Homemade Croquembouche Recipe for Beginners

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Croquembouche—it’s a term that might send a shiver down the spine of many a contestant on the Great British Baking Show. A seemingly hard-to-pronounce word that simply means “cream puffs arranged in a pile.” But is it as daunting as it sounds?

Well, if you’re adept at making choux pastries, also known as cream puffs, you’re well-prepared to craft an elegant croquembouche. Contrary to its intimidating facade, constructing a croquembouche is surprisingly manageable. In fact, this croquembouche marked my first-ever endeavor at whipping up one on my own. Was it flawless? Far from it! However, since this dessert is meant to be dismantled and savored, its overall aesthetics didn’t play a pivotal role. If you’ve never tackled choux pastry before, it’s the foundation for delights such as eclairs and cheese puffs, characterized by its ability to puff up in the oven and become airy rather than dense.

croquembouche with glitter

The most challenging aspect of creating a croquembouche is the assembly. Yet, with a robust caramel and a stable base, its structural integrity is almost guaranteed to withstand any precariousness. For this classic rendition, I opted to fill the cream puffs with a homemade custard, which undeniably became the star attraction of our gathering—even though most of my friends, who are not big foodies like me, were initially clueless about what a croquembouche was!

Here’s What You Need

  • Whole milk: Adds creaminess and moisture to choux pastry and custard.
  • Unsalted butter: Provides richness and helps in achieving the right texture in pastry and custard.
  • Sugar: Sweetens the choux pastry and custard filling; crucial for caramel.
  • Salt: Enhances the flavors of the pastry subtly.
  • Flour: Provides structure to both choux pastry and custard.
  • Eggs: Acts as a leavening agent in choux pastry; thickens custard.
  • Water: Needed for the dough’s consistency and helps in sugar dissolving for caramel.
  • Egg yolks: Key for thickening and enriching the custard.
  • Vanilla extract: Adds a classic, aromatic flavor to the custard.
  • Light corn syrup: Prevents crystallization in caramel, ensuring smoothness.
croquembouche with caramel

Let’s Cook

Before you dive into the world of croquembouche, you’ll need to start with the basics—making the choux pastry. It’s simpler than it sounds! Begin by lining your baking sheet with parchment and preheating your oven to 425°F. Combine your milk, water, butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a pot over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer and make sure everything is beautifully melted together.

Next, add your flour all at once—it’s dramatic, but that’s how you do it! Stir vigorously until a dough forms, pulling away from the sides and forming a single mass. Take it off the heat and let it cool slightly before beating in the eggs one at a time until you achieve a glossy, firm batter.

Baking and Assembling

Scoop your pastry dough into a piping bag and pipe out small, even balls onto your prepared sheet. Remember, don’t move the piping tip—let the dough pile up into a neat round puff. Smooth out any peaks with a damp finger for the perfect shape. Bake until golden, then make a small hole in each to release steam and ensure they stay crisp.

Creating the Custard Filling

For the filling, heat milk, butter, and vanilla just to a simmer, ensuring not to boil. Whisk egg yolks and sugar until light—this is your moment to make everything smooth and lovely. Gradually temper your yolks with the hot milk mixture then cook it all together until thick and luscious. Chill your custard directly covered with plastic wrap to avoid any skin forming.

The Grand Assembly

When you’re ready to build your masterpiece, start by making your caramel. Simply heat sugar and corn syrup without stirring, to the hard crack stage. Dip each filled puff in caramel to form a base, then keep stacking. Be quick but careful—the caramel is hot but needs to be workable.

Essential Tips for Perfecting Your Croquembouche

  • Piping Consistency: Ensuring your choux pastry is the right consistency is key. If the batter is too stiff, the puffs won’t puff. If it’s too runny, they won’t hold their shape. Aim for something that holds a soft peak.
  • Custard Thickness: When making your custard, cook it until it’s just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Overcooking can lead to a scrambled mess, while undercooking won’t hold up in your puffs.
  • Caramel Caution: The caramel can be tricky—it needs to be hot enough to hold the puffs together but cool enough not to melt the custard inside. If it gets too thick, gently reheat it, but watch it doesn’t burn.
  • Assembling with Ease: Assemble your croquembouche on a base that you can move. This makes it easier to transport and present without risking your structure.
  • Serving Suggestions: Serve your croquembouche the same day to avoid soggy puffs. It’s best enjoyed fresh, with the crisp textures contrasting beautifully with the creamy custard inside.
puff pastry tower gbbo

