Croquembouche

Croquembouche
Croquembouche

To celebrate my one year anniversary, I wanted to push myself and make something special that summed up my journey so far.

Croquembouche was the first thing that sprang to mind.

Not only is it a celebratory dessert traditionally served at weddings, baptisms and first communions in France and Italy but it’s also good practice making a few pastry staples – choux buns, crème pâtissière and toffee.

The big challenge for me was going to be assembly, and within a croquembouche mould or cone (I can’t really justify buying one) it was going to be even harder.

I did a bit of research to find out how to do a “freestyle” croquembouche and didn’t find much useful.

Most refer to making a ring with 9-12 buns, then layering up from there.

A few tips I picked up on the last series of Great British Bake Off were that your crème pat helps to stabilise the tower and using crème Chantilly can cause the tower to collapse on itself.

I decided to use a chocolate crème pat which was delicious.

I left myself two hours to complete the whole job and it pretty much came in on time. The only delay was waiting for the crème pat to cool which took around 30 minutes of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs (that are now burnt and blistered).

The tower itself isn’t exactly a thing of beauty, and if I were going to get into the habit of making these regularly I would invest in a mould.

However, there’s something quite nice and rustic about the shape – it certainly screams “I made this myself” so there’s no chance that anyone will mistake it for store bought.

Creating the spun sugar was also great fun but I’ll admit I was pretty cautious not wanting to throw sugar around my kitchen and be cleaning it up for the next six months. I actually found it quite useful using dipping tongs into the toffee and then opening them – this created a natural string that you could then pull and manipulate.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend making one of these just once in your life – just for the hell of it.

Croquembouche

  • 1 quantity pâte á choux
  • 1 quantity crème pâtissière with 80g melted chocolate added just as the mixture is cooling
  • Toffee – 2 cups caster sugar plus 4 tbsp water

 Assembly

Fill your choux buns with crème pâtissière.

Dip the top of each bun into the toffee then leave to set toffee side up.

Now get 12 filled and topped buns and dip each into the toffee again but this time coat the bottom of the bun and place directly onto your serving plate in a circle.

Now repeat the process with a new set of buns but use these to fill the circle. You should now have a solid base for your croquembouche.

Repeat with the remaining buns until you have created a stack of buns with one final bun sitting on the top.

Dip two forks into the remaining toffee. Press the backs of the forks together and hold for 30 seconds. Quickly pull forks apart to make thin strands. Wrap the strands around the croquembouche.

Project Pastry – one year in

Just over a year ago, on 21st July 2013, I sat down to write my first Project Pastry blog post.

It was a time when I was having a bit of a crossroads in my career, and unsure whether I wanted to throw it all in a re-train as a pastry chef.

Being the geeky, practical person that I am I decided to first start teaching myself techniques and recipes based on my pastry idols’ books.

A year on, I’m no way near as far along as I’d expected but I’ve loved every minute.

Over the past twelve months, I’ve learned:

  • Pastry doughs
  • Pastry creams
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits/cookies
  • Mousses
  • Meringues

I’ve had some total failures (macarons are still my enemy and my genoise sponge still needs some work) but some total triumphs that have taken me by surprise.

Gateaux St Honoré  was my pastry pinnacle and my flourless chocolate hazelnut cake is probably my favourite of all (although my Dad – and one of my hardest critics – would say the chocolate mousse layer cake from last weekend tops the list).

So where to next? I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface of pastry and baking and now need to tackle:

  • Viennoiserie (and I’d better get onto this quick before it gets too hot)
  • Chocolate work
  • Confectionary
  • Frozen desserts
  • Decoration
  • And finally – bread!!!

That is certainly going to keep me busy for the next 12 months.

I’m not going to quit my day job any time soon. I’m realising that your hobby doesn’t necessarily need to become your vocation and for the time being I’m enjoying this balance.

Maybe someday I’ll start selling some of my products, but I think they all need a bit more perfecting first.

Thanks so much to everyone who has come along on this journey with me – especially those who have helped with tips, advice and support along the way. 🙂

Chocolate mousse layer cake

Chocolate mousse layer cake
Chocolate mousse layer cake

This weekend I was tasked with making my aunt’s 70th birthday cake.

It was the perfect opportunity to try a decadent chocolate mousse layer cake, bringing together a few techniques I’ve learned over the past few weeks.

I also wanted to attempt a ‘chocolate collar’ for the first time. I am keen to do a good few weeks focusing on chocolate preparation but this was a cheeky cheat in the meantime.

First of all, I really can’t go past Julia Child’s chocolate mousse now that I’ve tried it so I knew I wanted to use that recipe but decided to use rum instead of Cointreau this time.

For the chocolate cake, I wanted something light and fluffy but also not too delicate. I ruled out chocolate sponge, and decided to go for a vegetable oil based cake which I hoped would stand up to the weight of the mousse.

