In the patisserie world, there are few things more impressive than a croquembouche: a tower of choux buns filled with sweet cream and held together with glistening caramel. They’re fun to build, albeit with a hint of danger owing to the molten sugar. This is a mini-version of the great towers of croquembouche that you may have seen at weddings – although it will still take the best part of an afternoon to make.
If you’re planning to make this for a party, all the individual elements apart from the caramel can be made a day or two in advance. It’s best, however, to fill the choux and build the tower no more than a few hours before you plan to serve.
Prep 50 min
Cool 1 hr
Cook 1 hr 15 min
Serves 6-9 (makes 30-35 choux buns)
For the apricot puree
8 apricots (about 350g)
80g caster sugar
For the choux
100g unsalted butter
200ml semi-skimmed milk
2 pinches table salt
130g strong flour, sifted
3-4 large eggs, beaten
For the cream
300ml double cream
60g icing sugar
For the sesame brittle
50g sesame seeds
225g granulated or caster sugar
Edible flowers (I used nasturtiums, violas), to decorate
To make the choux, melt the butter in the milk in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Sift in the flour and salt, then stir together with a wooden spoon to form a stiff dough. Turn up the heat to medium and continue to stir the dough for another three minutes. You will probably find a thin layer of the mix will stick to the bottom of the pan: this is normal, so don’t try to scrape it back into the dough.
Once the three minutes have passed, tip the dough into a large mixing bowl and leave it to cool. If you have a stand mixer, you can speed up the cooling process by attaching a paddle beater and leaving the machine on its lowest speed setting. When the dough has cooled to just-warm, start adding the beaten egg a little at a time, ensuring it’s fully mixed in before adding more. You want a smooth paste consistency – something that holds its shape but is pipeable (a bit like toothpaste). You should need three eggs to achieve this, but you might need a little more or less. Take care not to over-egg the mixture – a slightly stiffer choux is better than an overly liquid one.
Heat the oven to 210C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Transfer the choux to a piping bag fitted with a plain 1cm nozzle, and pipe rounds the size of milk-bottle tops on to a couple of baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper. Dip a finger in water and flatten off the pointed top of each piped choux. Sprinkle a little water over each tray (but not on the buns) and bake for 18-20 minutes. Once the choux are baked, poke a hole in the bottom of each one with a chopstick to allow the steam to escape.
Pour the sesame seeds on to a metal tray and bake for four minutes, until toasted light brown. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, make the apricot puree. Stone and quarter the apricots, add to a saucepan with the honey and sugar, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent any of the fruit scorching on the base of the pan.
Once the choux has cooled, whisk the cream and sugar to soft peaks with an electric whisk. Stir through the apricot puree, then transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle. Fill the choux buns.
To make the sesame brittle, dissolve the sugar in 60ml water in a small saucepan. Boil this sugar syrup until it turns hazelnut brown. Turn off the heat and stir through the sesame seeds.
Assemble the croquembouche by dipping each choux bun into the sesame caramel and then arranging on a display plate or stand. The base should be a ring of six or seven choux buns (a circle of 12cm diameter with the centre of each bun lying on the circle). Continue to pile the buns on top of each other until you have created a hollow cone roughly 25cm tall. Decorate with the edible* flowers.
* Before you decorate… Some flowers are toxic, so check they’re edible at rhs.org.uk