Delicious Collaboration

Terranea’s Chef Pierino Jermonti takes on croquembouche with POPSUGAR’s Brandi Milloy.

When Brandi Milloy—host of POPSUGAR’s “Eat the Trend”—teams up with Terranea’s executive pastry chef, Pierino Jermonti, the traditional croquembouche gets a whimsical makeover to please the masses. Croquembouche, translated as “crunch in the mouth,” is a labor-intensive dessert that requires a certain level of finesse and culinary skill to master. The last-minute assembly can be a stressful endeavor, even for a professional chef.

The airy and crispy choux puffs (profiteroles) can become soggy if filled too far in advance, and the hot caramel sauce used to secure the filled pastry into an artful tower can be challenging to master without getting burned. And making the signature spun caramel sugar threads that decorate the dessert can leave your holiday kitchen in a sticky mess and your culinary ego a bit bruised.

Chef Pierino’s signature pastries and culinary artistry are favorites with guests, however, when it comes to home baking. Thinking outside the culinary box, he chose inspiration from POPSUGAR’s expert on delicious culinary treats and trends. Brandi’s relatable personality and creative interpretation of trendy and classic recipes, as seen on “Eat the Trend,” helped Chef Pierino adapt his creation into a fun, make-ahead, decadent, show-stopping holiday sweet.

With the goal of simplifying the impressive, traditional French dessert, Chef Pierino and Brandi began their brainstorming and baking session in one of Terranea’s beautifully appointed Villas. The Villa’s spacious kitchen was the perfect place to test the recipe and create their masterpiece.

Chef Pierino suggested a gelato croquembouche as the perfect holiday make-ahead alternative with equally dramatic results. The addition of some crispy Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries cereal “ornaments” and sprinkles to accent the tower fit perfectly with Brandi’s unique style and give the dessert that signature “crunch in the mouth” feel.

Gelato Croquembouche

Profiteroles
½ cup water
½ cup milk
1 stick butter
pinch salt
1¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
gelato or ice cream

Preheat oven to 425º. In a small saucepan combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Cook until the mixture has formed a ball, has a slightly glossy sheen and has pulled away from the pan.

Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing with an electric mixer until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg (to create volume).

Transfer to a heat-resistant pastry bag equipped with a large round tip. Pipe 1-inch balls onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. When completed, dip your finger in water and smooth the top of each ball where the pastry bag released the dough. Leave at least 1 inch between each ball—they grow!

Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through the cooking time to ensure even cooking. When done, the puffs should be light, airy and dry inside. Cool on a rack.

To prepare the croquembouche, cut the profiteroles in half horizontally and fill with gelato or your choice of ice cream. Place on a sheet tray in the freezer to harden.

Chocolate Gelato
Serves 6
3 1/3 cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups sugar
1½ cups cocoa powder
6 egg yolks
3 ounces chocolate chips
3 cups chocolate chunks

Heat milk, cream, vanilla and half of the sugar in a pot. When milk scalds (bring to a near boil), add cocoa and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, mix egg yolks and remaining sugar.  Temper hot liquid into egg mixture (add the hot liquid slowly, so the temperature of the eggs is gradually increased without scrambling them) and then return to pot. Cook until nappe (lightly coats the back of a spoon), stirring constantly.

Add chocolate chips and stir until melted. Strain and cool over ice bath stirring often to avoid a skin. When completely cool add chocolate chunks and pour into ice cream machine.

Vanilla Gelato
Serves 6
3¼ cups milk
1½ cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1¼ cups sugar
8 large egg yolks

In saucepot, scald milk and cream; set aside. In a separate bowl scrape vanilla bean into sugar. Whisk yolks into sugar, temper in cream. Return all to pot. Cook until nappe, stirring constantly. Strain and cool over ice bath.  When completely cool, pour into ice cream machine.

Strawberry Gelato
Serves 6
3 cups milk
1½ cups heavy cream
18 ounces strawberries, pureed
6 egg yolks
1½ cups sugar
1 cup fresh strawberry, chopped

In saucepot, scald milk and cream. In a different bowl mix sugar and yolks. Temper with hot liquid. Mix in strawberry puree and return to pot. Cook until nappe, stirring constantly. Strain and cool over ice bath, stirring often to avoid a skin. When completely cool, add fresh chopped strawberries and pour into ice cream machine.

Chocolate Sauce
4 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a double boiler. Add all ingredients and stir until chocolate has melted and everything is combined. Remove from pan. (If you don’t have a double boiler, put the chocolate in a metal or heatproof glass mixing bowl and place on top of a saucepan with boiling water. Make sure the bowl does not touch the surface of the boiling water; the bowl should be larger than the pan.)

Caramel Sauce
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Bring the cream to a boil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, cook the sugar, water and lemon juice in a 3-quart, heavy-duty saucepan over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Brush around the inside of the pan with a damp pastry brush at the point where the sugar syrup meets the sides of the pan. (Do this twice during the cooking process to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.) Cook the mixture over high heat, without stirring, until it becomes amber-colored (approximately 6–8 minutes).

Lower the heat to medium and slowly add the hot cream to the sugar mixture while stirring constantly. The cream will bubble and foam. Continue stirring to make sure there are no lumps. Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Stir in vanilla.

Transfer the caramel sauce to a bowl, cover tightly with lid or heat-resitant plastic, and cool slightly. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Cautiously warm in a microwave oven or in the top of a double boiler until fluid before using.

Chef’s Plating Guide & Decorating Tips
Using a saucer as your base, lightly dab the bottom of the filled frozen profiterole in melted, warm (not hot), semi-sweet dark chocolate to adhere the profiteroles together and begin to build a pyramid. Use four at the bottom, three on top and one at the very top, or any pyramid form and size of your choosing. Build ahead of time—up to a day in advance—and place in the freezer.

Brandi’s Gelato Croquembouche Decorating Tips:
•    If your freezer is too small for the whole croquebouche to fit, build the bottom, middle and top sections separately and freeze. Use warm (not hot) melted chocolate to attached the layers before serving. The cold gelato will freeze the warm chocolate and adhere the pieces.
•    Add colorful Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries to fill gaps between the choux puffs.
•    Drizzle with warmed chocolate and caramel sauce.
•    Add colorful sprinkles or candy for a festive look and extra crunch.

More Holiday Entertaining Tips:
•    Instead of flowers or candles, feature edible centerpieces like the gelato croquembouche on your tablescape. It’s a great conversation starter and doubles as dessert while encouraging fellowship and sharing!
•    Do as much of the prep work in advance so you have more time to mix and mingle with your guests. Even something as simple as setting the table the night before can save you time and stress.
•    Always have a killer dessert. The last thing your guests will enjoy before they leave your home is dessert, so make your go-to best treat.

For more ideas from Brandi, find her program “Eat the Trend” on POPSUGAR at popsugar.com/latest/Eat-the-Trend. Special thanks to The Villas and Terranea Real Estate for hosting our special cooking project.

Wardrobe for Brandi Milloy provided by Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic and Edward Avedis. Makeup by Vanessa Fox. Wood serving boards provided by Artistic Habitat in Redondo Beach. Pastel measuring cups and rustic rooster twine holder from French Farmhouse in Redondo Beach.

Written by Kara Mickelson
Photographed by Shane O’Donnell