What are Croquembouche?
Croquembouche is a French dessert made by stacking cream puffs in a conical shape and cementing them together with a caramel or spun sugar mixture. The dessert is typically ornamented with an outer layer of spun sugar, chocolate, sugared nuts, or other ingredients, and it is designed to be displayed as the centerpiece of a table. This dessert has been used at French weddings and celebrations for centuries, and it is served outside of France to add a French flair to an evening's events.
The croquembouche has a long history. It appears to have been invented by French pastry chef Antoine Careme in the late 1700s, when it became very popular as a wedding cake. Many of the individual components such as the cream puffs date to the 1500s, illustrating the long history of fine pastries in France.
This pastry concoction is one of a family of desserts known as pièces montées, or “mounted pieces.” A pièce montée is a dessert which is carefully constructed from an assortment of components, and designed to look as ornate and festive as possible. These desserts are often so elaborate that people are hesitant to eat them, and in some cases, a pièce montée may actually be specifically designed to be ornamental, including inedible ingredients like wax or cardboard to support the structure.
Constructing a croquembouche takes several days. First, the baker must make profiteroles, also known as cream puffs, from choux pastry stuffed with pastry cream. Then, a spun sugar or caramel glaze must be prepared. Several hours before the croquembouche is to be served, the cook carefully stacks the cream puffs, using the spun sugar or caramel like mortar to glue them together, and then the outside of the croquembouche must be decorated.
The traditional decoration for a croquembouche is a spun sugar glaze dusted with candied almonds. Some bakers drizzle chocolate over the croquembouche, or add more exotic ingredients like candied flowers. The top of the croquembouche may be adorned with ribbons and other ornaments. The end result is very crunchy, which explains the name: “croquembouche” means “cracks in the mouth.”
One of the biggest challenges with a croquembouche for guests unfamiliar with this food is eating it successfully. Historically, the croquembouche was cracked open with a heavy knife or sword, and guests picked away the profiteroles. In the modern era, the guests may simply be encouraged to pull the croquembouche apart, with napkins in hand to cope with shards of glaze and crumbs from the profiteroles.
@alisha-- I've never made one but my sister is a pastry chef and I know that she uses ready-made molds to make the shape of the croquembouche. You can actually buy these molds or cones at some catering shops. If you're planning on making just a small one for guests, you can probably do it without a mold.
My sister has several different sized molds. What she does is she places the cream puffs onto the mold and binds them using caramel. When the caramel has solidified, she removes the mold and then finally decorates it. But she makes really big croquembouches for special events. So you might not need to use a mold for a small one.
I saw a croquembouche wedding cake for the first time at my cousin's wedding. Her husband is of French origin and they had a traditional French wedding. The croquembouche cake was really interesting. It was like a combination of a traditional cake and croquenbouche. The bottom part was a white cake and on top was the pyramid shaped croquembouche.
When I first saw the croquembouche, I took a deep breath. It was decorated in edible rose petals and chocolate and looked so beautiful. I was also scared that it would topple over but when I went near and looked, I realized that it's pretty sturdy.
There were about two hundred guests at that wedding, and the croquembouche fed everybody, so it was made of at least three hundred cream puffs! They served the croquembouche by cutting it into smaller portions first and then using spoons to pick up the cream puffs for each serving. We all got a thin slice of cake and two cream puffs each. The best part about the cream puffs was definitely the custard filling. It was delicious.
I've made cream puffs and the dessert profiterole (cream puffs covered in chocolate cream) several times before. But croquembouche is completely different because it requires many cream puffs and it's not easy to make the cone shape.
Has anyone made croquembouche at home? How did you manage to get the cone shape? Did you use anything aside from caramel to keep the cream puffs together?
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