Croquembouche is a seriously impressive looking dessert which is surprisingly easy to make! It literally translates as "crunch in the mouth", and consists of profiteroles (cream puffs) filled with custard and stacked in a cone shape. The profiteroles are secured and decorated with threads of caramel, which gives the dessert its crunch. The three elements are simple to make, but best done over a two day period. This helps the profiteroles to dry out, improving the structural integrity of the cone.
Once completed, the croquembouche will only stay looking pretty for about 6 hours (depending on humidity). The spun sugar is delicate, and the strands eventually melt in humid conditions. The custard will also eventually soak into the cream puffs, making them a bit squidgy. For these reasons it is best to do the sugar work and filling on the day you serve it. (Once served, it is unlikely to last 6 minutes - let alone 6 hours - before it is devoured by everyone, so don't worry!)
Bake cream puffs
Make orange custard
Fill cream puffs
Make cone support and caramel
Stack and decorate croquembouche
The recipe in this Instructable makes approximately 30 profiteroles, and produces a tower of 20cm in height.
Step 1: You Will Need:
One of the great things about this dessert is although it ends up looking so ornate, it uses common household ingredients! I had to buy a couple of bits of kitchen equipment though, so make sure you have everything you need before you get cracking!
100g plain flour
50g butter, chopped into small cubes
4 tbsp each milk and water
1 tsp caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
A few drops of orange essence or rind from half an orange (the other half will be used in the caramel)
400g caster sugar
A few drops of orange essence or rest of orange rind
Piping bag with nozzles approx. 2cm and 1cm in diameter
Sheet of A4 (US Letter) card
Step 2: Making the Profiteroles
First, we're going to make some choux pastry.
Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Put the butter, milk, water, sugar and salt in a pan, and heat gently until the butter has completely melted.
Once the butter has completely melted, increase the heat and bring the liquid to the boil. When it starts bubbling, remove immediately from the heat and tip in the flour all at once.
Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a dough that leaves the side of the pan clean.
Return to a low heat and stir the dough for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Cool for 3 minutes.
Gradually add the beaten egg to the dough, beating well between each addition, until the dough is smooth and glossy. Line a large flat baking sheet with greaseproof paper. Using the larger of your two piping nozzles, pipe about 30 small balls of dough over the baking sheet, allowing space between each for rising. See penny for scale in my photo.
Bake for 20-25 mins until the profiteroles are puffed and golden. Remove the profiteroles from the oven and quickly poke a hole in the bottom of each using a knife. This lets out the steam. Return to the oven for 5 mins to further dry out the profiteroles. Cool on a wire rack, then store in a tin until ready to use.
Step 3: Making the Orange Custard Filling
While the profiteroles are in the oven you can get cracking on the custard (crème pâtissière if we're going to be fancy).
Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk together for 1-2 minutes until the mixture turns pale. Tip in the flour and cornflour and mix well. Put the milk and orange extract or zest in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Pour the boiling milk over the mixture in the bowl, whisking continuously until everything is smooth.
Pour the custard into the pan, place over a medium heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously until it has thickened. Pour the custard into a clean bowl and cover the surface with cling film to stop a skin forming. Leave to cool, then put in the fridge until completely cold.
Step 4: Getting Ready for Assembly
Construct your support cone
Roll your card into a tight cone (see photo 2 for scale). The peak of the cone should be on the long side of the card, meaning your cone is fairly short (approximately 20cm). Secure it using tape, then make a ring of tape and stick it to the top of the cone (see photo 1). This will help the greaseproof paper to stick to the card.
Cut off a sheet of greaseproof paper and wrap the cone, starting from the piece of sticky tape. It will not provide enough grip by itself, so you need to tuck the end of the greaseproof paper inside the cone (photo 2) in order to secure the two materials together.
Fill your profiteroles
If your profiteroles have softened at all, pop them back on a baking sheet and give them a quick 5 mins in the oven at 160C.
Attach the smaller of the two piping nozzles to a piping bag, and fill with the orange custard.
Stick the nozzle into the small hole created by the knife and pipe the filling in. You know the profiterole has enough filling when it just starts to squeeze out of the pierced hole. Set the profiterole back on the baking sheet with the hole facing upwards.
Repeat until all profiteroles are filled.
Step 5: Assembling the Croquembouche
Make your Caramel
Put the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat for around 10-15 minutes, avoiding stirring until it has mostly melted. For the first 5 mins it will look like nothing is happening, but avoid turning up the heat.
Once your sugar has completely melted, remove from the heat and add a few drops of orange essence or rind. Stir to incorporate flavour throughout the caramel.
If you enjoy having skin on your hands then wear gloves!
I thought I was being Captain Safety by wearing gloves for this stage, but it is messy, messy work ( see photo 3) and the caramel can get up to 230C so I would definitely recommend wearing them.
Line your work area with greaseproof paper to save you a lot of cleanup effort afterwards. Dip the top of each profiterole in the caramel, then set down on the greaseproof paper. Repeat until all profiteroles have caramel tops.
Creating the Tower
Cut a circle of greaseproof paper and place it on a small plate, then put your card cone at the centre.The greaseproof circle will prevent the croquembouche from sticking to the plate, allowing you to remove the card cone from its core when you have created a rigid enough structure.
Take a profiterole and this time dip the side of it in the caramel. (If your caramel has started to set then put it back on a low heat.) Grab another profiterole and stick it to the first, then set down against the cone. Dip the side of a third profiterole and stick it to the first couple, following the shape of the cone. Repeat with the rest of the profiteroles, making sure they have good caramel contact with their neighbours.
Before topping off the tower with the final crowning profiterole, remove the card core. Make sure your structure is well glued together with caramel, then lift the croquembouche up with one hand and scrunch up the cardboard cone, peeling it away from the profiteroles until it loses grip and can be pulled out. Place the tower of profiteroles back on the plate and adhere the last profiterole.
Step 6: Spun Sugar Decoration
Sugar Lattice Topper
Use the leftover caramel to create some sugar decorations. First, fill a spoon with caramel and drizzle a lattice structure onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. Leave to set whilst you do the rest of the decoration. When ready, stab the top profiterole to create a channel for your lattice. You need quite a sharp knife to be able to jab through the crisp caramel. Nestle the lattice in the channel, and drizzle a few drops of caramel to secure it to the tower.
The caramel needs to be just on the cusp of setting to create spun sugar. If it too hot then the caramel will just drip instead of creating strands. Cut the ends off an old whisk or use a fork. Dip the utensil in the caramel and then using a circular motion, wrap the strands around your tower. Repeat as many times as you like.
Next you have the option of dusting your croquembouche with icing sugar. This makes it look quite festive and brings out the sugar strands nicely.
And you're done! All in all I'd estimate this project takes about 4 hours (excluding cooling times).
I had a lot of fun making the croquembouche, and I hope you have enjoyed this Instructable! If you have, please consider giving me a wee vote in the Sugar contest :) Thankyou very much!