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How to make a Croquembouche…

May 27, 2010

Wow… was all I could say when I saw the Daring Bakers challenge for the month. Are you kidding me? I have to make that? In this weather? I was excited and terrified at the same time. There is often a shroud of fear that hangs around this dessert, which is why I suppose its called “Daring Bakers” *sheepish grin*

Let me begin by explaining what a Croquembouche is. It is a tower of profiteroles filled with crème pâtissière and topped and held together with a caramel glaze. Then you can decorate it with other things such as chocolates, meringues, flowers, spun sugar (to name a few). I’ve come to realise that I’m quite purist when it comes to baking and decorating such things, as I was determined to stick to only spun sugar. (I like the plain look that emphasises the piece itself and not the add-ons) But the reason for my fear? I live in Cape Town, South Africa. The weather here is totally different to most other places that the Daring Bakers will be baking from. The humidity is a lot higher and spun sugar does not like humidity. Hmmm… luckily its Autumn and becoming Winter here… (I thought to myself) It took away some of the fear, but not all. I’m also not that experienced with caramel. Eeeek! Was this going to be a disaster?!

No it wasn’t! It actually turned out really well. *Phew* I survived it with not as many burns as I thought and a very proud smile on my face. I love the Daring Bakers for terrifying me every month, stretching my abilities and building my confidence one month at a time.

I even put a little heart on top because I’m totally amped that G is back! *happy dance*

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Making a croquembouche is actually not as difficult as it sounds, but I knew you wouldn’t believe me so I took lots of photos (with the help of my sister N) to demonstrate the process. We had to make all 3 components, the choux pastry puffs, the crème pâtissière, and the caramel glaze. Since there aren’t that many mouths to feed around here and I’m already being accused of trying to fatten everybody up, I decided to make a mini croquembouche. I didn’t use a stand or toothpicks as I wanted to see if I could do it the hard way, but it really wasn’t that scary once I began assembling. The caramel glaze held everything together really well as it firms up quickly so it took care of everything.

So here, goes… are you ready? I’m ready. Ok lets go…

Vanilla Nougat Crème Patissière: (Adapted from the challenge recipe)

(Makes just enough to fill 10  large profiteroles)

(This is best made a day in advance and left to chill in the fridge overnight)

  • 1 cup (225 ml) whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 6 Tbsp (100 g) sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla extract
  • 30ml Nougat Crème liqueur

Heat the milk, vanilla and nougat liqueur in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to simmer around the edges. While its heating up, combine the egg, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk to mix, without creating too many air bubbles. Add the cornstarch to the egg mixture and whisk again gently. When the milk mixture is ready, remove it from the heat and pour 1/3 of it into the egg mixture. Quickly stir it in so that it doesn’t cause the eggs to sieze and create lumps. Now place the heated milk mixture back onto the stove and pour the egg mixture into it in a slow steady stream while stirring continuously. Cook over a low heat, whisking gently and continuously until it has thickened up and bubbles begin to break the surface. (you need to whisk so that the whole mixture thickens as one instead of the bottom thickening first and then burning)

Remove from the stove and immediatly place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard. (This is to ensure that the custard does not form a skin.) Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge overnight (or until chilled through and firm).

Choux Pastry Puffs (Pâte à Choux): (Adapted from the challenge recipe)

(Makes about 16 large profiteroles)

  • ¾ cup (175 ml) water
  • 6 Tbsp (85 g) unsalted butter
  • ¼ Tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs

Firstly and most importantly, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F and line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.

Combine the water, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over high heat.

Stir until the butter has melted and the sugar and salt have dissolved, then stop stirring and leave to come to the boil.

