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Croquembouche: Tips & Techniques

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#1 Wimpy

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 07:20 AM

Fellow foodies. I am contemplating a monumental (for me anyway) project- a Croquembouche.  I was inspired by a recent wedding I attended and want to try it out for a few friends, one of whom is celecbrating a birthday.

Ok, the profiterole part seems doable- it is the construction of the towering cone-of-cream puffs for which I seek tips before I embark on this laborious process.  Also, is there anything I need to know about spinning caramel threads?

Thanks!

#2 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 07:48 AM

I remember Steve Klc recommending constructing a cage out of a cardboard box for containing the spray when using a paint gun to spray chocolate. I bet the same advice would be good for producing sugar threads.

#3 chefette

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 12:23 PM

As long as you have the profiterole part down and are not afraid of hot caramelized sugar it should be fairly easy.  You will need to have all you similarly sized profiteroles all ready on a sheet tray - and you will need a bunch.  Many chefs use a large cone mold (the inside of it actually) - works best to spray it first with Pam or Crisco Butter flavor spray or just oil it lightly.  Otherwise in the absense of a form you can build your tower.

1- Draw a moderate circle on a parchment sheet - I would not exceed 8 inches in diameter
2- It is best to dry caramelize your sugar so take a heavy medium saute pan and heat it up, lightly sprinkle in about 1/4 cup sugar and it will caramelize (melt) pretty quickly.  Keep sprinkling in more sugar til you have quite alot ready - probably about 2 cups of sugar or more to give yourself plenty to work with.
3- Set the pan on a towel at a slight angle to give yourself good dipping access and allow the caramel to cool slightly (about 5 minutes - if it is too hot it will be too thin and will not coat nicely)
4- start grabbing profiteroles (filling hole side up) and start dipping
you can dip all your profiteroles and then use more caramel to stick them together, or dip and build - your choice
The thin stringy caramel wispys are the end and you can do this by dipping a large tined fork in the caramel then waving it about your completed structure.
5- place before ravenous friends and rip it apart

You need to make this pretty close to serving and eating time since your pastry cream is temperature sensitive and you cannot put your creation in the fridge.  Except for the danger of 2nd and third degree hand and finger burns this could be an amusing activity to pursue at your party.  I would recommend doing it before commencing to drink heavily.  :-)

#4 Steve Klc

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 02:26 PM

Here's my advice: don't do it unless you're fairly adept at pastry/baking stuff.  Are you?  Croquembouches are hard.

Have you cooked sugar to caramel without crystallization? Have you ever done choux before--and can pipe and bake off pate a choux balls to uniform size--meaning you can pipe with a bag? When you burn your fingers in the hot caramel dipping the choux ball in will you be able to resist the instinct to touch your hand to your mouth?

Practice doing each of these first--and dipping some dry, unfilled choux balls into the caramel and setting aside--and then consider the croquembouche.  There is a skill in glazing these with caramel and you have to do it by hand, not that bogus sticking them on a knife or fork and then dipping--because that way will not work--they'll fall off, they're already getting soft and squishy, and the caramel cools off quicker than you expect. And separate this from the decor part of the cake--don't mess with the wispy caramel threads until later. If you saw the Martha/Julia croquembouche tv special a few years back--the profiteroles should be smaller to be more elegant--and to be truer to the form.  You could do a croquembouche with tennis ball-sized balls but then you'd be doing something similar to but not really a croquembouche.  You'd just be doing a pile of doughy stuff with pastry cream and caramel sugar.

So ask yourself--do you really want to do a croquembouche or something that resembles a croquembouche?

If the former, do the practice steps and stages I recommended and then you'll know what I mean when I add to chefette's comments by saying:  1) make sure you dry your wet dough ball out first--still in the pan stirring with a wooden spoon; 2) and then bake your dough, drying it out a little longer in the oven to get rid of any excess moisture; 3) you'll probably have to rewarm your caramel as it will cool off, or cook another caramel or do what pros do and cook alot of caramel and pour it out to cool.  Then they break up shards and rewarm as needed--which keeps all your caramel "glue" relatively the same color.  Don't be afraid to do alot of caramel--it will cool off more slowly allowing you to work longer and more efficiently. An inelegant croquembouche has caramel glues all different shades so one section will be blond, one amber, and much dark or burnt as the pot keeps getting darker.

