One of the only Martha goals I had for this holiday season was to make the croquembouche in December Living. To me, the croquembouche is somehow quintessential Martha. I think I must have seen her make it years ago on her tv show and it stuck in my brain as the most Martha thing, ever. It is pretty over the top.
I had planned to make it for Christmas Eve, but was waylayed by a terrible abdominal muscle pull that made it impossible to do anything. Any movement was torture. I’m actually still working through the tail end of it, but am pushing through it to do the things I want to get done.
We had two remaining holiday parties this past weekend and I decided the croquembouche was definitely going to go to one of them. I decided to make it for my in-laws, since she asked me to bring dessert.
I read and re-read the instructions several times, gearing up for what felt like my Martha Olympic event. There were three components – the round cream puffs, the caramel cream to fill them with, and the caramel sugar to glue them together with and to use as spun sugar (not part of the recipe, but I’ve seen Martha do it before). I made the caramel cream the day before and kept it refrigerated. That went quite smoothly.
The cream puffs were pretty basic to make – the same as other cream puffs I’ve made in the past. I didn’t find Martha’s instructions too helpful. She said to make them the size of quarters, but didn’t indicate how tall. It took some experimenting to get that right. Whenever I’ve made cream puffs before, I’ve just used a spoon, but this required a pastry bag. Eek. I hate pastry bags. Not only do I have a mental block about where to put the plastic cuff and the tip, but they always squirt out the back or explode out the side. Mr. MarthaAndMe has no pastry bag fear though, so he stepped in and manned this one quite well.
Once those were made and baked, I finished the caramel cream by folding in the whipped cream. Mr. MarthaAndMe filled the puffs using the pastry bag. He got the job done, but it was a huge mess. Cream was spurting out the end of the bag and all over the place. It was dripping off his hands and he ended up standing over the sink to fill the cream puffs since it was like a creature from the black lagoon.
Next, I made the caramel used to stick them together. Mr. MarthaAndMe almost immediately burned himself dipping the puffs in the caramel. From that point on we used tongs. The caramel was a little hard to work with. I had to keep heating it back up. There might have been a little cursing throughout this process.
Putting the actual tree together was a challenge. Again, I found Martha’s instructions lacking. I didn’t know how many puffs to use to form the base and was worried about running out or having too many leftover. Some more detail about this part would have been helpful. At one point it looked like a bush (croquem-bush as I called it) but Mr. MarthaAndMe kept adding more and showing me where to put more and we got it to come out resembling a tree, albeit a kind of lopsided tree.
I didn’t make the sugar cookies to attach, and instead spun some sugar around it (I just used the caramel and used a fork to sort of whip it around the tree). I have to say that spinning sugar like this made me feel like a total Martha.
I think it turned out pretty nicely. We put it directly on a plate, even though Martha says to put it on parchment. We cut this recipe in half and it sounded like it should be enough – it says the full recipe feeds 30 people.
I held this on my lap for a treacherous half hour drive through snow to my in-laws’ house. It made it safely. Whew. I did keep this refrigerated at home and once we arrived, even though Martha says to keep at room temp. The caramel cream was a bit thin and I was worried about it running.
Everyone enjoyed this – it tasted great. The cream puffs were light and the caramel cream was deep and rich. The caramel used to stick it together and which I spun the sugar out of was a deep brown and really good. It was a bit challenging to remove cream puffs to eat. They stuck together and broke when you tried to remove them. I’m not sure what Martha thinks you’re supposed to do. I think the cream puffs should have been a bit larger – they were kind of small and didn’t hold a lot of cream. We served this with a tray of cookies and some ice cream, but by itself it would not have been enough for the 6 people we had for dinner.
Now that I know how to make this, I wouldn’t be afraid to try it again. The most challenging part was controlling the pastry bag and using the caramel sauce without serious injury. I wish I had the skills to make the tree form correctly, but I’m just not talented when it comes to spatial things! My little lopsided tree doesn’t really compare to what Martha produces. Yes, she has food designers, but I’ve seen her construct this with her own hands on tv and she can make it turn out perfectly shaped. Sigh. I know I’ll never be Martha, but sometimes it is frustrating! I am, however, proud that I accomplished this, something I’ve always wanted to try!