Classic French Croquembouche

Classic French Croquembouche

The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Chill and Assemble: 3 hrs
Total: 5 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 30 servings
Yield: 90 cream puffs
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
249 Calories
11g Fat
33g Carbs
5g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 30
Amount per serving
Calories 249
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 11g 14%
Saturated Fat 6g 31%
Cholesterol 116mg 39%
Sodium 96mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 33g 12%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 24g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 37mg 3%
Iron 1mg 5%
Potassium 69mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

A croquembouche, French for “crunch in the mouth”, is a cone-shaped tower of cream puffs bound together by caramel. Originally served only on the medieval tables of French royalty and nobility, it is now traditionally served at French weddings, baptisms, and christenings. The cream puffs can be filled with various whipped creams and ganaches, but this version goes the classic route of vanilla pastry cream.

Hone your pastry skills with this elegant dessert and wow your guests with this show-stopping dessert at your next special occasion. You can make the puffs and pastry cream in advance, then dive into the caramel and assembly on the day of.

"If you’re looking for a showstopper dessert, this is the one! For the cream puffs, draw 1 1/2-inch circles on the parchment paper, flip so the ink isn’t in contact with the dough, and then pipe the dough inside the circles. The pastries will be roughly the same size and it’ll be easier to assemble the structure." —Bahareh Niati

Classic French Croquembouche Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Choux:

  • 2 cups water

  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 10 to 11 large eggs, at room temperature

For the Vanilla Pastry Cream:

  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Caramel:

  • 3 cups granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup water

Steps to Make It

Make the Choux

  1. Gather the ingredients. Arrange racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 F.

    Choux dough ingredients

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Bring the water, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil in a large pot, stirring to combine.

    Water, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan on a burner

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Turn off the heat, then add the flour to the pot and stir using a wooden spoon.

    Dough in a saucepan with a wooden spoon, on a burner

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Turn the heat back on to medium-high and stir vigorously until the mixture comes together into a ball, a thin crust develops at the bottom of the pan, and the dough pulls away from the sides, about 3 minutes. This process will cook the flour and dry out the dough.

    Dough in a saucepan on a burner

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat the dough on medium-high speed to release the steam and cool the dough down, about a minute.

    Choux dough in a stand mixer

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  6. Once it stops steaming, add the eggs one at a time allowing the dough to come back together before adding the next. With each addition of egg, the dough will look broken, but come back together as the ingredients come to the same temperature.

    Eggs added to the dough in the stand mixer

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  7. After adding the 10th egg, check the batter. You should be able to draw a line through it with your finger and have it slowly fill in on itself. If it’s too dry, add another egg and test again. The dough should be smooth and glossy, but somewhat elastic.

    Dough in a metal bowl, with a stand mixer attachment

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  8. Prepare a piping bag by cutting a 1/2-inch circle tip. Fill the piping bag with the batter. You can use a resealable bag if you do not have piping bags.

    Choux dough in a piping bag

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  9. Prepare 2 baking sheets by piping a small dot of batter on each corner, then line with parchment paper, pressing to the batter to adhere. This will prevent the parchment paper from flying up in the oven.

    Choux dough dot between the baking sheet and the parchment paper on top

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  10. Pipe 1 1/2-inch mounds by holding the pastry bag straight up, about 1/2-inch above from the paper, and gently squeeze without moving the piping bag. When you reach the desired size, quickly twist and flick the piping bag so you have more of a flat top than a peak. (See our tips section to help with this process.) Pipe about 20 to 25 per baking sheet.

    Choux dough piped onto a lined baking sheet

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  11. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375 F and continue to bake until the puffs are well browned and cooked through, about 35 more minutes. Rotate the baking sheets and switch rack positions halfway through baking. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Increase the oven to 400 F again and repeat with piping and baking the remaining batter.

    Baked dough puffs on baking sheets

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Make the Pastry Cream

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Pastry cream ingredients in bowls

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Whisk together the yolks, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.

    Yolks, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl with a whisk

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Place the milk and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high just until tiny bubbles begin to form around the edges.

    Milk and sugar in a saucepan on a burner

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Slowly pour the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking to temper. Return the liquid to the pot and continue to whisk over medium-high heat until it starts to bubble and thicken. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.

