Croquembouche: the how to guide
Where does the croquembouche comes from?
The invention of the croquembouche ( also named croque-en-bouche in French which could be translated as “a crunchy bite”) is often attributed to Antonin Carême,who includes it in his 1815 cookbook Le Pâtissier royal parisien, but it is mentioned as early as 1806, in André Viard’s culinary encyclopedia Le Cuisinier Impérial, and in Antoine Beauvilliers’ 1815 L’Art du Cuisinier. In Viard’s encyclopedia and other early texts (e.g. Grimod de La Reynière’s, Néo-physiologie du gout), it is included in lists of entremets—elaborate dishes, both savory and sweet, that were served between courses during large banquets.
The preparation of the croquembouche:
It takes an average of 4 choux puffs per person (it can be more or less depending on their size). Usually you will need at least 60 small choux puffs to mount a nice croquembouche. Although all forms are possible the conical form remains the easiest to achieve and is also the most used.
Good bakeware to have when making a Croquembouche
- Great Silicone mat for choux puffs and macarons
- Reusable piping bag
- Puff and eclair special piping tip
- Croquembouche metal mold
- Balloon whisk
- Large glass bowl
Here are the usual amounts of choux puffs you need to count per number of guest for your Croquembouche:
- For 15 people: 60 to 66 choux puffs – Diameter base 12 cm – Height 26 cm
- For 20 people: 80 to 85 choux puffs – Diameter base 13 cm – Height 36 cm
- For 25 people: 100 to 105 choux puffs – Diameter base 15 cm – Height: 42 cm
choux puffs or eclairs?
Choux puffs are traditionally used to make croquembouches but lately there is growing trend of creating croquembouches with small eclairs instead of choux puffs. it is up to you to decide. This guide however is for choux puffs only.
What size of choux puffs should I use?:
From my experience smaller choux puffs are easier to work with. Ideally once cooked the puffs should have a nice roundish regular shape and also be well puffed ( with a large hollow cavity inside to facilitate the cream filling.)
Ingredients for around 80 choux puffs:
- 125 g of milk (can be completely replaced by water)
- 125 g of water
- 110 g of butter
- One pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (optional)
- 140 gr of plain flour
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 5 medium size whole eggs
- For the egg wash: 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or water
- Weigh water and the milk and pour into a thick bottom saucepan.
- Add the butter (cut in pieces) and the sugar.
- Heat the mixture gently, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- While waiting for the milk and butter mixture to reach boiling point, weigh and sift the flour.
- As soon as the milk and butter mix start to boil, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour all at once.
- Mix thoroughly with the wooden spoon to prevent the formation of lumps and ensure you get nice uniform mass of dough.
- As soon as the dough is perfectly homogeneous, put the pan back on the heat and let the dough dry a little bit on low heat (just a minute or 2 ) stirring the dough continuously until the dough detaches itself easily from the walls and no longer adheres to the wooden spoon.
- Typically when dry enough a thin whitish film will appears on the bottom of the pan (this is the sign telling you it is now time to turn you heat off.)
- When that happens, remove the pan from the heat and pour the choux pastry into you mixer or food processor bowl
- It is important to leave the dough to cool down a few minutes in the mixer bowl (or food processor bowl) before incorporating the eggs. ideally you want to start to run the mixer slowly for 30 seconds which will dispatch most of heat contained in the choux pastry.
Incorporating the eggs:
- Once the dough has cool down a little, add the eggs, incorporating them one by one. Make sure you add the following egg only when the previous one has been totally absorbed.
- Monitor the consistency of the dough, which must be homogeneous, supple, neither too soft nor too firm. To be perfect, the dough must flow with difficulty from a spatula or spoon. Similarly, when you form a pick with the dough, it must hardly sag.
Laying down the choux pastry:
- Put the choux pastry in a piping bag with a plain tip of 10 mm diameter and start laying down line of choux pastry on a baking tray cover with a silicon mat or baking paper. The Diameter of the balls of dough should ideally be around 2.5 cm
- When done Brush each choux with egg wash using a basting brush making sure not to let any egg wash slip on the baking tray. (any egg falling at the base of the choux will prevent the dough from developing normally. )
- When done, strip each choux with a fork to obtain a regular development during cooking.
Cooking the choux puffs:
Bake the choux pastry in a preheated oven at 210 degrees Celcius. Bake for 15 minutes first then lower the oven temperature to 190/200 ° Celsius and continue to bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. One trick to avoid the choux puff collapsing is to lightly open the oven door during the second portion of the cooking. This will clear the excess moisture in your oven and allow the choux puffs to dry and become firm. (you can use a wooden spoon or something else to prevent the oven door from totally closing.)
Note: when I mention slightly open it means just that. The opening should be very small ( just a few cm to allow the steam to come out) and make sure your oven is still running when you do so. If your oven turns off your choux will collapse.