Tackling a croquembouche might seem like a challenge reserved for seasoned bakers, but with a bit of patience and the right technique, it’s entirely within reach. Making the individual components in stages simplifies the process, turning what could be an overwhelming project into an enjoyable experience. Whether you’re looking to impress at a party or just want to try something new in the kitchen, this recipe offers both fun in preparation and satisfaction in its completion. As long as you keep an eye on your caramel and ensure your puffs are light and airy, you’ll end up with a dessert that not only looks impressive but tastes fantastic too. It’s all about bringing joy and a bit of drama to the table with a tower of sweet delight.

caramel croquembouche

Elegant Croquembouche

The Starving Chef
This croquembouche combines airy choux pastries with a rich custard filling, all held together by a sweet caramel glaze.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 6 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 day 7 hours
Course Dessert
Cuisine Fancy Food, Finger Food, French
Servings 24 puffs



  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 6 eggs room temperature
  • ½ cup water


  • 6 yolks
  • ½ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla



A day ahead of time, make the choux pastries.

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • In a medium sauce pot, warm the milk, sugar, salt, and ½ cup of water. Add the butter and stir until the butter has completely melted.
  • Add all the flour at once and stir vigorously until a thick batter forms. Stir until it creates a single ball of dough and leaves a film residue on the pot, about 3 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer (if using) or a medium-sized bowl. Let it rest for 5 minutes or until no longer heavily steaming.
  • Beat in 5 of the eggs, one at a time, until a smooth batter forms. Ensure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. The final batter should be glossy and hold its shape for a few seconds.
  • Scoop the batter into a piping bag or a gallon-sized baggie and snip off the corner. Pipe small round balls of dough onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. To create a perfect circle, just squeeze the bag without moving the tip and let the dough pile up on itself. Use a wet fingertip to smooth any harsh tips or peaks.
  • Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush it across the tops of the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the pastries from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 350°F.
  • While the oven cools, use a knife to cut a small hole in the bottom of the pastries. Place back onto the baking sheet and continue to bake for another 5 minutes, until the pastries are golden brown and produce a hollow sound when tapped gently. Cool completely.
  • If not using the puffs immediately, store in an airtight container and chill until ready to fill.

Several hours before assembling the tower, make the custard filling.

  • Bring the milk, butter, and vanilla to a simmer in a small pot.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with sugar until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Slowly pour about a ¼ cup of the milk mixture into the eggs, while stirring constantly to temper the eggs.
  • Transfer the egg and milk mixture back to the pot on the stove and whisk constantly until the mixture is yellow and thick, holding its shape for a few seconds when the whisk is removed. Optionally, strain the custard through a sieve for extra smooth custard.
  • Pour the custard into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the wrap is in direct contact with the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours.
  • Transfer the chilled custard to a pastry bag with a piping tip. Gently pipe the custard into the pre-made choux pastries. Chill the filled puffs until ready to assemble the tower.

When ready to assemble the croquembouche, prepare the caramel.

  • Add the sugar and corn syrup to a pot over medium-high heat. Do not stir. Just gently wipe down the sides with a wet pastry brush and swirl the melting sugar until it reaches the "hard crack" stage on a candy thermometer, about 295°F to 305°F.
  • Remove the caramel from the heat and place the pot into a bowl of ice water for about 2-3 minutes to cool the caramel slightly.
  • Working quickly—and carefully—dab the tops of each cream puff in the caramel to make a caramel topping. Let the caramel cool completely on each pastry. If needed, reheat the caramel sauce as needed, to keep it workable and not harden.
  • Prepare the serving dish by lining it with parchment paper. Working quickly, dip the edge of each of the largest cream puffs into the caramel and then arrange in a circle to create the base of the croquembouche. Continue with a second layer once the first one has started to harden. Continue to stack the cream puffs until the tower reaches your desired height.
  • Spread any remaning caramel in a fun pattern on a bit of parchment and let cool. You can then use this piece as the 'top accent' of the croquembouche. Decorate with edible glitter or let out your inner Great Bristish Baking Show contestant and continue to work with the caramel to make caramel floss decorations.
  • Serve the croquembouche as soon as you have it assembled. The cream puffs will start to get soggy after a few hours, so it's best to serve it right away. Enjoy!
Keyword caramel, choux, custard
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