Ah yes. Here's something I should have posted a while back. But I have been holding on to it. Why? Because I couldn't seem to find any geeky trivia about the magnificent creation that this Croquembouche is. So why now? Well, because I did find some geeky trivia after spending hours on Google (yes, that always works, didn't you know?).

Then again, croquembocuhe isn't that 'oh, it comes together in 5 minutes!' type of thing - but it sure can be made at home - and with a little patience, time, this makes a neat weekend project. Glaringly absent in all bakeries in India, I had seen this creation once (once!) in a flashback episode of Masterchef - Pastry Chef Adriano Zumbo's Stunning Creation. I knew nothing of it other than the fact that croquembouche is a profiterole tower - and it looked seriously tall and not something bakers make at home. Profiteroles are cousins to éclairs, a confection I remember from when I was all of nine and wished my school was closer to the local bakery but that's a whole different story.

I should have known better. Obviously I am not reading the papers enough. The very place I managed to get my elbows deep in flour is also a record holder* in the Limca Book of Records for creating the country's biggest croquembouche. could I not know that! Where was I when they made this!?! I searched far and wide, and a college from my own city was the record holder?

"Croquembouche" is a traditional French wedding cake. Translated from French, 'Croquembouche' means crunch in the mouth - referring to the caramel coating on the outside. It is a tower of profiteroles (or choux buns or for those who know éclairs – these are small round éclairs) that are held together with a whisky coloured caramel and decorated with spun sugar. The traditional way to serve croquembouche at a wedding is that the bride and groom whack it with a sword, and the bridesmaids catch the pieces in a tablecloth. Can I attend a French wedding? I promise I’ll bring the cake. 

*Oh, and did I mention the record holding croquembouche was 15 feet tall. 15 feet!

Recipe inspired from Bake!

The recipe is inspired from (again? Yes, again) Bake! But I made a much smaller tower – partly because I was not sure if it was going to work, and partly because I planned on eating on most of it anyway (OK, no, of course I shared, I made it for an anniversary after all – I am not much of a fondant covered cake fan). Plus we had been taught in class to make profiteroles and to pipe them. The filling and the caramel are from the book – even though it seemed a little tedious, it works.

For the profiteroles:

Makes 25 - 30 rounds

50 g plain flour (maida)
Pinch of salt
75 ml water
 g butter
2 eggs, beaten

1. Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a large bowl and set aside.

2. In a deep non stick pan, add the  water and butter and set it over a medium heat and stir constantly until the butter melts and the mixture has come to a gentle rolling boil and immediately remove the pan from the heat.

 3. Add the sifted flour and salt to the liquid and beat very well with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. The mixture might clump together or may seem dry but keep mixing – it’ll form something similar to a soft dough at this stage.

4. Replace the pan on the gas on low heat and stir the mixture further for about a minute until the mixture starts to somewhat stick to the base of the pan – be careful here – the mixture shouldn’t burn. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 1 minute.

Making Choux pastry

5. Slowly pour about  a quarter of the beaten egg into the mixture and, using a wooden spoon, beat very well. Once the liquid is completely absorbed by the mixture, add a little more egg and beat well again until the mixture comes back together.  When you are adding the eggs, it may seem like the egg is never going to get absorbed – but it will – just keep stirring it with the spoon. Continue to add the egg, beating vigorously, until the mixture  softens and is velvety, shiny and has a dropping consistency – but not too liquid. So you may not need to add all of the egg or you may need a little more. The mixture should not be too stiff or too wet (too much egg), or they’ll not bake correctly.

6. Preheat the oven to 220 degree Celsius. Spoon this mixture into a piping bag – I think this is the best way to get even rounds – but if you don’t have a pastry bag, don’t worry, you can just spoon the choux pastry onto a lined baking tray. I didn’t have the correct nozzle for the pastry bag, so I used it as is, without the nozzle – you can do this too. Pipe out small rounds about the size of a small lemon, with at least 2cm between each round, on a lined baking tray.  Put them into the oven and reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and bake for 10 -15 minutes until they are nicely risen and golden brown. Switch off the oven, take out the tray, make a small hole in each profiterole with a skewer and put them back in the oven for about 5 minutes.

For the filling:

2 egg yolks
3 tbsps powdered sugar
4 tsps plain flour (maida)
1 vanilla pod, with a line scored down the side, or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
175 ml milk
1 cup fresh cream, softly whipped with 1 tsp powdered sugar and vanilla bean seeds.

1. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and thick, and then stir in the flour.
2. In a deep bottomed saucepan, Put the milk and the vanilla bring it slowly just up to the boil. Remove the vanilla pod (if you are using it) and pour the milk onto the egg mixture very slowly,  and keep whisking all the time. Transfer this mixture to the pan and stir continuously (or it will burn) over a low heat until it comes up to a gentle boil which is when it starts to thicken. Continue to cook, stirring all the time (or use a whisk if it looks lumpy), for 2 minutes or until it has thickened and is almost like custard.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat, pour into a glass bowl. If the mixture gets a little lumpy while cooking, remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk well. If it is still lumpy when cooked, push it through a sieve.
4. Cover with cling film and allow to cool completely. It must be covered, or the surface must be rubbed with a tiny knob of butter to prevent a skin forming. Once the mixture has cooled, fold in the whipped cream to make a light soft fragrant filling. Store this in the fridge until it’s ready to use.

Assembling the profiteroles:

Once the choux buns have cooled down, Fill an icing gun or pastry bag with the smallest possible nozzle attached to it. With a sharp knife or metal skewer, poke two holes in the profiteroles at opposite ends. Insert the tip of the nozzle into a choux bun, fill it until its half, and then do the same for the other side. Repeat until all the buns are filled.

For the Caramel -

1 1/2 cup sugar
A Pinch of Cream of Tartar
5 tablespoon water

In a deep non stick pan, combine all three ingredients. Stir the mixture just until the sugar dissolves. After that swirl the pan gently for even heating. The caramel is ready when it turns a deep, golden, whisky colour. Turn it off at this point and keep it over a bowl of hot water. Select the plate you want to use to assemble the final profiterole tower on. With a pair of tongs, dip each profiterole in the caramel and place it in a ring on the plate. Cover the entire bottom surface. Then make a smaller ring on top of the first layer. Do this until you use all the profiteroles. Mine was a 15 cm tower - but you could make it taller if you wish. It would depend on the diameter of the base that you choose.
Cool in the fridge for about an hour before serving. Keeps for about 2 days when chilled.


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