Happy New Year!
Strangely enough, I don’t have terribly much to say to you all today. I think I managed to cover all of my thoughts about the passing of the old year and the coming of the new last week. Bright hopes and wishes for the times to come and whatnot. It’s going to be a big year – applying to med school, starting my senior honors thesis, hopefully shadowing abroad and traveling for two and a half months, and wrapping up my research project. Lots of changes to keep life interesting, yeah?
To ring in the new year, I’m bringing to you the croquembouche, a decidedly crunchy sounding name for a particularly crunchy tower of cream puffs (profiteroles, if we’re being precise) spackled together with caramel and decorated with golden caramel threads. It’s a particularly popular wedding treat, and for good reason too – it’s a bit of a production to put together. The real professionals of the world go all out with towering creations of meticulously stacked profiteroles, candied nuts, edible flowers, sugared berries, and assorted other confections for a pop of color, flavor, and indulgence. On the other hand, I went with a pretty simple straight-forward iteration – I indulged a bit with three tea-themed flavors of creme diplomat filling, but really this recipe is keeping it (relatively) simple with just 6 layers profiteroles and caramel.
(I’m really just the meat and potatoes type of girl in the croquembouche world, I suppose.)
As it stands, this is a fantastic dessert for a crowd. I actually found that the individual profiteroles were a bit tricky to break off (although they were very securely attached) using the hard caramel as both glue and topping, so for your own tower, feel free to consider melting down soft caramel candies with a bit of heavy cream for a more pliable adhesive agent for your profiteroles. Otherwise, feel free to scale up or down, depending on the size of your party – I’d say that the recipe as it is written is perfect for 8-10 people.
In any case, I wish you all the best in the little-under-365 days to come and in all of your dessert- related endeavors. And if you’re really looking to impress at your next major gathering, give this recipe a try. Hope you enjoy!
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
75 g all purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lavender
1 Earl Grey teabag
3 egg yolks
6 tbs granulated sugar
60 g all purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks and divided into 3 parts
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
- Preheat the oven to 400º F. As desired (and for easier cleanup!), line a baking pan with foil.
- Place butter, water, salt, and sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil on medium-high heat, then turn the heat down to low.
- Add in flour all at once and stir well to mix. Turn off the heat, remove the pot from the stove, and continue stirring until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth. Allow the dough to cool until it is warm but not hot to the touch.
Tip: Do not proceed to the next step until the dough has cooled slightly. There’s really no such thing as over-cooling at this point. However, if you don’t wait for long enough, you will end up with a sad mixture of floury dough and scrambled eggs.
- Add in one egg and mix into dough until fully incorporated. Repeat with second egg.
Tip: This is easiest to do with a whisk or by using a cutting motion with a rubber spatula to break up the dough into smaller pieces, then mixing. Also, make sure to use large eggs!
- Load the dough into a piping bag with a large round tip. Pipe the dough into large dollops with a diameter of 1″ by pressing the tip against the surface of the pan and continuously squeezing while lifting slowly.
Tip: I used a Wilton 2A tip, but if you don’t have a large round tip, feel free to just cut a reasonably sized hole in the bottom of the bag. Since the pastry puffs up so much, it really doesn’t make too much of a difference whether or not you pipe through a tip.
- Using a wet finger, gently press down the pointy tips of each choux blob.
- Bake choux pastries at 400º F for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350º F and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the pastries are puffed with slight browning on the tops.
- Set pastries aside to cool until you are ready to fill them!
- Split the milk, egg yolks, sugar, and flour into 3 even portions. Add the vanilla extract to the first, lavender to the second, and Earl Grey teabag to the third.
- For each of the 3 portions, heat the flavored milk in a small pot on medium-high heat until the liquid comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in each of 3 bowls until the sugar is nearly fully dissolved. Whisk in the flour and set aside.
- Pour in about 1/2 of each boiling milk mixture into each egg mixture, whisking quickly as you pour.
- Pour each egg mixture back into the pot through a sieve, whisking quickly as you pour. Continue whisking until the pastry cream thickens to the consistency of thick pudding, then remove from heat.
Tip: Always make sure to mix your eggs into the milk by tempering them with hot milk, then pouring through the sieve rather than dumping them all in at once. No matter how many times and how quickly I’ve tried to whisk while pouring in untempered eggs, I always ended up with unpleasantly eggy pastry cream because some of the egg inevitably scrambles as it hits the hot milk. After lots of sadness, disappointment, and wasted pastry cream, I finally started to use this tempering method as a virtually fool-proof strategy for keeping pastry cream (or any other type of custard) scrambled eggs-free!
- Pour each mixture into another bowl, cover the surface with saran wrap, and set aside to cool completely.
Tip: Make sure the saran wrap touches the surface of the creme patissiere when you cover the bowl to prevent a skin from forming at the top of your pastry cream if the surface dries out.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until it reaches the firm peaks stage. At this point, when you lift out the whisk, you should see distinct peaks with tips that curl over slightly.
- Divide the whipped cream into 3 portions. Fold each portion into each portion of cooled creme patissiere. Set aside for filling!
Assembly, part 1:
- Load each flavor of creme diplomat into a piping bag with a small round or star tip with an opening about 1/4″ in diameter.
- Poke a hole into the bottom of each choux pastry using the tip of the piping bag, and fill the hollow choux pastries, using each flavor for 1/3 of the batch. Set aside for decoration!
- Set aside a bowl of ice water that is large enough to submerge the bottom of a small pot.
- In the small pot over medium heat, melt together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until the sugar is fully dissolved. Continue boiling until the syrup darkens to a light golden brown, then remove immediately from heat and briefly submerge the bottom into the pot of ice water before setting onto the counter.
Tip: Work quickly from this point on. If the caramel hardens before you are done, reheat with the stove on low as needed, stirring lightly to prevent burning.
Assembly, part 2:
- Dip the top of each choux pastry into the melted caramel, and set each pastry caramel side up to dry.
- After the pastries dry, dip the edge each profiterole into the melted caramel one at a time and set down into a ring on a 6″ cakeboard. Place 8 profiteroles onto the bottom ring, angling the pastries slightly outward to form a small cone.
- Continue dipping profiteroles into the caramel to glue on a second layer of 7, then 6, then 5, then 4, then 3 pastries. Place a single pastry on the top of the stack.
- Dip a fork into the caramel, adjusting the temperature of the mixture until it is just cool enough to pull into thin, controlled strands without dribbling. Swirl the strands of caramel into circles around the tower of profiteroles, warming the caramel as needed as the strands become too brittle to swirl. Serve immediately once you have created a halo of caramel strands. Bon appetit!