Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef and stylist Camille Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.
Today: Camille shows us how to make a tower of pastries so stunning you won't want to eat it. (Just kidding, you will.)
Croquembouche literally means crunch in mouth. This architectural show-stopper was first created in the early 19th century by the first-ever celebrity chef and founding foodie father, Antonin Carême. The stacked cone consists of cream puffs that are dipped in caramel, which helps to bind and stack the puffs upon each other. As the caramel sets, the puffs become encased in a crunchy coating.
I find that the beauty of a croquembouche is in its interactive nature -- it's very fun walking up to this tower of pastry, daintily picking off a puff, and popping it in your mouth. During the holidays, give me a viscous red wine and a seat next to a croquembouche and I need nothing more.
Pâte à choux is the light dough used to make cream puffs; mastering it will open you up to a wide array of baked and fried pastries like cream puffs, éclairs, gougères, beignets, crullers, and churros.
This recipe will make a small tower like the one shown above. Triple or quadruple the recipe for a showier croquembouche and use a cone mold underneath for structure.
1 cup water
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups flour
Preheat oven to 375° F.
On medium-high heat bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a simmer.
When the butter has completely melted, add the flour and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon. With every bit of elbow grease you can muster, continue mixing for 4 minutes. A mass of dough will form and it will begin to come away from the sides and bottom of the pot.
Remove from the heat and transfer dough to a stand mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each is consumed by the dough before you add the next. You can also leave it in the pot and mix by hand.
Cool for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally to release steam. When cool enough to handle, transfer into a piping bag. Pipe out 1-inch rounds.
Smooth out any pointy peaks by dipping your finger in water and gently pressing them out -- this will ensure an even bake.
Bake till golden brown, approximately 20 minutes.
Allow them to cool and fill them with pastry cream.
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
For the caramel, place 2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a pan, stir to combine and cover. Cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes until the caramel is a light amber.
With tongs, gently dip each cream puff into the caramel and begin to start stacking your croquembouche.
Make sure your base is sturdy and continue upwards.
Once you are done mounting, reheat your caramel until it turns a darker shade of amber. Allow to cool for a few minutes, until it resembles the consistency of honey, then drizzle it about, trying to get thin stings of the caramel to wrap around. I also drizzled some ganache and dusted it with powdered sugar.
Eat within 2 to 3 hours, as the caramel will start to soften.
Photos by Emma Jane Kepley