This morning was a beautiful morning. It’s incredibly frightening to experience 8 degree weather on December 25th, but with that in mind, I could not pass up the crisp, yet warm breeze I received from a very transparent sun. I opened my bedroom door that faced my backyard, and I pulled up a chair with a coffee in hand. I took my journal, and I wrote. I wrote about life, and all its wonderful forms, and my gratitude for the chance to experience it. Then I read, and read more. And two hours passed in pure delight.
I am having such a wonderful time baking. Word around town is that my cookies (my previous post) looked and tasted professional! I gifted them to my friends, and I received such great compliments. So, I guess with that confidence boost, I’ve been baking more. But I mean, I never really take my baking seriously after all. I just sort of do it because I enjoy it, and because one day I admittedly want to be a great housewife. :p It’s also not just baking I’ve been enjoying lately; this morning I sat and read a little! Something I haven’t done for a while. The last novel I read was Perfume by Patrick Suskind, which was beautiful in all its analogies, metaphors, and symbolism. Perfume was exceedingly different than the literature I indulge in. It was suggested by my fiancé who is incredibly read: it came up in conversation once as he referenced the notion of symbolism in the novel, then I declared my ignorance. I usually tend to favor literature from the 1600s on to George Eliot, Dickens, Twain, and Hawthorne’s time. But I picked up Perfume in my favorite local used bookstore and immensely enjoyed it.
I am currently reading Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. I’ve always been extremely fascinated by the Bronte sisters as I could recite their childhood memories, taking an extreme liking to their father whose influence substantially shaped their artistic and intellectual streams. I once read that he used to create games in order to heighten their intellectual creativity from silly things around the house, like the clock for example. They would debate topics presented in ‘court’ for the time that would pass and their father presented his verdict. I could only be intrigued by such a thought as to entertain children by allowing them to resolve (perhaps) their own domestic disputes, while also neatly mending their social and cultural knowledge. Intelligent, isn’t it?
What I decided to bake tonight, it has been something I’ve wanted to bake for a while now. It’s called croquembouche, a French dessert that is basically a classic cream puff, but it is assembled into a cone, and bounded by threads of caramel.
Even if my cone may have not looked so perfect, the taste was. I should add that it isn’t as intimidating a task as it may seem; the fun that goes into making these is worth the try 🙂
Recipe (Please read ‘Lessons Learned’ first)
Time to make: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Recipe link: http://www.marthastewart.com/339829/croquembouche
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 6 large eggs
- 1-2 tablespoon of vanilla extract (I added this)
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
Heat oven to 425 degrees. To make the puffs: In a medium saucepan, melt butter in 1 1/2 cups water with salt and sugar. Remove pan from heat, and add flour. Return pan to heat and, using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes. (A film should form on the bottom of the pan.) Cool slightly, and add 6 eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and a 1/2-inch-wide plain tip, pipe out mounds that are 1 inch high and 3/4 inch in diameter on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Smooth the tops. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on racks. (The puffs can be made ahead and frozen until ready to assemble.)
Make the pastry cream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks, gradually adding sugar, until mixture is thick and pale yellow. Beat in flour. Scald milk, and add in dribbles to egg mixture, reserving 1/2 cup. Place mixture in a clean pot over high heat, and stir vigorously until mixture boils and thickens. If it seems too thick to pipe, add reserved milk. Remove from heat. Using a hand whisk, beat butter into egg mixture, one tablespoon at a time.
Just before assembling croquembouche, fill a pastry tube fitted with a 1/4-inch-wide tip with pastry cream, insert tip into puffs, and pipe in cream to fill.
To make the caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Cover pan, and boil until steam dissolves any crystals. Uncover, and boil 5 more minutes, or until syrup is amber in color. Remove from heat. Dip the bottom of each puff into the caramel, and arrange puffs in a pyramid.
To make a spun-sugar web to wrap around the croquembouche: Cut the looped ends of a wire whisk with wire cutters, or use two forks held side by side, and dip the ends into caramel. Wave the caramel back and forth over the croquembouche, allowing the strands to fall in long, thin threads around it. Wrap any stray strands up and around the croquembouche.
Lessons Learned: A couple of things:
- Although Martha Stewart’s recipes are generally good, as this one was, her instructions are not overly great. For example, the oven needed to be on 400, and not 425 as it was burning my creampuffs. Although it goes without saying, all ovens slightly vary in heating degree, she fails to mention that basic point (to an amateur baker like me). I also baked my puffs for less than the time she mentions. I baked them for 20 minutes.
- Use an stand mixer (I used KitchenAid) for step 1 in procedure. AFTER Cool slightly, add 6 eggs, one at a time in your stand mixer on medium to high speed. This will give a nice airy consistency to your creampuffs. That means the middle of your creampuff will be empty (perfect for pipping the cream into after). Also, add vanilla extract, because there’s too much egg in the mixture. And it’s vanilla extract! Beat for about 5-7 minutes.
- Scald milk means: heat milk on stove top until it nearly comes to a boil, then take it off the heat. Continuously stirring it, making sure it does not burn. I did not know that, and I was THIS close to overlooking the word ‘scald’ and adding milk straight from the fridge. Every word counts when reading a recipe; a good lesson.
- I did not use 2 cups of milk; I used one cup and a half for the cream. I also added vanilla extract 🙂
- The ‘caramel’ sauce did not turn out well for me. I just had melted sugar. Even though that was OK to use, I really wished that my sugar would look and taste more like caramel, but it didn’t. So, perhaps I made a mistake here; I should have let it bubble more. OR maybe go with another recipe for the caramel sauce.
- I made my own cone. It was extremely helpful.
- Overall, it tasted phenomenal!