Tuesday was Trevor’s 26th birthday. To celebrate, we made a croquembouche, partly because croquembouche is fun to say, partly because it’s elaborate and over-the-top and oh-so-French, all things that Trevor likes, and partly because peanut-butter pastry cream stuffed cream puffs stacked in a tower and stuck together with caramel sauce is a really delicious prospect. It really wasn’t so hard – pate a choux is easy to make (and it’s extremely satisfying to watch the dough puff up in the oven) and pastry cream is simple as long as you are attentive and patient while tempering your eggs. The assembly is a bit tedious, but I’d recommend getting a birthday boyfriend with extreme attention to detail (and no regard for his fingertips / high willingness to touch hot caramel) to do that for you.
Trevor, I am so happy that we have spent our last 7 birthdays together. I can’t think of anyone else that I’d rather celebrate. I love you and I think this year will bring even more great things for us – our first house (!!), more travels, and who knows what other goodness. I’m keeping this short and sweet since, as per usual, I have to get on another plane, but really. I love you. Happy Birthday. Rock on.
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Peanut Butter Croquembouche
For the pastry cream:
- 1/2 c. granulated sugar
- 1/4 c. cake flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 1/2 c. whole milk
- 1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 c. heavy cream
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt until evenly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the sugar mixture to the eggs a bit a time, whisking until smooth between additions. When you have finished adding the sugar mixture, the eggs should be pale yellow and smooth.
- Heat the milk over medium heat in a medium saucepan, just until small bubbles begin to appear at the edges of the pan. Do not bring the milk to a boil. Remove the milk from the heat and very slowly drizzle the milk into the eggs, whisking the eggs vigorously as you do so. Pour the tempered custard back into the saucepan and return to medium-low heat. Cook the custard until thickened, about 3-5 minutes, whisking vigorously the whole time. Remove the custard from the heat. Immediately stir in the peanut butter until it is melted, then whisk in the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream, and refrigerate until fully chilled, at least 2 hours.
- Just before filling the cream puffs, whip the heavy cream into soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream until it is evenly mixed.
For the cream puffs:
- 1 stick salted butter
- 1 c. water
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 c. flour
- 4 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the butter, water, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as it boils, remove from the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously to incorporate. Stir until the flour is fully incorporated, then return the pot to the heat and cook for 60-90 seconds, beating hard the whole time, until the water has evaporated from the dough to the point that the dough leaves a thin film on the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and transfer the dough to a bowl.
- Beat the egg yolks into the dough one at a time, thoroughly mixing between additions. When you have added the last egg yolk, the dough should be smooth and shiny, and drip slowly from the spoon when lifted out of the bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a tablespoon to scoop rounds of dough onto the parchment paper, leaving at least 2 inches between them. Use your finger to flatten any points as they will burn. Alternatively, you can spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip and pipe rounds onto the baking trays, but I found this more difficult than simply scooping them.
- Bake the cream puffs for 15 minutes at 425°F, then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for another 20 minutes, until puffed up and lightly browned all over. Remove from the oven and let cool on a cooling rack.
- Spoon the pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a medium, straight tip. Fill the cream puffs by inserting the tip of the pastry bag into the bottom of each cream puff (use a knife to cut a small hole if necessary) and filling until the cream puff is heavy and you can’t add any more cream without it coming back out. Set the filled cream puffs aside.
- Prepare a caramel sauce for assembling the croquembouche: pour a thin, even layer of sugar (you will use between ¾ and 1 ½ cups, depending on the size of your pan) into a non-stick frying pan. Heat over medium-low heat (do not stir). When the sugar begins to melt and brown in places, use a spatula to carefully push the melted sugar into the unmelted sugar a bit at a time, until the whole pan is melted. Bring to a medium brown color, then immediately remove from the heat.
- Have a bowl of ice water at the ready in case of burns from the hot caramel. Very carefully dip the bottom and sides of the filled cream puffs into the caramel (or use the spatula to dab it on) and immediately place the cream puffs on a cake stand or other serving vessels (the caramel will harden quickly so move fast). Place the first layer of cream puffs in a circle, using about 6 cream puffs to complete the circle. The second layer should have 5 cream puffs, then 4, etc., until you have used up all the cream puffs and completed the tower. If the caramel hardens while you are assembling, you can gently reheat it until it is molten again. Drizzle any extra caramel on top of the croquembouche. Serve within 4 hours of assembling.