A tower of profiteroles, filled with caramel pastry cream, held together with caramelized sugar and garnished with a snowfall of powdered sugar.
The first time I saw a croquembouche, I was amazed. The dramatic presence of it just blew me away. I knew one day I would have to make this decadent tower of deliciousness. And that day has arrived. I hope this recipe inspires you to create your own croquembouche or at least imparts a little holiday cheer.
This recipe has a lot of moving parts and requires a good bit of time. I find it easier to divide the prep into two days. Make the profiteroles and pastry cream one day. The next day, make the caramel and assemble the croquembouche. Assemble the tower as close to serving time as possible to keep puffs from getting soggy and caramel from melting.
The pastry dough comes together quite easily, but piping the balls can be challenging. The dough is sticky and will form peaks and ripples. Don’t worry about this focus on piping the puffs the same size. When all the puffs have been piped, you can smooth out any imperfections with a silicone spatula. They do not have to be perfect. They will puff when baked.
Baking the puffs requires two different temperatures. The higher heat is needed to create the rise, and the lower heat finishes cooking the puffs without burning. They should be light and airy on the inside and crisp on the outside. The puffs will soften if made in advance. Place them in a warm turned off oven for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up before filling.
Now to assemble the croquembouche. This is probably the most difficult part especially if you aren’t used to working with hot sugar. Keep a bowl of ice water near your workspace. If you get hot sugar on your hand, plunge it immediately into the water. I also like to keep the oven or stove eye on. The sugar will more than likely start to harden before the croquembouche can be assembled. Just pop the pot back on the stove or in the oven until the sugar is fluid again.
I made a foil cone mold to build the tower on. This isn’t a necessity, but it will help to keep the puffs in place. To make the mold, make a line with 7 cream puffs and a circle with 8. Tear off a large strip of foil and shape it into a cone. Lay the cone next to the line of 7 puffs and adjust the height to match. Then, adjust the width of the bottom of the cone to fit inside the ring of pastry. Fill the cone with more foil to make it sturdy, place it on top of your base, and start building.
When building the tower I coat two sides of the puff with the sugar. One side to glue the puff at the bottom and the other to stick it to the puff next to it. It will take a minute for the sugar to harden. So if there are any mistakes, there will be some time to fix them.
I decorated this croquembouche with a dusting of powdered sugar and decorated mini cut-outs from gingerbread linzer cookies. If there is leftover sugar, it can also be used to garnish the tower. Dip a fork in the sugar and pull it up with the tines facing down. The sugar will be dripping from the tines, forming sugar threads. Make circles with the fork around the tower. Re-dip the fork when all the sugar has run off. Continue until all the sugar is used and the croquembouche is coated in sugar threads.
- 1 3/4 stick butter 200 grams
- 2 cups flour 300 grams
- 2 1/8 cup water 1/2 liter
- 2 tbsp sugar 25 grams
- 7 eggs
- 1 pinch salt
- powdered sugar as needed for garnish
- 1 egg white for wash
Caramel Pastry Cream
- 4 cups milk
- 4 eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup cornstarch 100 grams
- 2/3 cup sugar 200 grams
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups sugar 460 grams
- 1 cup water 240 grams
- 1/4 cup corn syrup 84 grams
- In a large pot bring to a boil the butter and water. With a wooden spoon or spatula mix in the flour, sugar and salt. Cook until all of the dry ingredients have absorbed. The texture should be shiny and smooth, not sticky. Place the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer. Attach the paddle and turn the mixer on medium low. Add the eggs one at a time, letting the dough absorb the egg before adding the next. The dough will be sticky when finished. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip and fill with the dough.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment or silpat. Pipe the profiteroles, 1 1/2 inches apart. They should be about 2 inches wide and tall. Brush the tops with egg wash and place in the oven. Cook for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 400, rotate, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before filling. Recipe yields about 40 profiteroles.
Caramel Pastry Cream
- In a bowl, mix the eggs and yolks until pale. Mix in the cornstarch. In a pot mix the sugar and water. Bring to a boil dissolving the sugar. Boil until the sugar caramelizes, 300-325 degrees. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. Return the pot to the heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and slowly whisk into the egg mixture. Add the mixture back to the pot and cook over low heat, whisking constantly. When the mixture is thick enough to hold it's shape, remove it from the heat and mix in vanilla. Pour into a container and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Cool and refrigerate before filling the profiteroles.
- Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Over high heat dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil and allow the sugar to cook until it reaches 300 degrees. At 300 the sugar will start to caramelize. Watch closely at this point. When dark golden remove from the heat. Use immediately.
- Poke small whole in the bottom of the profiteroles. Place the pastry cream in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Fill each profiterole. Prepare a base and cone mold if using. Dip two sides of a profiterole in caramel and place it caramel side toward the base. Dip another puff and press the caramel side onto the previous puff. Continue until a ring has formed. There should be 8 puffs on the base. Continue this process making a ring of 7 puffs on top of the first. Building rings on top of one another with one less puff each time until you reach the top. Dip the bottom of the last profiterole placing on the top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or decorate to your liking.