There’s a reason croquembouche — or a pyramid of cream puffs, bound together with caramel—is a go-to stand-in for a wedding cake. Besides being delicious (my husband likens it to “crème brûlée doughnuts”), croquembouche is enormous, the sort of pastry pièce de résistance anyone would stare at and think, Whoa! I could never do that.
But to heck with that, because you can.
This streamlined version skips the hard stuff and cuts right to the chase: You eating lots and lots of caramel-covered cream puffs, no gown or suit required. If there’s a more standout—or popular—dessert for the holidays, we need not know it.
Grab a sheet pan and ditch the pyramid. Using caramel to stack pastries into a tower is a "Great British Baking Show" challenge that I did not sign up for. A rimmed sheet pan saves the day. The standard size (aka, half-sheet or 18 by 13 inches) fits almost 60 puffs — more than enough to feed most holiday gatherings — and you don’t have to worry about them toppling over before dessert.
Let a cookie scoop take the lead. Most pate a choux recipes tell you to transfer the dough to a piping bag, then hand-pipe equal-sized puffs. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that good at eyeballing stuff. Enter: my favorite kitchen gadget — the tablespoon-sized cookie scoop. Using this to portion the pate a choux makes this step of the recipe go way faster, and your puffs will look more professional, to boot.
Plastic baggies, too. To ensure that the baked pate a choux puffs don’t get soggy, I like to poke each one’s side with a knife right after they come out of the oven. The bonus: This hole is good for more than just venting steam — it’s also an entry point for the pastry cream. Which means there’s no need for a formal piping tip. (Does everyone have piping tips? I think not.) Just fill a lil’ plastic baggy with pastry cream and use scissors to snip one corner; start with a small snip, then adjust the size as needed.
Bring the caramel to the puffs. Not the puffs to the caramel! The first time I tried to dip cream puffs in just-cooked caramel, I burned my fingertips more times than I care to admit. This dunk is crucial when you’re building a pyramid — but we’re just cozying these cuties up on a sheet pan. So, instead of dunking the puffs in the caramel, we’ll spoon some caramel on top of the puffs. Plus, a sprinkle of flaky salt on top, because it really does make everything better.
Makes: 54 cream puffs
4 cups whole milk
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (88 grams) cornstarch
8 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon
Pâte à choux
2 cups water
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups (256 grams) all-purpose flour
9 large eggs, at room temperature, divided into 8 and 1
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
laky salt, for sprinkling
Click here to read the full recipe.