Wednesday, January 25, 2012


   This article and recipe comes from www.yumsugar.com .  I have always loved them.  Whether it's the shape or just a puff ball filled with pastry cream.

Lately, I've been seeing towers of cream puffs, or croquembouches, appearing all over the place, particularly in bridal magazines or on wedding blogs. The croquembouche is most certainly a delicious trend – we had one at our wedding and it was quite a hit! — but these magnificent sweet sculptures are more complicated than they may appear. To get an inside look at how these profiterole towers are made, I reached out to Gerhard and Mary Michler, the driving force behind Gerhard Michler Fine European Pastries and Creative International Pastries, in San Francisco.
Gerhard first started baking at age 17 in his native Austria, so it's safe to say he knows a bit about French pastry. Michler chalks the growing cream puff tower trend up to the fact that people seem to want to see new things these days, and that a croquembouche (also known as a pièce montée) is an exciting conversational piece. For more on this amazing French dessert sculpture, keep reading.
According to Gerhard, the sugar used to adhere the choux – the puffs of pastry – to one another is not only the most important element in the process, but also the most challenging. "Sugar cooked to the proper temperature gives the croquembouche the integrity to stand in a room for an extended period of time. If the temperature or air is humid, then we have to make a few adjustments to compensate for that," he says. "It takes time, patience, and avoiding getting burned by the sugar, at 300 degrees to 320 degrees Fahrenheit."
The choux may be filled with vanilla pastry cream, chocolate pastry cream, or pastry cream with alcohol, such as Grand Marnier or rum. But because the dough (pâte à choux) is sensitive to acidity, there's a limit to the flavors of pastry cream offered.
Taking a croquembouche apart is no simple task, either. Traditionally, the French walk up to the tower and pull cream puffs off with their hands, but in the States, people prefer to cut them off with a knife. Then again, there are also stories of croquembouches being severed by a sword or a saber! Though Gerhard maintains there are no secrets to the croquembouche process (at least none he's willing to share!), he does offer one important piece of wisdom.
"The more you practice at making a croquembouche," he advises, "the better you get." I suppose that means we all better get to baking. Have you ever partaken in the eating — or making — of a croquembouche?
Informal Croquembouche (Cream Puffs)

There are only a few weeks left in my 52 weeks of baking resolution, so I'm trying to find things on my "I can't believe I haven't made these before" list. Cream puffs were near the top of that list, but after last night, I'm officially able to cross them off.
I found a pastry recipe that looked simple and yielded a large haul of puffs. However, instead of a traditional custard cream — there wasn't enough time to let it set — I went with a whipped cream filling and a chocolate glaze. While mine isn't quite a traditional French Croquembouche — aka stacked cream puffs coated with caramel — it does work as a modern twist. To get the recipe that I put together on a weeknight just read more

Informal Croquembouche

Pâte à Chou (Cream Puff Pastry)
From Gourmet, December 1994

1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
4 to 6 large eggs
  1. In a heavy saucepan bring water to a boil with butter and salt over high heat.

  1. Reduce heat to moderate. Add flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from sides of pan, forming a dough.

  1. Transfer dough to bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat in 4 eggs, 1 at a time, on high speed, beating well after each addition. Batter should be stiff enough to just hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, in a small bowl beat remaining 2 eggs lightly, 1 at a time, and add to batter, a little at a time, beating on high speed, until batter is desired consistency.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°F. and butter and flour 2 baking sheets.

  1. Spoon pâte à chou into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe about 55 mounds onto baking sheets, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, leaving 1 1/2 inches between mounds.

  1. With a finger dipped in water gently smooth pointed tip of each mound to round puffs.

  1. Bake puffs in upper third of oven 10 minutes, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through baking if necessary. Reduce temperature to 400°F. and bake puffs 20 minutes more, or until puffed and golden.
  2. Let puffs stand in turned-off oven 30 minutes. Transfer puffs to racks to cool.

  1. With a skewer poke a 1/4-inch hole in bottom of each puff.
  2. Puffs may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container. Recrisp puffs in 400°F. oven 5 minutes and cool before filling.

Whipped Cream Filling
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Whip cream until frothy.
  2. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract.

  1. Whip until stiff peaks can be formed.

Chocolate Glaze

6 oz semisweet chocolate cut into pieces (or chocolate chips)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  1. Place the chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized saucepan heat the cream and butter over medium heat. Bring to a boil.

  1. Pour boiling cream over the chocolate and let stand for five minutes.
  2. Stir with a whisk until smooth.
  3. Add a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or clove if desired.
To Assemble

  1. While cream puffs are cooling, make whipped filling. Transfer filling to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain top and barely fill each puff (do not overfill).
  2. Using toothpicks or skewers stack cream puffs into a cone shape.

  1. Make glaze. Drizzle glaze on top of stacked cream puffs.
Alternatively, you can just dip each cream puff into the glaze and serve individually.

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