Croquembouche

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Happy New Year everyone! Wow, we are already done with the much awaited holiday season and about a week into 2016! Seriously, where does the time fly! So, this is to prove the that I did actually work on this recipe at the beginning of the year – to be more precise, a few days into January 2016! Wow, how unexpected life could be!

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I hope this year is off to a great start for all of you! Did anyone make any lofty resolutions? I didn’t! I am finally in terms with the fact that, you either want to do something or not – regardless of whether it is your latest and greatest resolution or not! Honestly, the timing couldn’t be better! Why would you want to try this absolutely show-stopping creation right after all the indulgence in fine things! Less than 2 weeks before the waists start expanding seem like THE perfect time to share this recipe with you all! PLEASE…I really mean, PLEASE, don’t let the pictures fool you into thinking this recipe is super hard! It really is not! Believe me!

This croquembouche recipe (inspired by a recipe on Food Network) is one such thing! It’s true that you can’t stop with one, but if you want to have your cake and eat it too, then, yes, you can pull together all your willpower and stop with one! It’s a satisfying sweet treat that satisfies your sweet tooth without adding hundreds and hundreds of calories!

OK, before you to the recipe, let me warn you not to get spooked by the ingredient list or the long directions. It’s not all the bad. Breeze through the recipe first to get a feel for how very easy the recipe is so you know what to expect. It’s really a pretty fool-proof recipe with an amazing end result. Also, if you are not keen on making the caramel, you can easily skip it! The taste will still be amazing without the caramel coating.

DARN, how I wish I had taken a picture of the little baby after the first bite, revealing the delicious, creamy filling inside! (Note to self: It’s likely you will make this again this holiday season, so can you please post a picture showing the yumming filling(s) inside?)

Croquembouche

  • Servings: 12?
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Ingredients
¼ oz packet unflavored gelatin
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
12 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1½ cup heavy cream
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preparation

1. Begin by preparing the cream filling. Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of cold water in a small bowl and let it soften (bloom).
2. Measure out the milk in a heavy bottom pan. Add the vanilla and bring a simmer over medium high heat. Once the milk starts to simmer, remove from heat and set aside.
3. Whisk the egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk one-third of the milk into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Add rest of the milk and whisk together. Return the pan over medium heat and cook the mixture while constantly whisking the mixture.
4. Cook the custard till the mixture boils and thickens. This will take about 5 to 6 minutes. Continue cooking till the mixture turns into custard consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Add in the softened gelatin.
5. Microwave the chocolate chips for 30 seconds, stir and heat again in 30 second increment till the chocolate is fully melted and smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Stir in the coffee and chocolate into ½ the custard filling. Keep the other half plain. Cover both the bowls with plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface to prevent any film from forming on top and chill the custard for 2 hours.
6. When ready to fill the puffs, whip the heavy cream into soft peaks. Fold half of it into the vanilla filling and the other half into the chocolate filling.
7. Transfer each filling to a large pastry bag with a 1/4-inch tip and set aside.
8. Prepare the pastry puffs while the custard is cooling. Preheat the oven to 450F.
9. Bring 1 ½ cups of water, remaining butter, sugar and salt to a simmer in medium saucepan. When the butter melts completely, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a paste. Return the pan to heat and cook stirring constantly till the mixture pulls from the side and turns shiny. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
10. Transfer the paste to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and start mixing on medium low speed for about a minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time till fully incorporated.
11. Transfer the dough to a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and pipe 1 1/2-inch balls of dough onto the paper. You should get about 40 plus dollops.
12. Smooth out any pointy tips of the piped dollops with a wet finger. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, till the dough is puffed. Lower the temperature to 350f and bake until the puffs are golden and feel light. Turn off the oven and keep the puffs inside for another 10 minutes or so. Remove the puffs to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
13. Assemble the croquembouche as close to serving time as possible. Fill half the puffs with chocolate cream and the other half with vanilla by piping the cream from the bottom. You can lightly push in the piping from the bottom and squeeze the filling till the puff feels pretty full. Take care to avoid overfilling so the custard doesn’t explode out of the puffs.
14. Let the filled puffs chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.
15. To assemble the puffs as a tower, you need to make the caramel. Mix the 3 cups of sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in a saucepan, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the syrup till it turns deep amber. Take care not to burn the caramel. Another way to do this is to use a candy thermometer and boil the syrup till it reaches hard candy stage.
16. Immediately dip the bottom of the saucepan in a large bowl of ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Let cool for a couple of minutes. The syrup should still be quite liquidy.
17. Partially dip each filled puff into the caramel and let the excess drip off. Arrange the puffs around the circle. If the caramel hardens, microwave until soft, 45 seconds.
18. Fill the base circle with more puffs for stability, then continue building a conical tower of smaller circles.
19. Dip the tip of a fork into the caramel and wave it around the tower, letting the syrup fall in strands around it. If the syrup is on the liquidy side, the syrup might not form the web look you are after. Let the syrup cool slightly and drizzle it slowly so it will cling better to the puffs and create the web look.

