How to make Cream Puffs, Boozy Pastry Cream, and Croquembouche

Cream puffs / profiteroles are a great “fancy” dessert option. Not only are they insanely easy to make, they take very little in the way of ingredients, and can be customized many ways.

Cream puffs start out with the batter – Pâte à choux, or “choux pastry”. 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 cream puffs into a croquembouche.

A croquembouche is a spectacular dessert. It’s traditionally served at weddings in various European cities, but is also becoming a popular alternative to wedding cakes here in North America. It’s also great for holiday dinners, or fancier potlucks.

A bit of a disclaimer here: This is 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.

The recipes below – the cream puff dough, filling, and caramel to assemble the croquembouche – are all from my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker. Used together, you can make a croquembouche from scratch, start to finish.

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:

Croquembouche

1. Use instant pudding, Cool Whip, or another pre-made filling to fill the homemade cream puffs… or

2. Buy pre made cream puffs, proceed directly to the croquembouche recipe at the bottom.

Personally, I think it’s fun to do the start-to-finish thing… and gives you huge bragging rights. 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.

Pâte à choux (cream puff dough)

1 cup Water
1/2 cup Butter
1 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup Flour
3 Large eggs
2 Egg whites

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 sauce pan, 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 the pan. Transfer dough 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!

If you’re not planning to make a croquembouche, dust with powdered sugar, drizzle with chocolate, and/or serve with fresh fruit or berries.

Boozy Pastry Cream

To make this recipe alcohol free, substitute 1/2 cup half and half for the 1/2 cup of liqueur, add 1-2 tsp of Vanilla (or other flavor) extract.

3 Large egg yolks
1/4 cup Sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Flour
1/2 cup Cream liqueur of choice.
1/2 cup Milk
2 Tbsp Butter

Whisk yolks together with sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Add flour, whisk until incorporated and smooth. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring liqueur and milk to a light boil.

Measure about 1/4 cup (50 ml)of the hot milk liquid, and stream slowly into egg mixture while whisking. Continue streaming liquid and whisking until it is completely incorporated, and mixture is smooth. Repeat with another 1/4 cup (50 ml) of hot liquid.

Remove saucepan from heat, pour egg mixture into milk mixture, whisking constantly. Once fully incorporated and smooth, return to heat. Turn heat down to low. Continue whisking mixture constantly, cooking until mixture is very thick. Remove from heat, whisk in butter until fully incorporated and smooth.

Cover with plastic wrap, chill until needed.

Croquembouche

2-3 batches of profiteroles, chilled
2 1/2 cups Sugar
2/3 cup Water

In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water, bringing to a boil over high heat. As soon as 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 15-20 more puffs to form a large circle. Make a second row on top of it, using less 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.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making a web of sugar strands around it. Cut the very end off a wire whisk, or use 2-3 forks held together. 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. You can spin as much or as little sugar as you’d like, to achieve your desired effect.

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.

Interested in boozy culinary experiments? You’ll LOVE my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker!

Combining liqueurs with more traditional baking ingredients can yield spectacular results.Try Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, Candy Apple Flan, Jalapeno Beer Peanut Brittle, Lynchburg Lemonade Cupcakes, Pina Colada Rum Cake, Strawberry Daiquiri Chiffon Pie, and so much more.

To further add to your creative possibilities, the first chapter teaches how to infuse spirits to make both basic and cream liqueurs, as well as home made flavor extracts! This book contains over 160 easy to make recipes, with variation suggestions to help create hundreds more! Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

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