You are looking for something that’s called a “rolling boil”, it looks kind of like this…

But with more bubbles than you see here. Next, remove from heat, throw all the flour into the saucepan at once (very NB) and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a paste that leaves the sides of the pan, like this one…

Transfer the mixture from the saucepan to a wide metal bowl and smooth it up the sides of the bowl to spread it out thinly, (This is so that it cools quickly and evenly) like this…

Leave it to cool until the mixture is at room temperature before adding the eggs. This is NB, too hot and the eggs will sieze. Add the eggs one by one until you have the right consistancy. It is best to beat the last egg gently and add little bits at a time. You want a consistancy where the mixture is firm enough to just hold its shape but not too firm that it won’t pipe nicely. This was how I got to mine…

Add the first egg…

Stir/beat with the wooden spoon…

It will look a bit funny and feel like you won’t be able to get it to come together but fear not, just keep going…

There we go, it must look like fluffy mashed potatoes at this stage. Add the second egg…

Same thing here, just keep going…

Softer mashed potatoes but mashed potatoes none the less. Add the third egg…

No, still too thick and not shiny enough. Break the last egg and mix it up a little with the whisk, then add a little bit…

Now stir away…

Still a little thick, add some more…

Ok, now test! (lift the spoon quickly out of the batter) *sigh* No, still too stiff. Add a little more…

Come on, now? It must be done! We’re getting tired and our arms are falling off! No? *sigh* Ok, a little more…

No again?! But its shiny! Oh, still to stiff? Only one more time? Ok, we can do that…

And there it is. What you’re looking for at this stage is a batter that is shiny and just holds its shape. Perfect. Now for the piping…

Notice the drops of water that have been flicked all over the sheet after piping? They create steam which helps the choux puffs to puff up during baking.

Then into the oven at 220°C/425°F and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 180°C/350°F and bake for a further 20 minutes. Watch them however, because you don’t want them to get too brown!

They are baked when they have a nice golden brown colour and are crisp to the touch. (But not too crisp! Crisp + too dark = overdone)

Next, remove them from the baking sheet immediately and poke a hole in the bottom of each with a skewer to release the steam built up during baking. This is very NB because if you don’t do this the trapped steam can cause them to go soggy. Eew.

At this point it is a good idea to build your choux puffs up into a croquembouche to get an idea of how you will assemble it later on.

Now, get your things together for filling them. You’ll need a piping bag with a nozzle, (you can also use a ziplock bag with one corner cut off if you don’t have a piping bag) a big spoon, and the Crème Pâtissière you made earlier. Use the nozzle of the piping bag to make the hole in the bottom of the choux puffs bigger. Spoon the custard into the piping bag and pipe custard in through the hole in the choux puff. Be gentle as you don’t want to get custard everywhere, and when you feel a slight backwards pressure stop piping and remove the bag.

Ok, that was the easy part. Now for the part that terrified me. The caramel.

Caramel Glaze:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Put the sugar and lemon juice into a small saucepan and stir with a spoon until it is the texture of wet sand. Turn on the heat to med.high and just let it sit. No, don’t touch it, it won’t burn as long as you watch it for the right time.

When you see the sugar at the edges of the pan melting and beginning to caramelize, (turn an ember colour) grab hold of the handle and gently swirl the pan to mix the caramelized sugar with the rest. This will help the rest of the sugar to caramelize.

Continue doing this until you have a pan full of hot golden caramel. Caramel can overcook really quickly so as soon as you have the colour you want (the darker the caramel the more bitter it will be) place the bottom of the pan into a sink full of cold water to stop the cooking process. Be careful here because the water will sizzle and spit a bit and you don’t want to get any water into your just slaved-over caramel.

Now you get to the assembling. This must be done as soon as the caramel is ready as it will cool quickly and become hard. (If during the process, the caramel gets too cold, hard and difficult to work with, just heat it on the stove again to loosen it up.)

Dip the top of each choux puff into the caramel glaze and place it bottom down onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick paper for the glaze to harden.

Once the tops are set, assemble the croquembouche by dipping the bottom of each choux puff in the glaze and then placing it into position on the plate, board, or on top of other choux puffs. Like this…

Wow, that wasn’t hard at all! Maybe it was beginners luck? I hope not. Anyway, on to the decorating.

