Croquembouche is a classic French pastry consisting of a tower of cream puffs held together with crisp golden caramel. The name of the dessert literally translates to "crunch in mouth," describing the sensation of biting into one of the delicious caramel dipped pate choux puffs. It is traditionally served at weddings and special events in France and Italy, and is quickly becoming a dessert buffet item of choice for weddings here in the US.
Building a croquembouche of your own may seem like a daunting task, but with a little prep work it is really quite simple. The three basic components — pate choux, pastry cream, and caramel — are all classic recipes that belong in any baker's repertoire.
Learn to build an incredible croquembouche worthy of even the fanciest French pasty shops.
All images via Erin Bakes
- 3 dozen pate choux puffs
- 2 cups pastry cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- Medium sauce pan
- Piping bag fitted with a Bismarck tip or a medium round tip (I used Ateco #802.)
- Large piece of construction paper or poster board (my piece was 12" x 18")
- Parchment paper
- Sheet pan
Roll the construction paper up into a cone shape. Use tape to secure the edges. Line the inside of your construction paper cone with the piece of parchment paper. Trim the pointed edges of the cone so that it sits flat. This will be your mold for making the croquembouche.
Fill the pate choux puffs with pastry cream using the piping bag fitted with the round tip. Set aside while you make the caramel.
Combine the sugar and water in a medium sauce pan. Cook on medium-high heat until the caramel is golden in color. Dip the bottom of the pan in cool water for just a moment. This prevents the caramel from continuing to darken. Place the pan on a trivet or folded kitchen towel for added stability and safety.
It's always better to be safe than sorry when working with hot sugar! Be patient and dip each puff carefully, always being aware of where the sugar is dripping. Keep a cold glass of water nearby just incase any gets on your fingers.
Drop a cream puff into the cone so that the bottom of the puff is facing up. Dip another puff into the caramel and place it into the cone so that the caramel glues the two puffs together. Continue with more puffs, placing them into the cone so that the tops face the sides of the cone.
The puffs should fit snuggly into the tip of the cone and then line the sides of the cone as you work your way to the top. Place your cone in a vase or a tall glass if you're not comfortable holding it while working with the hot sugar.
Add the last row of puffs so that the bottoms of the puffs are facing up. This will create a more stable base for the bottom of the croquembouche when you turn it out of the mold.
Turn the filled cone over onto your serving platter or cake stand. Lift off the construction paper cone and peel off the parchment paper. Add more puffs to the base of your croquembouche if it feels lopsided to you or there are any gaps.
Use the remaining caramel to create a gorgeous spun-sugar garnish for your croquembouche. Re-warm the caramel over low heat, just until it's fluid again.
Lightly spray a cookie sheet with pan spray. Dip the fork into the caramel and move it quickly, back and forth over the sprayed cookie sheet, leaving long thin strands sugar behind. Repeat this process until you have a generous pile of spun sugar, about 5 minutes. Gently gather the strands and wrap them around the croquembouche like a sugary garland. Add as little or as much spun sugar as you like.
The pate choux and pastry cream can both be made well in advance, but the assembly and spun sugar should be done on the day it will be served. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days, but keep in mind that the humidity in the fridge will cause both the caramel and pate choux dough to soften.
Stand back and soak in the beauty of the caramelly tower of goodness that you've just created! There are few things more satisfying than successfully assembling a delicate and delicious time-consuming pastry. All that's left to do is crack in and enjoy!