Salted Caramel Cream Puffs Are a Holiday Knockout—But One You Can Handle

Croquembouche gets the sheet-pan treatment.

December 19, 2018
Photo by Bobbi Lin

There’s a reason croquembouche—or a pyramid of cream puffs, bound together with caramel—is a go-to stand-in for a wedding cake. Besides being delicious (my husband likens it to “crème brûlée doughnuts”), croquembouche is enormous, the sort of pastry pièce de résistance anyone would stare at and think, Whoa! I could never do that.

But to heck with that, because you can.

This streamlined version skips the hard stuff and cuts right to the chase: You eating lots and lots of caramel-covered cream puffs, no gown or suit required. If there’s a more standout—or popular—dessert for the holidays, we need not know it.

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Grab a sheet pan and ditch the pyramid. Using caramel to stack pastries into a tower is a Great British Baking Show challenge that I did not sign up for. A rimmed sheet pan saves the day. The standard size (aka, half-sheet or 18 by 13 inches) fits almost 60 puffs—more than enough to feed most holiday gatherings—and you don’t have to worry about them toppling over before dessert.

Let a cookie scoop take the lead. Most pate a choux recipes tell you to transfer the dough to a piping bag, then hand-pipe equal-sized puffs. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that good at eyeballing stuff. Enter: my favorite kitchen gadget—the tablespoon-sized cookie scoop. Using this to portion the pate a choux makes this step of the recipe go way faster, and your puffs will look more professional, to boot.

Plastic baggies, too. To ensure that the baked pate a choux puffs don’t get soggy, I like to poke each one’s side with a knife right after they come out of the oven. The bonus: This hole is good for more than just venting steam—it’s also an entry point for the pastry cream. Which means there’s no need for a formal piping tip. (Does everyone have piping tips? I think not.) Just fill a lil’ plastic baggy with pastry cream and use scissors to snip one corner; start with a small snip, then adjust the size as needed.

Bring the caramel to the puffs. Not the puffs to the caramel! The first time I tried to dip cream puffs in just-cooked caramel, I burned my fingertips more times than I care to admit. This dunk is crucial when you’re building a pyramid—but we’re just cozying these cuties up on a sheet pan. So, instead of dunking the puffs in the caramel, we’ll spoon some caramel on top of the puffs. Plus, a sprinkle of flaky salt on top, because it really does make everything better.

Have you ever made croquembouche or cream puffs before? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Eric K. December 22, 2018
These are so gorgeous, Emma.
MelissaH December 19, 2018
Would commercial dulce de leche work as a filling?
Emma L. December 19, 2018
Hi Melissa! I'm worried that might be a little too sweet, since there's more caramel on top. Maybe if you mix the dulce de leche with some whipped cream?
Ella Q. December 19, 2018
You've convinced me! I am ordering a tablespoon-sized scoop.
Emma L. December 19, 2018