It could be fun doing your croquembouche by hand without buying a stainless steel cone--for one thing it teaches you hand/eye coordination and sensitivity for your ingredients, how food is alive and creation is fragile and sensitive to your environment.  Sugar cools or reacts to humidity and you have to adjust for it. It would teach you respect for the pros that can do a croquembouche well by hand without a mold (my preferred way) and the precision and skill it takes.  Plus, I like to see a clean caramel coat on the outside of all the choux buns without any oil sticking to it.  Imagine the confidence and sense of satisfaction you will have if you hold yourself to high standards and try to do this with a plan, to practice a bit and solve problems along the way and then combine all your individual little successes into an elegant composite whole which is the croquembouche?

Chefette is also right in that you cannot do this ahead--it cannot hold long--and you better get started--once it gets humid it will be a nightmare unless you can work in a very air-conditioned, dry environment. I'd recommend you glaze each choux ball top in caramel first, then when they are all done dip again on one or two sides and build your cone one ball at a time.  And if you are prepared to practice--you can practice all this with unfilled choux balls--and take your sweet old time and have fun gluing one together in the privacy of your own home to see what you're up against.  Report back here and we'll all admire your progress and help you over the rough spots, should there be any.

An easy French decoration is to glue candied, colored almonds in and around the cake.  Also pretty accessible and traditional is royal icing.  The spun sugar thing is nice but you have a long way to go before you need to try that.  If you can do a croquembouche--guess what? You can also do a disk or base of nougatine, but we'll cross that bridge when and if you are ready.  (And if you can do nougatine, you can temper chocolate and...it never ends.) It's normal to want to jump ahead to the decor but what comes before is much more important.

My wife just commented that there are really two approaches to this--one is just to try it, learn, and then try to do it again--only better.  My approach is slightly different--but not meant to be grumpy or off-putting.  Both of us want you to give it a try--nothing ventured, nothing gained--and very good results are within your reach.
Steve Klc

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#5 Lesley C

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 07:04 PM

Make it small, don't put it in the refrigerator for too long, and pray it doesn't rain. If it's raining the day you plan on making it, consider filling the choux with vanilla ice cream, making a chocolate sauce, and serving profiteroles instead. They're also quite nice filled with pastry cream.
Good luck, and be careful (don't get the kids involved with this one).
One of the first times I made a croquembouche at cooking school, I accidently dropped a caramel-covered choux onto my hand, flicked it onto my face, and ended up with a second degree burn on my forehead. Not pretty.
Be afraid, be very afraid!  :wow:

#6 Wimpy

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Posted 13 May 2002 - 07:15 PM

Fellow gourmands/gourmets, thanks for your responses.  I stand suitably humble prior to embarking on this project.  Actually, so much so that I better stick to perfecting profiteroles before I try piling them sky high!

Merci beaucoup!

#7 MsRamsey

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Posted 16 May 2002 - 12:39 PM

One of my close friends frequently makes a modified croquembouche.  He doesn't use caramel because he doesn't like the fact that it gets rock hard, which would make serving difficult.  He dips the balls in white chocolate instead.  It's gone over very well in the past, at many weddings and Christmas parties, but of course it probably isn't very authentic.

How is the tower usually disassembled for serving, anyway?
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#8 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 16 May 2002 - 12:52 PM

Ooh, how about a lemony-tart icing as a dip/glue? That would be a nice foil to a creamy vanilla pastry cream. I think they would be a little like glazed donuts.

When your friend uses white chocolate, is the ball completely covered or just partially, enough to glue it to the adjoining balls? It would be a beautiful dessert for Christmas if completely covered then drizzled with red and green colored white chocolate.

