Recipes for croquembouche tower, whipped shortbread cookies

By on December 9, 2016


Croquembouche tower (Flickr Photo)
Croquembouche tower (Flickr Photo)

Whether making melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies or creating a show-stopper croquembouche tower, the December holiday period is one of the busiest for home bakers.

Here are recipes for Anna Olson’s croquembouche, a grand tower of cream puffs glued together with caramelized sugar, and Karlynn Johnston’s whipped shortbread cookies.

The spectacular croquembouche requires several steps for assembly, which can be done over several days, while the shortbread can be prepared quickly and easily.

CROQUEMBOUCHE

A grand dessert for a special occasion, this tower of profiteroles needs to be assembled as close as possible to the time when it is to be served, so do plan for this.

When learning to build a croquembouche, Anna Olson was shown how to assemble it free-form, with no support underneath. The result was often slightly crooked or uneven. But once she figured out she could use a Styrofoam core, she knew the tower would hold a perfectly straight shape.

“I am not a fan of making macarons. I’ll confess that. I will make them, I can make them, but they’re hard,” says Olson. “Where a croquembouche, I love getting that spiral. It’s so zen to just sit there dunking your profiteroles in the caramel and gluing them on. I love it.”

She suggests making the separate components well ahead _ it’s just the assembly of the tower that needs to happen within a few hours of when you plan to display and serve it.

In terms of a schedule, try this:

2 days ahead (or more): Make profiteroles. Freeze (if making more than 2 days ahead) or store at room temperature in resealable bags.

1 day ahead: Make pastry cream and chill it. Prepare Styrofoam base.

Day of: Thaw profiteroles to room temperature. Fill profiteroles. Caramelize sugar and assemble tower.

It’s important to make sure profiteroles are at room temperature before assembling the tower, which is why you don’t want to fill them and store them chilled for too long. If the profiteroles are cold, condensation develops when they are dipped into the warm caramel, weakening the tower.

Prep: 3 hours plus choux paste and pastry cream

Bake/Cook: 45 minutes

1 double recipe Basic Choux Paste (recipe follows)

1 reipe Pastry Cream (recipe follows)

90 ml (9 tbsp) water

600 g (3 cups) granulated sugar

45 ml (3 tbsp) white corn syrup or glucose

Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F). Line four baking trays with parchment paper.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip with choux paste. Pipe out profiteroles, each about 3.5 cm (1 1/2 inches) in diameter. Wet your finger in cool water and tap down any points on the batter. It is all right for the piped profiteroles to sit out on the counter if you have to bake them in batches.

Bake profiteroles for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 190 C (375 F) and bake for about 15 more minutes, until they are a rich golden brown and feel very light. Let profiteroles cool completely on pans on a cooling rack before filling.

To fill, stir pastry cream to soften and fill a piping bag with a medium plain tip (or an eclair or doughnut tip if you have one). Use a skewer to poke a small hole in the side of each profiterole. Insert the piping bag and fill each one with cream until you feel resistance.

Cover a 30-cm (12-inch) Styrofoam cone with parchment paper (the cone can be found at any craft store) and place on a parchment-lined baking tray.

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring water, sugar and corn syrup up to a boil and continue to boil, uncovered and without stirring, and occasionally brushing the sides of the saucepan with water, until sugar is light amber. Ready a bowl of ice water and carefully set bottom of saucepan in ice water to stop sugar from cooking further.

Using tongs, carefully dip bottoms of profiteroles into caramelized sugar and place around bottom of cone with caramel bottom facing cone, and so that they touch each other and the base of the cone. Continue dipping and arranging profiteroles, working upward until you have completely covered the cone. If the caramel in the saucepan begins to set before you have finished, reheat on low heat. If you wish, dip a fork in the caramel and carefully “spin” sugar around the outside. Let sugar set for 1 hour, then carefully lift croquembouche up, remove cone and parchment, and place croquembouche on a serving platter. Do not refrigerate.

