How to Make a Croquembouche Tree

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    Ingredients to Make a Croquembouche or Cream Puff Tree

    Croquembouche tree
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    Croquembouche is the French word for "crunch in the mouth" and is a classic French dessert once used as a wedding cake (compare with Eastern European Tree Cakes).

    A croquembouche is made with custard-filled cream puffs that are assembled in a pyramid shape stuck together with caramel. Spun-sugar caramel is draped around the cream puff tree for dramatic effect.

    As with most tasty dishes, this French confection made its way to Eastern Europe and is enjoyed there also. Learn the croquembouche recipe in its entirety.

    Ingredients you will need:

    Pastry Cream Filling:
    3 cups milk
    3/4 cup sugar
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    3 tablespoons cornstarch
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    2 large beaten eggs
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    1 tablespoon softened butter
    1 cup whipping cream (whipped to stiff peaks)

    Cream Puff Dough (Pâte à Choux):
    1 1/2 cups boiling water
    6 ounces butter
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    6 large eggs

    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1/2 cup light corn syrup
    2/3 cup water

    How to prepare the pastry cream filling:

    1. Scald 3 cups milk in medium saucepan.
    2. In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
    3. Gradually stir into scalded milk, and reduce heat to medium-low.
    4. Add 2 large beaten eggs and cook until thick, stirring constantly.
    5. Remove from heat, and mix in 1 tablespoon softened butter and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
    6. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the cream so a skin doesn't form and chill until cold.
    7. Make the cream puffs while the filling is chilling.
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  • 02 of 12

    How to Make the Cream Puff Dough or Pâte à Choux

    Making the pâte à choux
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    In a medium saucepan, melt butter in boiling water. Add flour and salt. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball that won't separate. Remove from heat. Transfer to a mixing bowl or stand mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. The paste will separate as you add each egg, but with continued beating will smooth out.

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  • 03 of 12

    How to Pipe Out Cream Puff Dough

    Leah Maroney

    Heat oven to 400 F. To form cream puffs, use a plain tip and pipe small, equal-sized balls of dough 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined pan. If the dough balls have peaks, use a pastry brush dipped in a little egg white to pat it smooth.

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    Bake the Cream Puffs

    Baked cream puffs
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    Bake cream puffs 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely. Remove pastry cream from refrigerator and beat with a mixer until smooth. Fold in the 1 cup of whipping cream whipped to stiff peaks. Fill a piping bag fitted with a thin nozzle-type tip with the cream and plunge the tip into the side of each cooled cream puff shell and fill with pastry cream.

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  • 05 of 12

    Make the Caramel

    Making caramel
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    Traditionally, the cream puffs are glued together with caramel without using any mold at all, but this method is much easier. Cover a medium-size Styrofoam cone with aluminum foil and place it on a cake circle that has been covered with aluminum foil.

    To make the caramel:

    1. Place 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 2/3 cup water in a small heavy saucepan and stir to blend ingredients.
    2. Place on high heat and cook until syrup turns light amber. DO NOT STIR during this time but wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in hot water about every 2 minutes. It will take 7 to 9 minutes for the caramel to cook.
    3. Watch closely at the end because the sugar can burn easily.
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  • 06 of 12

    Dip the Cream Puffs Into the Caramel

    Dipping the cream puffs into the caramel
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    When the caramel is light amber, remove from heat and wait for bubbles to disappear (about 3 to 4 minutes). Starting at the base of the foil-covered cone, dip flat end of cream puffs quickly in hot caramel (be careful not to burn your fingers) and apply it to your serving plate. 

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  • 07 of 12

    Begin a Ring of Cream Puffs

    Beginning a ring of cream puffs
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    Continue to dip the cream puffs and form a ring around the center of your serving plate. 

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  • 08 of 12

    Stack the Cream Puffs

    Stacking the cream puffs
    Leah Maroney

     After making your first large circle, start a smaller circle around the inner edge of the first circle.  Repeat until you have finished the tower. 

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  • 09 of 12

    Set Up Your Caramel Station

    Caramel station setup
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    To make the spun-sugar caramel that will be wrapped around the finished croquembouche, carefully reheat the caramel over low heat. You will need a fork, or spun sugar tool, or a whisk with the end cut off and the prongs spread apart.

    Set up your parchment paper, under or on top of two spoons that are supported so that they are slightly above the flat surface below.  This helps the droplets to fall underneath and the strands to stay aloft. 

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  • 10 of 12

    Make Spun Sugar

    Making spun sugar
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    It is important to allow the caramel to cool slightly so that it forms threads instead of droplets.  Test this by dipping your tool into the caramel and lifting int out, if it just about forms a thread as you pull it out, it's ready!

    Dip your forks or other tools into hot caramel and move it back and forth over a parchment-lined pan to form long, thin threads.

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  • 11 of 12

    How to Pick Up the Spun Sugar

    Picking up the spun sugar
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    Before the caramel has a chance to cool completely, gently pick it up with your hands, starting at the middle if necessary.  Wrap and drape it around the cream puff tower. Continue making strands if you feel you need more to cover the tower. 

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  • 12 of 12

    Finished Croquembouche

    Finished croquembouche
    The Spruce / Leah Maroney

    If you like, you can add a bow to the top of your finished croquembouche, although this isn't traditional. Let guests serve themselves by pulling off as many cream puffs as they like. This is a great dessert for a sweet table on a buffet line.