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Welcome to our Valentine Croquembouche Challenge (#ValentineCroque). We are a group of intrepid bloggers who occasionally like to push ourselves well out of our comfort zone to meet baking challenges fearlessly. Since I’m all about being fearless in the kitchen and since sometimes even I need a push, I challenged a group of talented bloggy friends to make Valentine’s-themed croquembouche. Traditionally, a croquembouche (French for “Crispy in Mouth”) is a tower of cream puffs filled with vanilla pastry cream and held together with caramelized sugar (the crispy part).
We are here to show you that you do not always have to be bound by tradition, so we created croquembouche that adhere to the spirit of the dish if not the actual letter. You’ll find all sorts of combinations of flavors here (including a savory version) that will hopefully expand your idea of croquembouche. Not all of our croques were wildly successful, but we all learned something, and we all pushed ourselves. Besides, blogging shouldn’t always be about aspirational and often unobtainable Pinterest moments. It should also be about the near misses and the journey we take when we take a chance. Thanks for joining us today. If you’re interested in participating in future challenges, please contact me; I’d love to have you participate, and you don’t even have to have a blog.
Follow our Valentine Croquembouche Pinterest Board.
Thanks, Joe Pastry
The original inspiration for my croquembouche was Joe Pastry’s croquembouche post from last Valentine’s day. His croque is gorgeous. I love the shape. I love the size. I love the flowers. So beautiful! I asked if he’d like to participate in this challenge, but it didn’t work with his schedule so he had to decline. Just know that this whole challenge is Joe Pastry’s fault. If you don’t know him, do check him out. His blog is one of my most trusted pastry resources.
Things I May Have Done During Croquembouche Construction
- Made more cream puffs because I can’t do math.
- Plotted the overthrow of a government.
- Ordered and ate pizza.
- Poodled about on facebook.
- Practiced my Czech in Rosetta Stone.
Spoiler Alert: I did three of these things.
Raspberry Rose Croquembouche
You see that croquembouche up there, right? The one shot with a blue background? Well, it looks all impressive and stuff, until I tell you that it’s the top of my original, mammoth croquembouche. The top just-under-half of it, to be exact. Ish.
What happenend? Let me start at the beginning.
Pride Goeth Before A Fall
Sometimes, a girl gets cocky. She imagines that her tower o’ cream puffs will brush the ceiling, or at least point commandingly at the ceiling. She constructs a soaring cone of poster board covered with parchment paper and posts a photo of it in instagram, teasing folks. I’m a croquembouche tease.
She makes some cream puffs. Lots of them. She apparently is not good at games like “Guess How Many Beans Are In The Jar And Win A Prize.”
Pate a Choux
As an aside, pate a choux, or cream puff dough is honestly very easy to make. You can make it with as few as four ingredients (water, butter, flour and eggs), but I always add at least a pinch of salt, use half water/half milk for the liquid and a little sugar if I’m making them for dessert. You don’t even really need a written recipe (but I’m writing it down for you so you can commit it to memory.)
The proportions of ingredients (thanks, Michael Ruhlman and your amazing ratios) are: 2:1:1:2 liquid:butter:flour:egg. Another way to remember that, is one cup liquid (8 oz), 1 stick butter (4 oz in the US), 1 cup flour (4-ish ounces if whisked/lightly spooned/swept), 1 cup whole egg (8 oz or 4-ish large eggs).
So, to make one tray of puffs, about 20 or so small guys, use 3 oz liquid, half as much butter and flour (1 1/2 oz each) and 3 oz egg (I beat the eggs to make it easier to measure). You can also start with 8 oz liquid, 4 oz butter and flour and 8 oz of egg. Make as much as you need for eclairs or cream puffs or poofy doughnuts or whatever.
Here’s how it goes. Always. Easy, easy procedure.
- Bring liquid and butter to a boil (to this, I always add my pinch of salt and maybe a tablespoon of sugar for sweet puffs).
- Dump in flour all at once. Stir or whisk vigorously until it looks like mashed potatoes. Continue to cook and stir madly over medium heat to dry out the dough. Here’s a think I learned from my new favorite blogger. (watch that video. Seriously). It just goes to show you that, even reading everything you can get your hands on for 25 years and going to culinary school and working in a bakery and in restaurants, there’s always something else to learn. The more you can dry out your dough in this step, the more egg you can incorporate later. And more egg=more lift=light, beautiful, hollow puffs. You can do this step in your mixer, but it works just as well by hand unless you’re making a very ton of choux, as long as you are committed to the whisking.
- Stir the dough for a minute or two off the heat to cool it down some.
- Add about half the egg and whisk madly until it’s completely absorbed. Add a bit more and whisk more. You will know you are done when the dough is glossy and flows like thick lava off the end of your whisk or spoon and ends in a point. If it ends all jaggedy, add a bit more egg.
- Transfer to a piping bag or zip top bag with a corner cut out and pipe away.
I bake mine at 425F for about 15 minutes and then knock the heat back to 350F for another 10-15 minutes. Then, I turn off the oven and leave them for 15 minutes. Then I prop open the oven door and let them slowly cool off.
Constructing the Chrysler Building
Super Bowl Sunday. Construction Day comes. I get started around noon.
First, vanilla pastry cream. Thick gorgeous vanilla pastry cream from a newly found and already adored blog, Dulce Delight.
