Croquembouche (piece montée) is a traditional French dessert; a tower of profiteroles; choux pastry puffs filled with pastry cream and glazed with caramel. The name comes from the French words croque-en-bouche, meaning 'crunch in the mouth’. The delicious pyramid usually rests on a base or stand made of nougatine (brittle). A popular custom made center piece ordered for weddings, baptisms and first communions.
Turn oven on to 250ºF/125ºC. Lightly toast almonds for about 20 minutes. In a large saucepan combine corn syrup, water and sugar. Cover and cook mixture on hight heat for 5 minutes. (Avoid stirring mixture until caramel stage is reached). Remove the lid, reduce heat to medium high and cook to light to medium amber. Turn off the heat and stir in the hot almonds and butter or cocoa butter. Turn the mixture out onto a silicone mat. Let stand a couple of minutes. Work the nougatine from the silicone mat to protect your hands; folding nougatine in every direction to cool it down a bit and make it more malleable. Now, the temperature of the nougatine should be around 185ºF/85ºC. Greasing kitchen utensils are not necessary since the nougatine contains butter. Leave oven on at 300ºF/150ºC. Roll out nougatine into a 4 millimeter thick disk. Transfert nougatine into a 9''/23cm round cake pan and form into a mold. Reheat nougatine in the oven as you go. Trim off excess nougatine and save scraps. Professionals use a metal rolling pin and metal cookie cutters; making things easier. Let cool off nougatine at room temperature until it has hardened before unmolding. For the dent de loup (wolf’s teeth), make another batch of nougatine. Roll out into a large rectangle and cut out into two 2.5''/6cm strips. Rewarm and cut strips into 1''/2.5cm rectangles; make about 20. Rewarm what’s left and cut out a 4''/10cm and a 6''/15cm disk. Cut 3 x 4''/10cm moon shapes for the top and make smaller ones for further decoration if desired. Nougatine can be stored wrapped up at room temperature for weeks. The nougatine leftovers can be reused or crushed into pieces and added into ice cream, custard, plated dessert garnishing. Assemble nougatine using a light amber caramel.
Makes 84 choux (3 per servings). Bring water, milk, butter, sugar and salt to a boil, and remove from heat. With a wooden spoon, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides for about a minute. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for about 1 minute to get the steam out. Pour eggs at once and beat on low speed until a soft peak forms. Pipe out choux on 3 large baking sheets (28 puffs per tray) lined with a silicon mat or parchment using a 5/8’’/0.625’’/15.8 mm open star pastry tip. The use of a star piping tip (or nozzle) is essential to allowing the batter to expand evenly with minimal cracking during the baking process. The ridges created by piping the pâte à choux with a star tip creates gaps that allows the choux to expand evenly during baking. Dust choux with powdered sugar before baking. Raw pate a choux can be refrigerated for a day, or frozen for weeks before baking. Pop frozen choux on a baking tray and bake right away in a preheated oven.
Preheated 450ºF/230ºC. Dust choux with powdered sugar prior baking. Bake two baking trays for the first batch for 5 minutes. Then, lower oven temp to 350ºF/180ºC and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Do not open the oven door during baking or choux will deflate. Then, turn oven off leaving the door ajar for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on wire rack. Baked puffs can be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen for months before being filled.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment beat all ingredient together on high speed until stiff peaks. Use glace royal for decoration using a very small open star or plain pastry tip. Royal icing dries out very quickly so make sure the icing is covered during piping. Store royal icing for weeks in the refrigerator. Whip icing before reusing.
Bring milk, half of the sugar and vanilla to a simmer. Meanwhile in a separate bowl, beat egg yolks with remaining sugar with flour and corn starch. Turn off the heat. Whisk hot milk gradually into the yolk-starch mixture. Return custard to the stove, bring to boil and cook for 2 minutes on medium high heat whisking constantly. Turn off the heat and whisk in the first 250g butter. Cool custard to 65ºF/18ºC. Then add remaining 250g butter – continue beating until creamy and fluffy; about 5 minutes. (If the mixture turns out grainy, warm up the mixer bowl over the stove or use a blow torch to soften the fat particles). The Mousseline can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Stuff puffs, and scrap out any excess cream that comes out. Arrange choux upside down on trays. At that point the filled choux can be refrigerated a day before being glazed with caramel. Since caramel reacts to humidity; do not refrigerate croquembouche.
Cook sugar mixture to light amber caramel 340°F/170ºC. In a quick motion immerse bottom saucepan in water to stop cooking. Carefully glaze puffs top in hot caramel. Arrange puffs glazed side up on tray. Wear heat poor gloves if necessary and have a bowl of ice water near by just in case of an accidental burn occurs. Do not use tong neither fork; that’s how you would burn yourself. Just hold the choux from its bottom base leaving enough space free for the caramel to stick. Reheat caramel if it thickens. Dip some puffs in caramel and pearl sugar if desired; about 20. The use of a croquembouche cone is highly recommended but you can succeed just the way I did it using a nougatine stand and disks.
In a large saucepan, make another batch of caramel cooked to light amber. Carefully dip each caramelized puff (one at a time) in hot caramel; on its bottom and both sides and arrange puffs in circle following the shape of the nougatine stand. The first row should handle 12 choux. Add the second story which goes by 11 puffs, then 10 and continue building up the choux tower. Add and glue with hot caramel the 6''/15cm nougatine disk after the 4th story to stabilise the tower. Continue building the croquembouche until done; about 10 rows. The last one should hold 3 to 4 puffs. Top with the last 4''/10cm nougatine disk on which the 3 half moon shapes are glued. Add more nougatine and sugar work decorations as well as dragées if desired. Dragée is a bite-sized, colorful form of confectionery with a hard outer shell also called Jordan Almonds. Caramel leftovers can be reused; pour hot caramel onto a silicone mat. Let cool and break into pieces ans store in air-tight container. To clean saucepan – cover with water, put a lid on and bring to boil; cover and let sit overnight and clean. Once the croquembouche center piece is build; avoid refrigeration. Enjoy!