Croquembouche = Profiteroles ++

And there’s the last of coding I remember, at least, choose to remember.

Profiteroles (aka cream puffs) are a favorite dessert of mine. Something is indescribably ethereal when eating these puffs filled with cream–only after giving them a proper bathing in dark chocolate sauce. Unfortunately the closest thing to profiteroles are eclairs at French bakeries or the gallon size tub of frozen profiteroles sold at Costco.  There’s a reason why fresh ones are hard to find — because they take so much time to make.

The difficulty level and the “c’est impossible” factor set in when I turned my eyes towards this recipe. But something happens when I face challenge. As my dearest friends would know it, watch me.

200 cream puffs later (thankfully it didn’t take to 200 to perfect the recipe), voila, profiteroles.

Then I had to take it a step further to the almighty towering croquembouche. While merely for decoration and *gasp* factor, who can really turn down a tower of cream puffs?

A few tips and tricks I learned along the journey:

  • Unless you have the entire day to spend on making profiteroles, plan on making the pastry cream and the pâte à choux (the dough for the puffs) the day prior.
  • The brilliance of pâte à choux is that it’s freezable. Just flash freeze them in the shape you want (petite mounds), wrap in plastic wrap, and store in a heavy duty freezer bag. These will last for months and will save you from your friends’ last minute naggings for profiteroles. They do not need to be defrosted when baking them.
  • Using a pastry bag or ziploc bag with the corner cut off is the easiest way of creating petite mounds with the pâte à choux dough. Because the dough is sticky, using a spoon creates uneven shapes.
  • Wait for the pastry cream to come to room temperature (or slightly chilled) and the cream puffs to come to room temperature before filling then. Otherwise the steam from the heat making the profiteroles soggy. Gross.
  • If baked correctly, the pâte à choux mounds will only deflate slightly after being removed from the oven. Many blogs suggest leaving them in the oven. I’ve found pricking a small hole with a tookpick on the bottom of the profiterole helps the steam escape. It also serves as the place where you’ll fill the profiteroles. Two for one!
  • While using a pastry bag is traditional, using a plastic squirt bottles work the best in filling the profiteroles.
  • Profiteroles taste best when filled the day they plan on being eaten.

Profiteroles

Makes about 24 large or 50 small puffs

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silcone baking mats. Oven racks should be placed in the center of the oven.

Bring the milk, water, butter and salt to the boil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan.  When the mixture is boiling rapidly, add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium and start stirring immediately the mixture like mad with a wooden spoon.  The dough will come together very quickly and a slight crust will form on the bottom of the pan, but you have to keep stirring – vigorously – another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough.  At the end of this time, the dough will be very smooth.

Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a  food processor fitted with a dough blade, or, if you’re wanting to tone your arms, you can continue by hand.  One by one, add the eggs to the dough, beating until each egg is thoroughly incorporated.  Don’t be discouraged – as soon as you add the first egg, your dough will separate.  Keep working and by the time you add the third egg it will start coming together again.  When all the eggs are incorporated, the dough will be thick and shiny and, when you lift some of it up it will fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.  The dough will still be warm – it’s supposed to be – and now is the time to use it.

For little puffs with a diameter of ~1.5  to 2 inches when baked: use about 1 tablespoon of dough for each puff, drop the dough from the spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each mound of dough. If a tip forms on the top of the puffs, press the tips gently down with a barely moistened finger. You do not want water to seep down the puff as this will prevent proper rising.

At this point, you can flash freeze the puffs and then store them in the freezer.

Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 18-22 minutes. Check as soon as 18 minutes and bake until the puffs are golden and firm. This will take a little longer for larger puffs.  Transfer the cream puffs to a cooling rack and immediately prick holes in the bottom of the puffs with a toothpick to let the steam escape. Let cool to room temperature before filling the puffs.

To assemble: Fill the pastry bag fitted with narrow tip or plastic squirt bottle with pastry cream. Insert tip into the hole of the profiterole and gently fill the puff. You will feel the puff expand slightly when it is full.

For croquembouche assembly instructions, click here


To enjoy the profiteroles with a warm chocolate sauce, finely chop about 12 oz of high quality dark chocolate (my favorite is Callebaut) and place in microwave proof bowl. Over low heat, bring 1 cup of heavy cream to a low boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Starting from the center of the bowl, begin mixing until the cream and chocolate have combined. If there are still chocolate chunks, microwave the mixture for 10-15 seconds, and stir, repeat until chocolate has fully melted. You can also stir in a tablespoon or two of vanilla of your favorite rum to spice things up.

Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract (or 1/2 tsp almond extra + 1 tbs vanilla extract for an almond flavored cream)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions

Place the milk,  sugar and the vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.

Whisk egg yolks until light in color. Add in the flour and the salt, mix to combine.

When the milk just begins to boil, remove from 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. Do not stop stirring. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will be thick.

Remove from heat and add the butter and extract(s). Strain if you wish for a smoother cream. 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.

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