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Dec 28, 2011 10:03 AM

Croquembouche in Advance?

Also known as piece montee.

Soo, for my family's annual New Year's Party I was planning on make the elaborate Croquembouche (on the recipe here: However, I would prefer not to spend the last day of 2011 in the kitchen with this steroids addicted cream puff. How long do you think I would be able to bake and freeze the puffs themselves ahead of time? Same goes for the cream. Also, would I be better off freezing them unbaked? Any other suggestions/tips would be greatly appreciated.
Happy New Year!

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  1. Raw choux paste freezes beautifully. Pipe onto parchment in desired size, freeze, then peel off parchment and consolidate into a freezer bag. You can keep sweet or savory (gougeres) choux bits in the freezer for at least a month or two. If you do pre-bake them, you'll want to re-crisp them before using anyway, so pre-baking might not be that much of a time saver. If kept at room temp, they only last a day or two and get soft quickly. Also, I never egg wash my choux. Egg wash is for browning and shine, and if the puff is going to be covered with caramel or a glaze/icing anyway, why bother?

    You can make the pastry cream 3 or 4 days in advance, maybe even a week.

    1. I was a cook in a nursing home for a number of years and we used to bake them off ahead of time and freeze them (by the hundreds) no ill effects, filled them frozen sometimes also.

      1. So I know I can make the Choux Pastry ahead of time I can make the pastry cream ahead of time. What I don't know is when you assemble it it can't be put in the refrigerator Right? So do you assemble it and have it out just before your party or before you want to eat it I guess the Choux puffs can be made and filled the same day and then stack and put the Carmel at the last minute. Right? Or is there another technique?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Cflower5

          You cannot refrigerate croquembouche. The cream puffs will go soggy and the hard caramel will melt from the moisture. When I make a croquembouche with frozen cream puffs, it maintains for about 5 or 6 hours before the texture starts to deteriorate.

          1. re: Cflower5

            No - you can't assemble it ahead of time. Piping the filling into the cream puffs, assembling the pyramid, & doing the spun sugar (I do Martha Stewart's Xmas Crocembouche recipe) MUST be done just a few hours before serving.

          2. Maybe the best approach for a first go is to have modest ambitions for height...

            And you may want to use the holiday baking month ahead to practice making and applying caramel. The thinner the strands you can achieve, the more light-catching and festive it is. Deft sugar work can make even a small-scale croquembouche dazzling.

            Have fun!

            1. Does anyone have a recipe for an orange-scented pastry cream to pipe into the Croquembouche? Thank you!

              10 Replies
              1. re: Tehama

                I imagine Julia's creme patissiere flavored with Grand Marnier instead of vanilla at the end would be "orange-scented." It's in v.1 of Mastering the Art. Or google "creme patissiere mastering the art" , which will summon epicurious.

                Or are you actually looking for something that will only *scent* the pastry cream and not *flavor* it? (In which case, I have no answer.)

                1. re: Jay F

                  You're fabulous! Thank you so much for the direction. I'm going to do a test batch. Happy Friday and many thanks!

                  1. re: Tehama

                    Oh, you're welcome. I hope it turns out well. If you've never made creme patissiere before, you might want to rig up a double-boiler apparatus, so you don't end up with scrambled eggs. I use a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan, making sure the bowl is *over* the water, not *in* the water.

                    1. re: Jay F

                      I haven't, so thank you so much for the tip. The closest I have come were Gougères, so I'm definitely going to make a test run (or several!) in advance. Thank you again!

                      Oh, David Lebovitz replied to a Tweet of mine and he said he had a recipe for the orange cream in his latest cookbook, so I ordered that on Amazon this morning. But yesterday I checked out Mastering The Art of French Cooking from the library and you were SPOT-ON with the Julia suggestion. Page 590 started a veritable cavalcade of cream-based dreams.

                      1. re: Tehama

                        I like David Lebovitz and his recipes very, very much. His ice cream book is the ice cream bible AFAIC.

                        I tried his milk chocolate mousse recipe last month for a girl who can't eat either flour or dark chocolate, and it became an addiction. I have made at least ten batches in the last six weeks.

                        If I were doing this, I'd make a test batch of each, just to taste them both. If you do, I'd love it if you'd let me know. I'm not a big fan of orange desserts, so it's not something I'd make for myself.

                        1. re: Jay F

                          Perfect advice! Thank you again. Screw 'real' work this week -- I'm in pastry heaven!

                      2. re: Jay F

                        I would add orange zest to the liquid while heating. Of course a little Grand Marnier or Cointreau is always delicious as well.

                        Pastry cream (or at least all the recipes I have used, I am not familiar with Julia's) does not scramble, there is some magic that happens between egg proteins and starch such that you can bring pastry cream to a boil and it is fine. If you use flour as a thickener, you have to boil it to cook the flour, cornstarch will thicken sooner. Scorching, on the other hand, IS an issue, especially with large batches. To avoid this, I have switched to a version of Francisco Migoya's Perfect Pastry Cream. It does not always set up for me instantly as it should, so I do finish it over a double boiler, whisking until definitely thick. (I also add some butter and white chocolate because I can't leave well enough alone).


                        Ok, so I got McGee out and he says: Flour or cornstarch can protect against curdling in custards and creams, even if they are cooked quickly over direct heat and actually boil. The key is gelation of the solid starch granules in these materials. When heated to 175F/77C and above - right around the temperature at which the egg proteins are bonding to each other - the granules absorb water, swell up, and begin to leak their long starch molecules into the liquid. The swelling granules slow protein binding by absorbing heat energy themselves, and the dissolved starch molecules get in the proteins' way and prevent them from bonding to each other too intimately. A full tablespoon/8g of flour (or 2 teaspoons/5g cornstarch or arrowroot) per cup of liquid is required to prevent curdling. ... Pastry cream is made by adding scaled milk to the mixture of sugar. eggs, and flour, whose protective action allows the mix to be brought to a full boil over direct heat without curdling. After a minute or so of boiling to thoroughly inactivate the yolk amylase enzyme and to extract starch from its granules, and to improve the flavor, the thickened cream is scraped into a bowl and allowed to cool with minimal stirring (stirring breaks the developing starch network and thins it out).

                        .....see? Magic!

                        1. re: babette feasts

                          That is absolutely fascinating. I really appreciate you taking so much time to post that information. I'm taking it to heart. Thank you!

                          1. re: Tehama

                            You're welcome. Have fun with the croquembouche.

                  2. re: Tehama

                    After the pastry cream has cooled down to room temperature just add orange zest.