Monday, February 20, 2012

Croquembouche (gluten free)

I was feeling very uninspired last week. Work has been tougher to get through lately, traffic has been terrible, and I think I've been letting the small things in life get to me and have been seeing the world through gray-tinted glasses.

Working an 8-5 office job is really hard for me. I just feel like a number crunching/chipper phone answering/filing robot after a while. Poor Mr. Pixie Crust has to deal with me coming home extremely grumpy after a full day of work and evening of traffic. We just watched all of the seasons of "The Wonder Years" on Netflix and sometimes I feel like Kevin Arnold's dad when he would come home to his chipper wife and grunt in response to her "Work's work!" after she asks how his day was.

Anyway, I started to feel kind of uninspired with baking because I let that "what's the point?" feeling get to me. Luckily, I came out of it and decided to make some cream puffs because they are my new absolute favorite baked thing to make. To take it to another level, I tried my hand at a small version of a "Croquembouche," which is a tower of cream puffs "glued" together with caramelized sugar.

For the Pâte à Choux: (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp super fine sweet white rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tbsp sorghum flour
1 cup water
2 tsp sugar
1 stick butter, unsalted
4 large eggs

*For non-gluten free readers, replace flours/starch with 1 cup AP flour

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Place butter, water, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add flour mixture. Stir with a spoon until batter come together. Allow batter to cool for 2 minutes and transfer to bowl of stand mixture. With paddle attachment on and mixer running, add eggs one at a time. Once batter is fully combined, place batter in a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe evenly sized rounds (about 2 tsp-1 tbsp worth of batter) 1-inch apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

With a wet finger, smooth pointy tops. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until puffs are golden brown and feel light and hollow inside, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

For the Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream: (Adapted from Sprinkle Bakes)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean

Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup milk. Combine the remaining milk and cream with the sugar in a saucepan, scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add to milk. Place empty vanilla bean pod in sauce pan and bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking. Continue whisking until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla. Pour pastry cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use. To fill pastry puffs, make a small slit in the sides of the choux and pipe in pastry creme. Gently press back together and set aside.

For the Caramelized Sugar:

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

To Assemble:

Carefully dip the top of each filled puff into hot caramelized sugar and gradually stack upon each other until a tower is formed. For best results, try out a sample tower before making and using the caramelized sugar. You can use a cake board, goblet-like cup, or styrofoam cone to construct your tower.

All photos by the wonderful Mr. Pixie Crust

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