AF2B: Magical Holiday Choux Tower

Well. I said it might happen. The last time we talked I mentioned creating a showstopper for my neighborhood Christmas party. And as predicted, I jinxed myself. πŸ˜› This was one of those cases where a couple of small things went wrong but it was enough to ruin my whole project. It sucks too, because I really went out of my way to try and make this as easy on myself as possible. But….mistakes happened, my timeline went all whack, nothing wanted to work right, and the next thing I knew I’d spent all day working on a lost cause. The worst partβ€”other than the pitiful plate of horror you’ll see at the end of this postβ€”was that after all of that hard work I still had to clean up after myself. Punishment on top of punishment, I’ll tell ya. πŸ™

So before I begin I should probably explain exactly what it is that I was trying to do. I wanted to make a gorgeous choux tower (croquembouche) in shades of white, teal, and gold so that it looked like a grand Christmas tree. Lucky for you I know my way around Microsoft Paint and have quickly drawn this inspiration photo:

inspiration

The teal was to match my neighbor’s tree/dining room, since she was hosting the party. If you Google choux towers you’ll see plenty of examples by people who are much more talented than me (clearly, lol), but it’s basically just cream puffs arranged around a large cone you get from the craft store. The puffs are stuck to the cone using caramel and then decorated with even more caramel. I was going for a bit more than that though. πŸ˜› 


I made a bunch of choux buns on Thursday night, a full day in advance. 

piping the choux

They came out great. I poked a hole in each one to allow the steam to escape and put them back in the oven with the door cracked to let them dry out. But when I woke up on Friday morning they were soft and tasted a bit stale. I have no idea why. Humidity? This ended up being problem number one because I made the decision right then and there that I was going to remake them. But the problem with that was that I only had one oven and I didn’t have time to let each batch dry out AND make the tower. So, that just sort of sucked. I was thinking I could wake up and  assemble/decorate the tower and then have the afternoon to do other things. lol no. 

choux after baking

My vanilla pastry cream came out awesome. Super creamy. I made this the night before too. My plan was to divide the pastry cream in two, make one half chocolate, fold in a bit of whipped cream to make it lighter, then fill my puffs! 

pastry cream on point

But then I made the same mistake that I’ve made a THOUSAND TIMES BEFORE BECAUSE I WILL NEVER LEARN MY LESSON. I added freshly melted (read: hot) chocolate to cold pastry cream, instantly ruining it. This was problem number two because now I didn’t have enough pastry cream to fill all of the puffs and I was going to have to start all over with that as well. Except I was also out of milk so I had to run to the store. And how was I supposed to do that when my oven was on and I was trying to remake all of my damn cream puffs! As if that wasn’t enough, pastry cream needs time to cool and thicken in the refrigerator. Like at least an hour. At least. So yes, panic had started to settle in. πŸ˜›

where it went wrong

For what it’s worth, I did end up making new pastry cream, and it came out amazing. I added a bit of cinnamon and cayenne pepper to make it a Mexican chocolate version. Look no clumps! Silver lining.

better chocolate pastry cream

The fillings were really the only good thing to come from this. lol. I got lots of compliments. In addition to the vanilla and Mexican chocolate, some where also filled with Nutella that I thinned out with whipped cream. I think it was about 4 pm when I finally started filling them. Remember, my original goal was to wake up and be able to start at this point. Running late, much?

filling them up

He’s a shot of my beautiful dipping station and all my cream puffs, which I noticed had begun to soften quite a bit due to the filling and not being able to let them dry out in the oven. 

dipping station all ready

But…they didn’t look too bad after dipping. Yay? 

ready for the cone

While waiting for them to set (Psst: they never set. Problem number three) I attached my cone to the board using the same ganache.

cone on base

And then I coated the entire thing with even more ganache and started to stick on my cream puffs. My vision!!! Coming to life!! I had an hour before the party, could I actually achieve this grand Christmas tree?!

not bad

No. I could not. The ganache was way too runny, the puffs too soft, the filling to heavy, and I literally could not get them to stick to the cone. And this was also the point where I realized I didn’t even have enough puffs to cover the whole thing. They just kept falling and falling and I kept crying and crying. My back was fricken KILLING me. I spent like 10 minutes removing the bottom two drawers of my refrigerator so I could fit the cone in there to try to firm up the ganache a bit, but as soon as I did that like 6 more cream puffs fell off. That was the point where I basically said, 

