Almond Croquembouche

I was very excited to find out the selection for May’s Daring Bakers’ challenge. I’ve seen these here and there but never thought to make one myself. Crouquembouche is a french word that means “crunch in the mouth”. Cream-filled puff pastries, or profiteroles, are stacked on top of each other, bound with a caramel glaze.

And they are yummy!

This mounted work of art required three recipes: pate a choux for the puff pastry, pastry cream to fill the pastries, and the caramel glaze to put it all together. The pate a choux was a lot of fun to make. The dough doesn’t look like much, in fact, my husband commented on how flat they were before baking. He thought they’d be more spherical. Just you wait, I said. And sure enough…puff!

I decided my croquembouche would have an almond theme and so I flavored my pastry cream with almond extract. It was so good, I had a hard time piping the filling into the puffs and not directly into my mouth.

I was expecting quite a challenge, I thought something this sophisticated surely must be difficult to make. But I was pleasantly surprised with how everything came together. There were a lot of steps, sure, but each one was definitely doable. I only struggled a little bit with the caramel glaze, it completely hardened in the pan before I was done building my masterpiece. No worries, I just made some more and carried on.

The result was something beautiful and delicious! And as much fun as it was to put together, it was even more fun taking it apart, popping the little puffs in my mouth and savoring the explosion of the almond pastry cream and subtle crunch from the caramel.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montee, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Croquembouche
From the May 2010 Daring Bakers’ Challenge
Makes about 50 profiteroles, and a croquembouche of good size

For the pate a choux:
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten)

For the almond pastry cream:
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon almond extract

For the caramel glaze:
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To make the pate a choux, preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line a sheen pan with parchment paper.

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil the butter, water and salt, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it starts coming away from the sides of the pan and leaves a film on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool slightly for a minute or so.

Add the eggs one at a time, stirring to combine. The dough will be loose and shiny at first after each addition, but keep stirring and it will come together and appear to dry out. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag and pipe in one inch circles onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Wet your fingers and gently press down on any tips that have formed, you want the tops to be relatively smooth. Brush with egg wash.

Bake for about 10 minutes until well-puffed and just starting to turn golden in color. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the almond pastry cream, bring 3/4 cup of milk and the sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together the 1/4 cup of milk and cornstarch together. Whisk the egg and egg yolks together in a medium bowl and add the cornstarch mixture.

When the milk and sugar comes to a boil, slowly add it to the egg mixture in a small steady stream, whisking continuously. When fully combined, return the mixture to the saucepan and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat and sttir in the butter and almond extract until smooth. Pour into a shallow dish, cover with plastic wrap and chill completely.

Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag and fill the puffs. Using a small tip in your pastry bag, lightly pierce the bottom of each puff and fill. It doesn’t take much, and be sure not to overfill and burst the puff.

When ready to assemble the croquembouche, make the caramel glaze and have the filled puffs and the dish you will mount them on ready. It’s also helpful to practice making a pyramid without the glaze, just to see how you want everything to be assembled.

Place the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Stir until the mixture resembles wet sand. Place the saucepan over medium heat and wait for it to become amber in color. Do not stir the sugar, but swirl it around if needed to encourage even cooking. If it appears to be cooking to quickly, turn the heat down. When the caramel is ready, remove from heat and immediately start building your croquembouche.

Working quickly dip the bottoms of each puff into the caramel glaze and assemble them on your dish, stacking them on top of each other. The caramel hardens fairly quickly, but sometimes it helps to hold the puff in place for a few moments until it’s hard enough to stand up on its own. When finished, wrap some sugar strands around the croquembouche and decorate as desired.