So, it is true that the four year mark for tentimestea passed back in July. And it is also the case that I made this croquembouche back in July as well. So we’re running a bit late for a blogiversary post, and to be fair it would seem a bit more appropriate to have holiday-themed posts around this time, but this is all part of my new plan. I think.
Recently an advisor, whom, after making my acquaintance 3 minutes prior, described me as being rather reticent [in the context of poking people in the arm, of all things]. I was initially a bit confused and reticent to accept said description, but upon further reflection, figured that came with connotations of cautious, and probably a bit fearful. Fair enough, advisor, fair enough.
I think that sort of reticence happened here in the blog as well. I don’t need to fully recap all the anxieties around posting (see the last post for difficulties on thinking about something to write about). But I would say that maybe I’ve gotten a bit too worried about quality and about timeline suitability. I’ve found myself in a sort of paralysis–not wanting to post new drafts because there are still old ones or now the ingredients are out of season, but not wanting to post old drafts because I don’t like them anymore.
Anyways, now I’m planning to relax and embody the logo of–annoyingly enough–a certain popular shoe/athletic wear brand. Put up an okay recipe, or even a disaster with plenty of exposition, maybe a bit of a story, at least one decent picture, as well as a mildly coherent preamble. Hence, finally putting up the 4th blog birthday post half a year later without worrying that strawberries and rhubarb are out of season and that the timing really makes no sense at all.
(Look! I made a gif! It is quite bad hehe.) Edit: the GIF has since been replaced with the process photo above.I made and hosted the GIF online and it seems to have since disappeared – and in the end I prefer the process photo anyways!
Now the structure of this blog post is very quickly going to resemble the structure of my thoughts around blogging–which is to say like two very different parallel blog posts shoved together into one.
Because, at the same time, recently I’ve been finding myself with new demands on my time and while it’s true that one can make time for many things, it’s also true that some things can be rather consuming and one can end up, if not time-lacking, at least fatigued, which can preclude those many things from happening. It has sort of gotten to the point where I don’t really have a sense of how this blog fits into my life anymore or if it really should at all.
But I suppose the key is that I don’t really need to come up with an answer or declare a solid ultimatum. Not right now and not exactly ever (though to be honest, Flikr is really pushing me to do that – topic for another time).
As much as I may neglect blogging, I find something mildly comforting in making things. Entirely insignificant things, but there’s still a sense of ownership and of working towards something. When I was younger it was stories, followed by brief periods of poetry, attempts at graphic novels and watercolours. At some point, baking also took hold and it remained something untouched by obligation and responsibility and assessment going on elsewhere in my life. Publicizing it in a blog started to change things as I became more particular, but generally any judgement that came my way has been excessively kind, encouraging and supportive.
Continuing in the theme of previous blog birthday posts, this is also a strawberry rhubarb-themed cake of choux pastry filled with cardamom pastry cream a bit of strawberry rhubarb curd.
Contrary to my expectations, the croquembouche came together fairly smoothly. I kept it small and while it did end up very, very lopsided, the overall construction was completed with only minimally burnt fingertips.
Not that this alone particularly makes it worth the extra work, but the caramel strands draping each choux (and, less poetically, the wads that crystallize each puff into place adjacent to the others) are quite tasty. It is probably best to put together the croquembouche not too long before intended consumption as I found that the fine strands of caramel just dissolved away after a night in the fridge.
Finally, a note on the florals: budding sage and
petunias begonias. I was particularly surprised by the petunias (oh god) begonias – it turns out they are edible (maybe I was vaguely dissuaded from that possibility given the slightly gaudy hue we selected). The petals are big, crisp, tart, and sort of juicy actually. And they grow pretty well on shady balconies. (Just corrected this post half a year later — I misspoke, it’s begonias! not petunias! I’ve read that most petunias can be poisonous so do be careful.)
strawberry rhubarb croquembouche
Adapted from the cream puff cookie topping from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel.
