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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Lamb Leg a la Twitter

“I have 3kg leg of lamb (lucky me) but only 2 px to feed! suggestions?”

One of my weaknesses is a good deal so when I was passing the butchers counter at the local supermarket and saw a HUGE leg of lamb at what was frankly a giveaway price I bought it without a thought of what I was going to do with said joint of meat.

The first notion that came to mind was to roast the leg in the classical manner  (garlic, rosemary etc) and invite the in laws for a nice spring lunch but they had already made plans.  So the question remained what was I to do?  Using the magic that is Twitter I decided to pick the brains of of a few foodie talents… all of whom possess considerably greater culinary imagination, skill and knowledge than myself. My thanks to all those who replied with suggestions … they were so great that I was inspired to cook and post!

A selection of them (and links to the blogs … all of which are worth checking out) are below.

@akikamozawa (chef, food writer and blogger: Ideas in food)
Mmm lucky you, leftovers. I like mine well seasoned & simply grilled or slow roasted. Wine/herbs/soy/garlic marinade or baste

@thomasinamiers (Masterchef winner, food writer and chef/patron of Wahaca)
make a middle eastern slow braise and freeze what you dont need for a rainy day. Garlic sumac thyme lemons

@stacie_stewart (Masterchef semi-finalist, food blogger and beehive baking queen)
Bone it and divide into 4x 750g portions. Then make lamb curry, hotpot, shepherds pie and steamed lamb suet pudding … all the recipes for the lamb are on [my blog]

@justcookit (Masterchef semi-finalist, food writer and blogger)
cold lamb isn’t great so eat much as poss then make shpherds pie w the rest

@CarolBlymire (food blogger: Alinea at home, French Laundry at home)
freeze some for later.

@ruhlman (food writer, broadcaster and blogger)
separates it into its separate muscles and cook individually, or make lots of shepherds pie and lamb sandwiches tomorrow! … if you do a good job, you can cook those lamb muscles almost like loin.

@docsconz (culinary doctor and food blogger)
Cut it into smaller portions, freeze most and cook a little at a time or invite more folks for a wonderful roast!

@vindee (food blogger: Passionate about baking, co-creator of Mactweets)
Debone , mince, make different varieties of kebabs, freeze. Can marinate and freeze a leg-o-lamb too.

As a result of the great idea I decided to follow Michael Ruhlmans suggestion and debone the leg.  I liked the idea of separating each muscle by butchering along the seams. The should ensure that each portion of lamb would be free of connective tissue running thorugh it (gristle to you an me) and cook evenly as it would be composed essentially of the same meat.

I wanted to make a good job of this so to get me started I found a great video guide by The Healthy Butcher which illustrated the basic steps of removing the bone to leave a butterflied leg.

Joint opened up along the fatty seam and the bone now exposed as per the video.

I continued to cut carefully close around the bone until it could be removed. Use the bone as your guide and take you time and you won’t go far wrong …or lose much meat.

Now, to separate the meat by cutting between the muscles. If you get this right there is not actually much cutting to do as the muscles will almost peel apart like the segments of an orange. Just use the knife to ease them apart and trim the edges. The meat around the shank was left whole as the there is a lot of fine connective tissue (this cooks down when braised give you that yummy rich stickiness) .

I ended up with (from left to right) six fillet like pieces from the upper leg, two large boneless cuts for braising and the bone with some some trimmings. Don’t throw that bone away!… added to a braise it will add fantastic richness, I bagged it up with the trimmings and put it in the freezer.

I took one of the fillets and placed it in a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and Herbes de Provence for about half an hour.  I went heavy on the garlic (one of the giant cloves from the elephant garlic I grew last year).

The marinated lamb was seared on a hot grill on for a few minutes on each side and then finished in the oven.

Rested for about 10 minutes before carving, the meat was superbly tender and juicy, presumably a result of not being cut across the grain when the leg was butchered. The result of my labours was probably the best piece of meat I have cooked this year … served on ratatouille with some mixed leaves.