#9 Steve Klc

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Posted 16 May 2002 - 01:05 PM

Hacked apart with a knife or a clump of choux (2 or 3 balls) can be broken off with your hands.  Alot of fun, actually.
Steve Klc

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#10 MsRamsey

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Posted 16 May 2002 - 01:22 PM

When your friend uses white chocolate, is the ball completely covered or just partially, enough to glue it to the adjoining balls? It would be a beautiful dessert for Christmas if completely covered then drizzled with red and green colored white chocolate.


Thank you for asking that -- I realized I should have been more specific.  He dips it in the melted chocolate and uses it to glue the balls together.  But I think your idea is very nice!  The way my friend does it, it could also be dusted with powdered sugar to beauty it up.  Someone out there is probably crying sacrilege!   :wink:
"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."
-- State Senator John Burton, joking about
how the bill to ban production of foie gras in
California was summarized for signing by
Gov. Schwarzenegger.

#11 Louisa Chu

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 11:51 AM

Reviving an old thread as I started a croquembouche today - the nougatine base that is. Sorry Steve but I vehemently beg to differ - tempering chocolate is a cakewalk compared to working with nougatine. :wacko:

Pate a choux, creme patissiere, caramel, no problem - but the nougatine just killed me today.

A decription of our nougatine base: nougatine rolled to 3mm - molded in a tourte/cake mold, with a crown of "wolf's teeth"/small triangles around the top and bottom edges, glued with caramel, with 4 royal icing threads/ribbons suspended/draping between each triangle.

A few questions please. I have inelegant caramel glue - gradations in colour. Steve, when you say make a large batch and then turn it out to cool, what does that mean? Turn it out onto an greased baking sheet? And then reheat each new batch in a clean pot each time?

Merci beaucoup.

#12 Joni

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 12:55 PM

Thanks for bringing this topic back. How about practicing the caramel on Costco's cream puffs?

#13 Steve Klc

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 01:43 PM

A silpat is fine Lou. That way you can break it up, grind it up, rewarm it and use what you need more efficiently--and it will all be at roughly the same color. It will still darken slightly in time but way less than if you cooked up a small saucepan of it--then pulled it off the heat--and watched the color darken from the residual heat while you begin dipping.

What's your nougatine recipe Lou? Nougatine might be harder than chocolate work and it's probably easier than pastillage--but all three are difficult to do well. It's a lost art so its unfamiliarity may throw you off--but if you think about it it's no different than what the Adrias are doing by cooking caramelos and crocants in between two thin silpats. Don't be afraid to keep shuttling your nougatine pieces in and out of a low oven so you can get better cuts and keep the flexibility of those triangles--so when you drape then inside a french bread mold to curve them they don't break. Also, use a heat gun to help "loosen" pieces that have cooled too much. It can help to use one of those heavy metal/nickel/stainless rolling pins. And don't forget to warm your sliced almonds before adding them to the caramel.

Look in your school's library as well--there are some incredible french croquembouche books and pictures--with some very cool angular or curvy designs, chapels, things that really stretch the bounds of what is perceived as that traditional conical design.

Guess that means pulled sugar roses are next for you!

Joni--I haven't seen the Costco cream puffs--are they filled? The thing with the dipping is it is best if you dry out the pate a choux balls first--after baking and before filling--so it is kind of hard.
Steve Klc

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#14 Louisa Chu

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 07:28 PM

Guess that means pulled sugar roses are next for you!

Are you watching me! And do I detect a certain amount of evil glee?

Saw them demo'ed for the first time today. My chef suggested starting with just leaves first and then lilies before progessing to roses - saying they're his favourite but the hardest to do as everyone knows what a rose looks like. Hmmm...perhaps I'll start with some rare Australian Outback desert blossoms...

Back to the caramel. When you say grind it, do you mean robocoupe it? If that's the case it's not going to be possible for me to do that at school as we don't always have access to the machines. A great solution though when I do.

We don't even always get to use the silpats! We had to work our nougatine right on the marble - having warmed it a bit first with the hot nougatine via the baking sheet it was on. Our chefs today - including a 23 year old guest chef from the Crillon - said that yes, the nougatine's professionally worked on silpat but that it was important for us the learn la methode ancienne which must have been a pre-Napoleonic form of torture.

