Jackie Joseph, winner of Food Network’s 2021 Best Baker in America series, walks us through a formidable baking achievement: the perfect croquembouche. This tower of cream-filled pâte à choux pastries held together with caramel and adorned with spun sugar is just one of the eye-catching desserts she offers at her custom-order dessert business JJBakes and Co., located inside the Omni Louisville hotel.
While it looks like a showstopper, Joseph says the process is actually very forgiving. “It’s pretty rustic underneath so it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. Meaning, no matter how your pastry turns out, you can build it into something genuinely surprising
Jackie Joseph’s Croquembouche
Serves 8 to 10
Note: Be sure to start the pastry cream the day before you plan to make the rest of the croquembouche.
For the blackberry pastry cream:
- 1½ pounds fresh blackberries
- 7 tablespoons (84 grams) sugar, divided
- 5 tablespoons (36 grams) cornstarch
- 1 egg
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the choux pastry:
- 2/3 cup (150 grams) whole milk
- 4 teaspoons (5 grams) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (270 grams) unsalted butter
- 1¾ cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
- 6 large eggs (360 grams)
- Non-stick cooking spray
For the caramel:
- 2½ cups (500 grams) sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
Garnish suggestions: Fresh fruit, baked piped meringues, sprinkles, edible flowers, edible gold
1. Make the blackberry pastry cream Place blackberries into a blender and puree until almost liquefied. (Do not overblend as the seeds make the juice bitter if pulverized.) Pour through a fine-mesh strainer set over a liquid measuring cup. Press on solids with a rubber spatula to extract liquid. Discard solids. Measure 2 cups of puree.
2. In a small bowl, whisk ½ tablespoon of the sugar with cornstarch. In a medium bowl, whisk egg until well combined. Fill a large bowl with ice water
3. In a medium saucepan, heat the blackberry puree, lime juice, and remaining sugar over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until warm and steaming but not boiling. Whisk the sugar-cornstarch mixture into the egg by hand until light and fluffy. While whisking, pour about a third of the hot blackberry mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until well incorporated. Add another third of the blackberry mixture and whisk well. Add remaining blackberry mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
4. Transfer mixture back to saucepan over medium heat and whisk constantly until it begins to slowly bubble. Once bubbling, whisk vigorously for 2 minutes to cook out the starch. Remove saucepan from heat and pass mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl to remove any cooked egg bits. Whisk in butter and vanilla, a little at a time. Cover entire surface with a sheet of plastic wrap. Place bowl in ice bath and allow cream to cool before placing in refrigerator overnight.
5. Make the choux pastry: In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter with ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 grams) water and bring just to a bubbling boil over high heat. Add flour all at once and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture forms a cohesive dough and pulls away from sides of pan. Continue to stir and cook dough until a slight caramelization forms on bottom of pan.
6. Transfer dough to bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and mix on low speed until dough has cooled slightly. (You want to cool the dough down so that the heat does not cook the eggs when added. The sides of the bowl should be warm, not hot.) Once slightly cooled, add eggs one at a time, scraping sides of bowl and paddle in between additions to obtain a smooth, consistent dough. Transfer to a clean bowl. At this point, you can pipe it right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two sheet pans with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. Transfer choux dough into a piping bag fitted with 5/8-inch round tip. Hold the piping bag at a 45-degree angle with the tip nearly touching the parchment paper and pipe ping-pong-sized balls of dough, pulling the tip up and counterclockwise when the puffs are large enough. (They don’t have to be uniform; some might be larger or smaller, which will help when assembling.) Pipe puffs about 4 to 5 inches apart; they will expand while baking. Once all puffs have been piped, wipe your finger with water and gently press in the points of dough where you stopped piping.
8. Spray a light coating of cooking spray over surface of puffs. Bake immediately until lightly golden brown, about 25 minutes. Set puffs aside to cool completely before filling.
9. When ready to fill puffs, stir cream with a rubber spatula or whisk to loosen. Transfer pastry cream to a piping bag fitted with small round piping tip. Make a small hole in the bottom of each cooled cream puff and fill completely with cream.
10. Make caramel and assemble: Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, corn syrup, and ½ cup (118 grams) water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Once the mixture starts to boil, stop stirring and wash sides of pan down with a damp pastry brush to stop crystallization. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until caramel is a light amber color. Set bottom of saucepan in ice water briefly to stop the cooking process.
11. Prepare a silicone mat or greased baking sheet. Carefully dip the top of a filled puff into the caramel and set on mat caramel-side up. Repeat with all puffs. Set aside until caramel sets. (If caramel becomes hard before all puffs have been dipped, reheat over medium-low to loosen.)
12. Use the largest puffs for the bottom layer of your croquembouche. Working quickly, dip side of puff into caramel and place on serving surface. Repeat with enough puffs to create a circle, then fill the circle in, ensuring all puffs stick together to make a strong foundation. Pick out the next largest puffs and repeat the process with a second layer. Repeat, making a smaller layer each time to form a cone shape.
At the very top, finish the croquembouche with one single puff, caramel-side facing upward. Once puffs are assembled, allow caramel in saucepan to cool until it can form a thread when you lift it from the saucepan with a fork. Dip fork into caramel and quickly circle over and around the croquembouche.
Adorn the pastry tower with fresh fruit, baked piped meringues, sprinkles, edible flowers, or edible gold.
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