Macaron towers are so last year, and croquembouches are so old school!
I needed something modern for my dessert tables, and we can’t deny the elegance and fun of a good old macaron tower. To be honest, a macarons would’ve sufficed, but macarons and I have a history, and I do everything I can do stay away from them. It started as my very first baking challenge/obsession, and then turned into the most annoying thing to make at work as my career progressed. They’re finicky, time consuming, and I will barf if I have to eat another one.
Cream puffs on the other hand, I can eat forever. They’re light, fluffy, creamy, and dreamy. I will eat the shell plain, or filled with anything from savory to sweet.
Most home cooks think that the only way to serve a cream puff is fresh out of the oven and immediately filled. The problem with this is that the window of which the shells stays crispy after being filled with cream is very short. It’s not an ideal way of serving guests, unless you have a fill to order sort of set up like beard papas.
I’m here to tell you, that is not true! Cream puffs are just as delicious after they lose their crispness. There are other ways to help with the texture such as baking them with a cookie crust and dipping them in chocolate, which is what we did for these cream puff towers.
Cookie crust, aka craquelin (french), aka pai-shu (japanese), is a thin dough placed on top of the pate a choux before baking. Not only does it give it an extra crunch and sweetness, but it also helps form the cream puff into uniform spheres.
Having uniform cream puffs is important in building a cream puff tower. It will help you achieve not only a clean look, but it will also line up the pastries into neat rows, eliminating empty spaces.
Because these take a bit of time, there are parts you can do ahead:
- The craquelin can be made and rolled out into sheets – store in fridge or freezer, making sure there are no fridge/freezer smells that can be transferred into the dough.
- Make pastry cream/filling – store in fridge max 5 days.
- Before your filling expires, make pate a choux dough and bake off with the craquelin. Fill the shells once cooled, and freeze same day. Be sure to use a pastry cream recipe with a thickener other than cornstarch if freezing (recipe below).
- day before event: dip cream puffs in chocolate (optional). Build the towers using toothpicks and buttercream to secure the two cake dummies on top of each other. Angle the toothpicks to hold each cream puff up. Place cream puff on toothpick, avoiding the hole made to fill the puffs. This hole is too big and will cause cream puff to be unstable. Reinforce with buttercream if needed.
- wrap well and store in fridge until the next day, finish with flowers when ready to display.
Here is a photo I found with a few puffs missing, that might help you understand how the cream puffs were secured onto the cake dummies:
Things you will need to build each tower:
6″ x 4″ styrofoam cake dummies (2 for each tower)
flowers for the top (silk or real flower – your choice)
approx. 60 cream puffs – piped 1.5″ wide
Craquelin (Cookie Crust)
- 40 min
- Ready in:
- 40 min
- Mix together all ingredients until well combined
- If rolling out onto half sheets (18" x 13"), portion into 9 equal pieces (220g).
- Place a portioned piece between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to approx 1/16" thick (the thickness of a toothpick).
- Chill until ready to use
- Cut desired shape and place on pate a choux before baking. If dough is hard to move, chill in freezer for a few minutes for easier handling.
Pate a Choux
- 15 min
- 40 min
- Ready in:
- 55 min
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Bring milk, butter, sugar and salt to a boil
- Once boiling, turn off heat and add flour
- Stir until dough forms a ball. Transfer to a mixer with paddle attachment (or you can mix by hand with a study spoon or spatula)
- Paddle for about 2 minutes to let cool
- Add one egg and mix until completely combined
- Add the egg white and continue mixing until the mixture comes together.
- Pipe on a silpat or parchment paper into 1.5-2 inch rounds
- Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you piped these larger than 2", start oven at 400°F and turn down to 350°F to once they start to brown.
Bavarian Cream (vanilla or chocolate)
- 15 min
- Ready in:
- 2 h 15 min
- Heat milk and vanilla extract in a saucepan
- While that's heating, whisk together the yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and AP flour
- Once milk is simmering, temper into yolks.
- Pour milk back into sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, continually stirring
- Place pastry cream in a bowl and wrap with plastic directly on top of cream to prevent skin from forming.
- If making chocolate cream, mix in dark chocolate before wrapping and chilling.
- Chill completely, approx 2 hours
- Whip heavy cream to stiff peaks
- Whisk chilled pastry cream to loosen and break up any lumps
- Fold in whipped cream. Use immediately or store in fridge for up to 5 days. If using as filling, this cream can be frozen once applied for intended use (pipe into cream puffs or layer into cakes before freezing).