Oui Oui, my chickies, it's gettin' crazy up in here! My manager at Le Deauville had a birthday this week, and I decided to tackle the (in)famous Croqeumbouche since he's French and all. It's not in my pies and tarts book, but... Meh. Zee tower of zee cream puffs was calling to me sweetly!
So, first you make the cream puff pastry, or Pate a Choux Sucree. (These are also known as profiteroles.) It's very basic - boil water, season with salt and sugar, add butter (cut up into small pieces), and when it melts remove from heat and add flour. Then you beat in the eggs one at a time until it's well-blended and forms a doughy ball, like so... .
You can either spoon or pipe the dough onto un-greased parchment paper or directly onto a baking sheet, then you paint with an egg/cold water wash before baking. This helps smooth the rough bits and gives these puppies (chiots) a little shine.
Bake the puffs for about 20 minutes on 425 degrees, then turn off the oven, pull 'em out, fork some air holes in the sides, and return them to the oven for another 10 minutes to dry out with the oven off and the door ajar.
While this is happening, make the pastry cream - traditionally a custard but you can do a Bavarian cream (with gelatin) or whipped cream as well. I used a recipe for French Pastry Cream - Creme Patissiere - that consists of egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch (to thicken), half and half cream or light cream, milk, and vanilla. (You can additionally flavor this filling with cocoa powder, spirits, pulverized almonds or nuts, etc.) Scald the cream, combine all the other ingredients, add the cream, and then cook until thickened enough to thickly coat your spatula. Take it off the heat and let it cool until further thickened. Meanwhile, slice the profiteroles 1/3 of the way open, spoon in the (custard) and then you stack...
Since I didn't have much time at this point (or any experience with spun sugar), I decided to make a caramel candy drizzle for the topping, which also helps hold the pyramid together. Martha Stewart has a fairly easy recipe - but beware! Even if The Great Martha says to let it cook on high heat for 7-8 minutes, *your* stove might only require 4-4.5 minutes!!! I'm not sayin' she's wrong, I'm just sayin' my stove must be different! After burning the first two batches of sugar, I successfully caramelized 3 cups of sugar with 1/4 cup of water and a lemon squirt! Yesssss! Mix all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat up to "high heat," and cook until the sugar around the side of the pan starts to brown, and then you take it off the heat and let it sit until thickened to a good drizzling consistency. It still continues to cook when it comes off the heat, so really, you take it off *as soon* as the edges start to get caramel colored!
Then you drizzle the pyramid of cream puffs with the caramel syrup using a metal spoon, and it quickly hardens, holding it all together and tasting/looking loverly to boot!
All-in-all, mistakes and additional batches included, this project took me about 3 hours to complete. I think I could easily shave off maybe half an hour, but really, since there's cooling to be done you should expect to be able to do this in no less than 2 hours, pretty much ever.
The finished photos will be in the next post!