Croquembouche is fun to look at and eat, but did you know it's also fun to make? Here's how to make both traditional & chocolate versions!
Originally Posted January 16, 2012. Updated 9/27/2022
It’s a tower of cream puffs - miniature choux buns, usually with some sort of cream filling - held together with a golden caramel. The sugars in that caramel are cooked to a certain temperature, such that they set into a hard, crunchy caramel.
That caramel is where this traditional French dessert gets its name, which translates as “crunch in the mouth”.
Anyway, it’s traditionally served at weddings in various European cities, but also started becoming a popular alternative to wedding cakes here in North America about a decade ago.
It’s also great for holiday dinners, or fancier potlucks.
Add some seasonally appropriate decorative elements, and you’ve got yourself a Christmas croquembouche!
The thing is, you don’t need to be a pastry chef to make this pastry tower!
Anyway, bfore I get to it, a bit of a disclaimer here: This may be an easy recipe to make, however, it’s also sort of dangerous.
I won’t kid you, there is nothing worse than a hot sugar burn. If you drop the sugar onto skin, it will burn, it will stick, and it will HURT! Please exercise caution when dealing with the caramel in this recipe.
If you do make this for a group, and you do manage to burn yourself in the process.. I promise the reception it will receive - and the amount of brownie points you’ll gain - will be worth it.
Be careful anyways, though!
What Are Cream Puffs? What are Profiteroles?
Before I get to the “How”, let’s address the “What”, with a bit of definitions and such 🙂
Cream puffs / profiteroles are a great “fancy” dessert option.
Not only are they easier to make than you may think, they take very little in the way of ingredients. Also, they can be customized many ways!
While the terms tend to be used somewhat interchangeably, “Cream Puffs” tend to be larger, and split in half like a bun.
“Profiteroles” tend to be much smaller - an inch or two in diameter.
They’re usually filled by jamming a pastry bag into a small hole in the side of the pastry, rather than slicing it open.
It’s a basic recipe that’s used to make everything from cream puffs and eclairs to cruellers and churros.
It doesn’t contain any leavening ingredients (yeast, baking powder, baking soda, etc), instead relying on its high moisture content to puff during baking.
Baked at a high temperature, the water becomes steam and creates large air pockets in the final product.
Fill them however you want - with pastry cream, pudding, mousse - and there you go. Fancy dessert!
If you want to up the badass factor though, consider assembling profiteroles into a croquembouche.
This croquembouche recipe is in two main parts - the pastry puffs, and the caramel to put it together.
All together, you’ll just need some super simple ingredients that you’ll be able to find in any grocery store:
All Purpose Flour
As for the fillings... that really deserves its own section...
While most croquembouche recipes include the filling, I prefer to leave that open to choice.
Stabilized Whipped Cream or Vanilla pastry cream is pretty standard, but the real fun comes from customizing things to your tastes, and to the event you’re serving it at.
For that matter, you can always mix and match, using a mix or 2 or more fillings throughout your crooquembouche.
Here are some ideas - and recipe links - for you to choose from.
My base Pastry Cream recipe can be flavoured with anything from vanilla bean or vanilla extract, to coffee, other extracts, or even liqueur.
Planning to serve it to chocolate lovers? Try Chocolate Pastry Cream
You may be familiar with chocolate ganache as it relates to making truffles, or dripping on cakes.
With the right chocolate:cream ratio and 1 extra step, you can make ganache into a rich, fluffy filling that’s perfect for your profiteroles.
Finally, mousse can be a super tasty filling here. Along the lines of whipped cream, but with a bit of extra oomph from egg whites and - in these cases - fruit.
... or basically any favourite mousse recipe!
When you’re making and using the caramel, you’ll want to be careful to avoid the sugar seizing up.
This is when the sugar rapidly solidifies and becomes unusable.
You can tell when it’s happening, as it will go through stages like this:
So, some things to keep in mind:
1. When you start boiling the syrup, wash down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush. Stray grains of sugar can trigger crystalization if they fall in.
2. Don’t stir the caramel after it starts boiling.
3. If you have to move the pot, do so gently. Picking it up and then roughly dropping it on a work surface can trigger crystalization.
4. Gently put the pot in a WARM water bath. If you put the pot in cold water, it’ll very likely cause it to seize.
5. Once the crystals start forming, know that you’re within a minute or so from it gong completely solid. Any agitation will just speed the process.
Fill the pot with hot water to soften it, and set it aside. This will make cleanup easier, later.
Grab a fresh pot, and start over. There’s not a lot of reason to try saving seized sugar.
