A Savory Croquembouche to Start Your Party with Outright Opulence

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While everyone’s picking out their sequins and lamé and velvet jumpsuits to ring in the new year in rayon blends—we’ve been picking out a recipe that’s just as elaborate. Showy. Opulent for the sake of opulence. Part decor, part cocktail snack. Pairs well with champagne and resolutions. Something that catches the light and requires a fresh haircut of whisked caramel. That’s right. A Croquembouche. The French tower of cream puffs. But this time, we’re going savory.

A SAVORY CROQUEMBOUCHE!!!

Molly Baz, who’d just recreated a Martha Stewart recipe (for cookbook club) that used the croquembouche as a vase (!!), was up for the challenge. And a challenge it was. Not only did a testing round require making 40 pâte à choux, the filling, the caramel, and assembling the tower, but she’d also have to hear our critiques…and do the whole damn thing over and over again until it was perfect. The things we do for beauty!

croquembouche 2

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

What’s so savory about it? The choux—henceforth called “the puffs”—are cheesed up with Gruyere so now they’re gougères. The filling is Boursin-inspired: green and herby and creamy and cheesy (parm, ricotta, and cream cheese). The caramel gets offset with salt and black pepper, and the whole thing gets a snow-shower of more grated parm. When an unsuspecting Amiel Stanek tried a bite and assumed it would be sweet, his entire face lit up: “I’m flavor tripping right now!” he exclaimed. The garlicky chive filling, the sharp cheesy dough, there are no flavors hiding in the background here. The only drink we can fathom to go with it is something cold and bubbly. You know the stuff.

croquembouche process 3

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

You can make the gougères a day ahead, and pop them in the oven for 10 minutes at 350° to crisp them up on assembly day.

The puffs are easy (make them the same size tho), the filling’s a food processor cinch and then squeezed into each puff with a pastry bag, and the caramel’s fine if you keep an eye on it to keep it from burning. With tongs, or your hands if you like to feel pain, each puff is dipped in caramel for the side that faces the world. It quickly hardens and shines like polished mahogany. The most difficult part is building a symmetrical tree that’s artfully rustic, not droopy, leany, or otherwise…lumpy. After watching Molly assemble it in person, standing there doing nothing—I’m a great and supportive sous!—I took a lot of notes to make it easier on the rest of us without food styling on our resume. Here’s how to assemble a croquembouche like a pro:

croquembouche process 4

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

Before filling each gougères, use a skewer to poke a hole in the center and rotate it around to ensure a hollow center to squeeze the cheese mixture into. Then fill it until it pokes out of the hole and feels heavier in your hand. Some filling might poke out of air holes in the gougères, but don’t worry about them, they’ll be covered in caramel later.

  • Pick out your platter, something sturdy and larger than a dinner plate.
  • Grab a few puffs and arrange them in a circle with 2-3 inches of white space to the edge
  • Count those puffs. Ours had a base of 9. Each row after will subtract one.
  • Layer one: Roll half of the edge of the first puff like a wheel and place it down with the poke-hole (where the filling went) facing inside the circle, caramel gluing it to the plate. Choux stonehenge! Roll the next puff and connect it to the first and make sure caramel is gluing that to the plate too. Hold the two puffs together for a few seconds so they stick.
croquembouche process 2

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

See how they sort of lean in a little? Not dramatically though.

  • Layer two: Place the new puffs in the valleys of the Layer One Puffs. As you roll and stick, tilt the puffs in towards the center sliiiightly, remember this is going to end up conical.
  • You keep doing this, working QUICKLY while the caramel is still warm. If strands of caramel drag over to the plate, don’t worry about it—that’s part of the drapey look. It’ll end up as caramel tinsel on your puffy happy tree.
  • Mid-way through her third layer, Molly reheated the caramel over low heat for around 4 minutes. This makes it easier to dip but also thins the caramel out. When it gets too thick, it hardens like a Jolly Rancher, which isn’t pleasant to bite into.
  • The numbers might not work out perfectly if your puffs vary in size. Don’t panic, just adjust accordingly and if you need to fill in some gaps with caramel use a spatula and get spacklin’.
  • Layer five: When we realized the entire thing was leaning to the right, Molly cradled the entire top with both hands and shifted it to the left. That sort of worked, but rotating the plate so I couldn’t tell one way or another worked even better.
  • The final puff: This is the only puff whose bottom gets dipped. I know, I know. But do it, and plop that shining star on top.
croquembouche process 1

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

You can use a fork to make the final wisps of caramel circling the tower, but Molly made a custom tool: a whisk with an open end, which she made by cutting the tines with a wire cutter. It looked like one of those as-seen-on TV head massagers. It allowed her to get thin strands and plenty of them.

croquembouche 4

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

I can’t deal with this close-up.

