This classic French dessert requires some practice and self-confidence, but with my useful tips and tricks, I’m sure that you’ll get those compliments that every baker likes to get. You can either choose to fill the profiteroles with pastry cream or whipped cream. I prefer to use whipped cream, as I believe that the lighter the weight of the profiteroles is, the less tricky it will be to build the typical tower form. But as I said, the choice is all up to you!
For the choux pastry
- 400g water
- 160g butter
- large pinch of salt
- 280g self raising flour, sifted
- 5 to 8 eggs (depending on their size)
- 8 dl full fat cream
- 340g caster sugar
- 16g (2 sachets) whipped cream stabilizer
For the caramel
- 2 tbsp water
- 250g caster sugar
For the cardboard cone
- 1 square cardboard (about 9,5 x 9,5 inch)
- parchment paper
- strong Scotch tape
Start by making the cardboard cone. Form a large cone of the cardboard and stick it together with Scotch tape or staples. Crop the cone at the bottom, so that it can stand straight on a flat surface. Cover with parchment paper, stick together with Scotch tape or staples and cut off the excess paper at the bottom. Put the cone on a sheet of parchment paper, in order to prevent that you’d mess with the hot caramel later on.
Continue by making the profiteroles. Preheat the oven to 430°F/220°C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Add the water, sugar and salt to a medium saucepan and turn on the heat. As soon as the water mixture boils and the butter has melted completely, take the pan off the heat and add the self-raising flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon to a dough, turn the heat back on and continue stirring until you have a dry and consistent dough.
Add the choux pastry to a bowl of a stand mixer or kitchen robot and start whisking on low speed until the dough has cooled down to room temperature. If you don’t let the dough cool down enough, the eggs wills scramble immediately when you add them.
Add the eggs one by one, stirring after each addition. The dough is ready when it falls off a wooden spoon, but still looks solid. Fill a piping bag (with a plain nozzle) with the choux dough and pipe the mixture into small balls in lines across the baking sheets. Bake the profiteroles in the preheated oven until their size has increased heavily, then lower the temperature to 350°F/180°C and continue baking them golden brown for about 15 minutes to dry them out. Make sure not to open the oven door, as this will increase the chance that the profiteroles will deflate. Switch off the oven and allow the profiteroles to cool down completely, leaving the oven door ajar.
Next, make the filling for the profiteroles. Beat the heavy cream with the sugar and cream stabilizer in a large mixing bowl until stiff and thick. Fill a piping bag (with a plain nozzle) with the whipped cream, prick a hole into the bottom of the profiteroles that has about the size of your nozzle and pipe the filling into the profiteroles.
Here’s the tricky part. Children certainly are not allowed to do this, as the caramel is very hot and can cause heavy burn wounds. Arrange the cone, profiteroles and a bowl of hot water next to each other. Fill your sink with cold water, this will come later on in handy to stop the caramel from cooking.
In a saucepan, mix together the water and the sugar. Switch on the heat and let the sugar melt until it has reached 343°F/173°C. Make sure not to stir, but only to swirl with the pan, as this will cause sugar crystals in the caramel. Switch off the heat and put the bottom of the saucepan into the cold water to stop the caramel from cooking. Next, put the bottom of the saucepan into the bowl of hot water.
All I can say now is, BE QUICK: take a profiterole and dip one side into the hot caramel (be careful not to burn your fingers!), arrange it along the cone and repeat this for the rest of them, ending up with a tower of profiteroles. If the caramel gets hard, gently reheat it, but make sure not to burn it.
For the decoration, dip a fork into the thickened caramel. Drizzle the caramel over the profiteroles so that it falls in fine threads. The croquembouche is best kept in a dry and cold place. If it’s too hot, the caramel might melt and the tower will collapse.