If you read my post on Alton Brown’s Meat Sauce you’ll know that I’m engaged in a Twitter Battle Royale with @DarthGarry. Not really. It’s a totally friendly competition. But my return challenge of making a Croquembouche might have been a bit of a low blow. I don’t know. But Garry made one. He shares the hilarity with us:
After hearing about Alejandra’s acquisition of a cast iron dutch oven, I challenged her to make the famed Alton Brown meat sauce. You can read about her experience here. So, despite the labor intensiveness of the recipe, at least it ended up tasting good. I’m still looking foward to the “quick” version of that recipe.
Alejandra decided to retort by challenging me to construct a Croquembouche! My immediate response was “WTH is a Croquembouche???”. Thankfully we live our lives on the internet and I quickly became a wikiexpert on the recipe. (Check out the official entry here.) Now not to sound sexist, but this did not seem like a very manly type of recipe. I mean, a giant cone of confectionaries? I was thinking I’d be making like a beef stew steak bacon pork chop lamb leg combo platter.
However, not to be defeated I pressed on. Contrary to the meat sauce recipe Alejandra worked though, this one was rather simple with a few ingredients. I ended up using the Food Network recipe as they tend to work pretty well.
In short, a Croquembouche is a big pile of creme puffs stuck together with caramel. The creme puffs are your standard Choux type base, piped into little nuggets which form 2′ diameter balls. In the “Not feeling manly” department, I had to go and purchase my first ever piping bag. I found a cheap one a Target and casually slipped it in with the rest of my order. Well, much to my surprise, it actually worked out pretty well and now I know why so many cooks use a piping bag. They are awesome! Apparently a very versatile tool to have around the kitchen. I might be investing in a higher quality kit in the near future.
So the Choux came together with no issues and it was on to the custard. Pretty basic custard as well. I made the mistake of not cooking it long enough, so once it cooled it was too runny. I put it back on the heat, and cooked it some more and it came together nicely and tasted great. It piped right into those little Choux balls with only a few curse words. This part would have been a lot easier with an assistant but I muddled my way through it.
Finally, on to the caramel! This part is tricky. I’ve dealt with making candy before and talk about being touchy. Caramel is basically sugar & water, reduced down until it almost burns. The almost is the hard part. You need to get it up to temp and just when the sugar starts ambering up, stick that pan in a cold water bath to stop it from going from light brown to black. In my case, I went outside and stuck the pan in the snow! Then I returned it to very low heat to keep it liquified.
So I started assembling the croquembouche. It was no easy task. I’m very thankful I went to college for sculpture. It turned out fairly well but I will offer one serious warning – The caramel is somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 degrees. It will cause a 2nd degree burn INSTANTLY if it touches your skin. I learned that the hard way. Twice. So be extremely careful.
The final product was spectacular. It looked gorgeous & tasted even better. You would be the hit of any party if you brought one of these. It’s a great party snack, anyone can break off a few Choux balls and go to town on it. It was very labor intensive to make but also fun, especially because I knew I was answering the call of a baking challenge! In order to make the recipe faster, the only real substitution I could see is using some form of instant pudding instead of a from-scratch custard. That would probably save 1/2 hour of time, but since it’s such an intense endeavor, you’d might as well go all out.
The verdict: Tastebuds give it two thumbs up. Burnt fingers give two thumbs down. Level of effort – Lot of time (about 4 hours). Difficulty – Medium. I’d almost say easy but it takes some dexterity to pipe everything and make a nice looking cone of Choux balls when you’re done.
Thanks for a great challenge Alejandra. I learned a whole new set of skills, words I have never heard and even acquired some new baking implements! I’m still debating what my official response challenge back to you is going to be!