Sweet Thursday – Holiday Croquembouche

Music: To Ohio – Low Anthem

We mentioned on Monday that we would post the recipe for the croquembouche and here it is…just in time for Christmas! (because you have nothing better to do today than build a cream puff tower…hmmm, on second thought?). As I said, we had one at our wedding and it was gorgeous.  This one served as a birthday cake at our holiday party.

Croquembouche means “crack in mouth”.  I was reminded that I wanted to make one the day I opened up the holiday issue of Living. I had already made sugar cookies for the party and her croquembouche had them affixed to the pastry like little ornaments on a tree.  Perfect!  I used Martha’s directions to help guide the building process.  I took recipes from the Tartine cookbook and from Living.

What you’ll need for the Sugar Cookies: Family recipe.  Makes about 3-dozen cookies. Mine made more because I was using a very small cookie cutter.

Cookie cutters, 4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, ½ tsp. of salt, 2 sticks of room temperature butter, 2 ½ cups of sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp. vanilla extract.

  • Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.
  • Beat butter and sugar with a mixer until combined.
  • Beat in eggs one at a time until smooth.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Reduce speed and gradually mix in flour.
  • You may need to knead dough a little bit depending on temperature of room. It can come out stiff.

  • Cut dough in half and store it in refrigerator for an hour. (I left it in fridge overnight and it was fine).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Take dough out from refrigerator and let stand until soft enough to roll.
  • Roll out dough on floured surface until about 1/3 inch thick (can be thinner but I like some bite).
  • Chill in refrigerator again for 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove and cut dough into shapes.
  • Put cookies on parchment lined baking sheet and place in freezer for about 10 more minutes.
  • Bake cookies until edges are golden, about 15-18 minutes.
  • Let cool on wire rack until they are room temperature.

What you’ll need for the Royal Icing: (yes I used raw egg whites!)

2 egg yolks, 3 cups of confectioners sugar, 1/3 – 2/3 cup of water, food coloring.  I made two batches of this; one for the covering and another for the detail. For the detail icing, I used 1 egg white and 2 cups of confectioners sugar because it will be stiffer and easier to make designs with.

  • With a hand mixer combine sugar, water and egg. Beat until smooth.
  • If it is too thick, add more water.
  • Add food coloring until you achieve desired color. This can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
  • Decorate cookies with pastry bag and best sized tips to make details.

What you’ll need for the Pate a Choux (puff pastry) – From Living Dec. 2009

½ cup of whole milk, ½ cup of water, 1 stick of softened butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of flour, 5 eggs, 1 egg yolk,  ½ cup heavy cream.

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Bring milk, water, butter and salt to a boil in saucepan over medium-high heat.

  • Remove from heat and whisk in flour.
  • Return to heat and stir with a wooden spoon until dough pulls away from sides of saucepan.
  • Take off heat and transfer to medium size mixing bowl. Stir and let cool for one minute.
  • Whisk in one egg at a time and mix well (you can use a stand mixer too, I just didn’t want to get mine dirty – its one of my least favorite things to clean).

  • Transfer dough to a pastry bag with a wide tip attached.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Mix together cream and egg yolk for egg wash.
  • Pipe quarter size balls out on baking sheet.

  • Brush with egg wash.

  • Bake until puffs rise and are golden brown – around 25 minutes.

  • Let stand on wire rack until cool.
  • These can be stored overnight in an airtight container at room temperature.  I threw back in the oven for a few minutes the day I filled them to get them a little more toasted and to take the wilt out of them.

What you’ll need for the Pastry Crème (filling) – from Tartine Cookbook

2 cups of whole milk, ½ vanilla bean (yes, vanilla paste will do just fine, just as long as it has those little yummy specks in it), ¼ tsp. of salt, 3-4 tsp. of corn starch, ½ cup + 1 tbsp. of sugar, 2 eggs, 4 tbsp. of butter separated.

