Since I’m a bit tired of doing Christmas party makeup ideas and gift guides I decided as I’m the dessert boss in my family I would share the recipe for the dessert I’m made for Christmas last year. It always seems a bit weird to have things like Christmas pudding in our climate (and honestly who actually likes Christmas pudding?). Trifle is a bit overdone – we have it every Christmas – so I picked something totally different, better suited to summer, but special enough for an occasion like Christmas, a croquembouche.
It is a bit of a fiddle and time consuming to make, but then preparing food for Christmas is worthy of extra effort. Choux puffs filled with vanilla pastry cream, dipped in chocolate, assembled in a pyramid and decorated with stars makes for a delicious end to Christmas dinner. Here goes…
For the choux puffs:
- 115 g butter
- 250 ml water
- 120 g flour
- 1/2 t salt
- 4 free-range eggs
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Melt the butter in the water in a saucepan over a medium heat, then bring to the boil and remove from the heat immediately. Sift the flour and salt together and add to the boiling water.
Using a wooden spoon, stir to form a thick paste. Return to the heat and stir for 1 minute, or until the paste comes away from the sides of the saucepan.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm. Stir in 1 egg at a time – the mixture will look as if it has split, but continue mixing and it will come together again.
Using a teaspoon or piping bag, spoon or pipe the mixture onto a greased baking tray, in the shape of profiteroles then sprinkle with water. Bake for 10 minutes or until puffed up, then reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 15 minutes.
Allow to cool. You can make these ahead of time and freeze them. They are very quick to defrost on the day while you are making your pastry cream and before assembling the croquembouche. Poke a hole into each puff when they come out of the oven. You will need this later on for filling them with pastry cream.
For the pastry cream filling:
1 1/2 cups whole milk, heavy cream, or a mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla (either Woolies vanilla paste or fresh vanilla pods cut lengthwise and the seeds scraped out, discard the pods)
How to make
- Warm the milk in the saucepan until you start to see wisps of steam. It should not actually be boiling.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the egg yolks and whisk them into the dry ingredients. This will form a thick paste. It’s fine if the paste looks crumbly or smooth; the important thing is that the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Pour a little of the hot milk into the eggs and whisk to combine. Continue pouring the milk slowly into the eggs, whisking continuously. It’s OK to switch back and forth between pouring milk and whisking if you can’t manage both at the same time.
- When all the milk has been added to the eggs, pour everything back into the saucepan.
- Set the pan back over medium heat. Whisk constantly. At first, the pastry cream will look very thin and frothy, but it will start to thicken after a few minutes. When it has thickened to a pudding-like consistency, pause whisking every few seconds to see if the cream has come to a boil. If you see large bubbles popping on the surface, whisk for a few more seconds and then remove the pan from heat.
- Stir the vanilla into the pastry cream
- Cover the pastry cream with a piece of plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface of the cream and chill completely.
To assemble the croquembouche just fill your choux puffs with pastry cream (use a piping bag) and then dip in melted chocolate and start building them into a tower. Once you have a conical shaped tower you can drizzle with melted chocolate and add some star sprinkles. Gold edible glitter or food spray gives it a festive golden shine or twinkle. I found some at Woolies, a limited range for Christmas, but any baking shop will have. Or just use your imagination!