To conclude ReCPY for the year, I am writing this week on something that requires a huge amount of patience. I catered our apartment building's holiday party, and since I live in a VIP building in Chelsea (we have a celebrity hair stylist, a professional hockey player, financial tycoons, a semi-successful artist, an event planning company owner, and a James Beard award-winning cook book author-- Appalachian cooking, with squirrels and whatnot), I have to put in all of my creative effort for this gig, right? Croquembouche, a cream puff tower, is totally a great way to wow and impress them, get hired by them, and join the millionaire club in no time.
There are basically four parts to make this journey:
1. Choux (aka profiteroles aka pastry puffs)
Keep in mind that I am also making: tuna & avocado tartar on rice cracker, phyllo stuffed with mushrooms, Prosciutto with green olives & orange crostini, scallops wrapped in bacon, chicken teriyaki mini sliders, spice roasted almonds, pigs in blanket, green pea dip with toasted pita (thanks Anders for the idea), rolled think sliced beef, goat cheese ball rolled in pistachio, and black sesame macaron. Obviously, I need to plan this quite well. I had to assemble the tower right before I brought it to the party, as well as attend to other preparation matters.
Here is how it went.
Saturday (a day before), I made the choux puffs.
Boil 2 cups of water with 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 1 tsp salt, and 3tsp sugar. Once it boils, immediately take it off of the heat, then add 2 cups of flour. Mix together well, and cook over medium heat, for additional minute or so. This is just to slightly get rid of flour's raw flavor.
Put the dough into a stand mixer, and add in eggs, one at a time. Recipe calls for 8-10 eggs. Once the dough falls off the puddle consistently, it's done. I used 8 eggs total.
Pipe them out into a big kiss.
Put your finger into egg wash, and press down the tip.
Bake in 425˚F oven for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375˚F and bake until golden brown.
This yielded about 125 choux. Perfect. Put them into ziploc bag, and freeze them until you need it.
Now it's time to make the custard.
Boil 4 cups of milk, with 1 vanilla beans split in the middle. Once it boils, take it off the heat, and steep it for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix 12 egg yokes and 1 cups of sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup of corn starch. Slowly add milk. Pour the mixture through strainer and cook over medium heat. It gets very thick.
Then, disaster. It was thick, but once it cooled, it wasn't thick, it was runny as hell. I fucking used 12 egg yokes for this precious custard, so I put them back on the heat, try to cook it down, but nothing happened. I have no idea what happened, but I needed to make enough custard to fill 125 choux. So I made another batch. Pain in the ass.
This time, I used 5 eggs, 120g sugar, mix together, then add 100 gram of flour, then add 800ml milk. Pour through a strainer, and keep stirring over medium heat to avoid lumping. I always use this recipe, but for some reason, I went fancy and used so many yolks, and of course it was a failure. Sticking to what you know is the key.
Alright, Saturday prep work is done.
Sunday, I woke up early and start making all the other items. Around noon, it was time to assemble the tower.
First, pour custard into the choux's ass. Don't add too much since you need to fill 125 of them.
It was pretty tedious.
CARAMEL TOPPING METHOD
To make caramel, mix 2 1/2 cup of sugar with 2/3 cup of water, and cook together until it gets to an amber color.
Cool the bottom of the pot with ice water to keep it from cooking. Then it's time to build the tower.
First layer is the most important. As we all remember from my wedding cake experience, you need to build a strong foundation, otherwise, it will collapse. Use the caramel as a glue, then place them on the bottom of a cake platter.
Some recipe calls for a cone shaped inserts to build the croquembouche, but I didn't have them, so I built it my own way.
Keep the inside hollow will be way too risky (though I am only carrying this downstairs, not in a car, not to China town), so I placed some in the middle as well.
Then keep building up using caramel as glue.
As you can see, I placed a bunch of choux in the middle. You do not need 125 choux to make the tower anyways, so you can place extras inside for support.
It doesn't have to be a perfect cone-shape.
Once the tower is done, drizzle caramel over to make it look pretty. Also the hardened caramel will definitely help keep the shape.
Pretty cool, don't you think? It takes time and a lot of patience, but as long as the choux puffs up nicely in the oven, it's not that difficult to make this. It is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and there's no need for a knife. It's sort of hard to take the first piece, but once someone start eating them, they will quickly disappear (beware the tower might inevitably fall over as well).
Also remember is since you have quite a bit of caramel, you want to make the custard less sweeter than usual. Sadly, the beautiful caramel threads disappeared by the time i brought this down. Humidity has something to do with it.
Something else I discovered about macaron-making. As I said in the past to invest in good quality cookie sheets, it made a huge difference in the batch I made for the party.
Can you tell that first picture's leg is a lot higher than the lower one? Yes, I used cheap ass cookie sheet for lower one, and good quality for the higher one. I was impressed how a piece of metal changes the end result of the macarons. Macaron-making is so deep.
Just to make you hungry, here are pics of some of the other items I made for the party.
Mini turkey kielbasa in a blanket.
Phyllo stuffed with asian mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, enoki, shimeji) sautéed with shabu-shabu sauce.
Parmesan and pepper puff pastry. I had bunch of leftover from turkey in blanket, so I improvised and made these.
Of course my black sesame macarons. This time, I mixed mascarpone and melted white chocolate together.
Kinda large cheese straws. Another improvisation for leftover puff pastry.
Prosciutto with green olive and orange crostini.
Green pea dip with toasted pita. Thanks Anders for this recipe! I basically processed frozen pesa with one garlic clove, salt and olive oil. It is very simple, yet refreshing and delicious.
Goat cheese ball rolled in pistachio on a piece of baby spinach.
I don't have pics for tuna avocado tartar, chicken slider, and scallops & bacon, but oh well, you get the idea. I impressed many millionaires at the party.
I am off to Japan, so everyone, Happy Holidays! Thanks for all the comments this year from everyone, and I can't wait to share all the crazy posts with fellow Martians, and laugh out loud many many times in 2011.