Filling les petits choux (buns) with a variety of different things involves a bit more effort, but let’s face it, you’re going to quite a bit already. And actually, once you've got the technique mastered, this spectacular masterpiece is dead easy to make. This has crème pâtissière (custard) as the base filling, but you can always just use whipped cream if you want.
170g butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing
200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2 tsp sugar
4 eggs, beaten
4 egg yolks
65g caster sugar
30g cornflour or plain flour
220ml whole milk
2 tbsp double cream
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Extras - finely chop
Praline, raspberry jam, fresh raspberries, cherries, peanut m&ms, dark chocolate
250g/9 oz caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6 and grease and line a baking tray. To make the choux pastry, place 400ml water and the butter in a saucepan and place over a medium-low heat. As soon as the butter has melted and the mixture has come to the boil, take it off the heat.
Sift the flour and salt on to a piece of folded greaseproof paper, add the sugar, then quickly pour into the boiling water, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Beat the pastry mixture until it’s smooth and comes away from the sides of the pan. Beat in the eggs, slowly, until you have a glossy mixture that holds its shape and is just thicker than cake batter. Roll teaspoons of the mix into balls and place on the tray, leaving at least 2cm between each.
Place in the oven for 10 minutes, then increase the temperature to 220C/425F/Gas 7 for another 15-20 minutes until golden. Once cooked, use a skewer to pierce each one to let out the steam, then place upside down on a wire rack to cool.
Make the crème pâtissière while they’re cooling. Start by placing a large glass bowl in the fridge or freezer to chill. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, then whisk in the flour and put to one side for a moment.
Place the milk, cream and vanilla seeds in a pan and pace over a medium heat. Gently bring towards a boil, and as soon as you see bubbles around the edges, whisk half the milk into the eggs, then return the mix to the pan. Return the pan to the heat and slowly bring to the boil again. Simmer, stirring constantly for 2 minutes until nice and thick, then take off the heat and immediately pour into the chilled bowl. If you find that it has slightly scrambled, pass through a sieve. Cover the surface with clingfilm (it forms a skin very quickly) then leave to cool.
When it’s completely cool, divide a few different portions and stir in your extras – anything goes as long it doesn’t make the mix too wet. Transfer them to piping bags and pipe a teaspoonful or so into the centre of each bun (or split in half, fill and stick back together). Sit carefully so filling doesn’t spill out.
To make the caramel, place the sugar and 2 teaspoons of water in a heavy saucepan over a low heat. Tip the pan slightly to make sure all the sugar has melted (don’t stir) and when it becomes a golden amber colour, take off the heat. Let it cool for a couple of moments.
Choose the plate or board you’re going to build it on. Very carefully dip in each choux bun so that half the bun is covered (you might want to use tongs) and use the caramel to stick the buns together to build a pyramid shape.
Return the leftover caramel to the heat and melt it slightly again. Use a fork to very carefully dip into the caramel and flick it back and forth over the croquembouche until you have a web of sugar – it helps if the caramel is beginning to harden. Leave to firm up, then serve.