When cooked, leave the choux puffs to cool on a grid. The choux must be dry without being brittle. ( I find that leaving the choux to dry overnight is the best when making a croquembouche. Like that the next day they will be dry and easy to handle.
If you decided is to replace the choux for eclairs – count 1 to 2 eclairs, (depending on their size).
The pastry cream for the croquembouche:
Many people tend fill the choux for their croquembouche using a classic pastry cream which is big mistake! The fact that the pastry cream contains milk (thus water) makes the puffs soften very quickly. This moisture also causes the binding of the caramel to loosen and in term the croquembouche tends to collapse within a relatively short period of time (about 2 hours) and this is the last thing you want if you are making a surprise for someone or you are aiming of making this in advance. To greatly reduce the risk of collapse, use a buttered pastry cream or crème mousseline.
The fact of adding butter “waterproofs” the choux and even if the choux puffs soften, they will virtually no longer absorb water, ensuring and excellent stability of your croquembouche. Also, the addition of whipped cream makes for a much more tasty filling pastry cream too so it’s a win-win situation. Using this special cream will allow you can make your croquembouche several hours ahead of time without any worries.
Ingredients for the croquembouche pastry cream (enough for 50 large puff or up to 70 small ones)
- 1 litre of whole milk (full cream milk)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 250 to 300 grams of sugar
- 10 egg yolks Medium size
- 80 grams or corn flour (Maizena)
- 150 grams of plain unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- Using a large saucepan on medium heat, pour all of the milk in as well the vanilla pod ( split open) or a tablespoon of vanilla essence, and bring slowly to the boil.
- In another bowl whisk together the egg yolks with the sugar until the mix become whitish in colour. When done add the cornflour to the egg and sugar mix and incorporate gently with the whisk.
- Pour the boiling milk over the yolks and sugar mix stirring constantly with the whisk until everything is incorporated in the milk then put the mixture back in your saucepan.
- Cook the mixture on medium heat until it thicken and boils (while stirring continuously) when it start to boil cook for a minute or 2 maximum and take the pan of the heat.
- Dispose the cream in a glass or large stainless-steel bowl to allow the pastry cream to cool quickly, when the cream reach around 50 degrees Celsius, add the soft butter into the pastry cream little by little mixing well each time you add butter with a whisk. When all the butter is incorporated place the pastry cream in the fridge until it is totally cold.
Warning: if your pastry cream is too hot when you add the butter to it, the butter will melt to fast and the cream will not set properly even after it has been placed in the refrigerator.
Flavouring your pastry cream:
The main flavor of pastry cream is usually vanilla, however it can be flavored differently, depending on your preference and taste. Flavoring is always added at the end of the preparation. That is when you are taking the pastry cream out of fridge ( when totally cold) and you are about to use it.
50 grams of the following flavorings can be added per kilo of pastry cream:
- Grand Marnier
- Coffee extract or liqueur (Kahlua coffee liquor)
Filling the choux puffs:
First prepare the choux by piercing the bottom part with a small icing tip or skewer and then using a piping bag fill them with cream moderately but also making sure there is enough cream inside for the one eating the choux. In my experience a choux puff that is not filled enough really feels dry and the person eating the choux will feel disappointed. The best is to judge by weight. when holding the choux puffs you should really feel some weight to it (like it is obvious there is some filling inside). If it feels to light there is not enough cream inside. To fill the choux, use a piping bag equipped with a special tip. Once done store these puffs flat, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge.
Making the caramel for glazing and cementing:
The caramel will serve to glaze the choux puffs and to cement them pieces between each other. I have used in my video one of the techniques without water but finding a bit hard to difficult to use, especially if you are not use of making croquembouches. The recipe below will allow for a nice liquid caramel that will not set too fast. You can also make the caramel in two batches one to glaze the choux first and the other one when ready to assemble.
- 500gr of granulated white sugar
- 175ml of water
- 150 grams of glucose syrup
- 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
- using a medium size sauce pan on high heat, add all of the sugar water and vinegar in and bring to the boil.
- As soon as that mix boils add the glucose syrup in.
- Leave to cook until the caramel sauce reached 160 degrees Celsius (320 Fahrenheit)
- When the temperature is reached plunge the base of the pan in cold water for a few second to stop the caramel from cooking and place your pan on a chopping board wit a tea towel under one side of the pan so that your caramel tips on an angle (it is easier that way to dip the choux in the caramel)
- Use immediately to coat and then assemble the croquembouche.
Notes: If made in large quantities, this caramel can also be divided into several pans to be warmed gently “at the moment”. This way of making it possible to preserve a fluid caramel because the fact of heating the caramel several times, concentrates it, and it becomes thicker and difficult to use.
Glazing the choux puff:
There are a few different ways to glaze choux puffs for a croquembouche, but whatever method you use, it is essential that the choux puffs are garnished before being glazed. Also be very careful to when handling molten caramel as it can produce severe burns if touched with your bare hands. Below are a few common methods used for glazing.
