Croquembouche – Matcha Cream-Filled Cream Puff Tower
Here’s a common lesson we’ve never listen to (well at least, I often don’t) – DON’T RUN BEFORE YOU CAN WALK.
There’s a reason why I titled the post this way; yes, I did have to attempt the infamous croquembouche twice. Before these attempts I had never ever made croquembouche…I’ve even only made cream puffs once in my life. Now I can say I’m kind of a cream puff ma…novice, let’s be real they’re not perfect. But they taste really good!
It’s a long post ahead – read if you want to learn from the mistakes I’ve made, but feel free to skip ahead to the recipe below!
My first exposure to croquembouche, believe it or not, was through a girly shoujo anime called Yumeiro Patissiere. The show itself was an overwhelmingly sickly type of sweet, but one thing the show did well was the ANIME FOOD – it never failed me in that visual aspect. At that point, I was probably..in my pre-teens I would say, with hardly any interest in food, and even less interest in cooking and baking. But that image of the croquembouche in the show never left me.
So 2019 holiday season hits. I’ve dabbled quite a bit in baking and cooking in the past year or so, so it was then that I decided: I’M GONNA MAKE A BEAUTIFUL ASS CROQUEMBOUCHE HELL YEA.
Aaaaaand my first attempt..wasn’t that. My hubris led me to believe – hey, if Molly from Bon Appetit can make hers without a cone mold, I can probably do decently. Y’all I really don’t know how I suddenly got amnesia and forgot that she’s a classicly trained professional chef with a shit ton of experience.
But anyway, USE A CONE MOLD if you are making this for the first time; whether it’s using an actual croquembouche mold (wouldn’t recommend unless you got that throwaway type of money) or a DIY one made out of poster board and parchment. If you need to see a visual, you can check out my story highlight, CroqB 2.0, on my Instagram @pokethedough; it’s basically forming and taping together a flat cone with poster board, then covering it with parchment.
Even though the first one was very lopsided and bumpy, my family still loved how the cream puffs tasted and still thought the visual was cool! I used ZoeBakes’ recipe for eclairs (eclairs, churros, cream puffs are all made out of the same dough basically) and she details a little bit how you bake them as cream puffs as well.
I’ve provided the link below, as long with the ingredient list and more detailed instructions on getting good puffy shapes. I made twice the batter because I wasn’t sure how the puffs would turn out, but the recipe below is only one batch. Make twice the batter recipe if you feel like you’ll need the extra room for error. There’s nothing wrong with extra cream puffs!
For the filling, I filled half of the puffs with matcha pastry cream and regular pastry cream. The method I’m using is an easier and more efficient way of making pastry cream as well which is detailed below. In the recipe, the pastry cream is all matcha, but since the matcha is added in the end you could definitely split the batch of pastry cream in half and do another flavor or keep it plain – just reduce the matcha amount to 1-2 tablespoons for a half batch.
For my first attempt, I topped each cream puff with caramel by dipping, which is what ZoeBakes did. For me, the end result was a tad too sweet because of the caramel topping along with the caramel sticking the cream puffs together.
So for my second attempt, I halved the caramel recipe (already halved below) and made a craquelin topping instead! It’s a type of streusel topping that I think adds a nice textural balance and flavor to the cream puffs and is now my favorite way of making them.
Finally, FORMING THE TOWER. The best way, like I said before, is to use a cone mold. This way you can uniformly stick on each cream puff without worrying about the shape. The same caramel used to dip and stick will also be used for the sugar garland. All the details are below in the recipe, but I recommend watching the visual in my story highlight @pokethedough
By making a couple of changes, I was able to drastically improve on my first attempt. It’s still not perfect, but I’m pretty damn proud of it! Moral of the story: use a cone mold and don’t be afraid to change up or mix-and-match recipes! Make it your own.
For the matcha pastry cream:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 cups whole milk
8 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 – 4 tbsp matcha, sifted (adjust to taste)
For the craquelin:
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
For the pastry/puff shells/pate a choux:
Makes 50-60 small puffs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, room temperature
For the caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Any decoration like edible flowers, fruits, and candles
Making the pastry cream: Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large saucepan.
