Last weekend, I went to a social at church. We were asked to bring a "dessert for one" wrapped as a gift. I spent about a week debating what to make. I had originally thought I'd make some kind of sponge cake with mousse filling, but I wasn't sure how long something would be sitting out and I didn't want the mousse to melt all over the place. That would have been a disaster! Well, I decided to make a croquembouche, which is a fancy word for cream puffs stacked all pretty like in a pyramid shape and draped with spun sugar.
Don't be intimidated by the picture. This is a very IMPRESSIVE, do-able dessert that makes a statement for parties, or even for intimate dinners. You can make the cream puffs bigger, or smaller, just make sure you keep the sizes consistent otherwise it'll look strange.
I filled the cream puffs with a lemon cream that brought these babies into a whole new dimension. The contrast of the tart with the sweetness of the spun sugar and caramel "glue" is pure perfection. I know you'll enjoy this if you make the recipe.
First, make the lemon cream filling.
Juice 2 small lemons or 1 large. You need 4 Tablespoons lemon juice. Zest the lemons too. You need 1 Tablespoon zest. Set aside.
In a bowl whisk 9 egg yolks, 3/4 cup sugar, the lemon juice, and 1/2 cup flour.
After whisking, pour it through a mesh sieve to remove any lumps or egg particles.
Put 2 cups cream in a saucepan and bring to a scald. Do not let it boil.
While whisking, pour some of the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture. This is called tempering the yolks. If you had added the egg mixture directly to the hot cream, it would have instantly cooked the eggs and made scrambled eggs. Ick. After whisking in some of the cream into the yolk mixture, add the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and put back on a burner and kick up the heat. Whisk constantly while this cooks so it doesn't burn on the bottom. It will start thickening up quickly.
As soon as it's thick, remove from the heat and add 1 Tablespoon butter and the lemon zest. Set the pan in a shallow bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and cool the filing down.
To store, put in an airtight container and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.
For croquembouche, I use my basic cream puff recipe. Pipe small little dollops on a buttered cookie sheet and touch the pointy tips with a wet finger.
Bake at 375* until nice and golden brown. It's safer to overbake these a little so they don't collapse on themselves. We need them to stay firm.
When the cream puffs are baked and cooled, poke the bottom of each puff with a chop stick or any other tool that's similar.
Fill a piping bag with the lemon cream and stick the tip of the piping bag into the bottom and squeeze. Don't overfill.
I made a little cone out of cardstock and wrapped with foil. Since I was taking this somewhere, I needed a disposable base so I cut a piece of cardboard from an old box and wrapped that with foil too. To adhere the cone to the base, dip into the pan of caramel sugar and then press down. It cools quickly so you won't have to hold it down long.
If you're using a plate, use the same method.
For the caramel/sugar for spinning, put in a saucepan:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
Put the pan over medium heat on the stove until the sugar dissolves. Let this cook until a candy thermometer reaches 110*.
Carefully dip part of each filled cream puff into the sugar and start stacking around the cone. There will be some gaps between each puff. That's okay. We'll camoflauge with the spun sugar.
This part is FUN but so messy. Make sure you put a towel down on the floor and put paper under the pans.
I put two saucepans down and sprayed the handles with Pam. Dip a fork into the sugar and drizzle it back and forth from the handles. Do this until you have a good buildup of thin strands of sugar.
This cools almost immediately so you don't have to let it stay for long. Remove from the handles and repeat until you have as much spun sugar as needed.
I put a silpat down on a cookie sheet and poured some of the caramel/sugar to create some designs. Break them apart when they cool and harden.
Carefully wrap the croquembouche with the spun sugar so that it spirals down the cone. Stick pieces of the broken sugar pieces around the cake, and at the top. Serve immediately!