Part of the reason I made a croquembouche this year is because one of my all-time favorite Martha Stewart episodes was the one where she and Julia Child made croquembouches together. Martha was over on her side of the counter carefully and precisely arranging her cream puffs, while over on the other side, Julia was sort of flinging them into a cone-shaped pile. This made Martha a little crazy, but she couldn’t very well start ragging on Julia — because, well, she’s Julia. So Martha got antsier and antsier while Julia, with great verve, dipped her fork into the caramel and waved wild strings of sugar at her croquembouche.
I had to remember this when I sort of screwed up the top half of the croquembouche. The first couple of batches of caramel went pretty well, but as they started to thicken up, I put on another batch. Then I thought I could lighten up the caramel that was getting too stiff by adding some of the sugar syrup that had melted but hadn’t yet caramelized. This was not a good idea. It looked like caramel, but it never quite came together, and when it cooled on the cream puffs, it wasn’t shiny and brown, but matte — like dried sugar solution, not caramel. I was really horrified. It was four o’clock, and Maryanne’s Christmas Eve open house was starting at six, and I hadn’t made any plans for a backup dessert.
This is when I remembered Julia Child on Martha Stewart’s show. What Would Julia Do? I cleaned out my saucepan and started a fresh batch of caramel. I was patient. I waited for that wonderful toasty smell, and then I carefully swirled (don’t stir! the directions were specific that one shouldn’t stir, but should swirl. I never did figure out why) the caramel until it was a clear medium brown.
And in the spirit of Julia Child, I dripped the new caramel all over the top of the croquembouche! I dripped and then, as the caramel started to set up, I tried pulling strings of caramel out so it’d get that nice spun sugar kind of look. It was still lumpy, and there weren’t as many stringy glistening strands as I would have liked, but overall, it was a hit.
It worked! The croquembouche was beautiful. It was shiny and tall and once people started to crack the cream puffs off of the cone, they liked them! I thought they were too sweet, myself, but the next day, as Maryanne and I were standing in the kitchen picking at the slightly-ravaged croquembouche, we agreed that it was delicious (of course, the slight hangovers might have had something to do with the deliciousness). It was a fun holiday thing — people liked pulling the cream puffs off the cone — and because it’s so rich, it feeds a crowd.
Which is why the croquembouche went to three parties before the weekend was over! It started at Maryanne and Bill’s on Chrismas Eve, then Bill insisted I take a hunk down to Nina and Elwood’s on Christmas day (some people thought it was too sweet, but it seemed to be disapearing little by little), then we took the nearly-intact front face to Margie’s Boxing Day party yesterday. It was the Dessert That Wouldn’t Die …