Croquembouche is a tower of cream puffs. This classic and impressive dessert which is actually much simpler than it looks, Break the puffs off one at a time to serve. The puffs can be made ahead of time and frozen until use.
- Pate a Choux
- Water - 12 quarts
- Unsalted Butter - 12 oz (3 sticks)
- Salt - 1 teaspoon
- Sugar - 2 teaspoons
- Flour - 2-1/4 cups sifted
- Eggs - 16 large, whole
- Egg Wash - (1 egg blended with 2 tbs. water)
- Pastry Cream
- Milk - 1 quart
- Egg yolks - 12
- Vanilla - 1 teaspoon
- Sugar - 2-1/2 cups
- Salt - Pinch
- All Purpose Flour - 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons
- Granulated Sugar - 2-1/4 cups
- Water - 1 cup
- Powdered sugar - For dusting
To make the puffs: Preheat the oven to 400∞F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, bring the water to a low boil. Stir in the butter, salt, and sugar, and boil until dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the flour mixture begins to pull away from the spoon and sides of the bowl, remove from heat and place in a large bowl. Using the paddle blade on a mixer, stir until the dough cools, about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, stirring completely between each addition. Remove from heat.
Place the dough in a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe walnut-sized mounds about 3 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 400∞F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375∞F and continue baking 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
To make the pastry cream: In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a low boil. In a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, and salt, and whisk together. Whisk in the flour. When the milk has reached boiling, slowly pour it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk for 3 to 4 minutes as the mixture cools. Transfer the custard to a clean bowl, and whisk gently occasionally until cool. Press plastic wrap on the surface and chill.
To make the caramel: In a deep, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking slowly until the mixture turns amber in color, 140∞F on a candy thermometer (hard-ball stage: test by dropping some in a cup of cold water to see if it forms a hard ball). Remove from direct heat. Keep the caramel warm and fluid while you work by placing it over a pan of gently simmering water.
To assemble: Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Line a conical croquembouche mold with parchment paper and spray with vegetable oil spray, or, alternatively, line a third cookie sheet with parchment. Place the pastry cream in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pierce the bottom of each cream puff with the tip and pipe in the pastry cream to fill each puff. Dip each filled cream puff in the caramel and place on the lined cookie sheets to harden. Dip the cream puffs in the caramel again and place in the croquembouche mold. Let set until hardened, then remove from the mold and pull off the paper. Or, alternatively, dip the puffs in the caramel again and form a circle of puffs on the parchment-covered third cookie sheet, touching them together. Dip more puffs and place in a smaller circle on top of this base. Continue dipping and placing the puffs in ever-smaller circles, letting them harden together between the creation of each layer, until a tapering conical tower is formed. Dust with powdered sugar.
Note: Gateau St.-Honoré is made with the same pastry and pastry cream. The baked circle of pastry is sliced in half horizontally and filled with pastry cream. The cream puffs are filled with pastry cream, dipped as above, and placed around the top of the circle. The caramel syrup above is cooked to the hard-crack stage, and made into spun sugar: Spread newspaper over the floor under the work area, and anchor two oiled wooden spoons 18 – 24 inches apart with the handles extending over the edge of the work area. Lightly oil the handles. Cut the rounded portions off a wire whisk, leaving a handle with stiff straight wires. Holding the pan of hot caramel in one hand, dip the wires into the syrup, then quickly pull it out and wave the falling strands of spun sugar over the handles of the spoons. Continue spinning, building strands of spun sugar; when a quantity has built up, gently lift it off the spoon handles and circle it around the top of the gateau like a crown.