Croquembouche

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This recipe is actually fairly easy if you practice a few of the individual steps. Making the cream puffs, the profiteroles, a consistent size is a real challenge. If they are not the same size, it will be very difficult to stack them to make the traditional cone shaped cake. If you choose to make a non-traditional shape, such as a triangular or rectangular cake pyramid, remember, a cone is self-supporting, but you’ll need to keep an eye on any other shape to make certain it doesn’t collapse. You must also keep an eye on how much caramel you apply with each puff. Too little, and they will not stick together, too much, and it can be miserable to eat.

I cheated the two times I made a square section pyramid. I made a cardboard form, and covered it with a plastic wrap. Then when the cake was very cool, and supporting the tower with a cookie sheet, I laid it flat, and working very quickly, I pulled out the pyramid and plastic wrap. Sometimes the wrap did not come out. However, it did not while serving, and no one knew.

The flavored Crème Chantilly is easy to make. Add the suggested amount of vanilla, and you’re done. Some recipes suggest substituting another flavor, such as an alcohol, to the whipping cream. So be careful when adding any other flavoring to the cream because as the cream ages, it may shed water or any other liquid, and ruin the crispy puffs.

If I am very ambitious, I fill the puffs with pastry cream, which may also be made 1 day or so ahead of time. This requires a fair amount of skill to make, though experienced cooks will not have a difficult time. Sometimes my mother makes this for me, which is very nice of her.

Some bakers use dampened spoons to scoop out little balls of dough and place them on parchment paper covered baking sheets. However, I use a pastry bag, which requires a fair amount of strength. When I first started making cream puffs, I used a circle cutout of the correct size to mark the parchment. Then I piped out Hershey’s kiss shaped dollops of cream puff dough, all roughly the same thickness, to help me make them similar sizes. I also make extra puffs, just in case. If I make the puffs ahead of time, I do not fill them with cream until I am assembling the cake so the puffs do not become gummy.

The caramel is the next challenge, because it is easy to darken it so it tastes smoky, or even burned. You must be very careful; sugar burns are really nasty. Making the caramel is also a challenge, as are the the final caramel threads that are draped over the cake. If the threads don’t come out, do not worry. No one will miss them.

Many recipes suggest you simply pour the remaining caramel over the top of the cake and let it run down the sides. This however, covers the cake in a hardened sheet of candy.

When the cone is complete, I stick candied orange peel, sugared almonds, or any type of sugared nut, and candied violets on the cake. The traditional final decoration on the tower of cream [date=2019-04-27 timezone=“America/Los_Angeles”]puffs is spun sugar, also known as caramel threads. They are far prettier than a sheet of hardening caramel.

These threads are made at the last moment by flinging warm, liquid caramel off the tines of a wide fork. Skilled pastry workers can do this directly on the cake. I needed lots of practice to do this. Working quickly, I fling my caramel threads off the fork tines, working from the narrow end of a long table covered with plastic wrap. Too hot, and the caramel just forms lumps, to cold, and it won’t fling at all. I gather up the threads while they are still soft and drape them over the cake.

Before I made this confection the first couple of times, I practiced making the individual elements. Of course, this left me with lots of cream puffs, etc. However, no one in the family objected when I stacked four puffs on each of their dessert plates, and poured chocolate over the top. You may also split the puffs and stuff them with ice cream.

Made one once–and only once. I botched the glaze, which hardened into a ceramic shell. Hard to cut the thing apart with a hacksaw.