Monday Night Martha: The Croquembouche Chronicles, Pt. 3

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Two weeks ago we began reporting on an epic project, the creation of Martha Stewart's holiday showstopper, the croquembouche.  Here's Part One and here's Part Two. This week we bring you the conclusion.

We wake up grumpy and taciturn. While making coffee we start playing with the word croquembouche in our heads, "Croquembouche, more like crock-of-sh*t", we mumble. Santa's happy kitchen team is long gone. On today's agenda: fill and assemble the pyramid of puffs.

We take the third batch of caramel cream out of the refrigerator and transfer it into a pastry bag in the hopes of inserting the tip into each puff and filling it with cream. This is going along in starts and stops when we fill one of the puffs too full and it literally explodes in our faces. How very charming. We fill several puffs and stuff them in our mouth. Take that!

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Oh well, we can practically see the finish line. All we've got to do is whip up a batch of fresh caramel and stick these puffs together. At least we know how to make caramel now. Our batch of caramel cooks up like a charm this time around, but now we are instructed to dip the top half of 40-50 filled puffs into scalding hot, third-degree-burn inducing caramel, let the excess drip off, and let it rest on parchment paper.

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Oh sure, no problem except that as we are busily dipping puffs, our caramel hardened so quickly that it lost its ability to adhere anymore which means we needed to make up a second pot of caramel to finish the job. When it comes to working with caramel, it hits a lava-like consistency fairly quickly - in our opinion a good pair of tongs are a must, unless you like burnt fingers.

Also, we still need to flip these puffs over, dip the bottom halves in caramel, too, and then speedily transfer the hot puffs to a serving platter and build an architecturally sound tower using hot caramel as the "glue". This is like some sadistic quick fire challenge from Top Chef.

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We are working as fast as we can, thoughts racing. Croquembouche is often served as a traditional French wedding cake. And it dawns on us -- you wouldn't make our own wedding cake, would you? So why in the hell would you make your own croquembouche?

Finally, the moment of truth. Our finished product, in the end, doesn't look half bad. Except that it took us 12 hours to put together! We have a miniscule (for our efforts) 10 inch tall blob of puffs. In the same amount of time we could have made a boeuf bourguignon plus a couple of pies for dessert, or a turkey with all the trimmings.

But we did it.

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We have a whole new appreciation for French pastry chefs. If someone makes you a croquembouche, consider yourself lucky -- they really went all out.

If you were thinking it would be festive to whip up a croquembouche this Christmas Eve, we have a few tips to help ensure that you don't turn into a Grinch.

Keep in mind: this recipe is not "easy". The individual components aren't so difficult in and of themselves, but there are many of them. Set aside 5-6 hours to make the croquembouche -- longer if you factor in cooling times for the caramel cream filling.

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As published in the magazine, Martha Stewart Living, the recipes are badly organized. We would suggest printing out the recipes first, either from the magazine or the web, and putting them in sequential order.

Make sure you read all the recipes twice and make sure you have all of the odd stuff on hand: sanding sugar, meringue powder, lots of heavy cream and sugar.

Fourth, watch this little video of Martha and smile at just how easy she makes it look.

Good Luck and Happy Holidays!


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