Vacation baking: Croquembouche

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I know, I said my last post was the final recipe of the year. But…croquembouche!

Making one of these iconic cream puff towers held together with caramel has been on my to-bake list for years. My kids have actually been begging me to make one after witnessing croquembouche construction on the Cupcake Jemma channel. But for obvious reasons we haven’t had a large gathering since then (AKA an excuse for croquembouche).

On Christmas, we finally had plans to see my family (first time in two years). If ever there was an opportunity for croquembouche, this was it. We are at my parents’ place so I didn’t have my normal arsenal of baking equipment. But after looking at a few tutorials online I was pretty certain we’d survive. Here’s how it went down.

(Note: this is less of a formal recipe and more thoughts and tips from the experience, which I wanted to jot down before I forget. However, I have included the chocolate creme legere recipe because yuuuuuuuum!)


I tried not to buy much special equipment for this bake, but I did get some piping bags and tips at a local craft store as well as a 12″ cake round for presentation. I also recommend the following tools:

  • A digital scale
  • At least 2 large baking sheets for piping and baking choux buns
  • A 1″ round cutter (or something similar; I used a bottle cap) for cutting craquelin and tracing guides
  • Rolling pin for craquelin
  • Parchment paper for rolling craquelin and baking choux
  • Electric hand or stand mixer for making choux and whipping cream (I used an electric hand mixer. You could potentially do this all by hand with a wooden spoon, whisk, and a bit of elbow grease.)
  • Medium saucepan for making pastry cream and caramel
  • Whisk for pastry cream
  • Silicone spatulas for pastry cream and filling piping bags
  • Chopstick or paring knife to make holes to fill choux
  • Protective gloves for working with caramel
  • Skewer or fork for spinning sugar

Step 1: Choux au Craquelin

I made the croquembouche over two days. On day one, I made the choux and pastry cream base; and on the second I finished the pastry cream with whipped cream, filled the puffs, and assembled the tower.

I didn’t have a mold to aid construction, so for structural stability I knew it was especially important to make my choux all the same size. Adding craquelin topping helps choux rise evenly (and tastes delicious), so that seemed like a step worth taking.

My goal was to make ~70 cream puffs. I was aiming to make the bottom of the croquembouche 11 cream puffs round, then decrease each successive round by 1 puff to form the cone shape. Mathematically, this requires 66 puffs, but it’s always prudent to have a few extras.

I made the craquelin topping first, as it needs time to chill so you can cut out the rounds. Once chilled down, I used a 1″ bottle cap to cut out the rounds, then froze them until ready to bake the choux.

To ensure the choux were all about the same size, I used the same bottle cap to trace 70 rounds on parchment paper (35 per sheet). All in all, I ended up having enough choux paste for about 85 small/medium puffs.

Once all my puffs were baked and cooled, I picked out 11 and arranged them in a round so I could estimate the size of the base, then marked out a circle in the center of my cake board for reference. (You definitely don’t want to be fiddling around with this when working with hot caramel, so do as much architectural planning as you can beforehand!)

Step 2: Chocolate Crème Légère

You could fill your choux with anything, but I was in the mood for something creamy and chocolate-y. Enter: chocolate crème légère — or chocolate pastry cream “lightened” with whipped cream. I thought that in addition to tasting delicious, the chocolate would help create an extra-stable pastry cream that would hold up at room temperature (it worked). I would definitely make this filling again — it was delicious and almost mousse-like, and the bitterness from the chocolate helped temper the sweetness of the caramel.

To fill the cream puffs, I used a chopstick to make a hole on the bottom of each puff. Then I used a piping bag fitted with a bismarck tip to fill each puff until heavy, then cleaned up any overflow with a small knife. I definitely overfilled my pastry bag the first time which made it harder than necessary to fill the puffs. So word to the wise: don’t fill the bag more than halfway to make life easier and less messy!

filling choux buns

Chocolate Crème Légère

Makes enough to fill 70+ small cream puffs, plus some extra for snacking


For the chocolate pastry cream:

  • 600g whole milk
  • 125g granulated sugar
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 40g cornstarch
  • 20g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 4 large egg yolks + 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 42g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 170g chopped bittersweet (~70%) chocolate

To finish:

  • 500g heavy cream (35%), chilled
  • 25g icing sugar


Place a strainer over a large heat-safe bowl.

Off heat, combine the milk, 50g of the sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 75g sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa powder. Pour in about 2 tbsp of the milk mixture and whisk to form a smooth paste. Add the egg yolks and whole egg and whisk until smooth.

