It is the season of gifts, board-game disputes and Christmas decadence. What better time to attempt a notoriously difficult French classic than when you have just moved into a new house and have none of the equipment needed.
Excited by the challenge, I popped open a nice bottle of red wine to steady the nerves and set to it with equal parts apprehension and gusto. As well as being a challenge of cooking skill, it was also a challenge of inventiveness and dexterity as I attempted to create homemade alternatives to the equipment essential for this beautiful pyramid of pudding.
Fear not! If I can do it on a first attempt, with the wrong equipment, whilst tipsy, then so can you!
The Choux Pastry
Choux pastry is a light and fluffy delight, when cooking pastry it is a science and not an art. Precision is very important to get consistent results.
- 60g of Strong White Flour
- 1 Tablespoon of Sugar
- 150ml of Cold Water
- 50g of Cubed Unsalted Butter
- Preheat your oven to 200 C
- Sift the flour onto a square baking parchment. Make sure the parchment has a crease down the middle of it so that the flour will gather in the centre. Add the sugar. By having the flour ready on this ‘shoot’, it is easy to add it very quickly to the butter and water mix which is essential for it to mix properly.
- Place the water in a pan along with the butter and bring it to the boil, take it off the heat immediately so as not to lose to much moisture.
- ‘Shoot’ the flour and sugar into the pan of water and beat it for about a minute. It is worth really going for it at this point to make sure you achieve a smooth ball of paste, almost like a dough, that wont stick the sides of the pan.
- Whilst the mix is cooling a little (you don’t want scrambled eggs) beat the two eggs in a bowl. Add a small amount of the egg mix at a time whilst beating the mix vigorously, you should achieve a smooth and glossy mix almost the consistency of custard.
- 5. Grab your greased tray piping bag (or in my case grab your plastic bag and proceed to get the mix all over your self and swear a few times before using a teaspoon) and pipe small round blobs of the mix about 1.5 to 2 cm’s across and about 3 cm’s apart.
- 6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. When they look ready, take them out and pierce the bottoms before returning them to the switched off oven for 10 minutes to crisp up in the middle.
You can use the buns straight away, or you can freeze them in a bag and they will last up to 2 months.
This is the good stuff, custard desserts are a vice of mine, the mere sight of one triggers a primal instinct and it is best to get out of the way if you don’t want to risk serious injury. And let us make no bones of this, Creme Patissiere is essentially custard. It is so easy to make it would be criminal to buy some congealed miserable tinned alternative from the supermarket, go independent! Not wanting to be a pretentious idiot, but there are a few things that are definitely worth getting Organic all of the time. Organic milk is a must, as are Organic free-range eggs. Mairi Beautyman explains why here.
- 500 ml Organic Whole Milk
- 6 Organic Free Range Egg Yolks
- 50 g Castor Sugar
- Vanilla Extract (invest in a good quality extract)
- 80 g Plain Flour
- Bring the milk to the boil in a medium sized pan.
- In a bowl mix the egg yolks, the sugar and the vanilla extract, then add the flour and whisk thoroughly.
- Add the milk bit by bit whilst beating it thoroughly, then return all of the mix back to the pan and bring to the boil again, without a pause in your beating of the mix (I find some dance music with a good 4 4 beat is good for this bit).
- When it is thick enough, take it off the heat and you are done!
It is as easy as that!
This is barely even a recipe, so I will not treat it as such. Simply pour 75 grams of sugar and a teaspoon of water into a small pan, heat until it begins to brown, take it off the heat.
Normally you would use a special cone to create a perfect tower, and as you would have piped the choux buns with your piping bag and tip each one would be uniform in size. Your pristine and elegant tower would be a beacon of sophistication and classiness for all those around. Sadly as I did not have such gadgetry, mine looked a little different.
- Pipe the Creme Patissiere into each choux bun, being careful to fill them as well as possible without them losing their shape.
- Find a good flat surface, preferably a round board or cake tray.
- Count your filled pastries and then work out how many you will use for each layer.
- One at a time, dip each pastry into the caramel mix and place it carefully, starting with one in the middle of the tray and spiraling out to create a dense circle with barely any gaps. Repeat for each layer finishing with one one the top. If you want to make a cone to build the croquembouche in here is a tutorial.
- Decorate! Get creative, we have tried to make ours look a little like a Christmas tree. You can do some sugar work, make praline or use fruits and chocolate.
Now that I have got over the ‘intimidation factor’ of this beautiful dish, I am sure to make it again. As a high impact dessert, it has few rivals and there is a lot of room for creativity. We bought all of the ingredients from independent suppliers in Bristol. It is much easier then you think to make every element from scratch.
The finished article was delicious, croque em bouche means crunch of the mouth, the textures at play really make this dish sing as well as the beautiful richness.