You will need:
Approx 100 cream puffs (double recipe pate choux)
1 recipe caramel
Approx 4 1/2 cups creme patissiere (double recipe)
15″x 5″ Foam cone from a craft store like Joann’s
Flat head pins
Serving tray or 12″ cake board
A truncated whisk or fork (you can make your own truncated whisk by taking an old metal whisk and clipping off the ends before they curve)
1. Prepare your foam cone. I have tried building the tower inside of a cone, building it on the outside of a foam cone and building it without any mold at all and have decided that building it on the outside of a foam cone works best for me. You need to wrap it with parchment paper. I have tried white glue, hot glue, masking tape, electrical tape and double-sided adhesive and none of these work to adhere parchment paper to foam. So I use small flat-head sewing pins to completely cover the foam cone. If you are uncomfortable with the pins touching the cream puffs then you can paint them with edible glue. This did not worry me as I only needed three pins to hold the whole thing together. You can attach the cone to a cake board with white glue or later use some caramel to adhere it to your serving platter.
2. Make your cream puffs according to your favorite recipe. You can make them a day ahead of time and store them in an airtight container. On the day of assembly pop them in a 300F oven for about 5-8 minutes to re-crisp them.
3. You can also make your creme patisserie 1-2 days ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator.
4. On the day of assembly:
a. Once you have re-crisped your cream puffs and let them cool again fill them all with the creme patissiere.
b. While you are filling your cream puffs start your caramel. Bring your sugar, water and corn syrup to a gentle boil over medium heat and continue to simmer until it reaches a medium amber color (darker than honey but not as dark as molasses). This will take about 10-15 minutes. Once it has reached the correct color take it off the heat and let it sit for about 1-2 minutes until it is as thick as maple syrup.
c. At this point your parchment -covered foam cone should be ready to go on your serving platter or cake board. Cover your counter with more parchment paper to make clean up easier later.
d. Working quickly (but carefully so as not to burn your fingers) take one filled cream puff at a time and briskly dip the bottom into the caramel and start attaching around the base of the cone. The caramel will harden quickly and secure your cream puffs so you don’t have to worry about them falling off. If your caramel gets hard heat it up again for a few minutes. I was able to attach all of them without reheating the caramel so it should not be a problem. Keep building on top of each other until the top– making sure to position them with the bottoms of the cream puffs parallel to the serving platter whenever possible (as opposed to lying against the cone). If you’ve dipped the bottoms of the cream puffs they should attach both to the cream puffs beneath them and to the parchment cone easily as well as drip a little over the sides which is delicious.
e. By the time you are done attaching all the cream puffs the caramel should have cooled to the right temperature to create your spun sugar encasement. Test it by taking your truncated whisk and dipping it in the caramel then give it a few twirls over your parchment-lined counter. It should create golden threads. Dip your whisk several time and twirl it around your cream puff tower. Go slowly to stretch the strands around the tower. Keep doing this to your heart’s content or until your caramel becomes too thick. I found out the sad way that these threads are so fine they won’t hold up under a warm, humid environment ( they will dissolve) so prep your house for your special occasion by cooling it down prior to spinning your sugar. It is ideal to prepare your croquembouche no earlier than a couple of hours prior to presentation. You can also attach other decorations such as small bows or pearlized sugar for extra color.