Between the recipe on this page and the fillings I linked to, above? You can make a croquembouche start to finish, 100% homemade.
HOWEVER, I realize this may be more ambitious than everyone has time or energy for. So... a couple suggestions if you need to "cheat" it:
1. Use instant pudding, Cool Whip, or another pre-made filling to fill the homemade profiteroles ... or
2. Buy pre made cream puffs, proceed directly to the assembly part of the croquembouche recipe at the bottom.
Also, it's not difficult at all, or even all THAT time consuming. The pastry cream can be made ahead, and the puffs themselves work up really quickly.
Across the photos in this post, some of the croquembouches were made with my Homemade Profiteroles, and others with store bought.
It’s all good!
How to Make Croquembouche
The full recipe is in the recipe card at the end of this post, here is a pictorial walk through with step by step photos and additional tips.
This recipe allows for about 40 profiteroles, which makes a tower for about 6 people.
The caramel makes more than enough for a bigger batch, so if you're looking to double - or triple - the pastry to serve more people, you don't really need to increase the caramel batch.
Make the Choux Dough
Pre heat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking sheet.
Note: It’s very important to not grease the pan – it will cause the pastries to flatten!
Combine water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan, heat to a boil over medium-high heat
Remove from heat, add flour, stirring with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until excess moisture is well incorporated.
Reduce heat to medium heat, return saucepan to stove top.
Meanwhile, beat together eggs and egg whites in a small bowl.
With the mixer set to medium speed, add beaten egg mixture to dough a little at a time, allowing eggs to fully incorporate into the dough before adding more.
It may look like a separating mess, but I promise it will come together!
It’ll be soft and a bit sticky, but more or less be able to hold its shape.
Pipe, Bake, and Fill the Profiteroles
Fit a Large Pastry Bag with a coupler and a plain tip, if desired. Personally, I just cut a small hole at the end of the piping bag.
Spoon choux dough into the pastry bag, being careful to avoid creating air pockets.
Using spoons or a large pastry bag, make tablespoon-sized mounds of batter on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2″ of space between each.
Use a wet finger to pat down any peaks of dough that may form as you finish piping each.
Crack the oven door open a few inches, turn the heat off, and allow the puffs to cool in the oven for at least 30 minutes.
Allow choux buns to cool to room temperature before filling.
Fill the pastry bag with your choice of pastry cream, pudding, or mousse.
Once choux pastries are completely cool, jam the tip of the pastry bag into the side of a puff, and fill!
Assemble Your Croquembouche
Once you have a pile of filled puffs, you’re ready to make your first batch of caramel and assemble your pastry tower!
Note: Depending on how generous you are with the dipping, you may want to make a second batch of caramel at some point.
In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water, bringing to a boil over moderate heat. Use a damp pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pan, and don’t stir it after it starts boiling.
As soon as the sugar changes to a light amber color - about 300°F (150°C) - remove pan from heat.
Set bottom of saucepan in a larger pan of warm water, on heat proof surface.
You’ll want to work quickly to assemble your croquembouche, before the caramel cools too much to work with.
Personally, I like to freestyle it, not bothering with a croquembouche form, but your mileage may vary. Feel free to use a styrofoam cone - like a craft store Christmas tree form - covered in parchment paper if you’d like.
Pick up one of the largest puffs and carefully dip the bottom of the puff into the hot caramel, place on serving platter.
Repeat with more of the larger puffs, dipping the bottom of each puff in the caramel, and placing them to form a large circle.
Make a second row on top of it, using fewer puffs and attaching them slightly to the inside of the first row.
Continue making gradually smaller rings....
....until closing off the top with a single profiterole.
When your tower is assembled, drizzle caramel or melted chocolate all over it, dust with powdered sugar, and/or garnish with decorative items such as candied flowers, nuts, etc.
This should be served within a few hours of making it, both on account of the cream filling, and the way caramel draws moisture from the air.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making a web of sugar strands around it. You can spin as much or as little sugar as you’d like, to achieve your desired effect.
To do so:
Cut the very end off a wire whisk, or use 2-3 forks held together - I like to use 2, back to back, held together with an elastic band.
Dip the tines of the forks / whisk into the remaining hot caramel, and use a swift motion to spin trails of caramel around the croquembouche.
Serve within 2 hours of making.
It’s best to serve as soon as possible, as the caramel threads (if used) are very sensitive to moisture in the air - and in the dessert itself - and will melt.
While it won’t “crunch in your mouth” in the same way as hardened sugar syrup does, you CAN make a croquembouche with melted chocolate.
