Published March 26th, 2015 in The Montague Reporter
Croquembouche (kroh-kuhm-BOOSH uh huh wee) is French for “crisp in mouth,” but for all those who’ve had the responsibility of making it, croquembouche is synonymous with “pain-in-the-rear.” In it’s most simple form, croquembouche is a pyramidal stack of cream puffs with a hardened caramel coating. If you are a “foodie,” you already knew that.
Foodies, or epicures, know everything about food. At least, they think they do. They are like the back seat drivers of the restaurant business.
Their comments that they post on internet based review sites always give them away. They start with something like, “Anyone who knows anything about cooking knows that you should always . . .”
They intentionally imply that they know something about cooking. So why are they the one’s eating, and not cooking? Don’t like it? Make it yourself!
The other irritant, though slightly drifting from the topic here, is the foodie that complains about slow service when he or she ordered a two-inch-thick steak well-done. It’s the incessant, “Are we there yet?” coming from the back seat.
Croquembouche is a foodie favorite. It has just enough pain-in-the-rear appeal to it for the ultimate pain-in-the-rear customer, or dinner guest, should you dare to feed these people, who actually become more obnoxious when they’re pleased. Then the comparisons come out, about this chef and that restaurant and it just never ends. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, a sort of let-them-have-their-profiteroles-and-eat-them-too compromise, I will teach you a couple of simple tricks to make the process a little bit simpler.
First off, buy the cream puffs. In today’s fast paced work, shovel, cook, sleep, repeat life you’re wise to let someone else do the baking.
In all reality, the hard part is the sugar, and there are no ways around that.
The second trick is to use a filler. For instance, take an upside down soup cup or small cereal bowl and put it in the center of the plate or platter you intend to use.
Last, add some chocolate covered strawberries to the first row as a solid, tacky foundation. For clean up, I recommend a hammer and chisel.
Now comes the hard part. Prepare an ice bath large enough to fit a small saucepan into. Using that small saucepan and a wooden spoon, melt two and a half cups of granulated sugar with two thirds cups hot water. If you have a candy thermometer, stop reading this article.
For everyone else, allow the sugar to melt and boil over high heat, stirring constantly, until the color begins to darken.
The darker the color, the harder the sugar will be when it cools. When the color is a nice light brown, or resembles that of caramel, take the pan off the heat and dunk it in the ice bath, just for a few moments to stop the cooking process, stirring all the while.
Quickly and frantically dip two cream puffs at a time in the sugar, and glue them together. Scream at the top of your lungs when the molten sugar sticks to your fingers, and shake it off.
It’s important that you get as many cream puffs stuck together as you can, so don’t go running off to bandage yourself now.
If the sugar hardens, put it back on the burner and stir until it is syrupy again.
If you used the chocolate covered strawberries on the first row, and were careful in selecting your plate ware, you should be able to glue two by two, and then start gluing one on top of the other, in a circular way around the plate, until you get something like a pyramid.
Now, for the spun sugar, there will be yards of tiny and shinny sugar hairs, gleaming in the smoke burning from the splatter of sugar on the stove top.
You can either dangle the melted sugar above the croquembouche-like-thing and let strands of sugar drape over it, or just collect all of the residual strings that are now getting permanently hardened to your counter top.
Or you can attempt to make spun sugar, or just plop another strawberry on top.
When you’re finished, and satisfied, turn off the smoke alarm, then announce to anyone who cares to know, “There’s your (expletive) croquembouche!”
You think it’s over, do you? Local pastry chef Mark Wikar recently told me a nightmarish tale about an elaborate event he hosted at Captain Toby’s restaurant on Nantucket,
“There were so many people in the room that the temperature rose past eighty, causing my sugar that held it all together to melt, causing my croquembouche to start to fall apart onto the dance floor.”
Wikar also suggests to use the ice bath, in addition to cooling the sugar, for the burns you will have on your fingers.
There you have it, Croquem-pain-in-the-bouche.