What makes the whole project easier is making the puffs and the filling ahead, but the assembly needs to happen right before serving. They’re better that way. As it sits, the filling warms, the caramel hardens to cement, and that’s sad. Eat it within the hour, maybe two, which come on—shouldn’t be that hard.

Get the recipe:

croquembouche-1.jpg

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Savory Cheese-Filled Croquembouche

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Let’s start from the beginning: Croquembouche is a tower of cream puffs, classically filled with a sweet pastry cream, each one dipped in caramel, with thin caramel strands enrobing the edible monument. Fancy, classy, dessert-y. We love the drama but wanted to take it to the savory side, so our version is constructed with cheesy gougères and an herbed cheese filling, and the caramel is spiked black pepper. It’s the showstopping holiday appetizer you didn’t know you needed.

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This Apple-Cheddar Pie Brings the Sweet, Savory, and Cheesy

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As predictable as the moment you reach into your coat pocket and discover only one glove, we’ll be here to deliver fall’s first apple pie recipe. Well, not physically. You’ll have to make it. We were reminiscing recently about a fat slice of diner apple pie, served with a drooping square of cheese on top that doesn’t quite cover the crust, like a throw blanket on a king-sized bed. How could we recreate that savory-cheesy-sweet idea and transform it into something new and thrilling? Molly Baz was up to the challenge. Her recipe scatters finely grated sharp cheddar in the buttery crust, amps up the spices in the apples, and is served with a chunk of cheese à la mode. I don’t speak French but I think that checks out.

Let’s break it down in three parts.

Part I: The Apple Filling

“I don’t want to say…Yankee Candle…” Molly begins to tell me in a hush, “but the spices in the pie are very fragrant. If it were [a candle! shh!], it’d be called ‘Christmas by the Fireplace’ or some sh*t like that.” (Would purchase in every size, including the little car fresheners.) There’s a heaping load of cloves, cinnamon, and allspice in the apple mixture to balance the savory cheddar crust. A splash of whiskey in there really brings the fireplace, if ya know what I mean.

ba recipe apple cheddar pie

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

That cheesy crust tho.

And get this: You mix the apple filling in a plastic bag, like a piece of meat you’re going to throw on the grill later. The recipe asks to let the mixture sit for at least an hour, or even overnight (which should be fine if you use hard apples like Grannies). The marinade sucks the moisture out of the apples, which sounds dry and weird but in fact what we’re preventing is a dry pie filling. You’ll put a bag of apples in the fridge and wake up with a bag of apples and all this liquid. Sweet. Then you mix the apples and all those eked-out juices with brown butter and cornstarch, and it thickens together in the oven.

Part II: The Cheesy Crust

Why isn’t there cheese in the filling, like other recipes for apple-cheddar pie online? “The filling is sugary and spiced,” Molly explains, “cheese melting in there would give it this mac and cheese quality that we didn’t want. We want pie.” Yes, we do. By incorporating the cheese into the crust, you “really get to experience the cheese,” which might be one of the most beautiful things Molly has ever said. It reminded us of our sacred cheese twist recipe, a buttery flaky cracker you never want to stop eating. There’s also a dash of whiskey in the crust, which takes the place of vodka (you could also use apple cider vin), as booze evaporates faster than water = maximum flake factor. You don’t taste it at all. Well, unless you pour some for yourself on the side.

trader-joes-cheese-english-coastal-cheddar

Alex Lau

TJ’s English cheddar would be a good cheese-fit for this pie.

Part III: Cheese à la Mode

The cheese we use throughout is Grafton Village’s 2-year cheddar, and that’s what you see served on the side like a stray roof shingle (mmm roof cheese) up top. “This isn’t the time for that expensive 7-year Gouda,” Molly advises, as it’s too potent to complement the sugary apples. The final cheese chunk on the side plays up the sweet and savory even more, and it’s a fun way to serve pie, so of all the things in this recipe you could skip (the overnight marinade, the whiskey, okay), don’t skip this one!

Get the recipe:

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