Since I was not working this Sunday I decided to use my free day to bake something fancy and daring. Browsing through the multiple recipes on Daring Bakers, I finally settled on their May 2010 challenge, a lovely pièce montée – Croquembouche.
A classic French pastry traditionally served at weddings and baptisms, croquembouche consists of 3 main components, the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze which hold everything together. Spun sugar is usually used to ‘glue’ the pastry puffs to each other and gives the characteristic crunch-in-the-mouth sensation, hence the name.
It was a first for me to work with spun sugar. I was unsure about the technique but was quite happy with the results in the end. If you are still undecided you can always use melted chocolate to assemble your tower of custard filled puffs.
The recipe I used below is not from Daring Bakers. The one for the pastry puffs is from Hershey’s Kitchens and that of the custard is a basic recipe from mum’s old cookbook. Feel free to improvise.
The Pastry Puffs/Pate a Choux
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350 oF.
- Combine water and butter in a medium saucepan.
- Heat mixture until it comes to a rolling boil.
- Tip flour at once in boiling mixture and lower heat.
- Cook until mixture forms a ball and leaves sides of pan.
- Add eggs, one at a time, and stir vigourously until smooth.
- Spoon mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a large nozzle.
- Pipe small mounds, 1 inch apart, onto a lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden brown.
- Remove from sheet and leave to cool on a wire rack.
The Custard Cream/Crème Patissiere
2 eggs, room temperature
4 tbs sugar
2 tbs corn starch
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean pod
- Whisk eggs and sugar in a large heatproof bowl until frothy.
- Add corn starch and mix together until well blended.
- Bring milk to the boil in a saucepan and cool slightly.
- Pour warm milk over egg mixture, a little at a time.
- Stir mixture continuously or you’ll end up with bits of cooked egg in your custard. Return mixture to saucepan.
- Over low heat, cook custard until it is thick and smooth.
- Scrape out seeds from vanilla pod and add to the custard.
- Cover and bring to room temperature or chill for 15 mins.
The Spun Sugar/Caramel Dur
1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Place sugar in a heavy bottomed pan over low heat.
- Heat until sugar melts and turns amber coloured.
- You need to be extremely careful to prevent your caramel from burning. Remove pan from heat.
- Allow to cool and thicken slightly. Dip a fork in caramel mixture to check if it has reached to correct consistency.
- You should be able to pull it into fine threads or twist it round your finger to form ribbons.
Assembling the Croquembouche
- Poke a tiny hole in each pastry puff or slice them open.
- With the help of a pastry bag, fill each puff with custard cream. Be careful not to overfill the puffs.
- Arrange a first layer of filled puffs in a circle on a plate.
- Stack more puffs on top of the first layer to create a cone.
- You may use a croquembouche cone if you have one.
- Drizzle caramel over puffs and use a fork to spin it around the puffs. The caramel sets within minutes so you need to be quick. You can always melt it if it hardens way too much.
- Croquembouche is best served on the day it is made. Do not store in the fridge; the moisture will ruin the caramel.
- Makes a spectacular centrepiece for special occasions.
Special mention for my dear friend DBOS, wishing him a happy belated birthday and all good things on his special day.