dipping process.

Caramel Covered Pate a Choux Puffs for Croquembouche
With a cooling rack full of beautiful amber-coated Puffs, there are two ways to proceed. 

When served as a dessert, the individual Puffs are filled with Crème Légère, a folded combination of one part Pastry Cream and one part Whipped Cream. A small hole is made in the bottom of each Puff which is then piped full of the Crème Légère. 

Keep in mind that Pastry Cream and Whipped Cream spoil quickly. If the Puffs are filled with Crème Légère, the Croquembouche should be refrigerated until it is served, which should be on the same day on which it is assembled.

When made as a showpiece, the individual Puffs are not filled. As a result, the Croquembouche can be kept at room temperature for days. The only risk is that the Caramel will become soft and runny in a humid environment.

Fitting First Layer of Puffs for Croquembouche Base
The individual Puffs are attached together using Caramel, so you will need to make another batch. 

The base tier can be attached to a cake round, a piece of parchment paper on a sheet tray, or even a circle of baked Pate Brisee (the appropriate option when the Croquembouche will be a served dessert). Start by test fitting Puffs for the base tier, making sure that the Puffs are of equal height. Then "glue" the Puffs using the Caramel. The individual Puffs should be placed such that the Caramel-dipped tops are facing outward. 

Up Close Detail of Croquembouche Decoration
Continue to assemble the Croquembouche one tier at a time. Each tier is constructed in a ring leaning slightly on the inside of the prior ring. And each tier is made with one fewer Puffs than the previous tier. As a result, the Croquembouche should take form as a tree or cone that builds to a point.

Up Close Detail of Pate a Choux Made Croquembouche Decoration
Once all of the tiers have been assembled, additional decorations, such as intricately piped shapes made from leftover Pate a Choux, can be attached using Caramel.

When made as a dessert with Crème Légère filled Puffs, the Croquembouche should be stored in the refrigerator and served on the day it is made. 

When made as a showpiece with unfilled Puffs, the Croquembouche will last for several days at room temperature. In humid environments, the Caramel will become sticky and begin to run over time. 



- The Recipe -




Croquembouche:


Yield: One Croquembouche 

This recipe will provide enough dough for up to 72 one-inch Puffs. That is enough Puffs for a Croquembouche that is 10 tiers high with a base tier containing 11 Puffs. 64 Puffs are required for construction leaving eight extras.

On your first attempt, consider starting with a shorter Croquembouche. You'll have even more extra Puffs, just in case.


Ingredients:
  • Pate a Choux: 1,000g - 1 Recipe

Caramel Coating:
  • White Granulated Sugar: 500g
  • Water: 100g

Optional Crème Légère Filling:
  • Pastry Cream: 325g - 1/2 Recipe
  • Heavy Cream: 325g

Caramel "Glue":
  • White Granulated Sugar: 500g
  • Water: 100g



Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Prepare the Pate a Choux. Fit a pastry bag with a #4 round tip and fill the pastry bag with the Pate a Choux. Line a sheet tray with parchment. Use a dollop of Pate a Choux at each corner to hold the parchment to the sheet tray.

Chef's Note: Do not over-fill the pastry bag. It is easier to refill a pastry bag when necessary rather than struggle with an overfilled pastry bag.

3. Pipe individual Puffs to a size slightly larger than a quarter. Leave sufficient room between Puffs as they will increase in size when baked. Lightly egg wash the Puffs before baking.

4. Bake the Puffs for approximately 25-30 minutes, rotating the sheet trays half way through the bake time. The Puffs are done when they are completely golden brown and feel light and hollow. Set the Puffs aside to cool.

Chef's Note: The Puffs can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for several days. To restore crispness, place the baked Puffs in a 350 degree Fahrenheit (177 degree Celsius) oven for approximately five minutes.

5. Prepare the Caramel Coating for dipping the Puffs. Combine the Sugar and Water in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Brush the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush to remove any stray Sugar granules.

Chef's Note: Once the pot is on the heat, do not stir. Stirring can cause the mixture to recrystallize.

6. Continue heating the Sugar until the mixture begins to turn a golden amber. At this point, it is okay to stir gently to redistribute the heat if necessary. Continue heating the Caramel to approximately 340 degrees Fahrenheit (171 degrees Celsius).

Chef's Note: As the Caramel continues to cook, the rate at which the temperature rises will increase. Keep an eye on your heat and be ready to remove the pot from the stove as you approach your desired color. Remember that the Caramel will continue to cook even after the pot is removed from the heat.

7. Working quickly and carefully, dip the tops of each of the Puffs in the Caramel, setting them on a cooling rack to cool and harden. If the Caramel becomes too cool and thick for dipping, it can be gently reheated on the stove. However, the Caramel will continue to darken as you work. If the Caramel becomes too dark, discard it and make a new batch. Allow the Caramel-dipped Puffs to cool and harden.

8. If you plan to fill the Puffs, prepare the Crème Légère. Make the Pastry Cream and set it aside to cool. Once it is cool, whip the Heavy Cream to medium peaks. Whisk the cool Pastry Cream until it is smooth. Fold half of the Whipped Cream into the Pastry Cream. While the mixture is still streaky, fold in the remaining Whipped Cream until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous.

Poke a small hole in the bottom of each Puff. Fill a piping bag fitted with a #1 tip with the Crème Légère. Fill each Puff. Filled Puffs should be stored in the refrigerator and will keep for only a day. 

9. Assemble the Croquembouche. Prepare a base for the Croquembouche. This can be a cake round, a piece of Parchment on a sheet tray or a circle of baked Pate Brisee. When the base is ready, start by test fitting Puffs for the base tier, making sure that the Puffs are of equal height. Make another batch of Caramel to serve as the Caramel "Glue". 

Working one at a time, dip the Puffs into the Caramel "Glue", and attach them to the base. The individual Puffs should be placed such that the Caramel-dipped tops are facing outward. As with the Caramel made for dipping the Puffs, work carefully and quickly with the Caramel, and make a new batch if it becomes too thick or dark.

Continue assembling the Croquembouche one tier at a time. Each tier is constructed in a ring leaning slightly on the inside of the prior tier. And each tier is made using one fewer Puffs than the previous tier. As a result, the Croquembouche should take form as a tree or cone that builds to a point.

10. Once all of the tiers have been assembled, additional decorations such as intricately piped shapes made from leftover Pate a Choux, can be attached using Caramel.


Storage:
- When made as a dessert with Crème Légère filled Puffs, the Croquembouche should be stored in the refrigerator and served the day it is made.
- When made as a showpiece with unfilled Puffs, the Croquembouche will last for several days at room temperature. In humid environments, the Caramel will become sticky and begin to run over time.

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