Wikipedia defines it as :
“A croquembouche or croque-en-bouche is a French dessert consisting of choux pastry balls piled into a cone and bound with threads of caramel. In Italy and France, it is often served at weddings, baptisms and first communions.
Main ingredients: Profiterole, Chocolate, Caramel
I have seen this dessert on Food Network, usually on Wedding Cake competition shows, or being made around the holidays.
I was challenged to make it for a Holiday Baking Competition at work and it was actually really fun to make and not as intimidating as it looks. (French pastries intimidate me)
So here it goes…
Preheat an oven to 400°F.
To make the cream puffs, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the butter, milk, water, sugar and salt and bring to a full boil. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until blended. Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, forms a ball and leaves a thin film on the bottom and sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it reads 140°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 1 of the eggs. When the batter has cooled, add the egg to the batter and beat with the spoon until incorporated. Continue whisking one egg at a time and then stirring it into the batter until incorporated before adding the next egg. After each egg is added, the mixture will separate and appear shiny but it will return to a smooth paste after you beat it vigorously. Let the paste cool for about 10 minutes before shaping.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
To shape the pastry puffs, fit a pastry bag with a 3/16-inch plain tip and fill the bag with the paste. For each puff, pipe about 2 tsp. of the paste onto one of the prepared baking sheets, forming a mound about 1/2 inch in diameter. Space the mounds at least 2 inches apart to allow them room to expand. Smooth the top of each pastry with your finger, dipping your finger in water first to prevent it from sticking to the dough.
Bake the puffs until they are golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
*Note: I did not fill mine with pastry cream (which is traditional). I just assembled the puffs empty and drizzled with caramel.
To make the caramel, in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Cook until the mixture bubbles vigorously and begins to turn a light amber color, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir the sugar with a wooden spoon during the first 2 to 3 minutes of cooking, but do not stir after this point. Instead, swirl the pan to ensure even cooking. Watch the caramel very carefully, as it will go from amber colored to burned in a few seconds. Remove the caramel from the heat when it is light amber, as it will continue to cook and deepen in color as you assemble the croquembouche.
To assemble the dessert, carefully dip the bottom of a cream puff into the warm caramel, being careful not to burn your fingers. Place the cream puff, caramel side down, along the edge of a 10-inch cake stand. Continue dipping the cream puffs in the caramel and arranging them in a large circle around the edge of the cake plate. Arrange a second circle of cream puffs on top of the first, making the second circle slightly smaller than the first so that you are forming a cone-shaped tower. Continue in this way until the final layer consists of a single puff on top of all the others.
Make spun sugar by warming any remaining caramel over medium-low heat just until it is thin enough to drizzle; watch carefully to avoid burning the caramel. Using a whisk or two forks carefully splatter caramel onto a silicone baking sheet or piece of parchment paper to form thin strands. When the caramel is cool enough to touch but is still warm and flexible, remove the sugar and gently arrange it on top of and around the assembled croquembouche. Serves 8 to 10.