Monday Night Martha: The Croquembouche Chronicles, Pt. 2

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Last week, we began reporting on an epic project, the creation of Martha Stewart's croquembouche. Kids, you might want to read our series before you try this at home. Here's Part One. This week, we bring you Part Two.

With the sobering news that our dessert was going to take, at best, five and 1/2 hours, we decide we better get cracking. With the cookies out of the oven, it is time to prepare the caramel cream filling.  

In a traditional French croquembouche the puffs are filled with vanilla pastry cream, or crème patissiere. However Martha has put a spin on this by providing a recipe for a caramel cream filling.  Unfortunately for us -- we have never made caramel before, and so we read over Martha's instructions closely. 

They are a little vague  -- stating, "heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until sugar turns dark amber, 5 to 7 minutes more".  

Our sugar is nowhere near amber after 5 to 7 minutes -- more, it is the color of pale spaghetti, but we decide to follow Martha's recipe exactly. We go ahead and add a cup of cream, remove from heat and let caramel cool, stirring often. Then we must stir in crème fraiche, vanilla and salt and cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  

As you've probably guessed, we did not end up with caramel cream after two hours of refrigeration but instead, sweet soup.

This is when things started to take a turn for the worse. It was approaching 3 PM. We had been baking for hours and our caramel cream was a bust. We were going to have to make it again, and of course, we were going to have to let the damn thing cool for at least two hours, before we could go on to the next step -- filling the puffs with the cream.

Plus,we were out of heavy cream and sugar so throw in a trip to the grocery store before we can take another crack at it.  

Let us just say, that our second batch of caramel cream didn't turn out so different from our first, even though we cooked our sugar and water for a significantly longer time. What we needed was more direction, so before our third batch we looked online at how the bleep to make caramel and found much more clear instructions about the right amount of heat and time necessary to turn our sugar into a rich deep amber brown.    

We're no experts on caramel, clearly but Martha's recipe seems a little off. By the third attempt we had determined that caramel takes about 15-17 minutes to reach a deep amber color depending on the burner strength.  

Adding to our feeling of defeat was the fact that the royal icing recipe, needed to frost all those sugar cookies, called for 1/2 cup of meringue powder. We have never used it before, but what the heck? When we eagerly dipped a finger into the frosting mixture and brought it to our mouths to sample it we stiffened up. What was that smell? Does the meringue powder have a mild taste of fish? We frosted all the teeny tiny stars.

At this point in the late afternoon we had been flipping from recipe to recipe of our Martha Stewart Living, made caramel three times and our frosting had a mild taste of fish. 

Our mind started thinking of Meta-Martha.  We start thinking about the multiple martha's behind Martha.  How many marthas did it take to make this festive croquembouche in the Martha test kitchen?  How many marthas frosted little tiny star cookies?  How many Marthas styled the cover photos? Maybe it was all that caramel cooking. We started thinking isn't it cute that Martha Stewart Living is written in the first person? What a cute little deceit.   

We were beginning to feel stressed -- like Ray Liotta just before he gets busted in Goodfellas. All the holiday cheer had been sucked out of us. There was only one thing to do - just stop, take a shower, and go get Chinese food. We could pick up where we left off in the morning. If we made the caramel cream right this time, and we were pretty sure we had, then we could probably get this thing knocked out in maybe two more hours?

We try and take stock of the day.  At this stage we think our successes outnumber our losses. The puffs look good. The cookies look good. The caramel cream was a fiasco but we think we got it worked out and the jury is still out on meringue powder.

Okay, maybe it's a draw.

Next week, the conclusion - will we possess the architectural skill to make our croquembouche look like a tower of golden goodness or will it be a holiday pastry mess?

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