At Chris Shepherd’s One Fifth, pastry chef Victoria Dearmond is serving up her inventive desserts (vinegar pie, anyone?) that lean heavily on traditional classics. Now that One Fifth is focusing on the cuisines of Spain, Italy, and France), Dearmond is baking hundreds of cream puffs to assemble the restaurant’s most impressive dessert: the croquembouche.
French for “a crunch in the mouth,” croquembouche begins with the preparation of a pâte à choux, a light pastry dough that’s cooked on the stovetop. Once it’s ready, Dearmond scoops the dough into a piping bag and pipes perfect little circles onto a baking tray, which immediately heads into a hot oven.
While the puffs bake, Dearmond prepares a custard that’s made with eggs, milk, sugar, and plenty of orange zest. Star anise and, interestingly, a sprinkle of black pepper are stirred into the mix, adding a touch of complex spice. The custard thickens on the stove, and is set aside to cool before being piped into each individual cream puff. The cream puffs are then arranged into groups of three or four, waiting to be bound together with caramel.
Once the puffs are filled, Dearmond makes a simple caramel with an addition that’s intended to combat the Houston humidity: glucose syrup. High humidity disrupts the balance of sugar and moisture in caramel, and the glucose syrup serves as a stabilizer. The caramel is poured over the arranged cream puffs and allowed to cool, then Dearmond uses a specialized tool that looks like a whisk to create the individual strands of spun sugar.
The layers of the croquembouche are stacked, dusted with powdered sugar, garnished with triangles of white chocolate, and finally, crowned with a handful of delicate spun sugar.
Watch Dearmond make this impressive (and totally delicious) dessert below: