May 27, 2010


I was really excited when I read that this month's Daring Bakers challenge was the French masterpiece croquembouche.  I've never made  it before but have always admired its regal stature in the pastry world.  This would be a real test of my baking skills.

It seems only fitting that croquembouche is normally found at French weddings.  I see it as the perfect marriage of pastry and architecture.   Cream filled pâte à choux arranged in a tall tower with the aid of amber caramel....amazing!

I'm no stranger to pâte à choux  and have made it many times in sweet (cream puffs, eclairs) and savory (gougères) forms.  The challenge for me this time was working with caramel.  I tend to shy away from any desserts that require handling molten sugar.  Mainly because I don't want to burn myself.  On top of that clean up is a pain.  And those who know me know I hate cleaning up.  

My hesitation with the caramel wasn't unfounded.  The first batch I made ended up as a burnt mess whose fate was at the bottom of the compost bin.  The second and third batches turned out much better, but I still used plastic gloves when I was assembling the croquembouche.  Better to be safe than sorry.

The tops of each choux were dipped in caramel and some were then rolled in Swedish pearl sugar I found at IKEA.   Once I assembled the tower I added some jordan almonds to give it that festive touch.  I'm quite happy with the final product and am looking forward to making it again.

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.  

 Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
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

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.
Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. 
As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.  

It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.
Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Baking: Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.
Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Hard Caramel Glaze:
1 cup (225 g.) sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

Assembly of your Croquembouche:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your croquembouche, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up. 


  1. Your puffs are so perfectly round! And your decoration is amazing! Great job!

  2. So pretty! I love the addition of the almonds. This was my very first daring baker's challenge! Can't wait for the next one!

  3. Aww these are pretty puffs, round and right for assembling! Nicely done.

  4. Beautiful! Well done. I love the sugar and almond decoration.

  5. Me gusta mucho y con esas almendras queda tan frances!!!!

  6. I love the swedish pearl sugar! I'm totally going to look for those next time I'm at Ikea. Your crochembouche looks so elegant! Wonderful!

  7. I love the idea of making this for my sons wedding in May.First, how do you then "eat" or serve this?How many structures would you recommend for 40 - 50 guests? 4? Can the different aspects be made the night before and just assembled an hour or two before guests arrive?

    1. To serve the croquembouche you would break off a few puffs for each guest, starting from the top and working your way down. The number of structures to serve at the wedding I think depends on if you're offering other desserts. if this is the only dessert I would suggest maybe 4-5 puffs per person. If there are other desserts I would suggest maybe 2-3 puffs a person.

      The unfilled cream puffs can me made well in advance and just frozen. When it comes time to assemble you would warm the puffs in the oven until crispy and then let them cool before filling them. I don't recommend assembling the croquembouche an hour or two before guests arrive because building the structure can be quite time consuming. If you want to assemble on the day I would give yourself at least 4 hours to do it.

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