For his party, we threw him a 100 “akre” woods party. Not just a regular Winnie the Pooh party. We’re talking rustic. We didn’t know what type of cake to make him. We didn’t want to go out and buy a cake mold that looked like a beehive to only use just once, so The Chef came up with the great idea of making a croquembouche, to have the concept of a beehive. We knew it wouldn’t look spot on, but it would look similar.
When he first mentioned it, I was super excited. Then I realized, I had no idea how to make a croak bush. I always just bought cream puffs from the frozen isle section at the store. Making them was for french professionals with tall toques. I started having mini anxiety attacks. The Chef assured me he knew what to do. (He muttered culinary school, class, and 5 am under his breath… I think he has some tired repressed memories…)
Fast forward to the night before the party, and you find The Chef and I in the kitchen making our dream into a reality.
Cue angelic chorus.
He first got out his digital kitchen scale. Then he said “now measure everything out.” Excuse me? I don’t even know how to turn this contraption on. I’m a measuring cup kind of girl. The Chef shook his head and gave me a nice lecture on the properties of measuring cups and weighing out your ingredients. Having heard all this before, I kindly nodded my head.
Little did I know, I would be soon admitting the impossible.
After learning the functions, I got to it. I weighed every little measurement to the exact specifications. I turned to The Chef and stated “I actually like weighing! It takes all the guessing out, and you know 100% that you have exactly what you need.” I found it freeing. The Chef smiled his smile of “I told you so” but never uttered a word.
So audience, I learned two things: 1. weighing is not as intimidating as I once thought, and 2. listen to you husband when he knows what he’s talking about. It makes life much easier in these circumstances. And you
might will learn a thing or two yourself.
Ok enough of that.
Recipe for Pâte à Choux (Cream puff and eclair dough)
Milk – 500g
Butter – 250g
Salt – 5g
Bread Flour – 375g
Sugar – 15g (for a sweeter dough–it is optional)
Eggs – 625g (yes you even have to measure out eggs. If you go over, just remove the egg whites until you have the right amount)
1.With the milk, butter, salt, and sugar, combine in a medium size pot. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir quickly.
3. Return the pot to moderate heat and keep stirring quickly until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from sides of the pot.
5. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the dough has cooled slightly. (Somewhere around 140˚- still warm, but not too hot to touch)
6. At medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time. Make sure they are absorbed completely before adding the next. When the last egg is absorbed the dough is ready to be put into a pastry bag with a wide tip.
*You can see the difference between the middle of the egg process and the end. The dough with only half the eggs is matted, and the dough with all the eggs is shiny.*
-Preheat oven to 425˚F.
-Line sheets with parchment paper or silpat. Pipe out the dough into round mounds about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. (You can drop it by spoon or a small ice cream scoop)
-Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375˚F until the mounds are browned and very crisp. The time is going to vary, so you’ll need to keep a sharp eye on them.
-Remove from oven but place in a warm place to cool slowly.
-To fill, drill a small hole (enough of the piping tip to fit in), and fill with whipped cream. (We make our own by whipping heavy cream until stiff peaks form, and add in powdered sugar to taste (however sweet you want it), a touch of vanilla, and about a teaspoon of cream of tartar for structure. This helps the cream not weep and soak through the puffs.)
Some people say to slice off the top and fill, then replace the lid again. If you want to, go for it. But I like to drill the hole.
You need to fill the puffs right before making the sugar glue and before you build the “tower” (unless you forego the tower, which is fine too). The Chef and I made spun sugar as the glue and the garnish.
(I have to apologize. I failed and completely forgot to photograph this step in the midst of all the party preparations…)
Recipe for Spun Sugar:
Sugar- 300g – it has to be somewhat refined/small granules.
Glucose-60g (we used corn syrup and it worked fine)
Combine all the ingredients in a heavy pot, on medium to high heat. It will heat up differently depending on if you have gas or electric. Gas will heat more slowly, and electric might be quicker. Just watch carefully. Place your candy thermometer so its hanging on the side but not touching the bottom. You want to read the sugar and not the temp of the pot. Have a pastry brush on hand that can resist heat, and a small bowl of water. Every so often you’re going to brush off the top inside rim with water to remove any granules of sugar that might be climbing up (one granule of sugar could crystallize the entire batch). You’ll need to have a sink, or big bucket, on hand with ice cold water to quickly dip the bottom of the pan in when the sugar reaches 320˚F. Only dip it for a couple seconds, then place it on a heat resistance surface (that’s not heating i.e the stove). You should visibly see the sugar slightly thicken because of the temperature change. At this point you know your sugar is ready to be spun.
Choose a platter/plate for presentation for the next steps because you are not moving this thing… *be very cautious when handling the sugar it will be extremely hot and sticky. If it gets on your skin it could easily scar you. “Respect the sugary lava”–The Chef
With a fork, drizzle the sugar on the contact spots of the cream puffs, holding another puff on it immediately after for a couple seconds. It should stick together. Repeat and continue with the rest, forming the tower/formation.
*For the spun sugar around the bottom, take three wooden spoon handles and position them over the edge of a counter spaced 3 to 4 inches apart. With foil underneath and a wide open space, quickly fling the melted sugar over the tops of the handles back and forth like a whip.The jerking fast motion is key to make the sugar stretch and look like angel hair. It floats down and rests on the handles. This will create a spiderweb effect (my sister called them spider farts…). To form them into your desired shape, breath onto the sugar while gently gently gently moving the spider fa… *ahem*… spun sugar with your hands. Carefully drape around the bottom of the tower/beehive. The moisture in your breath actually helps form it to whatever shape you want, without your breath it would break. * if you refrigerate the sugar it will melt and become gooey. Be careful even when changing temperatures because that could also cause it to go haywire.
The Chef and I are contemplating doing another presentation of this (just the spun sugar fart… PART), so you can see the execution of it. It’s honestly not that hard though. It’s pretty straight forward. If you have any questions though, let us know!
This all seems intimidating but it’s honestly not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The only problem we had was our oven is a joke and doesn’t evenly heat. So we had quite a few puffs deplete in the oven… boooo… But luckily we had more than enough to build the beehive.
Don’t sweat it if they don’t come out looking like they popped off a machine. They’re handmade and homemade. They’re not going to look like that. This gives them the cutest rustic look. I loved the way they turned out. So don’t stress.
Just don’t do it.
–The Everyday Chef and Wife