Croquembouche is a word that conjures fear in the hearts of many. I've never understood why. Choux pastry is the easiest pastry to make, and toffee is not exactly the most challenging thing to make. Spun sugar can take some getting used to, but it's definitely achievable.
It seems to have stemmed from that MasterChef episode in Series 1 where Adriano Zumbo brought one for the pressure test. Everyone freaked out and it's since been viewed as the penultimate challenge. Many challenges since have been much more difficult, but still everyone dreads the mighty croquembouche.
It's really quite simple. If you've never tried one before, here's a mini version to help you ease your way into it.
The first step, of course, is to make your mini-profiteroles. I find the easiest (and quickest) way to do this is to pipe little dots, release the pressure on the piping bag and quickly draw up the bag to break away from the pastry. You'll end up with little peaks on your pastry but this is easily remedied; just use a wet finger to flatten the peak. Alternatively, you can use a wet knife to cut the dough away from the piping bag as you go, but I find doing this slow and cumbersome.
Once they're baked you'll end up with these cute mini profiteroles that will want to roll all over the place.
The cupcakes themselves are one of my favourite recipes: almond buttercake. If you don't like almond, you could use any of your favourite cupcakes recipes. I just can't get enough of these. The mini profiteroles are a bit too tiny to fill with custard. More to the point, I did not have the patience to fill hundreds of the things. So I decided to fill the cupcakes instead.
Using a serrated knife, hold it at a 45° angle and cut in a circular motion, leaving about a 1cm border.
Once you've completed the circle, flip out the little dome of cupcake and set it to the side.
Fill the cupcake with vanilla custard…
… and pop the cone upside down on the cupcake. This has the dual purpose of providing a structure to support your mini-croquembouche.
Add your profiteroles, some spun sugar and you're done!
I added a couple of flowers from the garden for decoration. You can add anything you want, or nothing at all.
If the thought of spinning sugar, or even filling the cupcakes intimidates you, here's an alternate version. For these I just topped the cupcakes with custard and assembled a tower of profiteroles. Then I drizzled with a little toffee. You'll probably find if you do it this way you'll inadvertantly end up with a little spun sugar from it sticking to the spoon.
Here's for a little cross-section.
The cupcakes will keep for a while, but the toffee will soon soften. If you spin sugar, it will dissolve in a matter of hours, so best to do this right before serving.
¾ cup (180ml) water
¾ cup (105g) plain flour
2 eggs, beaten lightly
150g butter, softened
½ teaspoon almond essence
2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar
1/3 cup (50g) self raising flour
½ cup (75g) plain flour
½ cup (60g) almond meal
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
½ cup (125ml) water
Blend dry ingredients in a medium saucepan with 1/4 cup of milk. Ensure no lumps remain, then add the rest of the milk and the vanilla. Stir over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens; stir in egg yolks and butter until smooth and well incorporated.
Combine sugar with water. Stir over heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil without stirring. Remove from heat when toffee reaches desired colour. Wait for bubbles to subside before using.
You'll find the printable version of this recipe here.