I have tried multiple times and cannot get a good choux pastry down. I often host baby/wedding showers, and I would LOVE to do one of those awesome cream puff towers for an event like that. But, the stinkin’ choux won’t make friends with me!
We feel your pain! And if you're making things like towers of cream puffs for your showers, we can see why you're in such high demand!
First off, check out our post on making basic choux pastry (pâte à choux):
If you don't have them already, a good pastry bag and a set of pastry tips are really essential for making any kind of choux pastry - especially if you're going to be making a lot of them as it sounds like you are. Use the largest sized round or star tip and hold the pastry bag perpendicular to the baking sheet as you pipe out your shape.
When you're ready to fill them, fit the pastry bag with one of the smaller tips and fill it with your cream. Poke a discrete hole in the bottom or side of the pastry and gently pipe in the filling. Also, fill them as close to serving as possible since the pastry will absorb moisture from the filling and gradually get soggy.
The other key to making pâte à choux is making sure the pastries get really dried out. They should have a crisp outer shell and a hollow, eggy interior similar to a popover. To make sure of this, pipe out all the pastries on a given sheet to roughly the same size and shape so they bake at the same rate, and then cook them at three different temperatures.
Start off in a fairly hot 425° oven and then turn it down to 375° as soon as you put the pastries in. When the pastries are golden-brown in color, hard on the outside, and sound hollow when tapped with a fingernail, take them out of the oven and poke each one with a toothpick to release the steam. Lower the oven to 300° and put the pastries back in for a few minutes to completely dry out.
Making a tower of cream puffs, or croquembouche, is also definitely doable at home! The first few times you try one, pipe out the puff balls fairly large (like the size of an orange, maybe) to make things easier on yourself. You could also start off by making several smaller pyramids and build up to a larger one. Go ahead and fill the pastries before you start.
To form the actual pyramid, traditionally you would cook sugar to the caramel stage and then dab a little on the bottom of each puff to "glue" the puffs together. We've also had good success just using toothpicks. Either way, start by laying out a circle of cream puffs to form your base and just start stacking them on, gradually bringing the sides together into a point. If you have any sugar left over, you can drizzle it over the finished pyramid.
We hope this gives you enough information to get going. Send us pictures of your pastries from your next event!
Any other words of advice for successful choux pastries?
Related: Help! How do I Fix My Muffin Recipe?