Monday Night Martha: The Croquembouche Chronicles, Pt. 1

There it was - the December issue of Martha Stewart Living, calling us with its siren song. It was beaming from the newsstand, positively lit up in glossy holiday glory with not one, not two, but three covers!

There it was, piquing a gnawing little insecurity. We've been writing these Monday Night Marthas for a few weeks now. Maybe, we've wondered, we've been pussyfooting around just a little. Yeah, sure we could whip up a pie here, a casserole there. But maybe it was time to tackle something really ridiculous and unmistakably Martha.

And there on cover number two was the holy grail of deserts, the croquembouche! The cover even had a coy tease, it said in parenthesis right next to the golden tower of croquembouche, "Easier than it looks". Was that a challenge? Perfect.

Croquembouche is a French dessert, which is basically a tower of crème puffs, or choux, filled with pastry crème and then stacked upon one another to form a pyramid of puffs bound in place by caramel. Martha's version also has little sugar cookie stars that look like ornaments on a tree. "Croque en bouche" in French means 'crunch in the mouth' and looking at pictures of this desert it is puzzling how one is even supposed to eat such a thing.

Nevermind, with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads we decide we will embark on the croquembouche journey.

First things first. How in the heck do we build a tower of bite-sized crème puffs? Logistically speaking, the recipes for making and assembling the croquembouche were located in the December Martha Stewart Living on pages 40, and 222 and 224, and page 236. Really Martha? You couldn't put the pages in sequential order?

Ok, so the first thing we had to do was take one of the subscription cards and tear it into multiple little bookmarks so we could flip back and forth between different sections of the magazine. We read through all the recipes and decide we better start with the sugar cookies because we will have to bake them and frost them throughout the day while we also make the puffs.

It's 10:30 in the morning, we are humming along and so is our Kitchen-aid. Isn't this exciting we are going to make a tower of creampuffs surrounded by sugar cookies! We are in Santa's workshop. We are members of Santa's team of kitchen elves. The cookie recipe is straightforward enough: flour, baking powder, salt, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract. In no time we have the dough mixed and chilling in the refrigerator.

What's next? Time for the pate a choux puffs. We bring milk, butter, water and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Then we remove from heat, whisk in a cup of flour and return to the heat until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. The batter is then transferred to the bowl of a mixer and five large eggs are added, beating well after each. The dough is scooped into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 -inch tip.

Now comes the fun part: We must pipe about 100 quarter-sized puffs onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. How cute, how droll are our little puffs? And aside from a twinge of testiness that has worked its way into the kitchen as we argue over the proper way to hold a pastry bag, we are feeling a nice sense of accomplishment. We gently brush our puffs with an egg wash and pop them into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

We decide this is the perfect time to roll out the sugar cookie dough and cut star shapes in two different sizes - tiny and very small. We get our rolling pin out and begin. It doesn't take long before it dawns on us that Martha didn't mention at the outset that this was enough dough to make little tiny star cookies for everyone in central Phoenix. No matter, we can just freeze some of the dough for later. How cute to have extra sugar cookie dough in the freezer? How very Martha!

This is also about the time, as we are taking batches of cookies from the oven, we first think "Is it too early for a drink?" We decide instead to look at other croquembouche recipes on the internet. Imagine our surprise when one such recipe has the courtesy to tell us the estimated time to make our showcase desert start to finish. Five and a half hours! Did we read that right? We look again. Yes, it says prep time, five and one-half hours.

Check back next Monday for more. To be continued...

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Sativa Peterson
Contact: Sativa Peterson

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