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!).

A Lemon Trilogy Part 2: Flourless Whole Lemon and Almond Cannelles

This a a great cake, adapted from a Gary Rhodes recipe. Mrs W. first made them when she was dieting as they have no butter or flour.  They are  sublime served warm with custard. Using whole lemons sounds mad but gives a real depth of flavour. I split the mix between mini cannelle moulds (pictured) and mini loaves. the cannelles were a lovely treat to have after lunch (linguine pomodoro with chorizo). I baked these and lemon macarons as Easter gifts for our neighbours before jetting off to Portugal (to stuff myself with custard tarts and seafood!).

Flourless Whole Lemon and Almond Cannelles (or Cakes)

175 g ground almonds

4 large eggs

1/4 tsp baking powder

3 whole unwaxed lemons

175 g unrefined caster sugar (for those who are on a diet 14 g of Splenda can be used in place of the sugar… I won’t claim it made as good a cake but Mrs W. quite liked it)

  • Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
  • Put the whole lemons in a saucepan, and cover with water (they will float a bit, but cover them as much as you can) and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for at least an hour. Take the lemons out, and keep 100 ml of the cooking water. Cut the lemons in quarters, they’ll be really mushy by now – pick out the pips/seeds. Blitz the whole lemons (skin and everything) and the reserved cooking water into a puree. Pass the puree though a sieve and leave to cool.
  • Add the baking powder to the ground almonds and pass through a sieve.
  • Beat the eggs with the sugar to make a sabayon. It needs to look like lightly whipped cream… it starts off quite yellow but eventually go creamy and white (being lazy, I used the Kenwood with a whisk attachment).
  • Add the puree and the ground almonds to the sabayon  and whisk lightly at low speed for 1 minute.
  • Pour the batter into greased loaf tins or moulds and bake… small cannelles will take about 20 minutes, mini-loaves 30-35 minutes and if you use two big loaf tins maybe ten minutes longer. Check the cakes are cooked with a skewer.
  • Leave them to cool in the tin or mould then pop them out and enjoy!

A Lemon Trilogy Part 1: Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

Mrs W. and I are expecting our second child in early August. She is about 22 weeks into the pregnancy right now and has taken a notion for lemons and all things lemony tasting. Fortunately I had somewhat of a glut of said citrus in the fridge right now so before we head off to Portugal on our hols I thought I would make best use of them.

I have been in a bit of a cooking funk of late, but with a change to the clocks (which means I can at least start cooking in daylight) and some signs of slightly better weather my enthusiasm for spending time in the kitchen is slowly returning.  Cooking with lemons  filled the house with a lovely fresh fragrance so it seems like spring may finally get here!

It is also high time for me to get some veg into the garden (somewhat late I know but the growing season starts somewhat later in Northern Ireland… we had snow this week!). I have hardly touched the plot since last autumn (apart from putting in garlic and early season broad beans and peas before winter set in) but I hope to get stuff sown before we head away and see some signs of growth when we get back.

Back to the lemon theme… I made a great supper based on a Nigel Slater recipe  of linguine with a lemon, olive oil and pecorino dressing. This really is just the easiest peasiest thing to make… so simple but so tasty.

Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

About 250 g linguine (I use De Cecco brand)

Juice from 1 large lemon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

75 ml extra virgin olive oil

75 g grated pecorino  (and a little extra to serve)

  • Put a large pan of water on to boil. When it is bubbling furiously, salt it generously then add the linguine. Let it cook at an excited boil for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Put the half the lemon juice and olive oil a bowl and beat briefly until emulsified like a vinaigrette. Beat in the grated pecorino with a grinding of black pepper. Taste and add additional lemon juice as required.
  • Drain the pasta (leaving a trace of the cooking water) and add the lemon and pecorino ‘sauce’. Toss the linguine until well coated and serve immediately with extra grated pecorino.