Heat the milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from the heat. Pour the milk in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles appear on the surface. Once the bubbles appear, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue whisking on the heat for 2 minutes.

Remove the custard from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract, butter, and chocolate. Strain the pastry cream into the prepared bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until set (at least two hours, or up to 3 days).

When ready to fill the puffs, whip the heavy cream and icing sugar to soft peaks. Whisk the pastry cream to loosen, then use a flexible spatula to gently fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream in three additions. Fold just until homogenous and no streaks of cream remain.

Transfer the cream légère to a piping bag fitted with a plain round or bismarck tip. Use immediately. Leftovers make a great mousse-like dessert; enjoy plain or with a sprinkle of crushed cookies!

Step 3: Caramel

Caramel is the glue that holds a croquembuche together. I decided to also dip the tops (craquelin side) in caramel, which is optional but gives the whole thing an extra pretty shine. If you go this route, I definitely recommend making your caramel in two batches — one for the dipping the tops, and one for gluing the puffs together and spinning around the tower. I thought I could just reheat the caramel as needed to reliquefy it, but you can only do that so much before the caramel just gets too thick to work with.

For this sized croquembuche I ended up caramelizing ~600g granulated sugar in two 300g batches. I used the wet method as it’s more hands-off, but dry works too.

The assembly was fairly straightforward. Slightly tip the puffs in so you get a nice cone shape, and decrease by one puff each layer so the shape forms naturally. As you move up, place the puffs in the divot between the two below it. When you get to the last puff for each round, take an extra few seconds to find the puff that fits best.

It definitely helps to have an extra set of hands to help with assembly — one person can hold together puffs as the caramel sets while the other dips and arranges the next. And as always, caramel is HOT so wear gloves and keep kids and pets in a different room. Gently stir the caramel with a skewer every few dips to redistribute the heat and keep it liquid as long as possible.

I ended up building the tower as planned starting with 11 puffs at the bottom and decreasing each round until I reached 4 cream puffs. Then I just finished it off on the top with a single, slightly-larger puff.

Once constructed, I used a skewer to spin leftover caramel in threads around the entire tower. This was definitely my favorite part of the entire project!

And that’s it!

Thanks to my sister-in-law Janelle for helping with the photos!

A simple enriched yeasted dough, plus classic cinnamon rolls and snowflake bread

cinnamon rolls
snowflake bread

Popping in for the last time this year to share my go-to enriched dough recipe, along with a couple festive ways to use it. While I will forever love my sourdough enriched breads, I know not everyone has a sourdough starter; and even if you do, there are days when you need something a little faster. This is the dough for you! I’ve made it both with a stand mixer and by hand and it works beautifully either way. You can make and bake it all in the same afternoon, or let the dough rise in the fridge for up to a day before shaping and baking. It’s the versatility we all need any time of year, but especially now. I hope it brings you a little joy this holiday season.

Baker’s notes:

  • I’ve tested this dough with a few different flour combinations, and my preference is a mix of bread and all purpose for a balance of rise and texture. You can use all bread flour; the dough will be a little chewier. I haven’t tried with just all-purpose, but that should work as well. I would hold back 10-20 grams of the milk in the final dough to start — you can add it in during mixing if the dough seems dry.
  • If you want to include a whole grain flour such as spelt or whole wheat, I would use 275g bread flour and 50g whole grain flour in the final dough. Depending on your flour, you may need 10-15g additional milk in the final dough — add it in during mixing if the dough seems dry.
  • Nonfat milk powder is one of my “secret weapon” ingredients for a beautiful enriched bread that is extra fragrant, high-rising, and bronzed. I urge you not to skip it — it’s readily available at grocery stores and online. I promise, I have plenty of recipes that use it so none will go to waste.
  • This dough uses the tangzhong technique, which involves pregelatinizing some of the flour by cooking a portion of it with milk. Using tangzhong allows us to add a higher percentage of liquid to the dough, which increases the softness and shelf life of the bread. I add cold milk and an egg directly to the tangzhong so there’s no waiting for it to cool down before mixing the dough.
  • This dough isn’t overly sticky and I never use flour to roll it out. If you have a silicone or pastry mat, you can roll it directly on there; a lightly greased surface works fabulously as well. Just don’t cut directly on a silicone mat, as they’re easily damaged.
  • This bread tastes best the day it’s baked. But with a light rewarming, this bread remains soft for several days after baking. To reheat, cover with foil and bake at 350F for ~10 minutes or until warmed through. Or you can microwave individual portions for ~15 seconds. I recommend only icing the portions you plan to eat right away.

