A tribute to Bastille Day: The croquembouche
Today, being the 14th of July marks Bastille Day, a French national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution. Being a massive Francophile, I couldn’t let today go by without making something Frenchy inspired. I wanted to make something that was as much of a celebration as Bastille Day itself, and nothing encompasses a celebration better than the croquembouche! Now, if you’ve seen the Australian version of Masterchef, there was a pressure test involving an Adriano Zumbo croquembouche back in 2009 that looked like an absolute nightmare to make. I didn’t dare attempt to recreate that monster stack of choux puffs, instead, I made a petit croquembouche filled with crème patissiere and spun sugar for decoration. So, happy Bastille Day to all that celebrate this historic day, and may you all get to fill up on some yummy French pastries! You could probably serve 4 people with the petite croqembouche, depending on how many choux puffs you use.
Bastille Day Petit Croquembouche
125g plain flour
1½ tsp caster sugar
60g unsalted butter
3-4 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup (250ml) milk
300ml pure (thin) cream
1 tsp vanilla paste
4 egg yolk
150g caster sugar
2 tbs plain flour, sifted
1 tbs cornflour, sifted
500g caster sugar
½ cup (175g) glucose syrup
1 cup (250ml) water
Start off by making the crème patissiere. Place the milk, cream and vanilla paste into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to just below boiling point. Remove from heat. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until thick and pale. Add the flours, then the cream mixture and stir until combined. Transfer to a clean saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until it becomes really thick. This should take about 5 minutes, depending on how low you have the heat. Transfer the crème patissiere into a heatproof bowl. Cover the surface with some baking paper to prevent a skin forming on the top. Cool to room temperature, then chuck it in the fridge to chill.
Preheat oven to 180°C (fan forced). Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Sift the flour and sugar into a bowl. Place the butter and water in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture just starts to come to the boil. Remove from heat. Add the flour/sugar mixture into the saucepan and mix with a wooden spoon. Place the saucepan back over a medium heat, and stir until the mixture comes away from the side of the saucepan. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. To assist cooling, spread the mixture out over the bottom of the saucepan. Once cooled, transfer mixture to a bowl and use an electric beater to incorporate the whisked eggs 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition until the mixture is thick and glossy. Don’t be tempted to add the eggs in, all in one go, because your mixture could end up being too runny and won’t rise when baked.
Transfer the choux dough to a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. Pipe 40×1.5cm balls onto the trays 3cm apart. You may not end up using all of the choux puffs when constructing the croquembouche, but it’s better to have too many than not enough. Sprinkle the trays with some water – this will help the choux puffs to rise. Shove the trays in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the choux puffs are puffed up and golden. Turn the oven off, pull the trays out and pierce the side of each choux puff with the tip of a knife to release the steam. Whack the trays back into the oven, leaving the door ajar, to dry the choux puffs out. I left them in the oven for about 30 minutes, then pulled the trays out of the oven again so they could completely cool.
To make the toffee, place the sugar, glucose syrup and water into a saucepan over low heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is light golden. The sugar mixture can take between 10-15 minutes to change colour, but keep an eye on it, because the time it takes to change from a light golden colour to being burnt is not much! Remove from heat.
To assemble the croquembouche, use a piping back to fill the choux puffs with crème patissiere. Dip one side of each choux puff in the toffee and arrange in a cone shape, using the toffee to stick the puffs together.
To decorate with spun sugar, lay some baking paper on a work surface. Dip 2 forks into the leftover toffee, then hold them with one hand with the backs of the forks facing each other. Working really quickly, so the toffee doesn’t harden before you make the spun sugar, flick the forks back and forth from a height over the baking paper so it makes long toffee threads. Then quickly drape the spun sugar over the croquembouche.
Note: I didn’t stray too far off the original recipe, but I did make some changes to the method. If you would like to see the original recipe, click here.