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Taste of Europe: Si Toft’s croquemadameembouche

Food writer JOSH BARRIE brings readers a recipe from Wales with French roots. And, if done right, it resembles a Christmas tree.

Si Toft's croquemadameembouche.

What the bloody hell is a croquemonsieurembouche, I hear you ask.

Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s a tower of gougères (baked savoury choux pastry), covered in melted cheddar and spruced up with strands of prosciutto.

It is a fleeting melodrama of a dish and that’s why it’s so enticing. For me, one caramel-covered profiterole is enough, but I could eat a whole harvest of gougères, especially if the pastry is delicate and the cheese mature.

I appreciate the humorous blend of French classics at play here. First, the croque monsieur, ever a good breakfast, always a supporting snack on a wearisome afternoon.

And then the monolithic dessert, the croquembouche, which even to those who don’t care much for pudding is always an impressive feat. The croquemonsieurembouche is the work of the Welsh chef Si Toft, who runs The Dining Room in Abersoch, north Wales.

It’s a small, relaxed family restaurant that serves its community and tourists who fancy a walk before their plate of megrim sole fish fingers.

They might also enjoy smoked trout and potato tacos, cod with bacon, leeks and lentils, and a hefty piece of local lamb with zingy salsa verde.

Toft advises people to not take this dish too seriously. I advise you to make it for Christmas to impress your grandmother.

Also the shape is a bit like a Christmas tree!

Serves 6-8 as a snack

Ingredients

500ml whole milk
250g butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of ground white pepper
300g plain flour, sifted
9 large eggs
150g grated Hafod cheddar or similar

Cheese sauce:

150ml milk
1 tbsp plain flour
15g butter
50g grated Hafod cheddar

Method:

Boil the milk with salt, sugar and butter. Take off heat and beat in the sifted flour until completely blended together. Put back on a high heat and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the eggs one at a time and mix until a smooth paste. Add the cheese and mix again. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a bag and piping out Ferrero-Rocher-size blobs on a baking sheet.

Bake for 16 minutes at 170C, until risen and golden.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by stirring the flour into the melted butter over a medium heat, stirring slowly. Add the milk, then the cheese.

To serve, stack the gougères into a Christmas tree shape, drizzling each layer with sauce as you go. Arrange strips of torn prosciutto among the layers and sprinkle with black onion or mustard seeds to garnish.

Extra tip: top with a poached egg for a classic croquemadameembouche.

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