Classic Cinnamon Rolls and Snowflake Bread

Makes 9 large rolls or one large snowflake bread | Adapted from Baked to Order



  • 25g bread flour
  • 125g milk

Final dough:

  • All the tangzhong
  • 100g milk, straight from the fridge
  • 50g egg (about 1 large), straight from the fridge
  • 225g bread flour
  • 100g all purpose flour
  • 35g granulated sugar
  • 21g (3 Tbsp) nonfat milk powder
  • 7g (1 3/4 tsp if Diamond Crystal) kosher salt
  • 6g (2 tsp) instant yeast
  • 56g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature


  • 56g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 100g (½ cup) brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Cream Cheese Frosting (for cinnamon rolls):

  • 90 g (6 Tbsp) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 56 g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 68 g (½ cup plus 1 Tbsp) icing sugar

To finish (for snowflake bread):

  • 1 large egg, whisked with a splash of milk or water and a pinch of salt
  • Granulated or coarse sugar, for garnish (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for garnish (optional)


Make the Tangzhong: In a small saucepan, whisk the flour and milk together until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough for the whisk to leave lines on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Alternatively, if mixing by hand, transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Mix the Final Dough: Whisk the cold milk into the tangzhong, followed by the egg. Whisk in the remaining final dough ingredients.

Knead on medium-low speed until the gluten is moderately developed, about 5 minutes. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Turn the mixer to low and add the butter about 14 grams (1 tbsp) at a time, incorporating each batch before adding the next. Turn the speed back up to medium-low and continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test, about 10 to 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and supple.

If mixing by hand, follow the same mixing order as above but note that mixing times will take longer. I like to use the slap-and-fold method to knead this dough. (See an example in my instagram highlights.)

Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a lightly oiled container. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled, 60-90 minutes. (Alternatively, allow dough to rise in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to 24.)

Make the filling: In a small bowl, make the filling by creaming together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt to form a spreadable paste.

To make cinnamon rolls:

Shape, Proof, and Bake the Rolls: Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle.

Lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch (23 x 23-cm) baking pan or a 9- or 10-inch (23- or 25-cm)-round cake pan (preferably aluminum, not glass). Take the dough out of the fridge and transfer to a lightly greased surface or a silicone/pastry mat. Roll into a 14-inch (36-cm) square, doing your best to maintain an even thickness.

Spread the filling mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges.

Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, pinching to seal. Turn the roll so the seam side is down.

Cut into nine even pieces using a sharp knife or unflavored dental floss (my preferred method). Transfer the rolls, cut side up, to the prepared pan, leaving space between each (they will grow into each other during proofing).

Cover the rolls with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Proof at warm room temperature until the dough is very puffy and nearly doubled, 30-60 minutes. If you poke a roll gently the indentation should fill back very slowly.

Bake until the rolls are lightly golden and register 195 to 200°F (91 to 93°C) in the center, about 20 minutes.

Prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting: While the rolls are baking, combine the cream cheese, butter, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add half of the icing sugar and beat to combine. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

Allow the rolls to cool on a wire rack before spreading with frosting. Serve immediately.

To make snowflake bread:

Shape, Proof, and Bake the Bread: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) with a rack in the middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a lightly greased surface or silicone/pastry mat. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, about 180g each. Form each piece into a ball, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and rest for 10 minutes.

Working one at a time, roll each ball into a 10″ round. Rotate the dough frequently to keep the shape round and prevent sticking. Transfer one round to the prepared baking sheet. Spread with about 1/3 of the filling, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edge. Top with a second round. Spread with another 1/3 of the filling, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edge. Repeat process with a third round. Finish by placing the final round on top.

Place a 2 to 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter (or similarly shaped round item, such as a glass) in the center of the circle to act as a guide. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the circle into 16 equal portions, like the rays of a sun. For each cut, you’ll cut from the outer edge of the center guide to the outer edge of the dough circle, cutting through all four layers each time. I find it easiest to cut into quarters first (at the north, south, east and west positions), then divide the quarters in half to make eighths, then divide each eighth in half to make sixteenths.

To form the star, work with two side-by-side strips at a time. Twist the strips away from each other twice, then pinch the ends together firmly to form a point. Continue until you’ve twisted all the strips; you should end up with 8 points total. Brush the entire surface with egg wash and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature until noticeably puffy, about 30-45 minutes. Right before baking, brush with a second coat of egg wash and sprinkle the center with sugar, if desired.

Bake until golden and the center measures 195F, about 20-30 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even coloration. Cool bread on the sheet for about 15 minutes. Dust with icing sugar before serving, if desired.