The chocolate collar was a challenge but worked out well in the end. I think my mistake was pouring the chocolate too thick which meant it took a long time to set.

It wasn’t tempered but I will give this a go later down the track.

Last thing, please forgive my rubbish photo! I didn’t finish the cake until shortly before serving and as always things were a bit manic in my household so I didn’t manage a decent snap of the cake.

 Chocolate mousse layer cake

Chocolate mousse

1 portion Julia Child chocolate mousse

Chocolate cake

  • 1 ½  cup plain flour
  • 1 oz. cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ `tsp baking soda
  • ¼  tsp salt
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • ¼  cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 water

Sift together the dry ingredients, then add the oil, egg and vanilla extract.

Whisk together until combined, then add the water.

Pour into two lined and greased cake tins, then bake at 160 degree for 30 minutes.

Take out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate collar

150g dark chocolate

Assembly

In a springform tin, place the first layer of cake then pour over half of the mousse.

Repeat this process again, then refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Make your chocolate collar by first measuring out a piece of baking paper so that it fits around the circumference of the cake. Make a mark on the paper for the height you want – roughly an inch higher from the height of the cake itself.

Melt the chocolate, then pour over the prepared baking paper. Smooth it across the paper with a spatula then leave it to set.

It will be hard to know exactly when to move on to the next step, but be sure that the chocolate is not too runny but also not too hard. 

Wrap the chocolate covered paper around the cake, then place back in the fridge.

Just before serving, carefully remove the baking paper.

Chocolate mousse layer cake
Chocolate mousse layer cake

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana
Crema Catalana

It might look like I’ve gone a bit off course lately, but July is my 1 year anniversary for the blog and I’ve decided to do a bit of a review of what I’ve learned.

Last week was a pastry dough and this week I wanted to do a crème.

By chance my parents just returned from a holiday in France where they popped over the border into Spain on a day trip.

They picked me up a Crema Catalana iron (they know me too well) and I was dying to try it out.

The iron came with a little printed out recipe in broken English which was sometimes tricky to read. I referred to Michel Roux’s recipe as well and to be honest I wish I’d just used his from start to finish.

The custard is similar to a basic crème pâtissière flavoured with crushed fennel seeds, cinnamon, lemon zest and orange zest.

The recipe provided was actually quite bland and only used sugar in the burnt topping.

I don’t know if this is the authentic way to cook it, but to me it wasn’t sweet or rich enough. I’ve revised the recipe below which I think will be much tastier than the version I made – reduced the amount of milk and added sugar.

The iron was great fun to use in any case.

Crema Catalana iron
Crema Catalana iron

Crema Catalana

750ml milk
4 egg yolks plus 2 full eggs
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
100g caster sugar

Heat the milk until boiling with the fennel seeds, cinnamon and zest. Take it off the heat, then sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Beat the eggs and yolks in a bowl along with the sugar and the two flours.

Strain the warm milk mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly.

Return to the heat in a clean saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the custard thickens – around 3 minutes.

Spoon into flat ramekins and refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.

Sprinkle extra sugar over the custards. Heat the iron for a few minutes, then press down on the sugar until it becomes caramel.

If you don’t have an iron, you can use a blowtorch the way you would for a crème brûlée.

Crema Catalana recipe
Crema Catalana recipe

Toffee apple pecan pie

 So, I’ve been cooped up inside for the past week fighting off a nasty lurgy that has left me with no voice and not much more energy.

I couldn’t bake last weekend, but was determined not to make it two weeks in a row.

Now that the weather has cooled in Brisbane, I feel like I can work with pastry dough again – finally!

I had some apples in the fridge, so decided to attempt a toffee apple pie similar to the one Kimberly made on Great British Bake Off. I couldn’t find her recipe, so cobbled together this one myself.

It was daunting making pastry dough for the first time in months, but luckily all the techniques came back to me and resulted in a short, buttery crust.

I’ve never made a pie before that doesn’t require blind baking, and I was really paranoid about getting the dreaded soggy bottom.

To prevent it, I made sure the apples were cooked with a bit of cornflour so didn’t seep too much liquid while cooking.

The mixture itself was quite thick but the apples softened further in the oven and the caramel set into the base. The final pie was delicious.

Toffee Apple Pecan Pie

4 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup caster sugar
½  tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp cornflour
½ cup pecans, chopped
1 portion pâte brisée
Eggwash

Create the caramel by melting together the butter and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, then adding the cream.

In a separate bowl, combine the apples, flour, spices and salt.

Pour the apple mix into the caramel and cook over a low heat for 5-7 minutes until the apples soften. Mix through the pecans towards the end.

Roll out your pastry and line a deep pie dish. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, then prick along the base with a fork.

Pour the apple filling into the pie base.

To create the lattice finish, roll out the leftover pastry and use a sharp knife to cut strips. Place them across the pie and push down the edges. Brush with eggwash.

Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden and bubbling.