- 85 g brown sugar
- 75 g whole wheat flour
- 50 g butter
Mix all ingredients together until it forms a cohesive dough. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a quarter sheet pan, place the dough on top, and cover with a second sheet of parchment. Roll out very thinly until the dough roughly fills the parchment paper in some sort of oval-type shape (around 1/16″). Slide onto the pan and then freeze until firm.
Cut out rounds around 3-cm in diameter (a bit smaller than the choux mounds).
Adapted from Alain Ducasse via Food and Wine. Makes around 24 medium-sized puffs.
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 1/4 c water
- 1/4 c milk
- good pinch kosher salt
- 1/2 c whole wheat flour
- 2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 400F.
In a saucepan, brown the butter. Let cool a bit before adding the water, milk and salt, then bring to a boil, add the flour and quickly mix in with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat and continue to cook the mixture until it forms a ball. Remove the pastry from the heat and let cool slightly before adding the eggs one at a time, beaten into the pastry most easily with the aid of a wire whisk. The dough should now be shiny, but not fluid.
Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe mounds of pastry, around 1 tbsp in size evenly spaced on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Top with a round of the craquelin.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400F, then decrease temperature to 375F and bake 15 minutes or until puffed and well browned. Poke a hole in the bottom of each puff to let the steam release and let cool on on a wire rack.
strawberry rhubarb curd
- 1 1/2 c chopped rhubarb
- 1 1/2 c chopped strawberries
- 2 tbsp sugar, divided
- 1 egg + 1 yolk
- 40g butter
- hibiscus petals, optional
- 1/4 c heavy cream, whipped
Combine the rhubarb and strawberries in a saucepan with 1 tbsp sugar. Gently warm and cook until fruit is softened and juices are released. Transfer to a jelly bag set in a strainer and let juices drain for around an hour. Squeeze to extract any remaining juices. As I cooked down my fruit a bit, I ended up with a fairly concentrated 70mL–if the juice seems dilute, it can be simmered down.
Combine the 70mL juices with 1 tbsp of sugar and the eggs in a small saucepan. Heat gently to warm, add the butter in small pieces and whisk to melt in. If you’re concerned about the colour, you can also add a few hibiscus petals now to intensify the pink–and the taste is quite nice as well! Continue cooking until the mixture begins to steam, being sure to whisk constantly. Cook until thickened, not letting the mixture boil (if you’re a temperature sort of person, it should be at least 155F). Pass through a fine sieve, cover and chill.
Adapted from Alice Medrich via Food52.
- 1 c milk
- 2 green cardamom pods, cracked
- short length of vanilla bean, split
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 13g rice flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 c heavy cream, whipped
For the pastry cream, warm the milk until scalded. Add the cardamom and vanilla and let infuse around 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and rice flour in a small saucepan. Whisk in a bit of the milk, a couple tablespoons, until smooth, then whisk in the egg yolks and the remaining milk. Over medium heat, warm the mixture until it just begins to bubble. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes or until nicely thickened.
Pass through a fine sieve into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface, and chill.
Fold in the heavy cream
- 1 c sugar
Fill the choux: Transfer the curd to a piping bag fit with a small metal tip. Transfer the pastry cream to another piping bag. First pipe in a bit of the curd into each puff, then finish filling with the pastry cream. Chill.
For the croquembouche base, I used a piece of metallic cardboard salvaged from some pastries bought from the bakery. I also made an aluminum foil cone for support–but despite the leaning tower look, the tower was quite steady so I don’t think this is necessary.
When you’re ready to assemble, place the sugar with a bit of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar caramelizes. While the sugar caramelizes, arrange the puffs from largest to smallest (for once it’s good to be a bit inconsistent when piping the choux pastry!). Remove the caramel from the heat.
Begin with the largest choux puffs. Dip the side of the first in caramel and place on the base. Dip the next on two sides at 90 degree angles to each other so you can glue this puff on the base and to the puff next to it. Continue to repeat until you’ve built a circular base–I used 7 puffs. For the next circle, I used 6, then I used 4 and finally put one puff on the very top.
If the caramel starts firming up, place it back on the heat to warm it up again. Finally, at the end, dip a fork into the caramel and drizzle threads of sugar around the tower–the caramel will need to be a bit cooler for the threads to form.