I’ve dreamt about this moment for a long time, and it’s finally here! My first blog post! EEEEE I have my very own food blog! Whew, Ok I’m good. Now, onto our first sweet treat…
Christmastime is my favorite season of the year, when our house is filled with the sights and smells of buttery goodness. Every year on Christmas Eve, we celebrate at my aunt’s house with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. And for the past 5 or so years, I’ve made a Buche de noel to serve at the party. This yule log is the perfect combination of delicate rolled up sponge cake, creamy chocolate ganache, and meringue mushrooms. It’s a challenging adventure each year, and I love making it. A few years ago, I started to wonder if people were getting tired of my annual treat, so I called my aunt to find out. She jokingly replied that I wouldn’t be allowed in the house on Christmas Eve without a Buche in my hands. I mean…I think she was kidding…but I didn’t dare to find out.
But while studying for my pathology final in mid-December 2013, I felt the surge of rebellion. I wanted to try something new, but I also knew my relatives were expecting something as delectable and striking as the yule log. I googled things like “impressive holiday desserts” and “complicated Christmas cake.” Amidst all of the gingerbread houses and fruit cakes, I stumbled upon the perfect dessert – a dazzling tower of cream puffs decorated in spun sugar. Behold, the croquembouche.
I had never heard of this masterpiece before, but as soon as I saw the towering beauty, I was smitten. Croquembouche is a celebratory French dessert that translates as something that “crunches in the mouth.” The basic croquembouche is composed of profiteroles (cream puffs) shaped into a cone, bound and ornamented with caramel. From there, let your creativity soar with embellishments of flowers, chocolate, or sugar decorations.
My heart was set on constructing this tasty tower, so I emailed my aunt to let her know that the Buche wouldn’t be making an appearance this year. I wanted to assure her, though, that it would be replaced with something equally as delicious and spectacular. She took the news better than expected but had one stipulation: there better be chocolate. Ruh roh. I became slightly worried because the standard croquembouche is chocolateless. Should I just make a batch of truffles to adorn my luscious tree? Yes. Problem solved.
When this baby showed up on Christmas Eve, I’m pretty certain that no one missed the Buche de Noel. Now, I’m just left wondering which dessert my aunt will request next Christmas Eve:)
(Inspired by a Lakeland recipe)
Cream puff dough
1 1/2 cups water
10 1/2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
5 eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour the water and butter into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once. Remove the pan from the heat and beat the mixture vigorously to form a firm paste, stirring continuously. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
Beat in the eggs a little at a time (either by hand or in a food mixer), stirring until the paste is smooth and glossy. Continue adding the eggs until you have a smooth ribbon consistency.
Spoon the mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. (We found it easier to not use a nozzle and pipe directly from the bag instead.) Pipe around 75 rounds (25 per tray), each about 1.5 inches in diameter, onto the baking sheets. Leave enough space between each round to allow for spreading. To flatten out any peaks, dip your finger in water and smooth out the irregularities.
Bake for 20 minutes until the buns are golden and puffed up. Remove from the oven and pierce the base of each bun with the tip of a knife or skewer. This allows some steam to escape and creates the hole where you’ll pipe in the filling later. Return the puffs to the oven and cook for another 3 minutes to dry them out. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on wire racks.
The unfilled cream puffs can be made in advance and frozen, or they can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container. If the puffs are soft after defrosting or storage, you can lay them on lined baking sheets and bake at 350 F for 5 minutes or until crisp.
Cream puff filling
2 1/2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Bring the milk slowly to a simmer in a saucepan over a low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, and flour until they are pale and creamy. Pour a small amount of the warm milk over the egg mixture, stirring to blend. (This helps to temper your eggs so that they don’t curdle in the warm milk.) Pour the entire mixture back into the pan and cook over a low heat for 4-5 minutes, whisking, until the mixture starts to thicken and the whisk leaves a trail in the custard.
Transfer the mixture into a different bowl. Cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Spoon the chilled custard into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and fill the cream puffs through the steam holes.
To assemble the croquembouche, you first need to make your caramel, which will act as the glue to hold the whole thing together.
You’ll also need to make or buy a cone shaped mold. You can probably find one online or you can get creative with materials around the house. We shaped some cardboard into a cone, held together with tape. We covered this cardboard cone with parchment paper, and voila! Our very own croquembouche mold was created.
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
(Caution: It sounds silly to tell you this, but melted sugar is VERY HOT and sticky. My dad and I thought this was obvious, but we both learned the hard way. While transferring my cream puff covered in hot sugar to the tree, a small drop of caramel landed on my hand, and I screamed, “Ahhhh, that’s HOT!” As my dad attempted to retrieve a sticky puff from the pot, he blurted out, “HOTTT! Man, they should really tell you how hot this is!” So, we did:) Please be careful; the experience is totally worth it, though.)
Dissolve the sugar and water in a saucepan, stirring gently on low heat. Once dissolved, raise the temperature so that the mixture boils. Once it reaches the boiling point, try not to stir the mixture. Boil as rapidly as possible to the required temperature 300 F. The temperature will increase slowly until about 240 F and then begin to increase much more rapidly. Remove the pan quickly from the heat to prevent the temperature from rising any further.
Dip each cream puff into the caramel (which will be very HOT) and arrange the buns around the baser of the mold. Continue dipping the puffs in the caramel and layering them up around the mold, until you reach the top. If the caramel gets too thick, briefly return it to the heat to warm through. Allow the caramel to set.
The croquembouche is traditionally decorated with spun sugar. I promise it is easier than it seems and truly makes your cream puff tree sparkle!
Prepare your workspace by placing two sticks (wooden spoons are ideal) to project beyond the edge of the work surface and laying plenty of sheets of newspaper underneath on the floor. Using your leftover caramel, dip a small spoon into the sugar and flick it over and between the rods so that threads are formed across the two sticks. Repeat until you have enough strands to drape around the croquembouche.
Chocolate truffle ornaments
(Inspired by Williams-Sonoma Dessert)
6 oz chocolate, finely chopped (We used a combination of unsweetened and semisweet.)
1/3 cups heavy cream
1 Tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
More semisweet chocolate for dipping
Decorations – cocoa, nuts, coconut, turbinado sugar, powdered sugar
Combine the chopped chocolate, cream, butter, and salt in the top of a double boiler and set over simmering water. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat and let it cool. Transfer to a different bowl and place in the fridge to let it set up for a couple of hours.
When the mixture is solidified, roll it into 1 inch chocolate balls. Place the balls on a plate and put them back in the fridge for another hour.
Next, dip the truffles in melted chocolate to create the perfect, sweet coating. Melt a handful of semisweet chocolate either in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Make sure not to overheat your chocolate but stir until smooth and glossy. Roll each truffle around in the melted chocolate and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. While the chocolate coat is still wet, cover the truffles with whichever decorations and toppings your heart desires. Our chocolate covered truffles are sprinkled with turbinado sugar, cocoa powder, and confectioners sugar for a snow-dusted look.