Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Tale of the Croquembouche

These days my better half and I have a bit of a reputation with my parents - namely going a bit over the top when they come round for dinner. This is not intentional, but both of us love to cook, so it's a perfect excuse to break out the cookbooks and whip up a 3 course meal.

This tale starts with the realisation that cooking for 7 family members is NOT the same as cooking for 4, no it is an altogether different challenge. Add to the mix that it's also my Dad's birthday and my equally ambitious suggestion of making a white chocolate croquembouche instead of a traditional cake.

There are a couple of key things to note here:

1. I have never, in my life, made choux pastry
2. I have never made any type of profiterole
4. I have no concept of size
5. I have made caramel once, a very long time ago
6. I did not own a piping bag or a working thermometer at the time
7. Throughout all of this I still have to feed, entertain and change a 10 month old baby

So I started prepping about 9am, knowing that we didn't have to meet the rest of the family until 6.30pm that night. Things were going well, I'd knocked out the starters first - Goat's Cheese Truffles, Bacon & Cheddar Cheese Straws, and my own recipe Parma Ham, Parmesan & Pesto Roulades - then prepped everything for my better half to make a slow cooked Beef Bourguigon, courtesy of the Masterchef Kitchen Bible.

When my husband appears in the kitchen to start his part of the cooking, he quickly establishes that there is definitely not enough beef to feed 7 people. Convinced I had doubled the recipe for 4 correctly it didn't occur to me to actually look at what the quantity of meat actually was! So my less than impressed better half makes a quick stop to the local shop to try and source some more meat (I probably should mention this is on December 30th in a little village in the middle of rural South Wales...awkward!). In the meantime, I have made a start on my Choux pastry utilising my new Great British Bake Off book that was lovingly presented to me for Christmas. So far so good, the pastry seems to be going well and looks a relative success. No need to ring the alarm bells yet regarding the main course either, they had some beef, all be it the only meat they had left in the store, but we now had enough for 7 hungry family members.

So the main course is done and in the slow cooker bubbling away, whilst my better half disappears upstairs again, the time has come for me to shape my batter into profiteroles. Now this is where my lack of piping bag comes into play. When I read the recipe I thought, no problem haven't got a piping bag but I do have a squeezy bottle with similar piping attachment that will work fine - WRONG - my husband comes into the kitchen to find me furiously squeezing choux pastry out of a plastic decorating bottle in an attempt to form profiterole-like shapes on a baking tray:

Me: "The recipe says this will make 42 profiteroles, there's never enough pastry for that many!"
Husband: "How big are you supposed to make them"
Me: "1-2cm - that's what I've done"
Husband: "Go get a tape measure"
Me: *Rummages through kitchen drawer - measures batter* "Oh, oops!"
Husband: "It's centimetres not inches! Spoon that back into the bowl and I'll show you how big they should be"

You got the idea...anyway about 3 profiteroles in and he is discovering my frustrations with the squeezy bottle - it just isn't working...so off my devoted other half goes again to see if the same shop he was in an hour ago has a piping bag (it's a tall order I know). Long story short, no piping bag, so we set about shaping them with a dessert spoon instead. We manage to get the first batch glazed and into the oven. Success! We end up with about 35 usable profiteroles and the creme patisserie goes without hitch.

Enter into the arena - Caramel

So the version of Jo's recipe in the GBBO book calls for the sugar to be dissolved in water, then brought to the boil rapidly to a light caramel - 160C on a sugar thermometer. Now I have a thermometer which goes to 100C, no problem I think when it hits the red we'll know we're well on the way - WRONG again! I made two batches, neither of which would take, our baby girl has had more than enough of spending the day in the kitchen with Mummy, and my slightly irate (totally justified) husband is shoeing me out of the kitchen, with our daughter in toe, to go get changed.

When I return to the kitchen, it seems he has been struck by the same problem, coupled with the discovery that the thermometer doesn't actually work. At a complete loss I turn to the trusted internet for divine intervention. We have enough ingredients left to go for one more attempt at caramel. Then I find it, Delia Online - How to make caramel, I can hear my mother's voice in my head "you can't go far wrong with Delia" - my Mum has always been a fan of Delia Smith, the family copy of the Complete Cookery Course is looking a bit worse for wear these days. So here we were pinning all of our hopes on Delia to save the croquembouche birthday cake...and it only bloody worked! I might add that by this time it was already 6.15pm and we had yet to assemble the damn thing!

As I am not blessed with a croquembouche cone to assemble this with, we opted for the cake board option. The squeezy bottle finally came into its own for filling the profiteroles with the creme patisserie. Working as quickly as we could we started frantically dipping the profiteroles into the caramel and sticking them to the cake board gradually forming some resemblance to a tower. Then came the attempt at spun caramel...when they warn you that this is messy, oh god it's an under statement, ask my husband he had the blistered fingers to prove it...yes I did feel extremely guilty, but we finally had an assembled croquembouche complete with candles to sit in the middle of the dinner table. It wasn't the most technically brilliant profiterole tower ever made, nor was it the most precisely made, but it tasted great!

I think I will just need a bit more practice, this definitely would never have been pulled off without the teamwork from my husband (only now is he realising the drawbacks to me baking lots of lovely different things!) This is also where the name 'Bakin' Me Crazy!' came from :-)

The only disappointment is that I don't have a better photo of the finished product - this is after it had been sat on the table for a few hours.

MORAL OF MY TALE - If a recipe calls for specific equipment make sure you use it, and it's best not to put yourself under specific time constraints if you are attempting something complex for the first time - if you can at all help it!!!

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