Saturday 19 March 2011

A Chocolate Croquembouche 21st Present

A few months ago I was contacted by a reader who had seen A Present of Profiteroles and wanted to know if I would be up for making a bigger version for her daughter's 21st party. I did a little happy-dance (think Laura Linney in Love Actually) and said of course I would. 

There were plenty of challenges along the way, especially as the cake had to be picked up around 24 hours before it was going to be served. I made a batch of choux and filled and stacked them, checking to see how they fared sitting in the fridge for 28 hours. Whipped cream wasn't an option, so I had to develop a good crème pâtisserie. After testing several different recipes, I decided on Raymond Blanc's recipe. To the completed base recipe I whisked in his suggested chocolate flavouring (15g cocoa and 30g grated dark chocolate) and a good splash of Baileys.  I made three big batches the night before The Big Day and went to bed. 

On the morning of The Big Day, I woke up feeling a bit nervous about my second-ever cake order. I tied my apron on over my pyjamas and started making an enormous batch of choux pastry, scaled up from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert. I tipped the flour into the buttery water and watched with horror as it just turned into a grey paste. After a tense few minutes of heat and beating it started to look a little better. Instead of beating in eggs in by hand as normal, I decided to save my arm and use my Kitchen Aid. This was not a good idea. First I managed to drop half an eggshell into the still-running mixer, crushing it into the batter. Due to the amount of ingredients involved, I picked the pieces out and kept going. Unfortunately I ended up with a 2/3 full mixer bowl full of thin paste with a distinctly raw eggy smell.

The next two batches didn't go much better. I halved the quantity for the second one. As I half-heartedly tried to scrape the final half of batter out of the saucepan into my piping bag, the first half decided to escape down the cupboards and onto the floor (photographic evidence of the top half of said incident here). The rest of the batch went into the oven. On noting that the far half was burning I acted without thinking and opened the door to spin the tray. They sank into miserable flaccid mounds.  For the third batch I managed to pull the bottom tray out onto the oven door and then fling the next tray off the rails onto the bottom batch, simultaneously squishing one half and sending the other half flying onto the floor.

My incredibly mature and composed response to this was to take the third batch of buns one by one and throw them into the bin with enough force that they splatted upon the far side of the plastic before sinking into the dark depths. Then I cried hysterically for five minutes while on the phone to my Mum on skype. 

Finally remembering that I was in fact 21 not 2, I started the fourth attempt. I made a small quantity (which turned out to be the perfect amount for two trays in my oven) and after beating it with perhaps a little more ferocity than usual, managed to successfully get a set of buns into and out of the oven without disaster. 

After that I calmed down and started working methodically. Within a few hours I had around 200 buns which I then filled and stacked into the mould with lots of melted chocolate. Finally I added the chocolate ribbons and the 21 which I had made the day before. After clearing up (and changing out of my chocolate-smeared pyjamas) my lovely clients came and took it away, lovingly wrapped in cling film for its journey. 

Despite the drama and being absolutely knackered I would have quite happily gone straight back to the kitchen and done it all again. 

Except maybe the choux-fails.


  1. Good for you!!! You followed through and made it happen and look at the gorgeous result. It is stunning.
    Congratulations on your second order. I am sure you had a very happy customer and birthday child.

  2. My Kitchen in the Rockies - Thank you Kirsten! There was definitely a moment when I wasn't sure it would come through in time.

  3. You are a trooper Emma!
    Looks delicious!


  4. Isn't it crazy that you can make something 100 times easily and without trouble then the minute it is for something special everything goes wrong! I've been there!!! Have you ever thought about freezing the choux puffs (unfilled)? They freeze very well - that means less stress on the big day! I just made this weekend some for my niece's kitchen tea.

  5. Liz B - Thanks! From my little testers I hope it was.

    Marcellina - It's so frustrating! I hadn't thought of that - don't they go soggy from the moisture?

  6. I'm glad I'm not the only one who cooks in their pyjamas with an apron over the top.

  7. Way to keep at it Emma!!! The finished product looks great!

  8. congratulations emma....ull soon be on your way to opening a bakery at this rate.....i loved that smaller boxed version and i love this one too. ure one creative gal :)

  9. Oh my you are a baking goddess! What a lucky birthday girl:)


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