Croquembouche is a French dessert made by stacking choux pastry puffs in a conical shape and glueing them together with caramel. Once the dessert is cemented and properly shaped, it is decorated usually with spun sugar, but other decorations can be used as well and this includes: sugar coated almonds, fondant flowers, chocolate decorations etc. The croquembouche is usually displayed as the centerpiece of a table, usually for weddings or big celebrations.
The croquembouche (meaning bite in mouth, suggesting its crunchiness) has a long history and it seems to have been created for the first time by the French pastry chef Antoine Careme in the 1700s. Its taste and imposing shape and hight turned croquembouche into a very popular dessert for weddings even at that time.
Making a croquembouche takes several steps, but it’s not as difficult as it looks like. To be honest, I found making the choux pastry puffs to be the most difficult part, the rest was incredibly fun! The choux puffs are usually filled with vanilla pastry cream, but other flavors can be used. I went with the traditional filling this time, but I’m looking forward to making a chocolate filling next time or maybe a pistachio flavored pastry cream. The filling allows you to play with spices, flavors or liqueurs and I love that! Once the choux pastry puffs are made and filled, they are stacked together with a caramel sauce. The caramel acts as a glue and allows you to build layers and layers of puffs. I made the croquembouche free hand, but I’ve seen plenty of videos advising to start with a paper or cardboard cone just to offer more support to the final piece and I think that is fine for large centerpieces, but smaller ones survive without it.
The tricky part is to keep the caramel at a steady temperature. If it’s too runny, it will run off the puffs, if it’s too thick, it will coat the puffs too much. You want a thin, crisp layer of caramel that allows you to easily bite into it whilst still being crisp and crunchy, offering enough texture and creating a nice contrast with the creamy, rich filling of the puffs.
The recipe for the choux pastry puffs is my go-to recipe and I love that is so easy to make and so reliable. However, I don’t quite like the fact that it doesn’t rises evenly all the time (meaning that the puffs rise so much, but the rise is not even, they look like they explode rather than rise perfectly all throughout) so I’ll keep my eyes open for a different recipe in the future, knowing that I can come back to this at any time.
Choux pastry puffs:
- 150 ml vegetable oil
- 300 ml water
- 300 g all-purpose flour (sifted)
- 1 pinch salt
- 6-7 eggs
Vanilla pastry cream:
- 500 ml milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 100 g sugar
- 50 g cornstarch
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 vanilla bean (split in half lenghtwise)
Caramel glaze (and spun sugar):
- 300 g white sugar
- 120 ml water
- 20 g liquid glucose
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Choux pastry puffs:
- Combine the water, oil and salt in a heavy saucepan.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and just when it starts boiling, add the flour, all at once.
- Get a wooden spoon and mix until the flour is well incorporated and the mixture is thick. Keep the saucepan over medium heat and mix all the time for 5 additional minutes. The idea is to cook the dough so most of the liquid evaporates. This ensures your puffs bake and rise well and keep crisp after baking.
- Remove the dough from heat and let it cool down for 30 minutes. It should be still slightly warm when you begin incorporating the eggs.
- Start adding the eggs, one by one, mixing well with a spoon, spatula or with an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.
- The final dough should be thick, but it should run off the spatula when lifted. This is the reason why you are adding eggs one by one - it allows you to control the consistency better. For the same reason, you may need the 7th egg or not. Just check the consistency once you added 6 eggs.
- Preheat your oven to 400F (200C) and line a few baking sheets with baking paper.
- Spoon the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a round nozzle and pipe small balls of dough on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
- Bake the puffs in the oven at 200C for 10 minutes then reduce the heat slightly and bake until they are golden brown and crisp. Do not open the oven's door during the first 10 minutes of baking as the temperature difference will make them deflate!
- When done, remove the puffs from the oven and let them cool completely.
Vanilla pastry cream:
- Mix the milk, vanilla bean and half of the sugar in a heavy saucepan.
- Combine the egg yolks with the sugar and mix until creamy and light. Stir in the cornstarch.
- When the milk reaches the boiling point, remove from heat and gradually pour it over the egg yolk mixture, stirring all the time.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook it over low heat until it begins to thicken, stirring all the time to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from heat and cover the cream with plastic wrap on the surface. Let it cool completely before use.
- Once the pastry cream is chilled, mix it until smooth then spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a small round nozzle. Make a hole into each puff (I used a plastic straw for this, but you can also use a pastry nozzle. Just keep in mind to make the whole at the bottom of the puff pastry and keep is as small and subtle as possible) then fill each puff pastry with pastry cream. The cream was enough to fill all the puffs I made with the recipe above, but keep in mind that I "sacrificed" a few puffs the night before by dipping them into chocolate for a quick snack 😛 For this reason I recommend making 1 1/2 batches of vanilla pastry cream - that would be enough for every single puff!