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Coconut-Pineapple Flan

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My love for flan, crème brulee, caramel pudding – whatever you call it- dates all the way back to my childhood. It was one of those treats we kids devoured no matter what else was around. Those days, I grew up eating the version made with tons of whole eggs, condensed milk and sugar. Using all those eggs and condensed milk results in a delicious “pudding” that is firmer and “sliceable”. Growing up, I remember my mom making this caramel pudding and slicing it up to serve. It had the decadence of a crème brulee with the satisfaction of relishing on a slice of cake. Mmmmm….

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These days, since I am trying to cut down on carbs, especially sugar, I wanted to attempt a recipe that was not so calorific, yet satisfies the sweet tooth. I know I can NEVER give up on desserts. That to me is like depriving myself of oxygen – ok maybe not that desperate but close enough. Only thing that seems to work for me is finding lower calorie substitutes in my recipes. With that in mind, I attempted a flan recipe with low fat milk, lite coconut milk and some splenda. Since a light caramel sauce is a “must” for a good flan, I took the traditional route with regular refined sugar but reduced the overall amount of sauce.

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Lastly, instead of the traditional vanilla flavor, I opted for coconut pineapple combination for a tropical flair – to go with the balmy 50F in the middle of winter!

The resulting flan, crème brulee or caramel pudding – again whatever you want to call it- was velvety smooth, light and had a nice tropical flavor. Just what I was looking for!

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Coconut-Pineapple Flan

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

For Flan:
1/2 cup 1% or skim milk
7 oz unsweetened coconut milk, preferably the lite version
1/3 cup granulated Splenda
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons crushed pineapple, drained

For caramel glaze:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Prepare caramel by heating the sugar and water till sugar starts to caramelize. Make sure you don’t scorch the sugar.
3. Transfer the cooked caramel to a 6″ baking pan and sprinkle with crushed pineapple. Set aside.
4. Simmer 1% milk and coconut milk till tiny bubbles start forming around the edges. Do not boil. Add the rum extract.
5. Beat the yolks and whole egg lightly. Slowly add the milk to temper the eggs, being careful to add the milk in a steady stream while continuously stirring the egg mixture.
6. Add Splenda to the egg-milk mixture and stir to dissolve.
7. Strain the mixture to remove any bits of solids and transfer the strained liquid to the prepared dish.
8. Place a wet kitchen towel in a large pan (13″x9″). Place the 6″ pan with the flan mixture on the towel and place in the preheated oven.
9. Slowly pour boiling water into the larger container, carefully avoiding the flan mixture.
10. Bake for about 45 minutes till the top looks set.
11. Once cooled to room temperature, carefully run a thin knife or spatula around the edges and invert the flan onto a plate.
12. Chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours before serving.


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