The Croquembouche That Wouldn’t Die

The Croquembouche That Wouldn’t Die

Here it is! In the back of my car on it’s way to the first of the three parties it graced over the weekend (yes, the car is dirty — I have two dogs, but that’s why I put the newspaper down).

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 …

8 thoughts on “The Croquembouche That Wouldn’t Die

  1. WOW!!!!! That is absolutely frickin’ *amazing*, Charlotte. I’m in awe. Not just at the successful production, but at the (repeatedly, no less!) successful transportation of such a creation. Did you have a pole up the middle to avert disaster, or did you merely drive at 2 miles an hour to where you were going? I (being, apparently, a slow learner) have had more than my share of cheesecake/torte/slop on the floor due to careless turns or unexpectedly sudden stops. Hats off to you, and hooray for the number of festive events to which you arrived safely bearing such a masterpiece 🙂

  2. I made the same dessert once about 10 years ago. I left it in the dining room until we would eat it the next day on Christmas. It was a rainy, humid Christmas Eve and I kept hearing something “plopping” in the dining room. When I went in to investigate, expecting to see the kids fooling around with something, I discovered cream puffs all over the floor because the caramel was melting in the humidity. It was a pretty funny experience and I haven’t tried to make it again since.

  3. Bravo Charlotte!!!!

    I love that it’s pictured in the car, an adventurous desert on its way to 3 parties!

    (I didn’t know that this desert had a specific name, either, but it’s what we had at our wedding instead of cake.)

  4. How tragic Loretta! Luckily, it’s very dry here in Montana — especially in the winter, so although by day three, the caramel was getting a little sticky, it wasn’t going anywhere. I did have a few cream puff meltdowns when I made it — there were a few subtle rivulets of chocolate pastry cream running down the outside of the croquembouche (again, my mantra, what would Julia say? Yum, I imagine.) And Carroll — why do you think the croquembouche was in the back of the car? It’s the only flat place — and I only had to go about six blocks or so — so yeah, I drove slowly. And that caramel was VERY adhesive. It set up VERY fast. I forgot to mention in the main post, that a big bowl of ice water for those moments when a tiny drop of burning caramel might drop on one’s skin. Immerse immediately in ice water, and you can avoid a burn. Also, no one should attempt this dessert in a house in which children might even accidentally wander in — it’s very dangerous.

  5. Charlotte forgot to mention that my 125-pound golden retriever tried to mug her as she carried the fabulous croquembouche in my front door. She threw a professional-looking shoulder block to the dog and backed into the kitchen. It was an heroic effort. And a HUGE hit at the Christmas Eve party.

  6. I hope you don’t mind a totally tangential comment, but the bit about Martha and Julia reminded me of another run-in between the maven of perfection and another French-trained chef. Shortly before, Martha had discovered the garlic peeler, that little device that looks like a silicone tube with scalloped ends that you place the clove in, roll and it takes off the skin. She’d been quite proud of it a few episodes before, devoting a few minutes to showcasing it.

    Well, she invites some rather famous French chef to come and cook, and while he’s there, she shows off her new favorite gizmo, expecting him to be impressed. Unfortunately, he’s not. He rather tactful about it, but he shows her the traditional method, using the broad side of a chef’s knife to crush the clove, which automatically separates the skin and makes it easier to dice. Poor Martha, showed up on her own show, simply because she was too enamored with a new toy.

  7. I am about to make my first croquembouche. All of the recipes I’ve read seen to indicate to serve immediately after spinning the sugar onto the cream puffs. I’ve read that they can start to “break down” if kept for hours in humidity. Can it be kept in the refrigerator until serving without compromizing the cream puffs. I do not want soggy creampuffs, or does the carmelized sauce prevent that? I see disaster in the making of this visual masterpiece for 4 or 5 hours after assembling it.

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