Bread tastes best the day it’s baked. But with a light rewarming, this bread remains soft for several days after baking. To reheat, cover with foil and bake at 350F for ~10 minutes or until warmed through. Or you can microwave individual portions for ~15 seconds. I recommend only icing the portions you plan to eat right away. If you do want to bake the bread the day before serving, you can brush the finished bread with melted butter as soon as it comes out of the oven — this will help keep it soft and moist for longer.

jam rolls

Mocha Oreos

mocha oreos

Introducing one of the new additions to this year’s holiday treat boxes: Mocha Oreos! While peppermint or matcha were also flavor contenders, I already had peppermint marshmallows and peppermint bark brownies and matcha shortbread. And although coffee is one of my favorite flavors ever, it was not yet represented in my edible box of happiness. So it was decided. I think they’re a winner and definitely contend for a permanent place in the year-round cookie jar.

Baker’s notes:

  • It’s important to roll the dough to 1/8″ thickness or your yield will be significantly less. The ratio of cookie to filling is ideal when the wafers are fairly thin. My favorite hack for uniform dough is to use brass dowels — I found them at the local hardware store, but they’re also online (1/4″, 3/16″, and 1/8″ are my most used thicknesses). You can watch a demonstration of the technique on my Instagram highlights.
  • Do NOT substitute natural or black cocoa for the Dutch-processed cocoa. I like Cacao Berry Extra Brute.
  • As with my pumpkin spice latte pie, the key to a rounded coffee flavor here is a mixture of infusion and espresso powder. For the filling, I infuse the butter with whole coffee beans then add a little espresso powder during mixing.
  • The filling must be used as soon as you’re done mixing — it sets quickly. It may seem slightly loose and warm but that’s ok.
mocha oreos top down

Mocha Oreos

Makes about 45 small sandwich cookies | Adapted from Bravetart


For the chocolate wafers:

  • 115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 55g golden or light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 165g all purpose flour
  • 35g Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I like Cacao Berry Extra Brute)

For the coffee filling:

  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 30g whole coffee beans
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder
  • 240g icing sugar, sifted
  • 7g (1 Tbsp) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted


Make the chocolate wafers: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, golden syrup, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low until combined, then turn the speed up to medium and beat until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the the bowl and paddle a couple times during this process to ensure even mixing.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Continue mixing on low until a smooth dough forms. Turn off the mixer and use a flexible spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, ensuring there are no patches of flour remaining.

Roll the dough: Split the dough in half (about 235g each). Flatten each half into a disc. Wrap one with plastic and keep at room temperature. Transfer the other half to a large piece of parchment. Place another piece of parchment or plastic wrap over the top and roll to 1/8″ thick. Lift the top piece of parchment/plastic occasionally to avoid forming creases in the dough.

When the dough has reached the desired thickness, transfer, still sandwiched between parchment/plastic, to a sheet tray. Refrigerate while you repeat with the other half of the dough. Slide the second piece on top of the first and continue chilling until both pieces of dough are firm, about half an hour.

Cut and bake the wafers: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough from the fridge (keep the other refrigerated). Flip the dough over so the bottom is on top. Peel off the parchment, then replace the parchment and flip the dough right side up (this will help prevent the dough from sticking to the parchment). Peel off the top layer of parchment/plastic.

Using a 1 1/2″ round cutter, cut as many rounds as possible out of the first sheet. Using an offset spatula, transfer the rounds to a prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1/2″ apart (they won’t spread much). Repeat with second half of dough. Gently press together scraps, reroll, and cut more rounds — you should end up with about 90.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the cookies are dry and firm to the touch, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Make the coffee filling: Prepare the cookies for filling by turning half of them upside down. The filling sets quickly and must be used right after mixing. Prepare a pastry bag fitting with a 1/2″ piping tip.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the whole coffee beans. Continue heating the coffee-butter mixture, stirring frequently. It will foam and sputter, then eventually fall silent. We’re not trying to brown the butter, so if you notice the milk solids starting to brown, turn the heat down. (We’re basically making coffee-infused ghee.)

Strain the coffee-butter into a clean, heatproof bowl; discard the beans and solids. Measure out 140g butter and place in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the vanilla, salt, espresso powder, icing sugar, and cocoa powder. Mix on low to combine, then turn the speed up to medium. Beat until creamy and soft, about 5 minutes. It may still be a bit warm; that’s normal. Immediately scrape into the prepared pastry bag.

Pipe a dollop of frosting onto the upturned cookies (about 6-7 grams, if you want to be precise). Sandwich with the remaining cookies. Let cookies stand at room temperature until set, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

mocha oreos angled