A delicious Cream Puff Christmas Tree Cake is what it takes to attract the attention (and appetite) of all your guests during Christmas dinner.
Every year on Christmas Eve my family is invited by a couple of friends. And my job is to bring a cake. My initial project was to make a croquembouche. Croquembouche is a special dessert, with a very particular and spectacular structure: its vertical development makes it difficult to find and even more unlikely to be made at home. Due to its shape, it is often placed next to a Christmas tree and is preferably prepared during the Christmas period.
It is a small fir tree made with a mountain of stuffed puff creams (bigne- choux pastries), then held together by a caramel sauce. As I said before it is very difficult to make if you are not an exceptional pastry chef, so to prevent my tree from collapsing, I made crispy waffle disks as flat plains to rest the bigne on and stack them into a cone shape.
Luckily it was a success! Both in terms of decoration and a gustatory level.
You can decorate the cream puff tree as you like: sprinkles, edible flowers, and whatever else you can think of to give this cake the look of a real Christmas tree … magical.
I decorated it with pomegranate seeds and sprigs of rosemary.
To prepare your cream puffs Christmas tree, start by preparing the ricotta cream, the ricotta must be completely drained of water.
The day before you can also prepare the base of the tree, which is made of sponge cake that will be soaked in orange and lemon syrup, and stuffed with ricotta cream.
Bigne` (Choux Pastries)
- 240 ml water (1 cup)
- 100 g butter (~ 8 tbsp)
- 4 eggs
- 130 g flour 00 (~ 1 cup)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 5 medium eggs room temperature
- 130 g flour 00 (4.6 oz)
- 30 g potato starch (1.1 oz)
- 150 g sugar (⅔ cup)
- 1 grated lemon peel
- 1 scraped vanilla bean
Crispy Waffle Disks
- 100 g flour (1 cup)
- 100 g powdered sugar (1 cup)
- 100 g soft butter (7.05 Tbsp)
- 3 white eggs
- 850g ricotta cheese (30 oz)
- 300g heavy whipping cream (1 - 1/3 cup)
- 250g powdered sugar (~ 2 - 1/4 cups)
- 160g Unsalted Peeled Pistachios (5.64 oz)
- 150 g Sugar (3/4 cup)
- 100 g White Chocolate (3.5 oz)
- 50 g Butter (3.5 Tbsp)
- 100 ml Milk (~ 1/2 cup)
Orange Lemon Syrup
- 250 ml of fresh orange juice (1cup)
- 50ml of fresh lemon juice
- 40 ml of water (~3 tbsp)
- 80 g of sugar (3 1/4 tbsp)
- 200g granulated sugar (1 cup)
- 100ml water (1/2 cup)
- 1Tbsp lemon juice
Bigne` (Choux Pastries)
- Pour the water into a saucepan.
- Add the butter, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour, stirring continuously avoiding lumps.
- Place the pot back on low heat and stir vigorously slamming the mixture with a wooden spoon, until the dough combines and begins to come away from the sides of the pot (you will see a white film on the walls of the pot).
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200° C)
- Add the eggs one by one to the cool mixture and mix well before adding the additional eggs, one at a time.
- Spoon the dough into a "sac a poche" (pastry bag) and pipe the desired shape onto the baking sheet.
- Then with a damp finger, flatten the apex.
- Bake until the choux pastry shells puff up and are golden brown on top (35-40 minutes).
- Fill the puff creams from the bottom first with the pistachio cream and then with ricotta cream, being careful to keep the cream inside of the choux pastry meaning don’t fill it up too much to the point where the cream is dripping out.
Pan di Spagna
- Mix the eggs with the sugar.
- Beat the mixture in a mixer for 15-20 minutes at medium speed.
- Add the sifted flour and starch potatoes with a spatula from the bottom to the top to obtain a homogeneous consistency.
- Put the mixture into the cake pan (24 cm in diameter - 9-inches round and 1 1/2 inch deep) properly greased and lightly floured.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (356°F) for about 40-50 minutes, never open the oven before 35 minutes.
- Do the toothpick test to check cooking, insert it in centers, and has to come out clean.
- After the time necessary to allow it to cool and remove it from the mold.
- Allow the sponge cake to cool completely before slicing.
- Cut the cake into two layers and soak them with the orange lemon syrup.
- Pipe ¼ of ricotta cream on the soaked bottom layer.
- Cover with the other soaked layer and frost with the other ¼ ricotta cream over the top and the sides of the cake.
- Mix the ricotta with the sieved sugar.
- Combine it with whipped cream to obtain a soft and silky cream.
- Divide the mixture into two equal parts, which are to be used for the sponge cake and to fill the choux pastries.
- Blend the pistachios with the sugar in a blender until you get a paste, add half the milk, and continue to blend them.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter and the chopped chocolate over low heat in the remaining milk.
- Remove from the heater and add the pistachio paste and mix everything together.
- Add the pistachio paste and mix everything together.
- Then with a hand mixer, blend everything until you get a smooth and homogeneous cream.
- Mix the soft butter with 1 cup of powdered sugar very well with the electric whisk.
- Then add the egg whites, always mixing with the whisk, and when the mixture is well amalgamated add the sieved flour.
- Preheat the oven to 180 °C (350°F).
- Prepare greaseproof paper disks :1 of 10 cm (4 inches) diameter, 2 of 16 cm (6.5 inches), and 1 of 22 cm ( 9 inches).
- Spread evenly the mixture over each disk to cover it.
- Cook in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes.
- Let them cool down.
Orange Lemon Syrup
- Prepare the fresh orange and lemon juices (you need 4 oranges and 2 lemons) and set them aside.
- In the meantime, put the sugar water in a saucepan and place it on the stove.
- Make sure the heat is low and mix the sugar and water solution until it comes to a boil.
- When you notice that the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has thickened, turn off the heat.
- Add the orange juice and continue stirring and let it cool.
- In a thick-bottomed saucepan, pour the sugar and then cover the sugar in water and lemon juice.
- Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar, then put it over medium heat without stirring, if you see that the sugar sticking to the bottom, swirl the saucepan.
- As soon as the sugar reaches an amber color, turn off and immerse the saucepan in cold water to cool it down.
- Take the cake and place it on a cake stand.
- Dip the stuffed beignets in the caramel,
- it will serve as a binder between one cream puff and another and give it that crystallized effect.
- Arrange 8 beignets on the cake in a circular shape and one in the center, choose almost all of them of the same size and height.
- And then I placed the disc with a diameter of 9 inches on the 8 puff creams.
- For an easier visual description here is how I arranged them from
top to bottom:
- 1 puff cream
- Disk- 4 inches
- 3 puff creams
- Disk- 6.5 inches
- 4 puff creams
- Disk- 6.5 inches
- 6 puff creams
- Disk- 9 inches
- 8 puff creams