Having made a Croquembouche years ago from my neighbour's engagement party, her mother decided that for a high tea she would like a demonstration of the process in order to impress the ladies invited.
Recovering from the initial shock, (the last time I'd made such a monstrosity was approximately five years ago) and requesting time for a trial run (my cousin's christening cake) before making a decision, I agreed to the challenge and set about preparing. Ingredients needed buying, components preping, nerves steeling.
Demonstrating it in front of a last group was not the problem. What I didn't want to happen was for the croquembouche to fall apart on the day.
It had happened to the one made for my sister's 21st and while we knew why, I was only 99.9% sure that was the reason.
On the day my neighbour's youngest (a talented baker in her own right) helped with the construction as it is a process that requires speed and attention to detail and the hands of the Hindu goddess Durga.
A croquembouche comprises of three separate components.
- Profiteroles. If making your own you will need to make a double batch of the recipe below. However because I started making croquembouches before I started making profiteroles and because you need the profiteroles to be completely dry and sturdy I use small shop bought ones. I find my home made ones are currently too delicate and often contain uncooked dough even when baked for them to be reliable enough. The shop bought ones can be difficult to find but check the section with the vol-au-vent cases. The image on the right is what you'll be looking for.
- Custard. You can fill the profiteroles with whatever you want: whipped cream, chocolate mousse... I use an orange sour cream custard. In order to fill 40 profiteroles you will need about 6 cups of custard. This would be a triple batch of the recipe below. In order for the profiteroles to stay hard for longer and therefore make it easier to construct the croquembouche, make the custard the night before in order that it can cool thoroughly.
- Toffee. A single batch of the recipe below will be more than enough. This is easiest to make with a sugar thermometer to accurately measure when the sugar reaches the hard crack stage.
Profiteroles (makes 20)
1/2 cup (125ml) water
60g butter, chopped finely
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1/2 cup (75g) baker's flour
1 tablespoon icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 220C. Grease oven trays (I use baking paper)
- Combine the water, butter and caster sugar in a medium saucepan; bring to the boil. (the butter is finely chopped so it melts quickly before the water evaporates.
- Add flour; beat with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the mixture comes away from the base of the saucepan and forms a single ball
- Transfer pastry to a medium bowl; with a wooden spoon beat in two of the eggs, one at a time.
- Whisk the remaining egg with a fork; beat enough of the egg into the pastry until it becomes smooth and glossy but still holds its shape. It should gently fold over itself when the spoon is removed.
- Drop level tablespoons of the pastry, about 5 cm apart onto trays. (you can use a piping bag but two spoons works just as well).
- Bake puffs for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180C; bake 15 minutes
- Cut a small opening into the base of each puff; bake a further 10 minutes or until the puffs are dry
- Cool on trays.
Orange Custard (makes about 2 cups)
This custard needs to be cold when used to fill the profiteroles, so make it the day before.
2 tablespoons custard powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Cointreau
1 teaspoon grated orange rind (optional)
- Combine the custard powder and sugar in a saucepan; gradually stir in the orange juice.
- Heat the mixture and constantly stir until the mixture boils and thickens. (It needs to be a little more solid than pouring custard for the profiteroles)
- Stir in the sour cream and liqueur and mix well to remove any sour cream lumps.
- Serve hot, or allow to cool completely for the profiteroles.
2 1/2 cups white sugar
water to moisten sugar (about 1/4 cup)
- In a medium saucepan, pour sugar and wet with a small amount of water.
- Over medium heat, let the sugar warm, and begin to dissolve. Allow sugar and water to gently boil until the sugar begins to change colour. During this time, brush the inner sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in cold water to prevent any build-up of sugar crystals.
- Do not stir the sugar but if necessary swirl the saucepan to mix developing sugar crystals under or mix the colour changes throughout the pot.
- As soon as the sugar begins to change colour (this is 'hard crack' stage and occurs at 300-310 F (I use a sugar thermometer)), remove from stove and place on a heatproof surface (an oven mitt can be used) near your work area.
- Make the custard the day before.
- Make the profiteroles and allow to cool and dry completely (alternatively, use shop bought ones).
- Put aside three profiteroles. Pierce a hole in the side of each of the remaining profiteroles. The hole needs to be large enough for the nozzle of the piping bag but not too large).
- Chose your platter and work out where the bottom ring of profiteroles are going to be placed. Once they are stuck down with the sugar they can not be moved.
- Prepare the toffee (see the recipe above)
- This step needs to be done in tandem, one person doing the custard, the other using the toffee so that the profiteroles don't have a chance to soften with the custard before they are glued down. Fill a piping bag with the cold custard and start filling the profiteroles one at a time.
- The moment a profiterole is filled, dip its bottom into the saucepan of toffee and glue it in place on the platter.
- You want to place the hole facing in to the centre of the circle. You may have to hold it in place for a few seconds until it sets.
- Continue to complete the first ring of profiteroles.
- Start building up, remembering to come in slightly with each level so that it tapers in to form a pyramid.
- As you get to the last few profiteroles, return to the three you put aside. Determine where to place the hole so that it will be hidden when on the pyramid (this may require placing it in the bottom of the profiterole). Fill and glue as before.
- If the toffee starts to harden you may need to re-melt it. Be careful as each time you reheat it it will darken in colour and taste.
- Once the pyramid structure is complete, dip a whisk or fork in the remaining caramel. In a circular motion, trail threads of caramel over the top and down the sides of the croquembouche.
- Decorate with edible flowers and ribbons as you're spinning the toffee on to the croquembouche. (Use the toffee to glue the decorations in place).