A croquembouche (kroke-em-boosh) is a tower of profiteroles (cream puffs) stuck together with a thin layer of crisp caramel, which gives the dessert its name, “crocque em bouche” or “crunches in the mouth.” This dramatic pile of puffs is typically served at weddings, but I’ve taken liberties and find it a worthy dessert for any big occasion.
A Christmas Croquembouche seems like the perfect way to celebrate this holiday season. The puffs are made of choux paste and are filled with mango pastry cream, which isn’t a flavor you might think of for a Christmas dessert, but it is such a wonderful contrast to the sweet of the caramel. When you break into the cream puffs you’ll find the rich, creamy golden filling.
Pâte à choux translates from French to mean “cabbage” in English. It is a far less romantic word, so we stick to the French. The truth is the puffs look just like little cabbages when piped and baked. Pâte à choux is the dough used for cream puffs (profiteroles) and eclairs. It is rich with butter and lots of eggs but made light when those eggs expand in the oven and create hollow cavities, which are meant to be filled with anything from lobster to ice cream. I pretty much only think in terms of sweets, so I’ve gone with the latter. The ice cream is made with sour cream and lemon, so it is tangy and refreshing. I top it with glossy chocolate ganache and call it classically perfect.
“Lightning!” That’s the literal translation from French I got when I put éclair into google translate. I’ve read a couple of explanations for this name, but only one makes any sense to me. “They disappear in a flash, quicker than a bolt of lightning.” This is the absolute truth. Eclairs are a formula for deliciousness.
Starting with delicate pâte à choux (which has a rather indelicate translation of “paste of cabbage.” Representative of the cabbage shape, when piped into a profiterole (cream puff) and baked, not at all indicative of its lovely, buttery, rich flavor and light texture). The choux is piped into the shape of a small log. Once baked and cooled the log is filled with Crème pâtissière, “pastry cream,” which is simply custard that is thickened with both eggs and a starch, usually corn starch and flavored in this case with vanilla and white chocolate.
The custard-filled pastry is traditionally decorated with fondant, the shiny poured variety, not the rolled one we use for cakes. I find poured fondant, which translates as “melting,” (probably because it melts in your mouth or melts away your teeth with its sugary cloying-ness), much too sweet, so I use ganache.
Ganache is a smooth mixture of chocolate and something else (cream, butter, coffee, water, booze, crème fraîche and/or anything else you can think of). There is no translation for ganache, but it stems from the word “jowl,” which I can’t even begin to ponder.
I hope you all know that despite my very French name, Zoë François, meaning “Life Frenchman,” I don’t speak the language at all and therefore I will most likely be corrected by my French-speaking readers. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. Despite the odd names of all these things, they are quite sensational and will be consumed at lightning speed.
It is my birthday and I decided to make myself something fun to celebrate. Now that I am squarely in my 40s I find it especially important to make this occasion a special one. I was in the mood to play with sugar. It has been years, many years, since I have worked in the restaurant world and had the opportunity and excuse to do over-the-top fanciful things with sugar. It is more the act of creating these wisps of golden caramel that thrills me, even more than eating them. To sit on top this ethereal nest I decided I needed something creamy and decadent; cream puffs filled with pastry cream in three flavors. I set these cream puffs on a sugar nest.