Croquembouche
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 24
 
Ingredients
Choux Paste
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1-2 pinches flaky sea salt (Maldon)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
Pastry Cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks (reserving 1 egg white for later)
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Puffs
  • 1 large egg white (reserved from earlier), beaten
Caramel
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
Instructions
Choux Paste
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt, bringing to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and add the flour, stirring constantly until the dough forms a ball.
  3. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 3 minutes to cool.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, thoroughly incorporating each before adding the next. You will probably need to scrape down the bowl between each egg.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least a half hour (and up to 24 hours) before using.
Pastry Cream
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and half of the sugar over medium heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, other half of the sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.
  3. Once the milk is gently boiling, remove from heat and slowly pour a ribbon of about ⅓ of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, constantly beating with the whisk to ensure proper tempering of the eggs.
  4. Pour the eggs into the rest of the hot milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, beating constantly with the whisk.
  5. Once the mixture has thickened, cook it for another 3 minutes to ensure the starch is cooked off.
  6. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the pastry cream to ensure no skin forms.
  7. Keep in refrigerator until cooled completely, and up to 2 days before using.
Cream Puffs
  1. When ready to bake the cream puffs, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Scoop the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.
  3. Pipe out spirals, overlapping to make little mounds, spacing 1 inch apart on the sheet. You can add layers on top of layers to make them puffier--in fact, I recommend it if they're a little on the thin side initially.
  4. With a wet fingertip, press down on the little puff cowlicks, then brush the tops of each with the beaten egg white.
  5. Bake both sheets for 25 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until golden on top.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Cream Puffs Assembly
  1. Transfer the pastry cream to a pastry bag, fitted with a star tip.
  2. Gently push the tip into the center of the bottom of a puff and fill until it feels full. Try not to overfill, if possible.
  3. You can refrigerate assembled cream puffs until you're ready for the caramel.
Caramel
  1. Pour the sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  2. Set the heat to medium/medium-low and resist the urge to stir.
  3. As the edges start to brown, use a silicone spatula to start slowly moving the sugar across the surface to keep it from burning. You don't want to be overly-aggressive, or you'll get clumps (which are a pain to melt down and may have to be strained out after).
  4. Continue at a slow pace; eventually, it will all melt. Stir as more of it melts to get it to do so evenly.
  5. Just after it smokes is the point when it's the most flavorful yet not burned. Undercooked caramel will not have developed the flavor you desire; overcooked cannot be salvaged. Go easy on yourself and be patient.
Croquembouche Assembly
  1. Immediately after the caramel has reached the right consistency, start assembly.
  2. Arrange a circle of cream puffs on your serving plate and, using the spatula, drizzle caramel over the tops of them.
  3. Working quickly (the caramel sets fast), arrange the next layer. You want the caramel to work like glue, holding the layers together. Repeat drizzling the caramel. Ultimately, you're looking to make a conical shape.
  4. You'll find, as the caramel cools, that it is more conducive to stretching out lines of sugar to create the cage. Go crazy with it. You can also use a fork to get these links of spun sugar.
  5. Do not refrigerate; serve immediately.
Notes
I kind of lost count of how many cream puffs I had--I couldn't help myself--but 2 dozen seems about right.
Recipe by Poet in the Pantry at http://poetinthepantry.com/2013/06/01/firstonthefirst-croquembouche-a-tower-of-cream-puffs-and-caramel/