|Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)|
Although the stunning, towering confection of a croquembouche is considered a French wedding cake, it's showstopper on any occasion. The croquembouche is a tower of vanilla pastry cream, caramel-dipped profiteroles and is decorated with sugared almonds, though modern versions are often made with creative pastry cream flavors then decorated with flowers, sugar art, and even melted chocolate.
- For the Vanilla Pastry Cream:
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- For the Choux:
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 8 eggs
- For the Caramel:
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup water
Warm the milk over low heat in a small saucepan until it's just hot enough to steam. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch while the milk is warming and until the mixture is completely smooth.
Add half the milk to the egg mixture when the milk is steaming, whisking continuously. Add the milk and the eggs back into the hot milk, stirring continuously, and heat for 1 to 2 minutes until the custard reaches 170 F on a digital thermometer—it should be thick.
Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Chill the cream for about 2 hours before filling the profiteroles.
Melt the butter in the water in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and flour and stir until a sticky batter is formed. Beat the eggs in one at a time until the batter is smooth.
Preheat the oven to 400 F and grease two baking sheets. Spoon the prepared choux dough into 24 small rounds on each baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the profiteroles puff up and turn golden brown. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before filling them with the prepared pastry cream.
Spoon the chilled pastry cream into a bag fitted with a plain tip. Insert the tip into the underside of a profiterole and pipe about 1 teaspoon of pastry cream into it. Repeat with the remaining profiteroles. Place the filled profiteroles in the freezer for at least 3 hours.
Spoon 2½ cups of sugar into a medium saucepan and pour 2/3 cup water over it. Draw a spoon through the sugar to wet it and turn the heat up to medium-high. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush when the mixture reaches a simmer. Allow the sugar mixture to boil for 15 to 20 minutes until it turns pale golden brown.
Remove the pan from the heat and immediately plunge it into a bowl of ice water for 5 seconds to stop the cooking process. Allow the caramel to cool for 5 to 10 minutes until it has the consistency of maple syrup.
Be ready to work fast when the caramel has cooled.
Assemble the croquembouche.
Dip 12 profiteroles in the caramel, one at a time. Arrange them in a circle on a parchment-lined serving platter or baking sheet, using the caramel to glue them together. Continue building the croquembouche by dipping and “gluing” a smaller ring of profiteroles on top of the first one. Continue the process until the classic cone or tower shape has been achieved.
Lightly drizzle the remaining caramel over the croquembouche to form a cobweb of spun sugar. Press on sugared almonds, metallic dragées or flowers for decoration.
The cake should be served as soon as possible. It runs the risk of collapse if it's left too long, particularly if the weather is hot.
Keep a bowl of ice water nearby when you're working with the caramel. If you're burned, dip the affected skin into the cold water and hold it there for several seconds. When in doubt, seek professional medical help.