NOPE. NO MORE.

this sucks

So here is a great cell phone shot of what was actually brought to the party. I know, right. So pathetic lol ;(

how they were served

It’s also worth mentioning that this was supposed to be the third of my major holiday desserts (the first being candy cane cake and the second being the ugly Christmas sweater cake). I guess two out of three ain’t bad. πŸ˜›

So, there you have it. Another major failure. πŸ˜› I didn’t let this experience prevent me from doing more baking over the weekend, and this time I was actually successful! So stay tuned for that πŸ™‚ I can’t jinx myself this time because it’s already made. I guess my dog could eat my memory card, but I’ll just keep my fingers crossed. πŸ˜›

Until next time!

6 thoughts on “AF2B: Magical Holiday Choux Tower

  1. Oh Amanda… I feel ya, girl!! As I scrolled through I was just about crying ‘cos I completely understand that sort of frustration – even this week I’ve had moments where my shoulders slumped and I thought about tossing it all in, giving away all my cake equipment and buying supermarket sponge cake for the foreseeable future. And I’ve never even TRIED to make a croquembouche!! What a pile of tears I’d be if I ever did…
    Your idea was so fab – I’m so sure with your talent you’ll pull it off someday soon. Creme pat looked sublime, I would like a spoon to go with that please!! Good for you for getting on the bake-horse again and keeping going! Looking forward to your comeback πŸ˜€
    P.S. I made your gingerbread cake last night and it smells DIVINE – going to ice it tonight and try a little bit!
    P.P.S. if you ever want to feel more ‘together’ in the kitchen, this Australian show called Zumbo’s Just Desserts is a Masterchef-style competition where homebakers compete against each other making AMAZING desserts. It’s nearly finished screening in NZ this week, but I think all of the episodes are here: https://au.tv.yahoo.com/shows/zumbos-just-desserts/#page1 (hopefully it lets you watch from the US). Some of the contestants have so much self-doubt they are their own worst enemies! Nice to know that everyone has their flaws πŸ˜‰

    1. I’m so glad you tried the gingerbread cake! Was it moist? I mentioned before that I was afraid I left it in the oven too long since it seemed a little dry the day I served it, but it was a few days after baking so I think that might be why. When I crumbled the tops to make the truffles they were super moist and I barely needed any nutella. I hope it turned out well!

      And thank you so much for the show recommendation! I know what I’ll be binge watching this holiday weekend. πŸ˜€ Whenever I watch a baking competition show I just know there is no way I would ever be able to survive haha. Sometimes I do well under pressure, other times I panic. I’m always blown away what people are able to accomplish in just a couple of hours. I like to pretend it’s all staged so I don’t feel bad about myself πŸ˜›

      1. It is TOTALLY moist – I kept it double-wrapped in cling film in the fridge (as it’s actually quite hot atm where I am) and it was just perfect with a rich French buttercream filling.
        I think you’ll be able to relate to the Zumbo contestants… I would be the same, sometimes good under pressure, sometimes a hot mess! The quiet and steady pace of my own kitchen is my pref for sure!

  2. My mom, Pauline Chretien Avoy, (yes, related) used to make puffs all the time for special occasions, though i never remember her doing a ‘construction’ project. Hers were appetizers mostly filled with chicken, seafood or ham salad fillings if she was making them for receptions. Dessert choux if she was making for family……..BIG ONES! I love reading your blog, and I am sure Mom would have loved it too. Thanks for keeping it real.

    1. Oh yum! You are really making me miss home. Isn’t there something so great about those little savory ham/chicken/seafood salad sandwiches that our mothers/aunts/grandmothers bring to events? I can’t even imagine how good they must be with choux as the bread. I need it in my life! It’s so easy to just grab a pre-made platter at the grocery store these days, but it will never compare to homemade. We need to keep and cherish these recipes! My aunt Syl makes the most amazing homemade stuffed bread each Christmas, one ham and cheese and the other salami and cheese. I’ll definitely be begging her for that recipe soon! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. πŸ™‚

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