This impressive croquembouche is filled with a chocolate pastry cream, but feel free to mix it up!
- 4 quantities Choux puff mixture (see below)
- 35 cm (13¾ in) polystyrene cone (optional)
- edible flowers, to decorate
Choux puff mixture
- 60 g (2 oz) butter, chopped
- 110 g (4 oz/¾cup) plain (all-purpose) our pinch of salt
- 3 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
Chocolate crème pâtissière
- 2 litres (68 fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk
- 1 tbsp natural vanilla extract
- 300 g (10½ oz) dark chocolate (70–85% cocoa solids), chopped
- 320 g (11½ oz/2 cups) dextrose
- 4 eggs plus 8 egg yolks
- 200 g (7 oz/1⅓ cups) cornflour (cornstarch)
- 70 g (2½ oz/½ cup) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
- 80 ml (2¾ fl oz/⅓ cup) coffee liqueur (optional)
- 800 g (1 lb 12 oz/5 cups) dextrose
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Cooling time: 30 minutes
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F (fan-forced) and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
Make the choux puff mixture in two batches. For each batch, put the butter with 360 ml (12 oz/1½ cup) water in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Add the flour and salt and stir vigorously over medium heat for 1–2 minutes, or until the mixture leaves the side of the pan and forms a smooth mass.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Add the egg gradually, beating well between each addition. Stop adding the egg if it seems like the mixture is starting to thin out. The mixture should be thick and glossy.
Put the dough in a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 cm (½ in) plain nozzle and pipe small dollops, about 3 cm x 3 cm (1¼ in x 1¼ in), onto the prepared trays about 4 cm (1½ in) apart. Pat any peaks down gently with a damp fingertip.
Bake for 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/320°F (fan-forced) and bake for a further 5–10 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden.
Make a small hole in the base of each puff with a small sharp knife to release the steam. Bake for a second time to dry out, if necessary. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
To make the chocolate crème pâtissière, combine the milk and vanilla extract in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and bring just to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate until melted. Meanwhile, beat the dextrose, eggs and egg yolk in a large heatproof bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Beat in the cornflour and cocoa. While still whisking, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Return the mixture to the cleaned saucepan and cook, whisking constantly by hand until the mixture thickens and just comes to the boil.
Transfer the mixture to a large heatproof bowl, whisk to knock some of the heat out and set aside to cool. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the crème to stop a skin forming as it is cooling. Remove the plastic and whisk the crème every so often, to speed up the cooling process. Stir in the liqueur, if using, and put the mixture in a large piping bag fitted with a 5 mm (¼ in) plain nozzle. Chill in the refrigerator until completely cool. This crème pâtissière can also be made up to 2 days in advance.
When ready to assemble the croquembouche, insert the piping bag nozzle into the small hole in each puff and fill with crème pâtissière. You’ll know when the puff is full, as it will feel heavy in your hand. Set aside on a baking tray.
For the toffee, it is easiest to work in two batches. Combine half of the dextrose and 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the dextrose is melted. Bring to the boil, without stirring. Brush down the side of the pan with a clean pastry brush dipped in water to remove any crystals that may form, if necessary. Cook to a light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Very carefully dip the top of each filled puff in the toffee and place them toffee-side up on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Return the pan to the heat and warm it gently if the toffee is starting to set.
To assemble the croquembouche, starting with the largest of the puffs and working your way through to the smallest, dip their bases in toffee one by one and place 10–12 of them in a ring on a serving plate (or around the base of a cone, if using), sticking them together with the toffee. Drizzle the layer with a little extra toffee and continue to build up the layers to a peak at the top. Enlisting the help of a friend would be useful here!
When required, make the second batch of toffee with the remaining dextrose and 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water. Dot edible flowers around the croquembouche and drizzle or carefully flick any remaining toffee over and around your creation. Serve straight away.
This recipe is from Incredible Bakes (Smith Street Books). Photography by Chris Middleton.