The nougatine recipe:

Nougatine
750 g sugar
300 g glucose
375 g sliced almonds
275 g water

Boil water, sugar then add glucose, cook to 170. Then add almonds, stir slow/well, then turn to greased baking sheet. Grease marble then warm then work nougatine until it holds to roll.

The boy chef did also say he likes to lightly toast his almonds for colour and flavour. But no torches or metal rolling pins for us today. They break out the good stuff in Superior though.

Oh and no fear whatsoever about shuttling it in and out of the oven - for hours!

And can you believe that we have no library? I've been asking/demanding this very thing just recently. Will ask the chefs though.

Thanks so much again for all your help.

#15 Lesley C

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Posted 03 March 2003 - 08:21 PM

loufood, when i worked at Thuries I worked with a seventeen year old boy chef who made the most incredible sugar roses I've ever seen. He had just finished working for Philippe Second in Aix-en-Provence and it showed. They guy was a pig and couldn't make a creme brulee to save his life, but boy... those roses.

I think with nougatine you just have to go for it. There's no doddling around. You can waste tremendous amounts of time in front of an open oven fiddling with that stuff. I remeber having no problem doing a pile of nougatine work after a few glasses of wine. It took away the fear.

#16 Louisa Chu

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 08:51 PM

loufood, when i worked at Thuries I worked with a seventeen year old boy chef who made the most incredible sugar roses I've ever seen. He had just finished working for Philippe Second in Aix-en-Provence and it showed. They guy was a pig and couldn't make a creme brulee to save his life, but boy... those roses.

:laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Oh Lesley. I have no fear of nougatine. I was ready to pounce that thing but just could not tame it. Just do not have the feel for it yet. And wine + nougatine would have surely killed me. I do not have your professional touch for hot sugar - nor tolerance for alcohol apparently. :smile:

I finished the croquembouche today. And yes, be afraid, be very afraid.

We had to share one pot of caramel between 2 students and 3 of my caramel-mate's fingers were covered in huge blisters from the nougatine work on Monday. Not good. I nearly slapped the girl - literally - because she was dipping in and out without looking. I'm sorry but an idiot - burned herself even again today.

Otherwise an interesting experience and one I'd like to try again but with a dramatically different recipe and decoration. Ours was a classically French - of course - and we dipped the choux balls in caramel both to deco the face and again to stick - too much, too sweet - especially since the balls were a good, small size - too much caramel to the ratio of choux.

And I was curtly informed that the sugar thread deco is quite out of fashion in France - that said while the chef piled on garish pulled sugar roses, leaves and ribbons.

But 2 interesting bits of information extracted from my chef: he had no idea how it was served - I informed the class courtesy of Steve! Shocking as this chef was most recently the pastry chef at La Tour d'Argent.

And once as a pastry chef in the French army he made several croquembouches in the shapes of helicopters. Only the French army.

#17 K8memphis

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 07:04 PM

I have made Choux pastry but I've never made a Croquembouche. I read that you figure 3-4 puffs (profiteroles) per serving made from one teaspoon of Choux pastry - are they ever served as one larger one per serving??? I mean I've seen the puffs made bigger - is it just personal choice?? How would you price this???

If you made one to be delivered, would it be better to finish assembling on site??? bring filled puffs & do the caramel stuff on site. Is the caramel soft like a sauce that firms up or crisp like hard candy??

I saw one made once by a very crazy Frenchman and ...wull ... I would not use that experience as my standard :rolleyes: y'know??!!

1. How much do they cost?
2. 3-4 per serving is the rule or not.
3. Is the caramel soft or crisp?
4. Would you finish assembling on site?
5. Would you consider making one momma one for 100 people?? or make several smaller?

Thank you very much!! Enquiring minds & all, aheh.

#18 artisanbaker

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 08:15 PM

1. How much do they cost?
2. 3-4 per serving is the rule or not.
3. Is the caramel soft or crisp?
4. Would you finish assembling on site?
5. Would you consider making one momma one for 100 people?? or make several smaller?