Method A: Dip the choux in the caramel, drain it and put it (caramel side down) on a sheet of Silpat (non-stick silicone) – The glaze obtained will be flat and will present a great aesthetic.
Method B: Take a choux puff in each hand. Dip the first one in the caramel and, with the second one, remove the excess caramel. When done Lay on grid. Using this method two choux puffs can be caramelized at the same time.
Method C: Build the croquembouche completely first and then use a spatula dipped in the caramel to glaze the choux individually. This method gives a more irregular result but, is much faster to achieve.
Alternate method using chocolate coating: Slightly dip the top of each choux puff in melted dark of white chocolate and place each choux on a tray or grid with the chocolate side up. When done place the choux puffs in the fridge for 10 minutes to make sure the chocolate sets properly. Additionally, you can sprinkle extra crushed hazelnuts and peanuts on top of the chocolate.
The construction of the croquembouche:
There are basically two main options when it comes to the assembly of your croquembouche. You can put it together using a specialized metal or cardboard croquembouche cone or you can assemble it by hand without any cones at all.
To cement the choux together: dip the side of one choux in hot caramel sauce and stick it aside another choux puff and press firmly both choux together ( from the side not from the top) to allow both side of the choux puff to “fuse together” think of it as trying to build a wall of brick ( with the bricks next to each other). The ideal scenario is to minimize the gap between each choux and have a nice wall of choux puffs. ( but that takes practice)
- Assembling without a croquembouche cone:
This is the fastest, less cumbersome and cheapest option as you don’t have to buy or build a special croquembouche cone. However, keep in mind that this method takes a bit of practice.
If you choose to use that option, the choux need to be first caramelized or coated with chocolate and then directly mounted in a circle with the aid of a rigid round cake cardboard, a large baking tray cover with a circle of baking paper, a base of nougatine or even a large oiled flat plate ( keep in mind that regardless of what base you use, it will have to be moved later on to the support you are going to use to present your Croquembouche.)
To keep a nice cone shape as you build the Croquembouche, remember to reduce the number of choux puffs by one for each row.
However, if you want to get higher you can use the same number of choux for 2 rows. For example for a croquembouche using 55 choux puffs you would start with a base row of 10 and reduce by 1 each row until done. But say you have 60 choux puffs to use, you would still start with a row a 10 and when reaching the row of 5 you can just do a one-off repeat. (so 2 rows of 5 instead of one) and then continue to reduce the numbers until done.
It is necessary to plan the number of rows according to the number of choux to use. – If you end up with unused chou puffs, you can hide the extra ones inside the croquembouche.
2. Assembling using a croquembouche cone:
The assembly can be carried out on the outside or on the inside of the croquembouche cone. In both cases, the cone will have to be slightly oiled (with vegetable oil.) before you start
Mounting from the outside of the cone:
Mount the choux puffs one by one around the cone, starting from the base and continue all the way to the top of the cone – When the croquembouche has set ( when the caramel got hard enough) , gently detached the tower of choux puffs from the cone and transport it to the base you are going to use for presentation. You can also just detach the cone and transport the whole construction to wherever you are going to place or present the croquembouche. Using that option though will look less esthetical, as once the guests start to eat the choux puffs (the cone will become visible.)
Mounting the croquembouche from the Inside of the cone:
Make the assembly the same way as above expect that you will have to turn the cone upside down. Make sure it is stable and don’t forget to brush the inside of the cone properly with kitchen oil. The advantage of that technique is that when it’s done you can just turn the cone back on its base where you want to have the croquembouche on display and by gently tapping the cone the whole croquembouche will unmould and reveal it self in all its glory.
Warning: whatever the method used, the caramel should never touch the cone and should be only on the choux
An alternative option at home is to use a tart circle or a large glass bowl like we did with some friends (watch the video further down) to get you started for the first row and then either keep or remove the bowl and continue on building the croquembouche.
I hope that you have now enough information to make your own croquembouche at home. And do not worry too much about how it is going to turn out as even if it is not perfect, the outcome is always mostly satisfactory. The last advice I can give anyone is to get a little bit organised the day before you start. Most important: make sure to make the choux puffs the day before. Then have the below information at hand.
- How high you intend your croquembouche to be. (to know how many choux you need beforehand)
- Which glazing are you going to use (to know how much caramel or chocolate you will need)
- How many people are going to be helping you ( to assign tasks to each and everyone)
- Are you going to be using or cone or not? (if using cardboard cone, make it in advance)
- what support are you going to build the croquenbouche on ( does it have to be move when done)
Watch the video below to see what we have done with some friends. We all had no croquembouche experience and it was the first attempt for everyone (including me) to make that towering french dessert. and even with a few errors and learning on the job, our croqembouche still it turned out great and tasted delicious which for me is the most important.
So get a little team together make a croquembouche and have fun.