- Place the filled choux pastry puffs on a platter and place aside until the caramel is ready.
Caramel glaze and spun sugar:
- Mix the sugar with water, glucose and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan.
- Place the saucepan over medium flame and bring to a boil.
- As the mixture boils and turns into a syrup, wash the sides of the saucepan with a brush dipped into cold water. This prevents the sugar crystal from forming.
- Cook the sugar syrup until it's thick and it becomes golden.
- Remove from heat and let it cool a few minutes then begin assembling your croquembouche.
- Start by forming a base of choux puff pastries and keep adding layers of puffs dipped into caramel, shaping the entire construction into a cone as you keep adding more and more puffs. My croquembouche started with a base of 10 puffs and I kept adding puffs like this: 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 onto the next layers. Having a plan like this makes is much easier and it allows you to count how many puffs you will eventually need. Also, I recommend pairing the puffs by size and using the bigger puffs at the bottom, reserving the smaller ones for the top.
- Ideally, you will move fast enough before the caramel hardens but even if this happens, just place the saucepan back over heat and melt it back. Keep the heat on low to prevent the sugar from burning!
- Once your croquembouche is built it's time to decorate it. I used the leftover caramel to make these caramel strands. To make these you will need a baking paper sheet and a large surface - it's a messy job and quite dangerous as you will be working with hot melted sugar.
- Reheat the caramel leftover then take a fork and dip it into the caramel. Quickle move the fork over the baking paper sheet to form thin strands. Repeat this until you have a thick layer of strands. Work quickly and handle the strands with care. Transfer them over your croquembouche and repeat until you've covered it all.
- At this point you can either leave it like this, as simple as possible, or keep decorating with chocolate, almonds or even fondant flowers.
- The croquembouche is better made just before the event and served fresh because the spun sugar and caramel absorb moisture and they begin to melt quickly.
Croquembouche este un desert frantuzesc creat in anii 1700 de catre renumitul cofetar francez Antoine Careme. Ceea ce face acest desert special este forma si modul in care este construit, pornind de la o baza de choux-uri umplute cu o delicioasa crema de vanilie si lipite impreuna cu o glazura caramel. Croquembouche este de obicei decorat cu fire subtiri de zahar, insa pot si folosite si migdale, ciocolata, flori de zahar si orice altceva considerati potrivit evenimentului.
Croquembouche-ul si procesul de realizare necesita cativa pasi, insa nu e chiar atat de complicat pe cat pare. Ba dimpotriva, mi s-a parut foarte interesant si m-a tinut in priza la maxim. Cred ca cea mai complicata parte e realizarea choux-urilor pentru care am folosit o reteta apartinand Natashei de pe culinar, o reteta pe care am facut-o de foarte multe ori si care iese negresit, in pofida ingredientelor simple si ieftine. Totusi, ce nu imi place la reteta e faptul ca choux-urile cresc necontrolat si nu au o forma rotunda si frumoasa in final, ci diverse forme, care mai de care mai ciudate asa ca din punctul asta de vedere inca mai caut reteta perfecta de aluat oparit.
Cea mai dificila parte pentru un amator va fi fara doar si poate lucrul cu zahar topit, proces care de altfel e foarte periculos, mai ales daca aveti copii in preajma. De aceea va recomand sa va luati toate masurile de siguranta posibile si chiar sa folositi manusi rezistente la caldura daca e nevoie. De asemenea, sa aveti la indemana un bol cu apa rece si cateva cuburi de gheata.
- 150ml ulei vegetal
- 300ml apa
- 300g faina alba, cernuta
- 1 praf de sare
- 6-7 oua
Crema de vanilie:
- 500ml lapte
- 4 galbenusuri
- 50g amidon
- 1 praf de sare
- 1 pastaie de vanilie, taiata in jumatate pe lungime
Glazura de caramel:
- 300g zahar
- 120ml apa
- 20g glucoza lichida
- 1/2 lingurita zeama de lamaie
Mod de preparare:
- Amestecati apa, sarea si uleiul intr-un vas cu fundul gros si puneti pe foc mediu. Aduceti amestecul la punctul de fierbere. Cand compozitia da in clocot, adaugati faina, toata o data, si amestecati bine cu o lingura de lemn.
- Veti obtine un aluat dens. Tineti vasul pe foc inca cel putin 5 minute, amestecand continuu. Ideea e ca prin gatire sa eliminati o parte din apa din aluat, astfel incat choux-urile finale sa creasca frumos si sa fie crocante si uscate.
- Luati aluatul de pe foc cand incepe sa se lipeasca de fundul vasului si lasati sa se raceasca pana e usor caldut.
- Adaugati ouale, unul cate unul, pana obtineti un aluat dens, vartos, dar care curge de pe lingura. S-ar putea sa nu aveti nevoie de al 7-lea ou, asa ca verificati aluatul constant si opriti-va cand curge de pe lingura incet si e gros, vartos.
