Death by Croquembouche

ImageI 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. ImageThis 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. ImageAfter 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!Image

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!

And finally,

8. Do try again if it doesn’t work the first time. It’s a challenge after all!!

Happy Baking xx

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Festive Fruit Mince Pies

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Merry Christmas everyone!! I hope your day was filled with family, giving, joy and what else…FOOD!! I should probably add that I’m speaking in the past tense here because it’s currently Boxing Day morning where I live. Yesterday was a great day and at my place, we have leftovers coming out of our ears but I couldn’t resist sharing one more Christmas recipe with you all, especially when I was so surprised at how well this one came out!

One of my most favourite things to eat at Christmas (aside from a baked Turkey lunch) are Fruit Mince Pies and this year I think I’ve finally got the recipe right. Nothing beats the soft, crumbly blonde pastry filled with caramelly fruit mince. I thought they would be a lot more fiddly to make but I managed to wrangle my sister into helping me, so we had a little production line going on. So here is what I did (this makes about 14-16 tarts)

You’ll Need:

Fruit Mince:

1 Cup dried mixed fruit

Rum/Orange Flavoured liquor/Orange Juice

1/2 cup Brown Sugar

75g Butter

1TBS Cinnamon

1Tsp Mixed Spice

1Tsp Nutmeg

Half an Orange, Juiced

1 Apple, cored and diced into small pieces

1/3 Cup Slithered Almonds

Pastry:

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1/3 cup icing sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

1tsp baking powder

160g cold butter

1 egg

1tsp vanilla essence

2TBS cold water

What I did:

1. The day before: Place your mixed dried fruit into a bowl and add a splash of alcohol or orange juice for a kid friendly mince. Ensure you cover it with cling wrap so the alcohol doesn’t evaporate. 

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2. Put your fruit mixture into a saucepan and add all the other ingredients and cook on a low heat (about 10 minutes) until a caramel has formed and the apple has softened. Set aside to cool completely. It looks a bit like this (look right!)

3. Put your flour, icing sugar, almond meal, baking powder and butter into a food processor and blend until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add your egg, vanilla and water and mix until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly until it all comes together. Split the mix into two halves and wrap in cling film. Pop into the fridge for 30mins. (now go have some eggnog!)

4. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a muffin tin lightly with cooking spray. Roll out one half of your pastry onto a floured surface (use a rolling pin or tinned cans if you don’t have one) until it is abut 0.5cm thick (or however thick you like. I love pastry so mine might be a bit thick for some people). I like to use a coffee mug but a round cookie cutter does the same thing, so using your chosen utensil cut out the round shape for the base of the tart and place into the muffin tin. Add about a tablespoon of the cooled fruit mince. Roll out the other half of the pastry as you did before and use a slightly smaller cutter to make the lids. Place onto and prick the centre with a fork. Lightly egg wash (1 beaten egg) the tops of the tarts for a golden colour and pop into the oven. Cook for about 20mins. Leave to cool and serve!Image

I hope you all enjoy this Christmas classic as much as I do. And, if you’re like me, this one doesn’t have to be restricted to Christmas time, now that I’m happy with the recipe I might have to make these more often!

Merry Christmas x