December 24, 2011

Christmas Croquembouche

Christmas Croquembouche

It happened again, just as it does every year.  No matter how down on my luck I might be, you can guarantee that I will be bitten by the Spirit of Christmas year after year.  I don't think anyone can help it, really.  As soon as December 1st arrives, that holiday magic bursts into the air, spreading the Christmas Spirit.  It's contagious and it spreads quickly too.  All it takes is a simple wave to your neighbor and the wish of a Happy Holiday or a (less politically correct) Merry Christmas.

the pâte à chou process

I've been sick with the holiday cheer now for about three weeks.  I thought I had a pretty bad case of it, that is until I got home, back to Dallas, to my parents house.  My mom brings Christmas to life.  The walls reverberate with the Spirit of Christmas.  The sheer amount of decorations in the house is astonishing, but it makes you feel so warm and cozy inside.  You almost expect Santa and his elves to pop out from behind the corner somewhere.  

ready to bake and chocolate ready to melt

The Christmas Spirit that lives inside my parent's house inspired me to go the extra mile with a Christmas dessert this year.  I wanted it to embody this time of year.  Now tell me, what represents Christmas more than a Christmas Croquembouche?  It even looks like a Christmas tree!  

poke, fill and dip cream puffs

I'm not going to lie.  It took pretty much all day to make.  Granted, I'd have to stop to make things look pretty and take pictures, but all in all it was rather time consuming.  I even used a less traditional method that involves a styrofoam cone base.  (A traditional croquembouche would be made purely of cream puffs, from the center out).  

assemble the croquembouche

If I was going to make this again, and I just might have to, because it does make for a stunning presentation, I would break up the work.  The cream puffs, which make up the majority of the work, could be made two days ahead, the pastry cream filling and chocolate sauce made 1 day ahead, leaving the assembly for the morning of a festive Christmas get together.  Hey, you could even buy frozen cream puffs, eliminating most of the work, and taking all the credit for yourself.  Just don't tell anyone I told you so.  Merry Christmas!

croquembouche, pretty as a package

Recipe Adapted from

For cream puffs (pâte à chou):
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs
For pastry cream filling: 
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream
For chocolate sauce:
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 9 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Assorted decorations of your choice: fresh cranberries, red hots, red and green M&Ms, silver dragées

Special Equipment:
Large pastry bag with 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch plain tips
clear tape
14-inch styrofoam cone (I bought mine at Michael's)
parchment paper
lots of toothpicks


For cream puffs (pâte à chou):
1. Preheat oven to 425º F. 

2. To make the pâte à chou (French name for the dough used to make cream puffs), bring water in a heavy saucepan to a boil with butter and salt over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low. Add flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from sides of pan, forming a ball of dough.

3. Transfer dough to the bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat in 6 eggs, 1 at a time, on high speed, beating well after each addition. Pâte à chou batter should be stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon.

4. Butter and flour 2 baking sheets. Spoon pâte à chou into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe about 55 mounds onto baking sheets, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, leaving 1 1/2 inches between mounds. With wet fingertips, gently smooth pointed tip of each mound to round puffs.

5. Bake puffs in upper and lower thirds of oven 10 minutes, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through baking. Reduce temperature to 400°F. and bake puffs 20 minutes more, or until puffed and golden, again, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through baking. Let puffs stand in turned-off oven 20 minutes. Transfer puffs to racks to cool. 

6. With a skewer, poke a 1/4-inch hole in bottom of each puff. Cream puffs may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container. Re-crisp puffs in 400°F oven 5 minutes and cool before filling. If making puffs ahead of time, wait to poke holes in each until after re-crisping and ready to assemble.

For Pastry Cream Filling:
1. Bring half and half to simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and sifted flour in a medium bowl to blend.

2. Gradually, and very slowly, whisk in hot half and half as to temper the egg mixture. Transfer mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk over medium-low heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 5 minutes. Boil 1 minute. Pour into another medium sized bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic onto surface of pastry cream. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (The pastry cream can be made up to this point 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

3. On the day your croquembouche will be assembled, place chilled pastry cream base into the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Beat pastry cream until just smooth and soft enough to fold in heavy cream (do not overbeat).

4. In a chilled bowl with cleaned beaters, beat heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold whipped cream into pastry cream. Chill filling, covered, about 1 hour, or until cold.

For chocolate sauce:
1. Bring heavy cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate; stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Cool sauce until lukewarm. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. When ready to assemble croquembouche, rewarm over low heat until just lukewarm and pourable, stirring frequently.)

To assemble the croquembouche:
1. To fill the cream puffs, transfer pastry cream filling to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Insert the tip into the hole in the bottom of each cream puff and barely fill each puff (do not overfill). Set filled puffs aside.

2. Using tape, cover styrofoam cone with parchment paper. Double tape to secure the bottom of cone to a serving platter.

3. Line a tray with wax paper. Working with 1 filled cream puff at a time, dip bottom in chocolate sauce, leaving top 1/3 inch uncoated and letting excess drip off. Set aside on wax paper.

4. Once cream puffs are dipped, arrange 1 ring of puffs around base of cone, placing as closely together as possible and inserting a toothpick through each puff into cone, so as to attach puff to cone. Push toothpick as far into cone as possible.

5. Attach second ring of puffs above first, again packing tightly and staggering so puffs in second ring are not directly above puffs in first ring. Continue in same manner to attach remaining puffs. Finish covering cone with 1 puff attached to the top of cone.

6. Decorate by pushing cranberries, M&Ms, red hots or dragées into the gaps and spaces between the cream puffs.

7. To serve croquembouche, dismantle, 1 puff at a time and enjoy!

No comments :

Post a Comment