Have you ever seen a croquembouche? It’s an amazing sight and an incredible dessert. And I’m here to tell you that, without training and equipment that others claim to be essential, you too can make this tower of cream puffs for your honey, or just for the heck of it.
Trust me. If I can do it, so can you. I joined my pal Jenni Field of PastryChefOnline and several of our blogging buddies in a Valentine Croquembouche Challenge (#ValentineCroque).
The classic croquembouche (French for “Crispy in the Mouth”, also sometimes called a Piece Montee or “tiered cake”) is a tower of cream puffs filled with vanilla pastry cream and held together with carmelized or spun sugar. But in our world, it’s a croquembouche if it uses cream puffs and they’re in some version of a cone shape.
Check out all of our croquembouche – sweet and savory, tall and not-so-towering, fancy and homey. You’ll find links to the other challenge members’ adventures at the end of this post. You can follow our Valentine Croquembouche Pinterest Board too.
In theory, I’m totally on aboard with the #ValentineCroque creed: that blogging shouldn’t always be about aspirational and often unobtainable Pinterest moments. It should also be about the near misses and the journey we take when we take a chance.
But after I agreed to join the group, I began to seriously doubt my sanity. After all, I’ve never made a cream puff or a tower of anything. Even the dioramas I made in school were beyond hope –with supposedly upright trees falling down and everything that was supposed to lie flat standing straight up. Not a great pedigree for making a tower of anything, much less a pastry sensation.
Still, I am not a quitter, so onward I went, trying to keep my croque-ing insecurities under control as I researched how I could make this challenge happen on my terms. I realized that my path to success would mean working around some parts of tradition, rather than hitting them straight on. I can do other things that make most normal people cringe, but piping pastry and carmelizing sugar are two of my worst culinary fears. Instead of a pastry bag (for making the cream puffs and filling them), I used a spoon to shape them and a plastic bottle with a pointed tip to push the filling inside; then I substituted thick chocolate sauce as the “glue” to hold them together. Oh, and I almost forgot – I decided to do without a metal or cardboard pastry cone that chefs use to support the tower as they construct it. When Jenni heard my plan to go “free form,” she said I was “flying without a net.” That made me smile – yup, that’s me.
Sure it took a while to make the 3 elements for the croquembouche: cream puffs, pastry cream and chocolate sauce. And the moment of truth, as I put the croquembouche together, was slightly hair-raising – maybe a 5 on a 1-to-10 scale, where 10 is facing your worst fear. But in the end, I had a blast and if I inspire even one of you to try a dish that the logical part of your brain tells you is way out of your comfort zone, then it will have been well worth the effort.
The results? Delicious, maybe even spectacular tasting, if I do say so myself. The cream puffs were crunchy, light, and airy; the cream was divine, smooth with a hint of orange; and the chocolate sauce was rich, perfect in the small amounts that I drizzled on the puffs. The structure was not exactly a soaring tower, but I definitely got it above ground level and stable.
I used an adaptation of the Cooks Illustrated recipe for Cream Puffs (Pate a Choux), then relied on wonderful hints from Jamie Schler of Life’s a Feast on how to form the puffs without a pastry bag. My orange-infused pastry cream is loosely based on the recipe on Jamie’s site, which she attributes to Nick Malgieri. The chocolate sauce is almost too simple to call a recipe.
The specified ingredients will make several small towers, with pastry cream to spare if you make small-ish puffs, as I did. As to how much chocolate sauce you need, this recipe made just enough. Of course, it can easily be doubled if you want more to “play” with, and at my house, we’re never at a loss for what to do with extra chocolate sauce.
Orange Chocolate Croquembouche a/k/a Cream Puffs filled with Orange-Infused Pastry Cream, Topped with Chocolate Sauce
Servings 24-36 cream puffs (depending on how large you make them) for 8-10 Cost – $8-10
Cream Puffs (Pate a Choux)
- 3 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons ( ½ stick) unsalted butter, cut in chunks
- 1 ounce whole milk (2 tablespoons)
- 2 ounces water (4 tablespoons)
- 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2½ ounces all-purpose flour (1/2 cup), sifted
- 2 small bowls
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Wooden spoon
- Small saucepan
- Food processor
- Baking sheet lined with parchment
- Pastry brush
- Small, sharp knife
- Wire rack
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, with a rack in the center.
- Separate one egg and set the yolk aside. Mix the egg white with the two other eggs and set them aside in a small bowl.
- Put the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the butter is melted and the mixture is at a full boil (beyond a simmer), remove the pan from the heat, stir in the flour, and mix everything with the wooden spoon until the flour is no longer visible.
- Return the saucepan to the stovetop, and cook the mixture over a low heat. Use the back of the wooden spoon to make a smearing motion, pressing the mixture against the bottom of the pan and pulling it again, then smearing again, for approximately 3 minutes. By the end, the flour should be cooked (although you can’t really see that happening) and beads of moisture may appear on the bottom of the pan.
