Monday, October 11, 2010

Number 29: or how I got blisters on the tip of my middle finger

the croquembouche still life

The croquembouche.  (Croak-em-BOOSH.)  A French dessert made in honor of our (better late than never) Octoberfest-themed dinner party.

Ten people in our tiny kitchen.

A pile of caramel cream-stuffed cream puffs coated in crunchy caramel and stacked with care.

A cascade of spun sugar sloping down the side.

One word: yum.

It's work though, I gotta tell you. This is no one-bowl cake recipe.

There's the pate au choux, which makes your arm ache from stirring in egg after egg after egg.  Then there's the piping of the choux paste, into tiny cream puffs, which are baked for twenty minutes, during which you must lower the oven temperature and keep believing that they're going to rise and be amazing.

the puffs, fresh from the oven

The puffs cool while you make the caramel cream--which starts as carmel (candy thermometer anyone?) to which you add heavy cream and then more heat. Off the heat you add sour cream and vanilla and then cool the contraption for at least two hours (which is just long enough to clean up your dirty kitchen before making it sticky again.)

After the cooling, you whip more heavy cream until it's stiff, and then you fold the chilled carmel into it.  Again comes out the pastry bag, and you are piping cream into the puffs using an improvised decorational tip since you can't find your filling tip. (boo.)  The cream is separating in the pastry bag because your hand is too hot.  You panic. You whip the cream some more; you think you have saved the day.  You haven't. You must continually hand-whip the cream. You feel your arm may never recover.

You pull out an ice water bath for the cream and think that you are brilliant--until the whole thing goes to hell.  And then you're whipping cream to add a bit of the failed, runny caramel cream to, hoping that it will be thick enough to stay in the tiny tiny puffs. It is. You are triumphant, momentarily.

And then you are making more caramel, on the stove, which you are swirling and watching but not stirring, because you have already learned today that stirring is no way to make sugar caramelize.  And then you are dipping the filled puffs in the caramel (their top sides first) and even though EVERY recipe you looked at online warned you not to burn yourself, there you go--burning. Blistering. On the top of your middle finger.

Luckily, you just happen to have an ice bath prepared to stop the caramel from cooking, so you dunk your finger into the bath and feel a bit of relief. You use the tongs for the rest of the dipping.

the spun sugar waterfall, or the result of the attempt thereof.
You dip the 50 puffs head-first.  You let the caramel set on parchment paper. You have to keep running back to the stove to warm up the caramel lest it leave whispery-fine spiderwebs of sugar behind itself as you move across your workspace--and then you, and everything around you, is wrapped in sugar strands.

When the caramel hats on the puffs are set, you dip them bum-side into the caramel, and this is when--finally--you begin to construct the cone of puffs that is the final dessert.

And this is where your ingenuity from earlier (whipped cream with a bit of failed caramel cream added) begins to fail--the heat from the caramel is making the puffs that house the lesser cream melt and puddle unto themselves.

Don't worry, just dab up the drips and proceed. This dessert is gonna rock your guests' socks.

Crunchy, creamy, and such fun to eat, we at first pretended to be civilized and use forks, but eventually abandoned them in favor of our fingers.  This is a tactile dessert--get your hands on a puff and yank it free, then crunch down the hardened caramel and let the cream fill your mouth.

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