Recipe: Mini and Terribly Inauthentic Croquembouche

Je suis à Paris!  Et alors il faut écrire une recette typiquement Française, n’est pas?

This is another time-travelling post (spooky!), which is always a risk.  I’ll look pretty silly if I perish in a glacier last week and then this post appears, that’s for sure.

Anyway, assuming no glacier perishment, at the time you are reading this, I am probably sleeping the sleep of the just after a day spent cycling around the gardens of Versailles.  So if any of my GCC buddies are reading this, I want you to know that I’m keeping up the good walk while I’m away.  Or at least, past me thinks that future me will be doing so…

I actually made this croquembouche for Bastille Day (mais oui!), so if you pay close attention to the photo, you will notice that the crème patissière is jumping up and down crying “Liberté”, as it attempts to ooze its way out of the profiteroles.  The profiteroles are, of course, all about “Egalité”, because in a world in which I were actually competent at profiteroles, they would all be the same size.  And meanwhile, the caramel is grimly embodying “Fraternité”, as it tries with all its sugary might to hold the entire tower together in brotherly union.

Having stretched that metaphor as far as it can go and probably further (I’m writing this just before leaving Melbourne and I’m not yet packed, so I’m ever so slightly beside myself right now), let us move on to the recipe itself.  This is the first time I have attempted croquembouche, so naturally I took liberties with the recipe.  Of course I did.  But they were very nice liberties – I used Harry Eastwood’s low-fat profiterole recipe, which actually made some of the best profiteroles I’ve managed yet, and I used my almond milk crème patissière (chocolate and vanilla varieties) inside the chou pastry.  And it’s probably a very good thing I’m leaving France in a couple of days, because they will probably kick me out if they find out what I did to their classic wedding cake recipe.

You know what, though?  It tasted *really* good.  Really, really good.  Better than any other croquembouche I’ve tried so far.  I think it’s that amazing crème patissière recipe, to be honest.  The chocolate version, in particular, is to die for.  Also, almond milk reduces the richness just enough that six people really can demolish this entire tower without regretting it too badly afterward…

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Your shopping list

For the crème patissière:

500 ml almond milk + 100ml f0r the chocolate cream
1 vanilla pod
125 g caster sugar100 g egg yolks (from about 5-6 eggs)
40 g custard powder
25 g cocoa butter
100 g dark chocolate, chopped

For the profiteroles

250 ml water
10 g caster sugar1/2 tsp salt
60 g butter
140 g spelt flour
4 eggs

For the toffee

About 300 g sugar – I’m afraid I didn’t measure it.

You will also need at least three piping bags with plain nozzles – one large nozzle and two small.

Now what will you do with it?

First, make the pastry cream.  Follow the instructions here, then divide the mixture into two parts when you get to the part where you are ready to cool it down – one part should be a little bigger than the other.

Let the larger part cool in gladwrap, and return the smaller part to the pan with the extra almond milk and the chocolate.  Bring slowly back to the boil, stirring constantly, then pour onto a second prepared tray or plate.

Transfer the two lots of pastry cream to the piping bags with the small nozzles once cool.

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Now make the profiteroles.  To do this, put the water, sugar, salt, and butter (cut into cubes) into a saucepan, and bring slowly to the boil.  Once the mixture has boiled, dump in the flower, and stir it in quickly with a wooden spoon, over a low heat.  Keep stirring for a minute or so, until the mixture is homoegenous and comes away cleanly from the sides and bottom of the pan.  Let cool for a minute or two.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, and prepare two baking trays by covering them with baking paper.

Add the eggs one by one, beating in vigorously.  This is seriously hard work manually – I use a big, heavy whisk and a lot of stubbornness.  If you have a standing mixer, I would absolutely recommend it.  You are aiming for a mixture which is smooth and elastic and very shiny.  If it isn’t shiny, your profiteroles might not rise, so do make sure you do this properly, even if you think your arms are going to fall off.  Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a large nozzle.

Pipe 18 profiteroles onto each tray, giving them lots of room to puff up.  I made a few little ones for the top and bigger ones for the bottom, but if you aim for walnut-sized balls, you should be about right.  Use your finger to smooth down the pointy top on each profiterole, and then put the pastries in the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes, then cool on a wire rack if you like your profiteroles soft.  If you want them a little drier, pierce each one on the bottom, then return to the (switched off) oven for about 10 minutes to dry out a little as the oven cools.

Once the profiteroles are cool, it is time to fill them with pastry cream.  You should do this only a couple of hours or so before you plan to eat them, because the moisture in the pastry cream will otherwise transfer itself to the chou pastry and you will end up with a mushy mess.  If you have not already done so, pierce the bottom of each little pastry with a sharp knife, then inser the small nozzle from one of the pastry cream bags, and puff a little filling into the profiterole.  Go slowly, because in your ideal world, you want the profiteroles to be heavy and plumped-up with pastry cream, but not actually exploding all over the kitchen table and you.

Right, well done, now it’s time for the toffee and the assembly.  Also known as the tricky part.  Incidentally, while everything has to come together late in the day, you can make the pastry cream and the profiteroles the day before, if you like.  Have your serving platter and your profiteroles ready to go before you make the caramel, and have your bottom layer arranged in a circle on the plate.

To make the caramel, put a wide non-stick skillet on the stove, and pour in the sugar.  You don’t need anything else except heat.  So heat the sugar, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the sugar melts and goes a deep caramel colour (which will happen almost the moment the sugar is melted).  Keep a close eye on this, because once the sugar starts melting, it goes FAST.

Once the caramel is fully melted, drizzle the bottom layer of profiteroles fairly generously with the caramel, and top with another layer of profiteroles.  This caramel will harden almost instantaneously, so you might find it easiest to ladle caramel over two or three profiteroles on the bottom layer, put a couple more on top, and then put caramel on the other side of the bottom layer.  Ladle more caramel over the second layer, and use it to glue down a third tier.  Continue until you have a nicely tapered (and probably lop-sided, if you are anything like me) tower.  Drizzle more caramel over the top. If it starts to harden in the pan before you are done, give it another quick burst of heat, but be careful not to burn it.  If it starts getting really thick towards the end, that’s actually quite good, because then you can not just drizzle a final layer of caramel over the top, you can wind ribbons and lines of caramel around the whole thing.

Congratulations, you have made a croquembouche!

Serve as soon as possible.

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Variations

This croquembouche is vegetarian, low in fructose and FODMAPS, and low in dairy.  You could probably swap out the butter for Nuttelex in the chou pastry for a dairy-free version.  I’m afraid you really can’t make chou pastry without eggs, but you could, of course, make a pastry cream with dairy milk or soy milk if almond milk doesn’t work for you.

In terms of flavours, I’ve seen hazelnut milk on the shelf and think that would make an amazing, Nutella-like pastry cream.  Also, then the French might forgive me for messing with a classic, because every French person I know is obsessed with Nutella.  So you should totally do that.  This might also be nice with an orange-infused pastry cream – orange and caramel are a lovely combination.

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