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Croquembouche: The Majestic French Celebration Cake

Authentic Marseillaise Bouillabaisse Recipe - Traditional French Seafood Stew

Prepare to wow your guests with a stunning croquembouche, the pinnacle of French pastry artistry. This towering masterpiece of caramel-glazed cream puffs, adorned with delicate spun sugar, is the ultimate showstopper for weddings, baptisms, and special occasions.

While crafting a croquembouche may seem daunting, our step-by-step guide will help you create this impressive dessert in your own kitchen. The name “croquembouche” literally means “crunch in the mouth” – a perfect description of the satisfying contrast between the crisp caramel coating and the luscious cream-filled puffs.

Mastering the Art of Cream Puffs

The foundation of any great croquembouche is perfectly baked cream puffs. Our recipe uses a classic pâte à choux made with equal parts water and milk for the ideal crisp exterior. A touch of sugar in the dough enhances flavor and browning.

For optimal results, we’ve determined that 1¼-inch puffs strike the perfect balance between a generous cream filling and a satisfying crunch. To ensure uniformity, we recommend creating a template for piping – this extra step pays off in a more stable and visually appealing tower.

A light dusting of powdered sugar before baking promotes even browning and minimizes cracks. After baking, we employ a clever trick: piercing the puffs and returning them to a cooling oven. This extra drying step ensures they retain their crispness, setting the stage for a truly crunchy croquembouche.

Crafting the Perfect Filling

Our croquembouche features a luxurious crème légère filling – a heavenly blend of classic pastry cream and freshly whipped cream. This lighter-than-air filling complements the crisp puffs beautifully. For variety, feel free to experiment with flavored pastry creams or whipped creams.

The Art of Caramel and Assembly

The caramel is the glue that holds your croquembouche together – both literally and figuratively. We use two separate batches of caramel: one for dipping the puffs and another for assembly. This method ensures you always have workable caramel throughout the process.

As you build your croquembouche, remember to angle the puffs slightly inward for a classically tapered shape. Don’t worry if your first attempt isn’t picture-perfect – even slightly wonky croquembouches are delicious!

The crowning glory of your croquembouche is a dramatic veil of spun sugar. This delicate web of caramel threads transforms your tower of puffs into a true work of art.

Croquembouche

Ingredients

  • For the Cream Puffs:
  • One recipe choux pastry (made with a combination of milk and water, and the optional sugar), transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  • One recipe crème légère (see note), transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain round tip
  • For the Caramel:
  • 21 ounces sugar (3 cups; 600g), divided
  • 6 ounces water (12 tablespoons; 170g), divided

Directions

  1. Prepare the Cream Puffs: Position oven racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C). Create templates on parchment paper by tracing 1¼-inch circles, spaced 1 inch apart. You’ll need two trays with 25 circles each. Flip the parchment over and secure it to the baking sheets with dabs of choux paste.
  2. Pipe the choux paste onto the prepared trays, filling each circle completely. To achieve smooth tops, dip a finger in cold water and gently pat down any peaks. Dust the puffs evenly with powdered sugar for perfect browning.
  3. Bake the puffs for about 25 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. They should be puffed, golden brown, and feel hollow when gently tapped.
  4. While the puffs are still hot, create a small hole in the bottom of each one using a paring knife. Return them to the oven (now turned off) with the door ajar for 30 minutes to dry out completely.
  5. Fill each puff with the prepared crème légère, piping until the puff feels heavy and cream starts to overflow slightly. Wipe away any excess filling.
  6. Prepare your assembly station: Place parchment paper on a cake turntable or stand, topped with an 8-inch cake round or pan bottom wrapped in foil.
  7. Create the Caramel: In a saucepan, combine half of the sugar and water. Heat until it reaches a medium amber color, then carefully pour into a heatproof bowl.
  8. Wearing protective gloves, dip the top of each cream puff into the caramel and place them caramel-side up on a tray. If the caramel thickens, microwave briefly to loosen.
  9. Prepare a second batch of caramel using the remaining sugar and water, following the same process as before.
  10. Assemble the Croquembouche: Arrange 9 of the largest puffs in a circle on your prepared base. Dip one side of each puff into the fresh caramel and press it onto the base, angling slightly inward. Hold each puff in place until the caramel sets.
  11. Continue building layers, reducing the number of puffs in each successive layer by one. Position each puff in the gap between the two below it. Fill any spaces with sideways puffs to maintain the structure.
  12. For the top layers, create “doubles” by sticking two puffs together with caramel before attaching them to the tower. Crown your croquembouche with a single puff on top.
  13. Create a dramatic spun sugar decoration: Dip a fork into the caramel and drizzle thin threads around the croquembouche in a circular motion from top to bottom.
  14. Serve your masterpiece within 2 hours of assembly. Guests can break off puffs as desired, or you can use scissors to portion it out.

Notes

For alternative fillings, prepare a double batch of pastry cream (vanilla, chocolate, or lemon) or whipped cream (about 3 cups total). Feel free to mix and match flavors for a unique twist on this classic dessert.

Make-Ahead and Storage

For best results, enjoy your croquembouche within 2 hours of assembly. The caramel and puffs will soften over time.

Unfilled cream puffs can be frozen for up to 1 month. To refresh, bake frozen puffs at 350°F (177°C) for about 5 minutes until crisp. Cool before filling.

Crème légère can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days before use.

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