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!

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Chocolate Bread and Barbeque

It’s been a really great weekend, the weather was lovely and I managed to get quite a bit done in the vegetable patch. We also had the first barbeque of the year in the garden (including giant sirloin steaks from butchers extraordinaire …  Orr’s of Holywood).

Unfortunately its Monday now and I’m back at work … the rest of the country it seems has today off as well but not me. The upside is as soon as I get home it will be barbeque time again.

So to the chocolate bread … not much to say about this really … apart from the fact that David Leibovitz is a genius! When I mentioned reading about this confection to Mrs W. she appeared somewhat keen to sample it.  Not wanting to disappoint, I made this as the last act of a near perfect weekend.  I didn’t deviate much from the recipe except to substitute the chopped nuts for home made praline.

I made the praline by scorching blanched hazelnuts and brown sugar in a non stick pan until caramelized (but not burned). The sticky nuts were left to cool on greaseproof paper and chopped roughly in the food processor.  The resulting loaf has a deep chocolate flavour and firm texture … would be perfect with morning coffee.

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

A Lemon Trilogy Part 3: Lemon Macarons

After the success of my Raspberry Macarons I decided to complete the ‘Lemon Trilogy’ by making Lemon Macarons for this month’s ‘Easter’ Mactweets theme.  The recipe for the shells are adapted from the Rose Macaron shells I made previously.  I omitted the red food colouring and added 2 tsp of pure lemon oil to the ground almonds, otherwise the recipe is the same. The lemon oil gave a lovely lemon fragrance and flavour to the shells but without the unwanted acidity.

I seemed to master the piping bag much better this time thanks to hints from Bonnie and a really useful macaron template from Deeba’s blog that I placed under the baking parchment. This resulted in much more uniformly sized shells. Some of the shells came out from the oven a bit pale so I think next time I will bake them for a minute or so more as I preferred the crisper golden shells.

The macarons were filled with homemade lemon curd (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook) the tartness of which contrasted nicely with the richness of the shells.  They made great Easter gifts for our neighbours (who were entertaining family over the holiday weekend so were glad for some ready made petit fours!).

Raspberry Macarons

I have been wanting to bake macarons for a while and inspired by the wonderful creations by Edward Kimber, Aran Goyoaga and Helene Dujardin I decided to have a crack at making my own. Pierre Herme is the undisputed master of this elegant confection and the recipe for the rose shells are from his book “Macaron” (soon to be released in English) and can be found here.

They were not as hard to make as I thought they would be (even though I have never used a piping bag before) but I did pick up a few hints that seemed to help.

  • I “aged” my egg whites before use by leaving them covered with a clean tea towel at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Don’t over boil the syrup before adding to the egg whites (use a cooking thermometer…this is mine).
  • Leave the piped macarons to dry for 30 minutes before baking (the surfaces should be dry to the touch).
  • Once the macarons are baked remove the  parchment from the baking sheets so the macarons do not overcook.
  • Do not remove the macarons from the parchment until they are fully cooled.

I made a raspberry buttercream to fill the rose macaron shells. A handful of fresh raspberries were blitzed using a stick blender and the puree passed through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Butter (160g) and  icing sugar (320g) were beaten in the Kenwood until pale and creamy and the raspberry puree added. However I added too much raspberry and my buttercream split and became sloppy! I managed to rescue the filling by beating in additional icing sugar.

I was pleased with the final result and they tasted as good as they looked. We ate several whilst watching the rugby yesterday and they made a great gift for the birthday dinner Mrs W. and I went to afterwards. Unfortunately I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t manage to post this in time for the mactweets blogroll for macaron bakers.  Oh well… maybe next time.

Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels

This made up one component of my Christmas chocolate gift bags.  I used Dan Lepard’s recipe to make a soft caramel sauce.  I tempered 72% dark chocolate (green and blacks cooking grade) using a microwave and my fabulously useful  ikea cooking thermometer a bargain at £7 and good for the Christmas turkey too.

The tempering wasn’t as tricky as I had imagined.  The tempered chocolate was used to line petit four cases.  These cases were very handy as they came in four colours which helped to identify the different fillings.

Once the chocolate lining had set all that was left was to add the caramel filling, top with more tempered chocolate and leave to set again…bada bing…bada boom!

Anyone could do this. I got the methodfrom David Leibovitz’s excellent blog (he is the caramel master!).  Credit should also go to Edward Kimber’s excellent blog post about making moulded caramels which gave some great pointers.  I will try the moulded ones sometime soon.

The results  were worth it.  I was a bit nervous about chocolates breaking when they were removed from the cases…but thankfully no such problems!

We made 25 of these and 25 more filled with peanut butter caramel (just heat up some of the salted caramel filling and add peanut butter) on Christmas eve afternoon (along with Nigel Slater’s dark chocolate truffles, Andrew Schott’scaramel and chocolate popcorn and some honeycomb).  Christmas presents for 8 ladies and petit fours for a few dinners over Christmas and new year all for about £10 of ingredients!