There are recipes you make on a whim; this is not one of them. While making croquembouche seems pastry chef level, I can assure you a degree from Le Cordon Bleu is quite unnecessary. This impressive pastry dessert is rather achievable and plenty of tools to facilitate is further exist.
You can use a styrofoam cone to stick you buns on, of duct tape a silicone baking mat for the occasion. The thing is: be prepared. There are three separate components which come together at assembly. The pastry cream, which needs to be chilled before use. The choux bums, which need a second stint in the oven to dry them out. And there's the burnt sugar caramel which you need to proceed with extreme caution to glue the lot together.
For the choux:
1 ½ cups water
¾ cup butter
1 cup + 1 Tbsp flour
5 large eggs
For the crème patissiere:
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
For the caramel:
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup water
Make the pastry cream ahead as it needs to be cold at time of use.
Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan.
Whisk together milk and egg yolks in a glass measuring cup; add to saucepan along with butter and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Let boil 1 minute, still whisking; then remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Strain pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface of cream to prevent skin from forming.
Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Just before using, whisk until smooth.
Make the choux buns day of assembly. Preheat oven to 425F.
In a large saucepan, heat the water and butter until the butter is melted completely. Add the flour in one go and beat vigorously into a firm paste. Remove from the fire and let cool for about three minutes so the eggs will not curdle when added. You can transfer to a mixer bowl at this stage.
Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, beating until each egg has been incorporated before adding the next egg. Note that the batter will split but continue beating vigorously until a smooth paste is formed.
Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a plain nozzle about 1 cm diameter. Pipe about 75 choux each about 2cm in diameter, leaving sufficient space for spreading and rising. Use about 3 baking sheets. Dip a finger in cold water and flatten the peaks of each chou.
Bake for about 20 minutes until risen and golden, rotating sheets half way.
Remove from the oven and pierce each chou at the base. This will serve to let the steam escape and to later fill the choux with cream. Return the pierced choux to the oven for 3 minutes to dry out. Remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.
When the choux are completely cooled, fill them with the chilled pastry cream using a piping bag. Make the caramel to assemble the filled buns. Be very careful as melted sugar is very hot and sticky and may cause burns.
To make the caramel, dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. Once dissolved, crank up the heat to bring to a boil. Continue to boil until color starts to turn to a light brown.
Working quickly, take the caramel off heat, dip the bottom of a filled chou in it and stick on your prepared cone (watch your fingers!). You must work quickly as the caramel will seize as it cools. Continue dipping and sticking the choux until the cone is constructed. You might need to reheat the caramel a couple of times to get a dipping consistency.
When your cone is constructed, take a fork and dip the tips in the caramel. With a swishing back and forth movement, swish caramel strands over the cone. Decorate with flowers if desired.
Best made and served within a couple of hours. The choux lose their crisp and become soggy after a while.
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