Makes 1 tower of 50 to 60 profiteroles.

Source: “Bake With Anna Olson: More Than 125 Simple, Scrumptious And Sensational Recipes to Make You a Better Baker” by Anna Olson (Appetite by Random House, 2016).

BASIC CHOUX PASTE

Unlike other pastry dough, choux paste is made by cooking the ingredients together and working with the dough while it is still warm. It seems to defy gravity when it bakes, cooking into light-as-air hollow shells that are waiting to be filled with cream.

When you start adding the eggs to the warm flour paste, don’t be surprised how long it takes to work in the first egg smoothlyit’s just the nature of this dough. Once the first egg is blended in, the remaining eggs work in far more easily.

Use the dough while it is still warm and soft, as it is perfect to be piped and then baked or fried.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

180 ml (3/4 cup) milk

180 ml (3/4 cup) water

145 g (10 tbsp) unsalted butter

8 g (2 tsp) granulated sugar

2 g (1/2 tsp) salt

340 g (1 2/3 cups) all-purpose flour, sifted

5 eggs, room temperature

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring milk, water, butter, sugar and salt up to a full simmer. Once a simmer is reached, reduce heat to low and stir in flour with a wooden spoon, stirring vigorously until dough cleans sides of the saucepan (no longer sticks). Scrape this mixture into a large bowl and use electric beaters or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to beat it on medium speed for a minute or two to cool it a little.

Break two of the eggs into a small dish and whisk just to blend them a little. Add to flour mixture and beat on medium speed until blended. Add remaining three eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Work with this pastry while it is still warm.

Makes about 750 ml (3 cups) dough.

Source: “Bake With Anna Olson: More Than 125 Simple, Scrumptious And Sensational Recipes to Make You a Better Baker” by Anna Olson (Appetite by Random House, 2016).

PASTRY CREAM

250 ml (1 cup) milk

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only, or 7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) vanilla bean paste

3 large egg yolks

36 g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar

15 g (2 tbsp) cornstarch

30 g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Heat milk with vanilla bean seeds or paste in a medium saucepan over medium heat until just below a simmer.

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.

Place butter in a separate bowl, with a sieve resting over bowl.

Gradually whisk hot milk into egg mixture and then return mixture to saucepan. Whisk this constantly (switching to a spatula now and again to get into the corners) over medium heat until thickened and glossy, about 2 minutes. Pour immediately through the sieve, whisking it through if needed, and stir in butter. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of custard, let cool to room temperature and then chill completely until ready to use.

Source: “Bake With Anna Olson: More Than 125 Simple, Scrumptious And Sensational Recipes to Make You a Better Baker” by Anna Olson (Appetite by Random House, 2016).

TRADITIONAL WHIPPED SHORTBREAD

Karlynn Johnston says it’s not considered Christmastime in her house until she makes this shortbread for her family and friends to enjoy.

With only three ingredients and a minimum time investment, it’s easy to make.

Although purists may argue against the use of salted butter, salt will complement the sweetness in these cookies, producing a perfect flavour combination. Use a salted organic butter for the best taste. If you are looking to produce a nice, dome-shaped cookie, her family’s trick is to substitute non-hydrogenated hard margarine for half the butter.

Nonpareils are a decorative confectionery of tiny coloured balls made with sugar and starch.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

250 ml (1 cup) salted butter

125 ml (1/2 cup) icing sugar

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) flour

Nonpareils or candied cherries, for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 140 C (275 F). You will need to bake the cookies in batches.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat together butter and icing sugar. Slowly add flour, beating constantly, until flour is incorporated. Whip shortbread mixture for 6 minutes on medium speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula every 2 minutes.

Use a small cookie scoop or tablespoon to scoop dough onto two ungreased baking sheets. Top with nonpareils, if using.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until bottoms are nicely browned. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to wire racks to cool. Store for 2 to 3 days at room temperature in a closed container, or freeze in a closed container for 4 to 5 months.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.