  • Make sure you have a bowl and fine mesh sieve to cool the cream set aside and ready.
  • In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together cornstarch and sugar.
  • Add eggs and whisk until smooth.
  • Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds form the pod.
  • Pour the milk into heavy saucepan and add vanilla seeds.

  • Add the salt and put heat on medium high.
  • Bring to JUST under a boil (don’t let milk burn, it will sour the whole cream). Stir occasionally so that milk doesn’t stick to sides of pan.
  • When milk is ready, ladle 1/3 of the hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly.
  • Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the hot milk saucepan.
  • Continue whisking over medium heat until custard forms around 3 minutes. Do not boil as the eggs will curdle but let mixture come just to the boiling point (I know, confusing, just don’t let the cream bubble, that’s when you know it has gone too far).
  • When done, remove from heat completely and pour through sieve.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release heat and prevent a skin forming on top.
  • Cut the butter into 1 tbsp. pieces.
  • Whisk butter into pastry cream 1 tbsp. at a time making sure mixture is smooth before adding next tbsp. of butter.

  • You can store this for up to 5 days in the refrigerator as long as you cover the bowl with plastic wrap and press the wrap directly onto the top of the cream.
  • When ready to fill pastry puffs, put pastry cream into pastry bag with tip that can be used to fill pastry.
  • Insert pastry tip into center of the puff and count to three. Set aside on baking sheet and assemble croquembouche.

What you’ll need for the caramel (binding agent): you must do this RIGHT before you are going to assemble the croquembouche)

1 cup of sugar, 2 tbsp. of water, 1 pastry brush and a bowl of water.

  • Bring sugar and water to boil in small saucepan over medium heat.

  • Occasionally wash sides of pan down with pastry brush and water so crystals don’t form.
  • Cook until sugar dissolves, around 8 minutes.
  • Raise heat to high and swirl pan around until syrup becomes amber colored.

  • Use immediately. If caramel hardens while you assemble crouquembouche, simply put caramel back on heat to soften again.

What you’ll need for the Chocolate Brandy Sauce (for garnish): Got the idea for Living but put my own spin on it.

¼ cup heavy cream, 3 tbsp. of light brown sugar, 2 tbsp. of white sugar, 2 tbsp. of brandy, ¼ tsp. of salt, 4 ounces of bakers chocolate, 1 tsp. of vanilla.

  • Give chocolate a rough chop.
  • Bring cream, sugar, brandy and salt to a boil. Remove from heat.
  • Add chocolate and vanilla and whisk until chocolate melts.

To assemble croquembouche:  Now for the tough part (kinda). I used a round platter as the base of the crouquembouche .  I also made another batch of the stiffer royal icing to affix the cookies to the tower. In the end, I actually used it to hold the bottom circle of the croquembouche together.  I couldn’t take pictures because I was alone but I’ll explain the best I can.

  • Dip bottom half of 1 puff into caramel and transfer puff, caramel side down, on platter.
  • Continue to do this until there is a bottom circle.
  • Once your bottom layer is done, continue to dip pastry puff into caramel and build on bottom circle, using one less puff for each layer in order to secure the cone shape.  It won’t be perfect but that’s charming.
  • Once croquembouche is built, let caramel sit for about 10 minutes.
  • Once it is set, use royal icing to put a few cookies on the croquembouche.
  • Can stand in room temperature for about 3 hours.

You can do a lot of this ahead of time.  I cooked the pastry crème on Wednesday, the sugar cookies on Thursday, cooked the pastry and decorated the cookies on Friday and filled the pastries, made the caramel, assembled the croquembouche and made the chocolate sauce on Saturday when I served it.


1 Comment

Filed under cookbooks, Dessert, Food Anecdotes, Recipes, Sweet Thursday

One response to “Sweet Thursday – Holiday Croquembouche

  1. Pingback: Sweet Thursday – Profiteroles «

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