1. $2.00/per person minimum
2. 2 pieces is fine
3. Crisp of course. If it were soft it would risk collapsing.
4. I finished on site. Obligatory. It's hard enough getting it to the site in one piece.
5. yes I did one momma for 100+ people. it was mainly for time reasons. i did make small accompanying platters of different flavored caramel choux for decoration and to vary the flavor choices. it worked great.

good luck it's tricky and don't let the humidity get you

Edited by artisanbaker, 15 November 2004 - 08:16 PM.


#19 chezcherie

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 08:45 PM

a teaspoon sounds awfully tiny. i have made croquebouches, but just for private parties and friends. a tablespoon seems closer to me?
edited to add" Croquembouche means "crisp in the mouth"--the caramel is the crisp. shattery crisp.

Edited by chezcherie, 15 November 2004 - 08:46 PM.

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#20 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 09:30 PM

I learned from a French pastry chef that it can be infinitely easier to assemble the croque INSIDE a parchment-lined cone if it is going to be transported somewhere. It is safe and then when you arrive, remove the cone, placing the croque on the serving plate, and finish the piece.

In no way would I attempt to assemble on site. I have, however, assembled and transported a croque in its entirety, but it tends to be a bit messy.

I'm also not sure I would make a monster croque for a hundred that would have to be transported -- way too risky as the size would necessitate a huge empty space inside that could potentially collapse. You could assemble a "solid" one with lots of puffs inside, but those inside would be less tasty and you'd have to make way too many of them to support the piece.

I'm now thinking of making a few for the holidays! Thanks!

#21 KarenS

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 10:56 PM

I make and sell these frequently (enough to justify buying the stainless cone form- I used to use a cone from the parking Lot! (washed and covered with foil).
How much you allow per person depends on the meal that precedes it. These have become slightly "trendy" as wedding cakes in Honolulu. The last one that I made was 3 weeks ago for a party of 300. They had a very extensive meal- I did three choux per person. For 900 choux, I would NOT do it on site (it can take me up to five hours to fill and assemble this size). I keep many pots of caramel cooking at once (and slow down or speed up as needed). I also do two layers deep- and adjust the height on how big the party is. The last one was four feet. The caramel actually makes them very sturdy to transport. I charge $7 per person. I do many of these for Christmas parties- they make such pretty "tree" centerpieces- plus people have fun eating them.

#22 KarenS

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 11:02 PM

oh, I just wanted to add- it's croquenbouche (break the mouth- from the crisp caramel) a bouchee is a boat or "tart" shell, usually of puff pastry).

There is an easy modern technique that Sinclair might want to add (I know she has used this), with melted chocolate used as the "glue". This is not good for me in Hawaii, but it might help you!

#23 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 15 November 2004 - 11:33 PM

oh, I just wanted to add- it's croquenbouche (break the mouth- from the crisp caramel) a bouchee is a boat or "tart" shell, usually of puff pastry).

View Post


Ummm... according to Larousse Gastronomique, it is Croquembouche.

#24 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 16 November 2004 - 05:56 AM

There is an easy modern technique that Sinclair might want to add (I know she has used this), with melted chocolate used as the "glue". This is not good for me in Hawaii, but it might help you!

View Post



Yes I use chocolate instead of caramel to glue mine together. I found that the vast majority of my clients aren't familar with these and struggle figuring out how and if they should eat this. You have to be very very careful to use only a small amount of caramel as your glue your tree together or it's very hard for people to rip off a puff neatly. Even with a thin layer of caramel...........I'm personally not crazy about eating that, it's too hard and too sharp. So that is why I've turned to using chocolate as my glue. It's also far easier because you don't have to assemble at the last minute. If you want the wow of caramel, I think it's smarter looking to use spun sugar as a drape around the bouche (which you still can do with a chocolate bouche).

You can make the size of your puffs as small or large as you want. But 1 tsp. is a small puff! If your puffs are very small they don't allow alot of filling.............so it effects your over all taste. You also can add flavoring to your choux batter, flavored oils, emulsions, peels and chocolate. I typically fill my puffs with mousse or turn them into eclairs.............because I'm not crazy about plain whip cream filled puffs.

