- For the choux buns
- 175g/6oz unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing
- 185g/6½oz plain flour, sifted
- 6 eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6 and lightly butter 3 large baking sheets. Put the butter in a large, heavy-based saucepan with 450ml/16fl oz water and gently heat until the butter has melted. Bring to the boil , then immediately tip in the flour, all in one go. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball that comes away from the sides of the pan. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
Add the beaten egg, a little at a time, beating well between each addition, until the mixture is glossy and only just holding its shape. You may not need to add all the egg. Spoon half the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm/½in plain nozzle or a large polythene freezer bag with the corner snipped off.
Pipe small rounds, about 2cm/¾in in diameter, on the baking sheets, trimming the paste from the bag with a knife. Leave room between them to allow for spreading. You should end up with about 75 rounds.
Bake for 25 minutes, in batches if necessary, until well risen and golden, rotating the baking sheets halfway through cooking. As soon as the pastry is cooked, make a 1cm/½in slit on the side of each bun to let the steam escape (this stops them drying out), then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
Next, make the cone mould. Make a pencil mark halfway up a long edge of an A1 sheet of card. Mark the halfway position along both short edges and draw a line from each point to the mark on the long edge. Attach one end of a 60cm/24in length of string to a pencil and, holding the other end at the point on the long edge, draw a curve from the point on one short side to the point on the opposite side. Cut out the shape to use as a template to create the same shape in foil.
Tape the foil over the card and roll up (foil inside), overlapping the straight edges to make a cone shape with a 20cm/8in diameter opening. Secure with tape and snip 10cm/ 4in off the point of the cone.
To make the limoncello cream
- 9 egg yolks 150g/5oz golden caster sugar
- 50g/2oz plain flour, plus 1 tbsp
- Zest of 2 lemons, plus 4 tbsp juice
- 500ml/18fl oz full-fat milk
- 7 tbsp limoncello or an orange liqueur
Beat the egg yolks, sugar, flour, lemon zest and juice to make a smooth paste. Bring the milk to the boil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. As soon as it reaches the boil, pour it over the egg mixture, stirring well. Return to the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce is very thick and bubbling. Stir in the liqueur and transfer to a bowl. Cover the surface with a circle of baking parchment to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble the croquembouche
- 400g/14oz white chocolate
- Prepared cardboard cone
If any buns are a little soft, lay them in a single layer on baking sheets and re-crisp in a 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4 oven for 5 minutes. Fill sparingly with limoncello cream by piping as before. You can always pipe in a little extra if you have any leftover mix.
Break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and melt over a pan of gently simmering water. Give it an occasional stir until it’s just melted. Turn off the heat.
Rest the cone inside a vase or a jug for support. Put a small bun into the point of the cone with the bun’s base face up. Spoon 1 tsp of melted chocolate onto the base and secure 2 small buns over the first, again with the base up. Spoon over another tsp of chocolate. It’s a little difficult working at the tip of the cone but it gets much easier as it widens.
Work up the cone, packing in the buns quite firmly, drizzling the chocolate and working in horizontal layers until the cone is filled. Make sure that each bun is firmly secured with chocolate before proceeding to the next layer, and also make sure the final layer forms a flat base for the cake. Keep the filled cone in a cool place overnight to harden.
To decorate the croquembouche
- 200g/7oz white caster sugar
- 175g/6oz each cream and pink sugared almonds
- 2 x100g tubs crystallised whole roses
- Icing sugar, for dusting
Carefully invert the cone onto a flat serving plate, then lift away the cone. Gently peel away the foil if it doesn’t come away with the card.
Put the sugar in a small heavybased saucepan with 5 tbsp water. Heat very gently, stirring slowly, until it has dissolved to make a smooth syrup. Try not to splash the syrup up the sides of the pan, as it might crystallise and solidify.
Bring the syrup to the boil and cook for 4-6 minutes, watching closely until it turns a rich golden colour. Take off the heat and dip the base of the pan in cold water to prevent further cooking (stand back – the pan will splutter noisily). Carefully dip the ends of the sugared almonds and roses in the caramel and secure around the cake, scattering a few on the plate. Using a teaspoon, drizzle more caramel around the buns so that it falls in fine threads. If the caramel hardens in the pan before you’ve finished decorating, gently reheat it, taking care not to burn it. Finish with a dusting of icing sugar.
To serve the croquembouche, it’s easier if you have someone to break pieces off for the guests, starting from the top and working down the cake.