Crisp choux puffs filled with sweet cream, bound into a tower with molten caramel, and circled in caramel threads.
This French dessert, called a croquembouche, is often served at special occasions such as weddings or baptisms. It’s an intricate creation with many steps, and one I had been wanting to make.
Having done so, can I just say, I prefer cake? Don’t get me wrong. This tower of pastry and caramel and cream is delicious. And if it were just about taste, I might go with the puff tower.
But it’s a bit of a challenge to eat.
I had envisioned puffs that remove from the tower intact and lightly coated in caramel for a sweet and pleasant crunch. Instead, each puff tore in half, still bonded to the puff below with the thick, hardened caramel. The cream oozed out on our fingers and the plate. The caramel threads broke into pieces that were difficult to pick up and odd to eat.
This dessert, though appearing elegant, is perhaps better suited to a teenage girl slumber party than a wedding. There was nothing lady-like about consuming these broken puffs dripping with cream and attached to thin, crunchy strands of caramel.
I’m hoping this is because I had never made one before. Perhaps the caramel temperature was wrong, resulting in a thicker, harder caramel than is traditional? Maybe the experienced caramel-maker creates a croquembouche that is easily consumed in an elegant manner. I certainly hope so. Otherwise, I feel for every bride who has ever had croquembouche at her wedding.
But while the eating experience was messy, I thoroughly enjoyed making it.
I scaled the tower down to just sixteen choux puffs for our family.
I used the frozen choux pastry from my first cream puff attempt, and I’m delighted to report that the puffs turned out really well! I let the frozen choux balls sit on the baking sheet the last few minutes of preheating, and they baked almost as well as the original batch, just slightly darker. So, if you only need a few cream puffs, make a full batch of choux, pipe it all, and freeze what you don’t need right away. Just pop the piped (but unbaked) choux in the freezer on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet. Transfer to a freezer safe bag after a day or so.
Thanks to one of my readers, I twisted a pairing knife in the venting slits to make an opening wide enough to pipe in the cream. It worked SO much better!! (Read more about my previous cream puff filling disaster.)
Working with the caramel was a lot of fun, but very hot. I may have burned myself while dipping puffs… But I had a blast dipping forks in the caramel to swirl around the finished tower. My counter was a mess, but it was WAY too much fun for me to care.
If you’re looking for several hours of exciting baking and caramel work, this might be an experience for you. Especially if you like to eat beautiful, messy things.
And if not? That’s what cake is for. 🙂
Have a great day!!