For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to go to Paris. My family's full of anglophiles, and dinners were opportunities to discuss the Tudors and Stuarts, Victoriana, and Gilbert and Sullivan. I went the other route, to the east. By the time I graduated college my romantic notions of the place were in full bloom. I'd studied French history, knew my art, and spoke passable book-French. The only thing left to do was go.
As it happened, I got a trip for graduation. But I also got a job offer at a high tech company, not something to shake a stick at as a liberal arts major. They wouldn't hold the job until I got back, and you know the end of that story. I went to work instead.
Again and again over the years something's stepped in whenever the time seemed right to go. The last time I was packed up when the SARS epidemic hit, and a meeting was moved to Lisbon instead. I got gun-shy. By then I was living in New York, a shorter ride to Paris than back to Seattle, yet I flew west every other weekend.
Insane as it sounds, the croquembouche was my stand-in for those trips. I'd seen one in a book when I was in high school, and it made such an impression. To me, that was Paris. It stood tall and glittered magnificently, just like the city in my imagination. So this was not my first croquembouche; I have met this old friend before.
The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake.
Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.
Recipes can be found at the Daring Kitchen.
A couple of tricks I've learned over the years might help:
- Bake all the cream puff dough in a single day, dry them, core them, and then put them in containers in the deep freezer. They'll keep for months, and it's a great way to get enough baked to build a tall tower.
- My choux were filled with a combination of pastry cream and stabilized whipped cream (whipped cream in which warmed, bloomed gelatin is added and then whipped). Make your filling and refrigerate it well before you fill the choux so you know it's thick enough to hold.
- My tower was about 18" - 22" tall, and I did not build it on a mold. I did, however, put puffs in the middle of the tower to fortify it. I baked 100 puffs of varying sizes and used about 80.
- I build onto a cardboard cake round that's sitting on a lazy susan, that way I can move in a circle pretty quickly when working with spun sugar.
- For this tower, I wound up making 2 batches of caramel. The first set too hard to keep using it, so I started pulling threads before I was even done building it up.
- The first ring of puffs on the bottom is the most critical to get right because everything rests on these. I find my biggest choux (all the same size) and dip the side in caramel, not the bottom. I place that caramel-side down and then do the same for the next several until a ring is formed with the bottoms of the choux facing the inside of the column. I can then build up the middle a bit (without caramel) and give the rest of the sides something to stick to as it gets taller. I repeat this (outer ring, inner fill, outer ring, etc) until it's as tall as I want it or it starts to look silly. This tower was built on a 10" cake round with a base of 8 or 9 big choux.