As the caramel in the pan cools, it becomes sticky and will form strands (that go everywhere) when at the right temperature. I used chop sticks, (suggested by Angelica, one of the other daring bakers) dipped them into the caramel, lifted them out and swirled them around the croquembouche to create the strands.

And there you go. My mini, easy, very yummy and not so scary croquembouche.

Hope you enjoyed making it with me! If you have any questions, leave a comment, I’ll do my best to help!

34 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2010 10:06 am

    Wow that looks amazing! Also definitely less scary with the nice step by step instructions :)

    • chocswirl permalink*
      May 27, 2010 4:56 pm

      Jess, I’m glad I’ve made it less scary! It may be daring, but its not scary. :)

  2. Jules permalink
    May 27, 2010 11:35 am

    Oh my hat *drool* Never mind the cookie dough truffles, this is what I am making next. This looks absolutely fantastamagorical. Thank you so much for breaking it down and explaining it so well, why I think even I can make them he he he

    • chocswirl permalink*
      May 27, 2010 4:54 pm

      Love the word! Fantastamagorical… and you can make it!

  3. May 27, 2010 4:37 pm

    Well I don’t care who challenged you to make but i just wanna thank that person because it was so Yummy! Also Baby It was amazing! and i’m so glad you waited for me to come back (i know if it was the week earlier you would of had to make it then but i will keep telling myself that you waited)


    • chocswirl permalink*
      May 27, 2010 4:53 pm

      :) If I couldn’t wait then I would’ve made a whole other one just for you! Oh, and major points for the comment! :)

  4. MOTHER permalink
    May 27, 2010 5:44 pm

    U make it look so easy but I think I will leave it to the professionals. Now eating it, thats my speciality. It was really yummy. Well done. You a star. Definitely like to see that done again. Love, Me

    • chocswirl permalink*
      May 27, 2010 6:11 pm

      :) will definately do this one again! And don’t worry, eating it is my speciality to! Love u!

  5. May 27, 2010 7:39 pm

    This post is everything I expect from a food blog, and more! Well written, in a friendly, chatty tone; accurate, carefully thought out, and offering detailed step-by-step instructions and excellent photographs. Posts like this add so much value to the Internet. Well done!

    • chocswirl permalink*
      May 27, 2010 10:03 pm

      Juno, thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I am so encouraged by it! I enjoyed writing this post so much, I love giving step-by-step instructions and think I’ll do that a lot more from now on. I have to admit… I did my happy dance when I read your comment, it meant a whole lot!

  6. Fraunty Aunces permalink
    May 27, 2010 8:10 pm

    Looks yummy Robs…. Send some here for my b’day

    • chocswirl permalink*
      May 27, 2010 10:00 pm

      Thanks 2nd mommy! :) Hope your bday was fantastic! Miss you lots. Will make you some yummy stuff next time you come visit :)

  7. May 28, 2010 12:34 pm

    I have so much pastry cream left over and before I even saw this was planning on some choux pastry! yours looks awesome :)

  8. May 28, 2010 1:35 pm

    looks awesome my friend. :) i like the little touch of the heart on top of it… just like you, you make things special and different in subtle ways. Keep up the good work!

  9. June 1, 2010 10:52 am

    WOW! Robyn this is such an amazing post, so well written and photographed. Perfect in every aspect. Really enjoyed reading it and looking at your yummilicious photos. Well done sweetie. You aced this one. I am inspired myself to try these….one of these days. Hugs xxx

    • chocswirl permalink*
      June 1, 2010 6:16 pm

      Thanks Col! :) your opinion means a lot! glad you enjoyed reading it and were inspired. Its awesome to build friendships that inspire :)

  10. June 2, 2010 6:17 pm

    il est magnifique, bravo
    bonne journée

  11. June 3, 2010 12:16 pm

    Love the spun sugar and drizzling caramel, so golden and tempting :-)

    And most of all, the heart shape deco at the top is the cutest :-)

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

    • chocswirl permalink*
      June 3, 2010 6:39 pm

      Hi Kris! So nice to meet you! (I’ve been following your blog for a while) Thanks for the encouragement :) Your photos are so inspiring!