Whisk together milk and egg yolks in a separate bowl. Add this mixture to the saucepan along with the butter and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Let boil 1 minute, still whisking; then remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Strain pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl to get rid of any solids.
Mix matcha powder into the pastry cream thoroughly (MAKE SURE IT’S SIFTED to avoid clumps of matcha bleh)
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours – this can also be kept up to 2 days. Just before using, whisk until smooth.
Making the craquelin: Mix butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt together in a large bowl using your hands.
Place dough between two sheets of waxed paper or inside a zip-top bag. Press or roll dough pretty thin, less than 1/4-inch thickness.
Freeze crust until ready to use.
Making the dough: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat.
Dump the flour in all at once.
Stir quickly with a wooden spoon until the dough naturally balls up, smells like mashed potatoes, and leaves a skim of dough stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Remove dough from the pot and place in bowl of stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment. Start the mixer on medium-low to cool off the dough for a couple minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, until it comes together in a smooth paste. Scrape down the bowl after each egg.
The final dough will have a slight sheen and should form a V-shape when you pull up the beater. It will be thick enough to hold its shape, but thin enough to pipe easily.
Piping the dough: Fit a piping bag with a large round tip and pipe the dough into quarter-sized mounds. Try to lift your piping bag up slightly as you’re piping to give some height to the puffs. Also, try not to move around the tip too much for a consistent shape.
If there are any points sticking up, (there usually are) wet your finger and pat/smooth them out.
Placing the craquelin: Take out your craquelin and cut out circles using a 1-1/4 inch circle cutter or any cutter that is about the same size as your piped dough. The dough should be very stiff and not flex on you.
Gently place each craquelin circle on top of each piped dough mound.
Baking the puffs: Place the sheets into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. If baking two trays at once, quickly rotate the trays from top to bottom and back to front. They may deflate a touch, but don’t worry, they will puff again as they continue to bake.
Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or just until they start to turn golden-brown. Open one of them and make sure it is not too wet inside. If so, continue to bake.
Once they are no longer wet, prop the door open with a wooden spoon and continue to bake for about 5 more minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before filling. They can be made ahead and frozen for up to a couple of weeks.
Making the caramel: While waiting for the puffs to cool, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Don’t touch, move, or stir the mixture until it starts showing color (even then you don’t need to).
When it turns a medium amber color, take off the stove right away. Set aside on a heatproof surface to use – I just use a stack of newspapers.
Filling the cream puffs: In the meantime, take the pastry cream out and whisk it up to smooth it out again.
Using a piping bag fitted with a small tip, stick the tip into each cream puff and pipe the cream in until you feel a little resistance and it puffs up a bit. Wipe away any excess cream that oozes out.
Forming the tower: Either using a special croquembouche mold or a DIY cone made out of poster board and parchment paper (see Instagram story highlight for more details), place on a plate or cake board.
Start carefully dipping the bottom of the puffs into the caramel. Start sticking the puffs one by one to the cone – go row by row. Work your way up to the top. (See Instagram story highlight for more details and visual reference)
If the caramel turns too stiff, put it back on the stove and warm it up briefly on low heat. Be patient – if you try to raise up the heat to go faster, the caramel will cook even further and turn darker and more bitter.
Optional: stick in edible flowers or fruit into any spaces or holes left in the cone.
Wrapping the tower in sugar: The caramel for this stage should be stiffer than caramel used for dipping the puffs.
When you draw your fork through the caramel, there should be a little resistance and firmness. As you pull the fork away, strands will start to stretch out and pull away – this is what you want.
If it’s too liquidy, wait a little bit for the caramel to stiffen up just as is. If it’s too solid, warm it back up on the stove very briefly on low.
Experiment and listen to your senses.
When it’s at the desired texture, draw your fork through the caramel and pull/wrap the strands around the cream puff tower. Repeat until you get your desired look.
Decorate further if you’d like. Serve as soon as possible – don’t try to serve it the next day. The caramel gradually softens which threatens the structural integrity of the tower.