I recrisped my choux and commenced to filling with my new and ever so awesome Bismarck Tip. I feel very, very schmancy using this guy. And don’t think I won’t use it to fill some other yum in the not-too-distant future.
Once all my guys were filled, it was time for the caramel. Let me tell you, this was an extremely repetitive process, you guys. I had to keep reminding myself that my sugar was as hot as 330F and never cooler than a couple of hundred degrees and got so thick I had to:
- add a little water
- slowly reheat and dissolve the hardened caramel in the pan
- bring the heat back up to 300F so it would be thin and workable but that the caramel wouldn’t darken.
- put the base of the pan in ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking as another safeguard against too-dark caramel
- start to dip again.
(You did get a Thermapen, didn’t you?)
I ended up dipping half of my cream puffs into caramel and then dipping 24 of them into my wee pink and white nonpareils. The sticky caramel makes perfect glue and the beads don’t come off. I just mixed the two colors in a bowl, and to dip all of them, I maybe only used 2 Tablespoons of each color.
Then, it was time to build.
That went pretty well actually. I just took way too long. The caramel hardened reasonably quickly, but of course, this too was a multi-step process since I kept having to reheat the caramel or start again with a clean pan. That happened maybe twice. But between all the dipping and then all the gluing, I probably reheated caramel ten or twelve times at least.
Burn count: five. Four were just little first degree burns that I couldn’t even see a couple of hours later. Burn number five was on the very tip of my left middle finger. I’m actually typing on that little blister every time I type an “e” (see, just now. Three of ’em. Three more!) or a “c.” That’s another good reason to have an ice bath nearby. Not only do you need to cool off the bottom of the pan to keep your caramel from getting too dark, it’s also handy for sticking your finger or hand in to cool down molten caramel quickly and minimize the burn.
After my soaring Chrysler Building of a croquembouche was built, the plan was to randomly yet artfully place delicate candied rose petals on the tower and then stand back and admire its beauty.
What really happened was this: I used up all my little puffs and realized that, if I really wanted to complete the challenge, I’d have to make more. So I stopped and cooked up then baked more pate a choux, filled, dipped and nonpareiled and continued building. Once I got near the top, I realized that the tower was listing. I mean, decidedly listing. Not unlike the tower of Pisa. Curiously, I inspected the base. Buckling. We had buckling. The little guys at the bottom got very annoyed that I was taking so long, dallying about and whatnot, that they started to give up the ghost. Let me show you a photo. It’s all impressive until I tell you…
…that The Beloved had been holding the base so it wouldn’t crumple until right before I took the photo. I counted to three, he ducked below the peninsula, I took the photo and he popped right back up again to hold the tower again. It was awesome. There was laughing and cursing. You can probably also tell that my croque is missing one guy on the very top. I decided that I was not going to melt down any more #^$&@! caramel for one puff and it could damn well stay on the counter until I figured out what to do with him.
And the rose petals? Forgotten amidst all the holding and popping up and down and cursing.
Perhaps you will enjoy the instagram play by play of The Building Of the Croquembouche.
- The cone tease.
- The filling tease.
- Caramel thread porn.
- Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Here are a couple more photos of the Chrysler Building, pre-collapse.
Things I Learned
After all, it’s a learning process. I count it a win, because not only did I have fun, I also made something really delicious and was able to share it with friends. I got to work with sugar, which I enjoy doing. I got to talk other folks into making croquembouche too so I wasn’t alone in my labors (please see everyone’s below). Anyway, here’s what I learned.
- Don’t use two fillings. It just takes too long to fill each puff twice. Either that, or I should have had two tips and two pastry bags going at once. And I should have had a helper. What I should have done was just flavored my pastry cream with raspberries and rose like the smart Dulce Delights lady did.
- Only put a wee, tiny bit of filling in each puff, especially when making a large-ish tower. The weight of the filling and all that caramel adds up and ends up stressing the bottom courses Unduly. I am sure that was one of the causes of the buckling. That and plotting to overthrow a government.
- Make lots more puffs than you think you need. Having to stop and make more took up about 70 minutes, including making the dough, baking, cooling, filling, etc.
- Do not stop for pizza. Tell your significant other he or she is On His/Her Own until you are done. Do not cave in and order pizza. You are working towards a higher purpose and are above food.
- facebook can wait.
- Maybe, just maybe, don’t make a croquembouche as big as the Chrysler Building.
Seriously, the clock on the viable lifespan of a croquembouche starts ticking as soon as you fill the puffs. It doesn’t tick ridiculously fast, but it’s still ticking. You need to fill, build, and serve all within a few hours. I’m guessing no more than four-five hours, max. My extravaganza took eight. That’s Three Too Long.
Valentine Croquembouche Challenge
- Menage a Trois Croquembouche from Amy of Gluten Glory
- Dulce de Leche Croquembouche from Ansh of Spice Roots
- Lobster Chantilly Croquembouche with Black Truffle Confetti from Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Raspberry Rose Croquembouche from Jenni of Jenni Field’s Pastry Chef Online
- Valentine Croquembouche from Kim of Ninja Baker
- Chocolate Orange Croquembouche from Laura of Mother Would Know
- Lemon Cream Croquembouche from Liz of That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Kick Ass Croquembouche from Sophia of NY Foodgasm
- Petit Croquembouche Citron Framboisefrom Stacy of Food Lust People Love
We all thank you for spending some time with us today. Hopefully it was fun and you learned a lot. I know we did!
Take care, and have a lovely day.