croquembouche and an anniversary

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We turned three on November 20th. How about that?!!

I had originally planned on making a cake for the occasion. But for one reason or another, I just couldn’t get it together that day. So I went without the cake. And instead celebrated at home that evening with a Manhattan.

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While I enjoyed and needed that quiet celebration (especially the Manhattan), it didn’t feel right not being here with you. I felt like I had missed my best friend’s birthday. Something had to be done.

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So I started thinking about desserts that were worthy of an anniversary. Chocolate mousse popped into my head. But what I really wanted was something grand. And then I remembered the croquembouche. I first encountered the croquembouche a million years ago while watching Great Chefs, Great Cities, a PBS cooking show I would watch when I’d get home from school. The closing credits of the series featured a chef assembling a tower of cream puffs with a cascade of spun sugar; this was mind blowing stuff in the 90’s. I filed it away in the “some day” section of my brain.

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A tower of cream puffs was just the thing for this occasion. Dripping with ambered caramel and  adorned with spun sugar, it’s quite the show stopper. And the caramel cream inside of the puffs is insane – you’ll want to eat more than one, and you should. This is most definitely the pièce de résistance. Perfect for the holidays, a big birthday, an anniversary, a blogiversary. It’s a winner.

Here’s to us and to you! Thank you for being a witness to the madness! We love you! Cheers!

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croquembouche 

caramel cream, caramel, and assembly adapted from Martha Stewart

makes two small or one large tower

for the caramel cream

makes 3 cups

1- 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

2 cups heavy cream, divided

1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch of coarse salt

Prepare an ice-water bath. Heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves, washing down sides of pan often with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until sugar turns dark amber, 5 to 7 minutes more. Immediately remove from heat, and carefully whisk in 1 cup cream. Return to medium heat, and cook until sugar melts completely and mixture boils.

Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl set in ice-water bath. Let caramel cool, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Stir in creme fraiche, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.

Just before using, beat remaining 1 cup cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into caramel sauce, using a rubber spatula, until incorporated. Whisk to thicken, about 1 minute.

for the cream puffs 

adapted slightly from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Makes about 24 large or 40 medium puffs

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 tablespoon sugar 

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, at room temperature

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rapid boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium-low,  and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk. The dough will come together, and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring – with vigor – another minute or two to dry the dough.  The dough should be very smooth.

Turn the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or into a bowl you can use to mix with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don’t be concerned if the dough falls apart –  by the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Once the dough is made, it should be used immediately.

Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip. Pipe 1.5-inch puffs (a bit larger than a quarter) onto each prepared sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space between each mound of dough.

Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375°F.  Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the puffs are golden, firm, and of course, puffed for another 12 to 15 minutes or so. Allow the puffs to cool on the baking sheet.

for the caramel: 

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, washing down sides of pan often with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Cook, without stirring, until sugar dissolves, 5 to 6 minutes. Raise heat to high, and cook, swirling pan to color evenly, until syrup is amber, about 5 minutes. Remove caramel from heat, and set bottom of pan in ice-water bath for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

to assemble: 

Transfer caramel cream to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch round tip. Insert tip of pastry bag into base of each puff, and fill each. Return to sheets in a single layer as you work.

Dip top half of each filled puff into caramel (be careful not to burn your fingers), letting excess drip back into pan. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let stand until caramel is set.

For a small tower, carefully dip bottom half of 1 puff into caramel, letting excess drip into pan. Transfer puff, hot caramel side down, to a serving platter. Repeat with 6 more puffs, forming a connected ring as you work. Repeat with more puffs, layering rings to form a 5-layer pyramid, using 20 puffs total. (If the caramel begins to harden, reheat briefly over low heat.)

To make the spun sugar topper, use any excess caramel and reheat briefly over low heat. Let cool slightly. Test by dipping a fork into the caramel and holding it over the pan; the caramel should fall back into pan in long golden threads. Dip fork into caramel, and spin caramel threads over a large piece of parchment paper or onto a wooden rack. Transfer spun-sugar to croquembouche, swirling to cover.

Serve immediately, or let stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours.

To make a second croquembouche, make another batch of caramel, and repeat with remaining filled puffs. (Alternatively, serve the remaining puffs on the side.)

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