Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. The recipes I used for the choux buns and the pastry cream were from the BBC good food website. The more observant of you may have spotted it is now late July and I am posting this challenge about 2 months late… this is a result of abject laziness, an intense couple of months of work and the impeding arrival of our second child.

Compared to making a suet pudding this looked to be a real challenge for me as delicacy and precision are not my fortes generally when handling the sticky stuff. However C.’s  second birthday was coming up so it made an ideal project for a pretty party cake. In order to make and assemble the various elements during the working week I made the Croquembouche over the course of 3 days.

Day 1

Making the choux pastry was easier than I expected although I initially forgot the water which resulted in my pastry resembling nothing more than a superheated roux.  Remembering to add the water resulted in a near miraculous transformation and the rest of the process of choux bun creation was simple enough.  My piping bag tips were a bit fine for this so I just used the locking ring on the end of the bag with no tip attached and this worked really nicely. To get my buns uniform I placed a  macaron template under the baking parchment.

As soon as the pastry was cooked I made a 1cm slit on the side of each bun to let the steam escape. (This stops them turning soggy as they cool).The buns were returned to the oven for a further 5 minutes to dry them out,  transferred to a wire rack to cool and then stored in tupperwares.

I made a pastry cream to fill the buns but flavoured with lemon zest and Cointreau (flaming all the alcohol off the booze before adding to the pastry cream as we would be serving to kids).  This was also stored in a tupperware overnight in the fridge, the surface of the cream covered with a circle of greaseproof paper to prevent a skin forming. So far… so good…

Day 2

The buns were crisped up in the oven and then filled with the pastry cream.  This sounds hard but is actually very easy.

Mrs W. used her engineering prowess to construct a suitable cone shaped mould from 2 pieces of A2 card lined with foil.  This would allow me to assemble the cone from the top down by placing the mould upside down in a large Pimms jug (so the tip was facing downwards) and packing with the filled buns. Melted white chocoalte was  applied generously to cement the bus together. The filled cone was placed (still upside down in the jug) to set in the fridge overnight.

Day 3

The next morning the whole assembly was turned out. The best removal tactic was to cut the mould along one edge and peel it off VERY carefully! Cue drum roll…….

Success! Now it was just left to to decorate with sugar flowers and spun sugar.

Like macarons, this initially looked an intimidating project but given a but of planning was actually fairly easy as each element that comprises the dessert is fairly simple.  I was really pleased with the results and I may well do another one for Christmas!

Share/Bookmark

Daring Bakers: Suet Pudding

This is my first Daring Kitchen ‘challenge’ after reading about them in countless other blogs. The idea is that each month a member posts a recipe challenge (there are ‘cooking’ and ‘baking’ challenges) and everybody has a go and shares their successes and failures. It appealed to me as a way to try new ideas and have some fun cooking! I would recommend anybody to get stuck in and have a go. Full details and FAQ are in this link.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: Suet. Being an Englishman this was not as alien a concept as it may have been to some of the other cooks taking on this challenge as I make 2 or 3 Christmas puddings every year and have done several other sweet suet puddings.  Suet has a comforting quality that reminds me of school dinner puddings and my mums stew and dumplings on a cold winters night.

However I have never made a vegetarian savoury suet pudding so this became my challenge. The weather has begun to warm up here (spring has finally arrived!) so I wanted to make a lighter dish than a traditional winter meat pudding (the classic filling is steak and kidney).  I browsed through my cookbooks and found a vegetarian suet pudding dish by Gary Rhodes. It would make an ideal vegetarian main course or a great rich side dish to roast beef.

Suet (shredded rendered beef fat) is not the most appealing ingredient (it polarised opinions with those bakers who had not used it before) but it is essential in the pastry of traditional English steamed puddings (savoury and sweet).  These misgivings are misplaced if you are using the boxed stuff, its has the appearance of coarsely grated dessicated coconut (fresh suet is another matter and is for the more adventurous!).

Suet pastry is softer and rich in contrast to the crispness of shortcrust.  A pudding bowl (any heat proof bowl will do mine was a small Pyrex mixing bowl… the ones you get supermarket Christmas puddings in are ideal …keep them!) is lined with the suet crust pastry, the meat added and a lid of suet crust tightly seals the meat. The pudding is then steamed before serving in the bowl on the table.