    Butter added to the pastry cream in the saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then cover with plastic wrap, gently pressing directly onto the surface of the mixture to prevent it from forming a skin. Chill until the pastry cream is cold, about 2 hours.

    Pastry cream in a glass bowl, covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  6. Once the pastry cream is cold, whisk or stir vigorously with a rubber spatula until smooth. Place the pastry cream into a piping bag fitted with a 1/3-inch circle piping tip.

    Pastry cream in a pastry bag

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Fill the Cream Puffs

  1. Once the puffs are completely cooled, use a small paring knife to poke and twist small holes into the bottom of each one.

    Dough puffs with holes on the bottom, on a baking sheet

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Insert the tip of the piping bag filled with pastry cream into the hole and squeeze until it feels heavy. Repeat with all the puffs.

    Dough puffs filled with pastry cream

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Assemble the Cone Structure

  1. Take a large sheet of poster board or construction paper and roll it into a cone. The cone should be 18 inches high with a 6-inch base. Cut off any excess at the bottom so it stands up like a party hat.

    Paper cone on a counter

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Cover the cone with a small piece of parchment paper and tape it shut.

    Paper cones covered with parchment paper

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Heavily spray two pieces of parchment paper with cooking spray and set on each half of a serving platter. Place prepared cone structure on parchment. This will ensure that the serving platter stays clean as you build the croquembouche.

    Paper cone on a serving platter with parchment paper

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Make the Caramel

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Caramel ingredients in bowls

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  2. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan, stir and wash down any sugar crystals stuck on the sides of the pot with your fingers.

    Sugar and water in a saucepan

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  3. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the caramel is light golden brown in color. Do not stir the mixture as this can cause the sugar to crystalize.

    Caramel cooking in a saucepan on a burner

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  4. Remove from the heat, then carefully dip the tops of each cream puff into the caramel and place on the side of the cone starting at the bottom. Repeat and continue to build around each layer before moving upwards. You can dip one side of the puffs in a little caramel to help stick it to the next one.

    If the caramel becomes hard while you are working, reheat over medium-low until loosened.

    Caramel covered puffs, placed around the paper cone

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  5. Once the whole tower is built, let the caramel in the pan cool slightly until threads form when you lift a fork up from it. Dip the fork in the caramel and quickly swirl around the croquembouche, creating a web of caramel strands. Repeat as much or as little as you like. Let cool until the caramel is set.

    Classic French Croquembouche covered with caramel

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

  6. Carefully remove the two pieces of excess parchment paper under the cone. Serve immediately.

    Classic French Croquembouche on a red tray

    The Spruce Eats / Bahareh Niati

Tips

  • If the puffs have little peaks before baking, try dipping your finger in some milk or egg white and gently press down on a peak to smooth it out.
  • The baked puffs should be totally hard and medium brown in color. Bake them for about 5 minutes longer if still soft.
  • Make sure everything is ready before making the caramel as you must assemble quickly.
  • The caramel will thicken and harden the cooler it gets. If it starts getting too thick, you can reheat it gently over medium-low. If it starts getting too dark, it’s better to start over and make more until you are done assembling.
  • This recipe makes 90 cream puffs which are enough for a 6-inch base and 18-inch high cone.

Recipe Variations

  • The croquembouche can be decorated with caramel threads, candied almonds, edible flowers, etc.
  • The cream puffs can also be dipped in pearl sugar after the caramel for an added crunch and pretty aesthetic.

How to Store

  • You can make the pastry cream ahead of time and store, covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • Unfilled puff shells can be frozen for up to 3 months, but must be completely defrosted, then refreshed in the oven until toasty again before filling.
  • The croquembouche should be enjoyed the day of assembly, as the cream puffs will not retain their crunchiness as time passes.

How Do You Cut a Croquembouche?

If you research how to cut a croquembouche, the word "sword" will be the first to appear, followed by "mallet." It was thought to bring bad luck to use a knife when cutting a croquembouche, but times have changed and knives are easier to come by than sharp swords. The way you cut it also depends on the size of the tower.


To cut your tower, you can:

  • Use a sharp knife to disassemble the tiers and cut two to three profiteroles per person if you're serving a formal event.
  • Encourage your guests to pull the profiteroles by hand, two to three per person, if you're serving a casual event or family gathering.

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