I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with conquering the Croquembouche. I think it all started about a year ago when I first saw the challenge set on one of my favourite cooking shows, Masterchef. Since that time I’ve had about four attempts at the French Wedding Cake, each with varying levels of success and often resulting in burnt fingers and a few tears (this is probably one of the only recipes that angers/frustrates/delights me to the point of crying!). I’ve always used the same recipe (Adriano Zumbo’s Masterchef challenge recipe, which has now “officially” been removed from their website but a similar one exists here http://tvnz.co.nz/masterchef-australia/croquembouche-3069656) and every single time I always promise myself never ever to attempt it again…and yet here we are!
So about a month ago I received a Croquembouche cone for my birthday, which undoubtably was a sign that I would just have to attempt to make it one final time (as if!) and I of course decided that the most perfect occasion would be Christmas Dinner. On the four previous occasions that I’ve made it, I had progressively gotten better. The very first attempt resulted in very large choux buns of all different sizes served on a plate (I was too exhausted after the process of making the buns that I couldn’t be bothered to make the toffee or put them together). The next two attempts did have more consistency in bun size and shape and even included the toffee. The tower however, was still slightly unattainable without the proper cone, collapsing into a heap on my second attempt and leaning like the tower of Pisa in the third. My fourth attempt (made for my boyfriends birthday) was my best so far where I came up with the genius idea of using a bowl lined in cling wrap as my mould. Unfortunately I forgot that hot toffee melts plastic but after a few disasters I managed to get a tower shape, slightly uneven but with spun toffee. It was all very impressive! For this attempt though I was very determined. Success would finally be mine, I could just feel it!
So on Christmas eve I set about baking my choux buns. In previous attempts I’ve noticed that once filled and refrigerated, the buns go soggy quite quickly so to counteract this I planned to bake the buns a day ahead, and construct the tower the day of. I really took my time making sure that each batch were evenly cooked through, and completely dried out. I’ve previously had issues where the buns didn’t dry out completely, but read somewhere that you should cook for 10mins at a higher temperature, before turning your oven down for the remaining time. This seemed to work very well, and I managed to turn out perfectly cooked, coloured choux buns that had a nice hollow sound when tapped on the base (thats a sign that they are cooked through). I also saw, on another cooking show, that once removed from the oven, the buns should have a small “x” cut into the base. This has two purposes; the first is to allow the heat/steam to escape from each bun, preventing them from going soggy and secondly to provide a hole to pipe the custard into later. Once this process was complete and the buns were cool I put them into an airtight container, readying myself for the great build the next day!
So I must admit that on this occasion I cheated on the custard (or creme patissiere if you want to be technically correct) and bought an extra thick store bought one, which worked really well for a time pressed and egg-short me! I also enlisted my sister to help me build the great structure, which was probably wise as she kept me sane throughout the process. Now this was the first time that I had ever used the actual cone to help me build it and if I’ve learnt one thing its INVEST IN A CONE!! It was so much faster and easier and less stressful then I’d ever envisaged. I really don’t know why I didn’t do it the first time. After some research though, I’ve read a few websites that make their own cone shape using baking paper and also use chocolate instead of toffee for a bit of a modern twist. While I’ve never personally tried either of these options they both sound worthwhile with much less risk of being burnt. After about 15mins though, we had our tower and now for the moment of truth, turning it out! With all my fingers crossed I prayed to the gods of baking and did the magic flip, hearing the beautiful “clunck” sound of the croquembouche detaching itself from the mould! As I lifted it away I was presented with a perfectly shaped Croquembouche and about time too!! It was possibly, one of my proudest baking moments.
Now this dessert wasn’t to be eaten for a few hours so I turned it back into the cone and transported it to my Aunties house where I made one of my most amateur decisions ever….not to refrigerate the Croquembouche. So here’s another lesson I learnt on Christmas day, you must refrigerate the Croquembouche!!! Sadly for me it was all too little, too late. When it finally came time to serve up, I turned out what was once my perfectly formed Croquembouche only to have it all collapse before my eyes! To say I was devastated was an understatement. In the end though I was consoled with two thoughts; one that it would still taste just as good and two that I had already taken a picture of its success. I must say though, that it still did taste really good. So with all that said and done, here are the things that I’ve learnt when it comes to making a Croquembouche. Hopefully someone out there will learn something from my mistakes and create a beautiful, flawless Croquembouche, first time around!
The Do’s and Don’ts:
1. If you’re not confident with a piping bag then make a template of circles on a sheet that you place underneath your baking paper so that all of your buns are the same size
2. Do cook your buns at 200 degrees C for the first 10 mins then turn your oven down to 180 degrees C
3. Do cook your buns all the way through, even if this is longer then the recommended cooking time. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and will be quite coloured. This is a good sign!
4. Do cut an “x” in the base of each bun with a sharp knife and cool completely
5. It’s ok to use store bought custard, just make sure you use one thats “extra thick”
6. Do invest in a Cone or make your own using baking paper. Spray the cone lightly with cooking spray and DO NOT use cling wrap
7. Make and serve your Croquembouche at or around the same time and in the interval REFRIGERATE!! Even if its a cool day!
8. Do try again if it doesn’t work the first time. It’s a challenge after all!!
Happy Baking xx