In November, I wrote a post describing the difficulties of making holiday desserts to please my entire family. Everyone has a favorite, a request, a non-negotiable. I decided that I was tired of coming up with new culinary creations only to endure sighs of disappointment that I would ever think of veering from the traditional holiday pumpkin and apple pies. Luckily, my mother will support anything I decide to make, so I decided that for Christmas, I was going to make something I wanted and bring it, and people were going to eat it. I wasn’t even going to give anyone the option to give their opinion this time!
I searched for a dessert that would be sure to please, even the under 6 crowd. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love vanilla bean pastry cream, profiteroles, and chocolate? And so it was decided, I would attempt to make a traditional French Croquembouche. The name comes from the French words croque en bouche, which literally means “crunch in the mouth,” due to the traditionally used crunchy hardened caramel coating. The stunning dessert is often served at weddings and baptisms in Italy and France. There are several variations to this immaculate culinary creation, and I decided to combine my favorite flavors into mine: Vanilla bean, chocolate and raspberry. I did use the traditional caramel to build my tower. I did quite a bit of research to find the perfect pasty cream, the best profiterole recipe and combine the two into one dessert. Below you will find the recipes I chose as well as tips and tricks on how to make this incredible dessert.
Choux Pastry for the Puffs
The profiteroles are made from a traditional choux pastry. These light, fluffy and buttery bites are good enough to eat on their own…but are absolute delights when filled with vanilla bean pastry cream. The recipe for the choux pastry is from Martha Stewart…of course!
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 7 large eggs
- Heat oven to 425 degrees. To make the puffs: In a medium saucepan, melt butter in 1 1/2 cups water with salt and sugar. Remove pan from heat, and add flour. Return pan to heat and, using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes. (A film should form on the bottom of the pan.) Cool slightly, and add 6 eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously.
- Make a glaze by beating the remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water, and set aside. Using a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and a 1/2-inch-wide plain tip, pipe out mounds that are 1 inch high and 3/4 inch in diameter on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze, and smooth the tops. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on racks. The puffs are best made the day of consumption, but you can make them ahead of time and keep them in open plastic storage bags allowing air to circulate.
- If you choose to make them the evening before, the day of assembly, you can simply crisp back up the puffs by placing them back in a 400 degree oven for a couple minutes.
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
Also called Creme Patissiere, pastry cream is a rich custard made from milk, eggs, sugar, flour, and various flavorings. I chose vanilla bean, because I love it so. But, you can flavor it with cocoa powder, cognac or just plain vanilla extract.
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out
- 6 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
- Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.
- Combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a standing mixer and whisk until the eggs turn very light in color. Add in the flour and the salt and continue to mix.
- When the milk just begins to boil, remove from the heat. Very slowly dribble the hot milk into the yolk mixture, stirring all the time. When about half of the milk has been added, place all of the yolk mixture into the saucepan over medium heat. Using a spatula or a whisk, mix the pastry cream as it heats, making sure to reach all of the corners of the pan when you stir. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will start to thicken.
- Remove from heat and add the butter. Place into a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap to stop a skin from forming on the cream. Chill and use within a few days.
To fill the puffs: Using a paring knife, make a small X in the bottom of each puff. Using a pastry bag fitted with a round tip, pipe the pastry cream into each puff until full.
To make the caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Cover pan, and boil until steam dissolves any crystals. Uncover, and boil 5 more minutes, or until syrup is amber in color. Remove from heat. Dip the bottom of each puff into the caramel, and arrange puffs in a pyramid.
To decorate, melt your favorite chocolate in a double boiler or microwave until just melted. Place in a pastry bag and drizzle over the completed pyramid. Adorn with raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and mint leaves.
When I served this at Christmas, I placed a few profiteroles on a plate and topped them with extra chocolate 🙂