Layered Mushroom and Onion Suet Pudding with “Truffle” Sauce

150 gm vegetarian suet

300 gm self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

200 ml cold water

4-6 medium onions

12 large flat mushrooms

butter

1 large shallot or 2 smaller ones

few sprigs of lemon thyme

300 ml aromatic white wine (Gewürztraminer is ideal)

300 ml Noilly Prat vermouth

Creme fraiche to taste

Making a suet crust pastry was absurdly easy.  Mix the flour with an extra teaspoon of baking powder and sieve into bowl. Mix in the shredded suet and season with salt and pepper (its the same process for a sweet suet crust just leave out the seasoning).  Add water to form a stiff dough and once all the material is combined into a ball wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest (I left mine overnight at this stage).

Whilst the pastry is resting prepare the mushroom and onion filling.  Slice the onions thinly (I used a mandolin…essential timesaving tool) and fry in butter over a medium heat until well caramelised (its better to do this is a couple of batches, seasoning as you go).  Trim the stalks from the mushrooms (reserve them for later).  Sear the mushrooms in a hot pan with a drop of olive oil in batches of 2 or 3 (you want to get a rich brown colour on them).  Set the onions and mushrooms aside to cool.

Generously butter a 2 pint pudding bowl (tip: if you are making a sweet pudding you can get a lovely caramelised finish if you sprinkle soft brown sugar over the buttered surface).  Roll the pastry out to a 0.5-1cm thickness and cut a 1/3 segment out, this will be your lid so cut a circle out of this segment using the rim of your pudding bowl.  Form a rough cone using the remaining 2/3 of your pastry by bringing the cut edges together with a slight overlap and use this ‘cone’ to line the pudding bowl. Ensure there are no gaps in the lining and trim the excess pastry leaving about 1 cm overlapping the rim.

Drain and reserve any liquid from the mushrooms. Place a layer of the caramelised onions in the bottom of the pudding bowl followed by a few lemon thyme leaves and then a mushroom (gills facing up). Season with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers of onions, thyme and mushrooms until all the filling is used up (as you get towards the top of the bowl you may have to use 2 or 3 mushrooms to form the layer) seasoning each layer lightly. Once all the filling is added top with the suet pastry lid.  Overlap and pinch the lining edges over the lid to seal the pudding.

Butter, flour and season a piece of kitchen foil large enough to cover the bowl. Make a pleat in the centre of the foil sheet.  Cover the pudding bowl with the foil and place the pudding into a steamer with the bowl resting on a trivet or rack.

If you have a pressure cooker this works even better.  I bought a pressure cooker a couple of  years ago and find it a brilliantly useful piece of equipment. Not only is it ideal for steaming puddings but it can make the most glorious stocks with only half an hour of cooking !  Steam the pudding for about 2 hours (or 1 hour in a pressure cooker).

Whilst the pudding is steaming prepare the sauce by finely chopping the shallot and remaining mushrooms (including the reserved stalk trimmings). Sweat the shallots in a knob of butter until soft but not coloured and add mushrooms, a few sprigs of lemon thyme and the juice of half a lemon and cook until the mushrooms have softened. Add the white wine, vermouth and reserved mushroom juices. Turn up the heat and reduce by half. Once reduced, turn down the heat to a low simmer add the cream, taste and season.  Cook the sauce for a few minutes more then strain through a fine sieve making sure to squeeze out all the juices. Return the sauce to the pan and keep warm.

Once the pudding has steamed leave the pudding to rest for about 10 minutes before removing the foil top and turning out onto a plate.

Cut the pudding into portions sized wedge and serve with the sauce. Some lightly cooked greens would be a good accompaniment but we just had seconds …and then thirds.

I have to admit the final dish tasted much better than it looked (apologies for the rubbish photo but we had friend for dinner and had no time for faffing with the camera). The filling was rich and surprisingly ‘meaty’ and the mushrooms packed a deep, savoury umami punch.  The pastry was like a big warm hug: soft and comforting in a way that only suet crust is and had a pleasing slight crispness that I wasn’t expecting.

One last tip… there will be melted suet in the cooking water. Once it cools it will form a rather unpleasant hard, fatty scum so if you are not putting the pan in the dishwasher it it worth giving your pan (and the pudding bowl) a good rinse with hot soapy water before it cools… a job for the ‘sous chef’ in your life?