  12. June 3, 2010 10:03 pm

    Looks good! The heart on top is adorable.

    I just found your blog from your DK On-the-Spot – it’s lovely.

    • chocswirl permalink*
      June 5, 2010 5:39 pm

      Hi Emma! Thanks :) I didn’t realise I was up yet! Just checked out your blog, its beautiful! Will def. be visiting often!

  13. Tricia permalink
    December 15, 2010 5:14 pm

    These are superbly written step-by-step instructions! And the photos are SO helpful. I think I will actually give this a try for a special holiday dinner this weekend. But I was wondering how far in advance this can be made?? Hours? Days? Does it need to stay refrigerated? Would appreciate your advice…

    • December 16, 2010 8:04 am

      Hi Tricia,

      so glad I could help! Luckily part of it can be made in advance. The pastry cream filling is easier to work with if made in advance as it needs time to chill and firm up, making it easier to pipe into the puffs. I usually do that a day or two in advance. The choux puffs could probably be made the day before and kept in an airtight container (I’ve never done it but I’ve heard from some reliable sources that its ok) until you need them. I usually make those on the day though, as they’re nice and crisp straight from the oven. The caramel you have to make right there and put it together just before you serve it. I depends on the humidity in your area though. It’s really humid where I live so my caramel only stayed hard for about 30 min, then started to soften. In a less humid climate it would stay hard for longer and you’d be able to put it together more in advance. Hope that helps! :)

      • Tricia permalink
        December 16, 2010 5:17 pm

        Thank you, that does help! Fortunately, it’s very cold and dry here in NJ, so humidity shouldn’t be a problem for me. Wish me luck! Merry Christmas!

  14. December 15, 2010 8:36 pm

    My daughter is almost two and “helps” me in the kitchen. I’ve been trying to think of Christmas traditions that I want to start with her. I remembered watching a tv show that made the croquembouche with the spun sugar. That’s exactly what I wanted to make, but how to do it fairly simply? Thank you for the photos and instructions. I can’t wait to make her one and see how she likes it. A tradition is born. Thank you so much.

    • December 16, 2010 8:07 am

      That’s beautiful, I’m happy to have been a part of it :)

  15. June 17, 2011 10:35 pm


    How did you make teh heart? It’s so cute!

    • June 19, 2011 11:34 pm

      Hi there,

      I was actually just messing around at first and started moulding some of the warm caramel between my fingers, then I just stretched and shaped until I had a heart. It’s quite easy to do as long as the caramel is still quite hot :)

  16. Carol B permalink
    December 20, 2011 12:43 pm

    Thanks for posting this, the pictures really help! Looks SO delicious!

  17. Jordan Smith permalink
    April 8, 2012 3:35 am

    Thanks so much chic swirl, i didn’t think i could do the caramel part but you inspired by your optimism! Thanks so so so so so much, however i wasn’t able to get the strings of toffee, how did you get them?
    Thanks alot and happy easter.

  18. Jordan Smith permalink
    April 8, 2012 3:49 am

    i mean choc swirl * ;P

  19. kathleen permalink
    December 24, 2012 5:14 pm

    my puffs completely deflated!!!!

  20. Bronnie Woods permalink
    June 9, 2013 10:01 am

    This was fantastic, a great step by step post, you should think about writing blogs for recipes professionaly, thank you so much, it did take me the best part of a day but totally worth it, I found I only needed 3 eggs for my pastry, my first batch of puffs didnt puff, haha, to runny but the 2nd batch perfect with 3 eggs…

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