- Puneti aluatul intr-un pos si formati choux-urile pe o tava de copt tapetata cu hartie de copt.
- Coaceti choux-urile la 200C pentru 10 minute, apoi dati caldura la 180C pentru cel putin inca 10 minute pana choux-urile sunt uscate, bine crescute si aurii.
- Lasati choux-urile sa se raceasca complet inainte de a le umple.
Crema de vanilie:
- Amestecati laptele, jumatate din zahar si pastaia de vanilie intr-un vas si aduceti la punctul de fierbere.
- Intr-un bol, mixati galbenusurile cu restul de zahar pana devin cremoase, apoi adaugati amidonul.
- Turnati treptat laptele fierbinte peste galbenusuri, apoi transferati amestecul inapoi pe foc si fierbeti la foc mic pana se ingroasa, amestecand continuu pentru a preveni arderea sau lipirea cremei de fundul vasului.
- Luati crema de pe foc si acoperiti-o cu folie alimentara. Lasati-o sa se raceasca complet inainte de a o folosi.
- Crema aceasta mi-a fost suficienta pentru a umple toate choux-urile, dar retineti faptul ca eu am “sacrificat” cateva choux-uri cu o seara inainte caci aveam pofta de ceva dulce si ele erau la indemana 😛 Asa ca va recomand sa faceti o reteta si jumatate pentru orice siguranta.
- Pentru a umple choux-urile, transferati crema intr-un pos cu un varf foarte subtire. Faceti o gaura in fiecare choux folosind un pai de plastic apoi umpleti choux-urile prin gaura respectiva. Puneti choux-urile deoparte.
Glazura caramel si firele de zahar:
- Combinati toate ingredientele intr-un vas cu fund dublu si puneti vasul pe foc mediu.
- Fierbeti amestecul intr-un sirop gros, spaland peretii vasului cu o pensula inmuiata in apa rece pentru a preveni recristalizarea.
- Fierbeti siropul pana devine auriu.
- Luati de pe foc si lasati caramelul sa se racoreasca 2-3 minute apoi incepeti a asambla croquembouche-ul facand intai baza. Inmuiati fiecare choux pe jumatate in caramel si formati si urmatoarele straturi. EU am pornit de la 10 choux-uri la baza si am continuat astfel: 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 pentru urmatoarele straturi.
Pentru docor eu am folosit restul de caramel pe care l-am reincalzit. Cu o furculita, formati fire subtiri de caramel pe o foaie de copt, apoi acoperiti croquembouche-ul cu aceste fire de caramel. Este recomandat ca acest desert sa fie finisat chiar inainte de servire deoarece caramelul este foarte sensibil la umezeala si se va topi in 2-3 ore.
Well now doesn’t this look amazing Oana. It’s interesting that you made it without a mould. I always wondered how people released them from the mould as well, it sounded pretty tricky. Great photos and advice as always. x
Thank you! Without mould is fun and easy for small and medium sizes, but I think a large croquembouche, fitted for a wedding for instance, would need some sort of support. The construction would last at first but the caramel begins to melt in 2-3 hours and I’ve seen plenty of pictures of constructions that look worse than the tower of Pisa 😀
Uite și faimosul croquembouche!
Gorgeous – thanks Angela for directing me to the link. I aspire to make a mini one sometime soon… I hope!
Welcome, Lucy. Thank you! Have fun making it!
Minunat, dar cum se mananca? Se ia cate un choux cu mana? Unele deserturi mi se par foarte complicat de mancat in mod elegant, cum ar fi millefeuille cu crema si fructe.
Se ia cate un choux. Stratul de caramel trebuie sa fie foarte subtire pentru ca acest lucru sa fie posibil.
Da, millefeuille e destul de complicat, secretul e ca blatul sa fie bine copt, crocant, altfel e imposibil de taiat fara sa strici straturile.
Este minunat desertul si cu siguranta o sa il fac si eu.
pozele sunt superbe , felicitari!
Felicitari pentru aceasta minunata opera de arta! 🙂
A Wagner says
This is beautiful! I’m inspired to try it out! Also, I know this is probably a bit late, but this is my favorite choux pastry recipe and it never fails for me:
1 stick unsalted butter (113g.)
1 cup flour (128g.)
1 cup water (236ml.)
In a saucepan, melt the butter in the water until it bubbles. Stir in the flour. Let cool for about 10 minutes so that you don’t cook your eggs in it. Add the eggs, one at a time.
tip: they are done baking once there are not more little “bubbles” on the surface of them. Also, poke a hole in the top edge as soon as they come out of the oven and they won’t fall in.
Hope that helps!
Thank you, I’m going to give it a try asap. And thank you for the little tips, it’s great learning new things 🙂