#25 K8memphis

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 01:54 PM

Wow - thank you so much for all this croquembooboo wisdom or is it croquembootie. :laugh:

I always thought they would be difficult to serve or to break apart. I really like the idea of using chocolate for glue and caramel for decor. And and and I never thought of flavoring the puff - great idea!!

Thanks again ver ver much!

#26 Redsugar

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 04:10 PM

The correct spelling is Croquembouche. I believe an accurate translation is either "crisp in the mouth" or “crunch in the mouth.” According to Alice Wooledge Salmon, the croquembouche’s development was advanced particularly by Jules Gouffe, one of Câreme’s disciples.

Years ago, I had a tinsmith construct a 12" conical mold – but have used it infrequently. (Everytime I look at the thing, I regard it as either a plugged megaphone or a dunce’s cap!) The appearance of this topic-thread has inspired me to consider preparing one for New Year's Day. NB: If you’re using a mold, make sure to oil the inside very thoroughly with a bland oil.

Since I have had no reason to make a large presentation of this confection, I pipe out 1" mounds of the choux paste about 2" apart on an air-layer sheet; then brush them with an egg glaze before baking. After baking, the centers are scooped out and filled with crème mousseline or crème pâtissière (crème St. Honoré).

If you don’t have the conical mold, the croquembouche can be shaped successfully as a free-form pyramid. When it’s time to assemble the puffs, I dip the base of each one in the caramel and stick them to each other in a circle on the metal serving platter. When the bottom row is finished, I dip more puffs on their sides and bases, and build a second row on top, angled slightly inwards. I continue upwards until a tall cone is achieved. (If the caramel gets too cool & sticky, I return it to the heat until it reaches the right consistency.)

Using a fork, I make a final decoration of thin spun-sugar strands around & around the croquembouche until the buns are encased.

I would not venture to make a croquembouche during the summer. Moreover, it is a pastry that must not be stored under refrigeration where the air is too moist, causing the sugar to weep.

The recipe in Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cooking Techniques (published by Morrow) provides instructions for a nougatine base on which to build the croquembouche – which would make an ideal presentation at a wedding banquet. A round of pâte feuilletée shaped in a brioche pan would be a fine alternative for the foundation. Decorate the top with an appropriate flourish for the occasion – whether it be an anniversary, birthday, christening, or wedding.

Edited by Redsugar, 17 November 2004 - 06:48 PM.

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#27 Kelley Farrell

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 06:22 PM

After reading all of the wonderful info provided recently on this item, I think I'm brave enough to make one. I would like to know if anyone has ever had to travel with one. I am looking at a 2 hour drive, plus the setting up of a wedding cake before this dessert would get finished. I'm most concerned about the filling. I've never made anything like that that stuck around for more than an hour before being consumed. Should the puffs be filled after I arrive at the reception site?
I have use of a kitchen and stove to make the sauce.
Oh, another question---if they can be filled before heading out on the road, would I need to make my pyramid solid to create a more stable dessert?

thank you! Kelley

#28 fou de Bassan

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Posted 17 November 2004 - 10:59 PM

Welcome!
If you've got the use of a kitchen, I think it would be less nerve-wracking to transport the puffs and accessory ingredients on site. If you end up transporting the whole shebang assembled make sure it's stable and your van is cold. All in all, I'd rather arrive really early than risk damaging such a showstopping dessert.
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If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

#29 KarenS

KarenS
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Posted 18 November 2004 - 12:58 AM

I have no idea how big your party is. I will fill choux one day before-unless the filling is very wet , they do not suffer.

If I am going two hours away to a wedding, I want the work done. That is up to you.

#30 KarenS

KarenS
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Posted 18 November 2004 - 01:40 AM

My mold is three foot high. I use it about once a month. I would never work "bottom to top". To me that is bizzare.. A serving is a heaping tablespoon.
I make this in summer all the time. There is no winter here- Honolulu is always humid.





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