- Immediately put the mixture into the food processor and turn it on for about 20-30 seconds with the insert for the feed tube removed to allow steam to escape. Once the dough has cooled slightly, scrape the sides down with a spatula and turn the processor on low if you have that setting, otherwise just on regular speed. Add the eggs (two eggs plus one eggwhite) in a stream and continue processing the mixture for 30 seconds.
- With a teaspoon place small, neat spoonfuls of the mixture on the parchment-lined baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Dip a finger in clean, warm water and gently roll over each spoonful, to tamp down any raised tips. The ideal shape is a smooth ball. Mix the egg yolk (set aside) with 1-2 tablespoons of milk and brush it over the dough balls.
- Bake the puffs for about 10 minutes until lightly golden. Then turn down the heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking until they are slightly darker and dry, about 15-20 minutes more. Don’t they look like matzo rolls? But they sure don’t taste the same.
- As soon as the puffs are done, remove them to a wire rack to cool and make a small slit on the bottom of each with a sharp knife, in order to allow steam to escape.
Orange-Infused Pastry Cream
- 6 ounces (¾ cup) whole milk
- 2 ounces (¼ cup) orange juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 eggs (using 1 full egg & 2 yolks, setting the other 2 whites aside, maybe for meringues )
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or ½ teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (a combination of citrus and vanilla)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
- Small saucepan
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- 4 bowls, 2 small and 2 medium
- Plastic wrap
- Separate 2 of the eggs in small bowls and set the yolks and whites aside.
- Dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup of the milk and set aside.
- Combine the remaining ½ cup of milk, the orange juice, and the sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove it from the heat.
- Whisk the whole egg into the cornstarch mixture, then the two egg whites. Pour about ⅓ of the mixture in the saucepan into the bowl with the egg/egg whites and cornstarch, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook (which would make them congeal.)
- Put the rest of the milk/orange juice mixture in the saucepan back on the heat and return it to a boil. Pour the hot egg/cornstarch mixture into the saucepan in a stream (holding the bowl with one hand), while whisking the mixture in the saucepan with the other hand. This procedure (mixing a small amount of the hot liquid into the eggs then pouring it back into the hot liquid) is called tempering. It prevents the eggs – cold until the heat of the liquid warms them – from seizing up and becoming like scrambled eggs when they hit the hot liquid. Turn down the heat under the saucepan to medium and continue to whisk continuously (very important!!) until the mixture thickens.
- Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla or Fiori di Sicilia, and continue whisking until it is smooth.
- Scrape the pastry cream into a medium bowl, tightly cover it with plastic wrap (pushing the wrap against the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate for at least several hours until cold.
Chocolate Sauce (double if desired)
- 2 ounces of bittersweet and/or semisweet chocolate (I used a combination)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
- Microwave safe bowl or small saucepan
- Melt the chocolate, butter and corn syrup together. (I microwaved them on medium, checking and stirring every 20-30 seconds.)
- Gently stir the mixture until it is silky smooth. You may need to reheat it if it stands at room temperature for a while.
How to construct the small tower:
- Plastic squeeze bottle
- 2 spoons
- Spoon the pastry cream into the plastic squeeze bottle.
- Using a chopstick or something similar, create a hole in the bottom of each pastry puff large enough that you can see the hollow inside. Fill the puff with cream by squirting the cream into the hole. I found that was an art and after a few that didn’t fill easily, began to tap each puff lightly on a plate to allow cream to settle before adding more.
- Rewarm the chocolate sauce and dip the bottoms of several filled cream puffs in chocolate, then their tops (or spoon the sauce over them), putting them in a circle as the bottom layer. The chocolate on the bottom anchors them and the chocolate on their tops holds the next layer. I started with 5 on the bottom and made 3 layers (5-3-1), but with a bit more architectural savvy or a mold inside, you could go wider and higher. (i did a “dry run” by piling my puff pastry shells before filling and glazing – the structure worked, so I went for it.) Drizzle more chocolate over the top and voilà – a chocolate orange croquembouche!
Valentine Croquembouche Challenge
- Menage a Trois Croquembouche from Amy of Gluten Glory
- Dulce de Leche Croquembouche from Ansh of Spice Roots
- Lobster Chantilly Croquembouche with Black Truffle Confetti from Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Raspberry Rose Croquembouche from Jenni of Jenni Field’s Pastry Chef Online
- Valentine Croquembouche from Kim of Ninja Baker
- Chocolate Orange Croquembouche from Laura of Mother Would Know
- Lemon Cream Croquembouche from Liz of That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Kick Ass Croquembouche from Sophia of NY Foodgasm
- Petit Croquembouche Citron Framboise from Stacy of Food Lust People Love
Thanks for joining us today. If you’re interested in participating in future challenges, please contact Jenni.