This weekend my very favourite group of friends traveled to Liverpool for the eighth edition of Nom Nom Club, our little supper club. We settled on a French theme for this weekend, and whilst we got off to a bad start with the Correspondents gig being cancelled, we were soon eating many delicious courses and basking in the marina-side sun.
We had pâté, soup a l’oignon, moules marinière, boeuf bourguignon, ratatouille, pommes dauphinoise, tarte au citron and cheese – all the French favourites, and delicious they were too (you can see some of these here). We drank home-brewed blond ale, Côtes du Rhône and Muscat (plus an absolutely-not-French-but-delicious-all-the-same Pinot Grigio), and plenty of coffee. A mid-meal bracing stroll and shout along the Mersey was a perfect interlude to the evening, especially when it meant returning to slices of lemon tart, coffee and Cards against Humanity.
To end the night with a bang I decided to embark upon the baking mission of a lifetime: a croquembouche. Now for all you aspiring Michel Roux’s out there this probably seems like a fairly simple task – you’ve made choux buns before, you love spinning sugar, you’ve got your creme pat down, just got to throw it all together, right?
Well I had done not one of those things (although I’m a dab hand at caramel so that was a plus), so this was going to be my oven-based Everest. I used a very very good BBC recipe, which guides you through making a croquembouche over three days. Obviously not three days solid baking, I’m not actually Mary Berry, but it means that you get enough time for everything to cool and dry before the next step. If you’ve ever seen them do it on Masterchef (which was my inspiration, let’s face it) and watched the buns slide off each other into a toppled mess, it’s clearly because they don’t have enough time. Now I’m not going to reproduce the recipe here, because why would you trust a blog recipe when you have Auntie Beeb on your side? Head here for the real thing.
First up, making choux pastry really wasn’t as daunting as it seems when they’re doing it on telly. Just keep beating (really put some strength into it) until it looks right! I made my buns a little larger than they really should have been, but it wasn’t a major disaster. The next day I made my creme patissiere. The recipe offers you a limoncello cream, which sounds divine, but I wanted to do something a little less lemony. I made a traditional creme pat with the addition of a vanilla pod to give it that lovely speckled look and excellent flavour, and then a salted caramel version for some of the buns (I was a tiny bit more generous with the salt than this recipe). This is another of those things that can go badly wrong on cooking shows, but as long as you’re paying attention and whisking a little at a time it’s not the worst thing. If it does look about to split, use Nigella’s tip and plunge your pan into cold water, whisking all the while.
Then it was a case of filling up the buns, leaving them to set and then assembling the tower. I made the cone (as in the recipe), propped it up in a jug and set to work (tip: put something heavy in whatever you’re using to make sure it can’t topple over). I would say definitely dip the top of the buns into the chocolate rather than drizzling, as you get a much better coating (just be careful not to burn your fingers!).
Once you’ve turned it out you just need to decorate. The traditional way is spun sugar, crystallised flower petals and icing sugar. I did really want to go for a crystallised rose petal scattering, but I couldn’t find any. Instead, to go along with the white chocolate holding it together, I went for spun sugar, white chocolate stars, and plenty of edible glitter thrown over the top. Be prepared to make a mess and do be careful when you’re throwing hot sugar around.
Overall, it was a little bit of a leaning tower (it rather resembles the mountain from The Grinch), and I certainly have some work to do on my sugar technique, but it was tasty and enjoyed by all!
After a few days making this treat it had rather become my life’s work, but after all the photos be prepared to tear it all down and stuff it in your face. For a little perspective, here was the post-Nom Nom carnage:
What is your biggest baking mission? Have you ever made a croquembouche? Do you know where I can find crystallised rose petals? Let me know!