On the Great Irish Bake Off this week it was the 1/4 finals and only 6 bakers remained. And this week our set of challenges went all French facing what many bakers, professional and amateurs alike fear-Patisserie. Even our award winning judge and Executive pastry chef at the 5* Merrion Hotel in Dublin, Paul Kelly, admitted it still troubles him. Great.
I have to say when we first received the email containing our showstopper challenge for this week I got very excited indeed. All I saw was Croquembouche at the top of the email and immediately wished that I was at least still in the competition until this point! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do in full but have never had the excuse to make a proper Croquembouche. I had made one or two small ones in the past but nothing to brag about. In the end I managed to pull it off and get star baker for the second time! Woop woop!
For our technical challenge we were tasked with making the classic French dessert; Mille-Feuille sometimes under the alias as a custard, coffee or vanilla slice around the world. Literally meaning a thousand layers it gets it’s names from the three layers of puff pastry that sandwich together the pastry cream and fruit filling. There are a huge number of variations of this dessert around the world which I urge you to try as it is a highly versatile dish.
Puff pastry makes up the three layers. This particular pastry involves many many layers of laminated dough and takes a long time to make. So much so that even professional bakery’s and kitchens will order it on from specialists! Butter is layered between layers of dough, then rolled and folded, then repeated in order to create many alternating layers of dough and butter. When in the oven the heat melts the butter releasing gases which then expand and push the layers apart giving the pastry it’s very light and dry character.
But since we did not have a day or two for our challenge we used the quicker rough or quick-puff pastry. It uses the same folding and layering technique as proper puff pastry but takes 1/4 of the time. It gives a very similar result to full puff pastry making it a very suitable substitute.
You will need:
230g plain flour
200g cold butter, cubed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
190-210ml cool water
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped (or 1tsp vanilla extract)
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp lemon juice
400-500g icing sugar
Flaked almonds, toasted
How to do it:
1. Start with your rough puff. Place the flour and salt into a large bowl and add the cubed butter. Do not rub it in or anything of the sort, you want to keep these chunks of butter as intact as possible for now.
Add in the lemon juice and about 160ml of the water. Work the dough with a round bladed knife until it comes together into a shaggy, rough dough. You may need to use all of the water stated or you may not, mix until the dough comes together.
2. Turn onto a floured worktop and knead a few times to make a ball.
Make ridges in the dough to flatten it then using these ridges roll out the pastry to a large rectangle.
Fold the top third down:
Now fold the bottom third up.
Turn the dough 45 degrees to face you. This is called a ‘turn’ and we need to do 4 of these in total. Repeat the rolling and folding of the pastry until you have done 4 ‘turns’ but remember to chill in the fridge for 15-20 mins between each turn.
3. Meanwhile make the pastry cream. Place the milk and vanilla into a large pan and just bring to a boil. In a large heatproof bowl whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornflour until very thick and pale. When the milk is ready pour 1/4 over the yolk mixture and mix. Pour this back into the pan and cook over a medium-high heat until the mixture thickens substantially. Pass thorugh a sieve into a bowl. Stir in the butter, press clingfilm to the surface and chill in the fridge until needed.
4. Preheat you oven to 220°C/200°C fan and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Roll out your pastry into a large rectangle that will fit your tray and about 5mm thick.
Use the rolling pin to drape it over the tray. At this point I use a sharp knife to mark out the 3 equal rectangles that will make up the finished dessert. Do not cut right the way through. Prick all over with a fork and then chill for 15 mins.
5. Put a very light baking sheet on top of the pastry (this stops it from over rising) and bake for 15-so minutes until a golden brown and very flaky. Cool on a wore rack.
6. Make the royal icing by placing the whites in a bowl, whisk briefly then add the lemon juice and whisk again. Start to add 1 tbsp of the icing sugar at a time whilst whisking until your royal icing is thick but still spreadable. Take 1-2 tbsp of the icing and mix in some coffee extract.
7. Using a serrated knife trim the edges (use the marks you made previously as a guidance) of the pastry.
Spread over the royal icing on one layer. Draw lines with the coffee icing on top of the white icing.
Using a toothpick or something similar drag the icing from edge to edge alternating in direction each time to give the feathered effect.
8. Pipe the pastry cream onto the bottom layer, add the fruit however you wish. I did it as so:
Pipe some more cream on top of the fruit to glue on the next layer of pastry.
Repeat with the next layer, finally topping with the iced layer of pastry.
At this point you can add the toasted almonds to the sides or the top of the Mille-Feuille but I chose not to this time as I had a few people with nut allergies coming that evening!
Getting the pastry rolled thin but not too thin is key to this pastry succeeding. Also you must make sure that the pastry cream is thick enough to hold it’s own shape otherwise it will run out after piping and you will be left with a mess. You can of course go for an easier alternative if you don’t feel up to making pastry cream. Whip 500ml whipping cream with 2 tbsp of icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla until it holds it’s shape and use to pipe between the layers.
I really love this dessert due to it’s aesthetic appeal and huge flavour punch. I came 4th in the Technical challenge due to my pastry being underdone. I could listen to my own advice and roll my pastry thinner! Time got the better of me, otherwise it would have been in the oven a good while longer! Remember it’s better to over than under-cook this pastry.
Putting this behind me I pulled out all stops in the showstopper with my Amaretto and pistachio Croquembouche and got star baker again! I was over the moon with joy as next to bread I love Patisserie best. However the joy was short lived as we heard that not only one but two people were going this week. We said goodbye to Barbara and Aoife this week. Each week it gets harder and harder to see people go for two reasons, 1-we have become friends at this stage and we miss the craic with the dwindling numbers and 2-as the competition comes the a close the intensity and competitiveness in the tent increases. Barbara and Aoife-well done for getting as far as you did, a Croquembouche is a huge task for even professional chefs never mind a bunch of amateur home bakers.
Before I sign off I would suggest you make Aoife’s croquembouche! In my opinion it was the tastiest of the day!
Semi final week next week….all I will say is that it’s a tough old week for me.
Thanks for reading,
- Puff Pastry (amazingbakes.wordpress.com)
- Crunchy Mille-Feuille with Vanilla Cream (nesslisa404.wordpress.com)
- Puff Pastry and all that is Feuilletée.! (jsaadoun.wordpress.com)
- Raspberry and lemon mille feuille (helvetiahandmade.wordpress.com)