top of page
Place milk, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan, then scrape in vanilla seeds and add pod. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and granulated sugar in a medium bowl until very pale and light, about 3 minutes. Add cornstarch, whisking until no powdery dry spots remain. Whisking constantly, gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture. Transfer back to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and holds whisk marks, about 2 minutes.
Strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic, pressing directly onto surface; chill until cold, at least 2 hours.
Fit pastry bag with star tip. Transfer chilled pastry cream to bag. Working one at a time, poke a hole into the bottom of each puff with a paring knife. Gently pipe in pastry cream to fill. Puffs will begin to get soggy as soon as they are filled, so wait until just before serving to add pastry cream.
Do Ahead: Pastry cream can be made 3 days ahead. Transfer to pastry bag and chill.
CARAMEL AND ASSEMBLY
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and trace an 8" circle on parchment; turn it over (the circle will still be visible; this is just a guide).
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring sugar, corn syrup, and ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil, brushing down sides with a damp pastry brush and swirling pan occasionally (do not stir), until caramel turns a light amber color. Set bottom of saucepan in ice water to stop the cooking and firm caramel slightly (if caramel is too thin, it will be runny and drip too much).
Carefully dip tops of filled puffs in caramel and place, caramel side up, on an unlined rimmed baking sheet; let sit until caramel is set. (If caramel becomes too hard before all puffs are dipped, reheat over medium-low to loosen.)
Use the 12 largest puffs for the bottom layer of your croquembouche. Working quickly, dip the side of 1 puff into caramel (you want just enough caramel to allow you to “glue” puffs together) and stick hot caramel side down onto parchment just inside the 8" circle; the top of the puff should be facing out. Dip another puff in caramel on the side in two places (at 9 o’clock and 6 o’clock) and position on parchment so that 1 spot of hot caramel will adhere to the side of the first puff and the other spot is on the parchment (again, top of puff should be facing out). Using the circle as your guide, repeat with remaining 10 puffs to complete your bottom layer.
Set out 11 puffs to make the second layer (you may not need all of them) and use caramel to stick them together the same way as the first layer, doing your best to anchor puffs in the spaces in between the bottom puffs (this will make the croquembouche more sturdy).
Continue to build croquembouche, making slightly smaller circles for each layer and reheating caramel as needed. Finish tower with a single puff; you should have about 8 layers total.
Once croquembouche is assembled, let caramel in pan cool until it just begins to form a thread when you lift it from the pot with a fork. (The cooler it gets, the faster it will harden until it hardens mid-air.) Dip fork in caramel and quickly circle over and around croquembouche, letting caramel fall where it may (puffs should be encased in airy strings of caramel when you are done). Let caramel cool to harden.
Do Ahead: Croquembouche can be assembled 8 hours ahead. Chill until ready to serve.
bottom of page