Introduction: Croquembouche - Cream Puff Tower
Making a Croquembouche is quite an undertaking, but the end result is a delicious and impressive centerpiece to a celebration's dessert table.
There are 3 parts to a Croquembouche.
The profiteroles (cream puff outside):
- 1 c. Milk
- 1 Stick Butter
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 c. All Purpose Flour
- 4 Large/Jumbo eggs
The Pastry Cream (cream puff filling):
- 2 c. Milk
- 4 Egg yolks
- 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp Flour
The Caramel Sauce:
- 150ml water (just under 2/3 c.)
- 2 1/4 c. White Sugar
- 1 Tbsp light Corn Syrup
Extras you need:
- Parchment paper
- Poster board (or some other large piece of thin cardboard)
- 2 or 3 skewers (or a couple things with long handles)
**- a cheap whisk (I just bought one from a Dollar Store - it doesn't have to be high quality)
**- wire cutters
** Instead of the whisk and wire cutters, you can use 2 forks (but the whisk is faster)
First up is the pastry cream because it has to cool completely before we can use it.
Mix the yolks and sugar in a bowl until they're light yellow. Add in the flower and mix until well combined. If you want to add a flavored extract to your pastry cream, you can add 1/2 tsp to the yolk mixture.
Heat the milk in a sauce pan (medium-high) until boiling. A the milk, a small amount at a time, into the yolk mixture - making sure to mix well after each addition. Once all the milk has been added to the yolks, transfer the mixture back into the saucepan.
Continue to heat the mixture until it begins to thicken and boil. Heat 1 additional minute and remove from heat.
Transfer mixture into a clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or parchment paper, making sure to press gently onto the surface of the pastry cream (to prevent a skin from forming)
Put in the refrigerator to cool.
Next is the little puffs.
Measure your 1 c. of flour and break open your 4 eggs into a bowl (set both aside)
Heat the 1 c. of milk, 1 stick of butter, and 1/8 tsp of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until milk is scalded (180°F) - usually right after the butter is fully melted.
Dump all flour into the pot at once, mixing with a spoon until it clumps up. Keep over heat (mixing constantly) for another 2 minutes, or until some of the mixture just starts to coat the bottom of the pan (see pictures)
Add mixture into a food processor (or blender with multiple levels of blades), and add eggs.
Pulse mixture until the evenly combined. When you take it out, you may have to mix it a bit more to get the last stubborn bit of egg to combine.
Preheat oven to 425°F
Scoop dough into a pastry bag (or large zip lock bag)
Clip off the tip - if you want to use a decorating tip, use a large smooth option.
Pipe the dough onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. The mounds of dough should be about 1" wide and 1" tall. I got about 20
If you don't want to pipe it, you can use a small cookie scoop or two spoons to form mounds.
Dip either your finger or the back of a spoon in water and press down the little peak on top of each puff.
Bake for 20 minutes (or until lightly browned) - Then turn off oven, and crack the door slightly. Let set for an additional 10 minutes.
When you take them out, they should sound hollow when tapped on!
Poke the bottom of each with a knife to help let out moisture - let cool completely on a wire rack.
Tip: When piping, don't swirl the dough - when they bake, the swirls will separate. Try to make solid little balls
Now to make the non-edible requirements.
Roll your poster board into a cone, leaving a hole at the tip. (should be just smaller than 1 cream puff)
Tape the outside to secure it (don't go overboard, you'll have to take the tape off later) - and a small piece inside if needed.
Line your cone with parchment paper, and secure with tape.
You can buy metal molds for a Croquembouche, but they start at $200(for a cheap one). I've made large versions using the poster board and have never had any problems!
Cut the bottom part of your whisk, leaving a funky thing with straight wires sticking out of it. This will be used to make the sugar floss decorations later.
Once your pastry cream is cooled completely (if it's not completely cool, it will be too thin and ooze out of the puffs!), scoop it into a piping bag fitted with a metal tip (medium hole). - you don't "have" to use the tip, but it makes it easier to poke into the puffs
Fill each puff with pastry cream, careful not to overfill.
For the caramel glue: mix 150ml of water (just under 2/3 c.), 2 1/4 c. sugar, and 1 Tbsp of corn syrup in a small saucepan.
Heat over high until sugar has dissolved (mixture will turn clear)
Once the sugar has dissolved, wash down the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water (do this once every 5 minutes or so)
Heat until the sugar begins to turn a light golden brown. (I let mine go a bit longer to give it a deeper caramel taste and a more golden color)
Set your cone (tip down) in a big glass or cup to hold it
Pick out a pretty puff and dip it in the caramel sauce. Be careful! The caramel is REALLY HOT, and super sticky. Place the pretty puff at the tip of the cone (should poke through the hole a bit, but not the end of the world if it doesn't)
Then, just continue to dip puffs and place them snugly in the cone, making sure the caramel dipped side is touching other puffs.
When your cone is full, let set to harden
Reveal your masterpiece!
Carefully remove the tape from the poster board and pull it away, then peel away the parchment paper.
It's okay if it has some heavier drips of caramel on it, we're about to hide those
This step is completely optional. You can, of course, decorate your Croquembouche in any way to wish.
For my sugar floss set up, I taped 3 thin wooden skewers to the counter, and protected the cabinets and floor underneath with butchers paper.
Dip your funky whisk thing in the remaining caramel (if it's getting to thick, reheat it until it's usable again) and drag the drippy strands across the skewers to create long, thin threads of caramel. Do this until you feel you have a sufficient about of strands built up. Gently remove the sugar strands from the skewers and twist around the Croquembouche. - repeat until you're satisfied with the look!
Try to wait until the last minute before adding the caramel threads. In hot or humid weather, they melt and loose their airy look.
Also, the Croquembouche itself doesn't hold up well for extended periods of time, and (depending on the environment) can start melting after 5 or 6 hours.
Or, for a easier go - try making mini versions! With a small tower, you don't even need a cone =)