It’s easier, definitely safer (kid friendly, even!), and will make chocoholics happy!
Check it out!
Ideally, you’ll want 6-8 per person, but that will vary greatly based on how large you made them!
You will need:
1 batch profiteroles
~ 10 oz chocolate of choice
Microwave on high for 20 seconds at a time - stirring after each burst - at a time until about ⅔ melted. Continue stirring until completely melted.
Dip the bottom of a cream puff in chocolate, place on serving plate. You’ll be using the melted chocolate to “glue” the profiteroles to the plate - and the side of each puff - each other as you go.
Continue dipping and placing, reducing the diameter with each successive layer, to form your chocolate croquembouche tower.
If you’d like, pipe additional melted chocolate to drip / fill in space.
Once completed, chill until chocolate sets up hard - at least 30 minutes.
To serve, drizzle with more chocolate, dust with powdered sugar, pipe on some whipped cream, and/or garnish with berries and mint.
This is best served the same day - otherwise, the puffs can get soggy.
More Fancy Recipes
Planning for a special dinner, whether Valentine’s Day, a special date, or a fancy dinner party? Here are a few recipes to consider!
Balsamic Mushroom Baked Brie
Chocolate Dessert Ravioli
Clementine Mousse with ChampagneFancy Tea Sandwiches
How to Make Cream Puffs and Croquembouche
Mushroom Brie Turnovers
Mushroom & Goat Cheese Braid with Balsamic Glaze
Pepper Crusted Tuna with Wasabi Cream Sauce
Phyllo Crab Triangles
Savoury Tomato Shortcake
Shrimp & Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms
Traditional Raspberry Mousse
White Chocolate Almond Amaretto Truffles
Wild Rice Stuffed Chicken Breast with Dijon Chive Cream Sauce
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How to Make Croquembouche
- 1 cup Water
- ½ cup Butter
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- 1 cup Flour
- 3 Large eggs
- 2 Egg whites
- Filling of Choice See post for suggestions
- 2 ½ cups Granulated Sugar
- ⅔ cup Water
- Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking sheet. It’s very important to not grease the pan – it will cause the pastries to flatten!
- Combine water, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium or large saucepan, heat to a boil. Remove from heat, add flour, stirring until well incorporated.
- Reduce heat to medium, return saucepan to stove top. Cook for another minute or so, until the dough comes together, leaving the sides of pan. You’ll probably notice a film on the bottom of pan.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl of your mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the dough for a minute or so to allow it to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, beat together eggs and egg whites in a small bowl. With the mixer set to medium, add egg mixture to dough a little at a time, allowing eggs to fully incorporate into the dough before adding more. It may look like a separating mess, but I promise it will come together!
- When all of the eggs are incorporated and the dough is smooth and shiny, it’s ready to pipe! It’ll be soft and a bit sticky, but more or less be able to hold it’s shape.
- Using spoons or a pastry bags, make tablespoon-sized mounds of batter, leaving 2″ of space between each. Use a moistened finger to pat down any peaks of dough that may form as you finish piping each.
- Bake for 12 minutes, then -WITHOUT opening the oven door – turn the temperature down to 350°F (180°C) and bake for another 25 minutes.
- Crack the oven door open a few inches, turn the heat off, and allow the puffs to cool in the oven for 30 minutes. This step allows the insides to dry out, providing a stronger structure to prevent collapse.
- Fill a pastry bag with your choice of pastry cream, pudding, or mousse. Once puffs are completely cool, jam the tip of the pastry bag into the side of a puff, and fill!
- In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water, bringing to a boil over high heat.
- As soon as the sugar begins to change color - about 300°F (150°C) - remove pan from heat.
- Set pan in a larger pan of warm water, on heat proof surface. This will slow the cooking, but keep the caramel warm enough to work with.
- Work quickly to assemble your croquembouche. I like to freestyle it, not bothering with a form, but your mileage may vary. Feel free to use a styrofoam cone - like a craft store Christmas tree form - covered in parchment paper if you’d like.
- Carefully dip a profiterole into the hot caramel, place on serving plate. Repeat with more puffs to form a circle.
- Make a second row on top of it, using fewer puffs and attaching them slightly to the inside of the first row.
- Continue making gradually smaller rings, until closing off the top with a single profiterole.
- Depending on how generous you are with the dipping, you may want to make a second batch of caramel at some point.
- When your tower is assembled, drizzle caramel or melted chocolate all over it, dust with powdered sugar, and/or garnish with decorative items such as candied flowers, nuts, etc.
Photos from the previous post, to keep the Google overlords happy: