Croquenbouche - a French master piece
It was seven years ago when I first laid eyes on one of the most interesting and architectual cakes for weddings.
We were at a friends reception in Australia when the French Croquenbouche made it's grand entrance. It took two people to carefully place it on the cake table and my thoughts went from "It must be heavy" to "Gosh it could topple easily" to "How do you serve it?" to "How do you eat it?" and eventually I wondered, "How do you make it? and where did it come from?".
A croquenbouche, spelled out 'croque en bouche' and meaning 'crunch in mouth', is a French dessert made by stacking cream puffs in a conical shape and cementing them together with toffee. The dessert is typically ornamented with sugared almonds, or other ingredients, and it is designed to be displayed as the centerpiece of a table.
This dessert has been used at French weddings, christening and celebrations for centuries, and it is served outside of France to add a French flair to an evening's events.
The croquenbouche has a long history. It appears to have been invented by French pastry chef Antoine Careme (1783-1833) in the late 1700s, when it became very popular as a wedding cake. Many of the individual components such as the cream puffs (otherwise known as profiteroles), date back 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 (like I was), 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.
Petit Paris in New Plymouth, is the only place in Taranaki I've found that makes croquenbouche for special occasions.
Sitting down with owner Fred Laude on Tuesday morning, he explains that they do about 5-6 per wedding season.
Constructing a croquenbouche takes half a day with Steve their French patissier, first making the profiteroles from fresh choux pastry. He then pipes the small round pastries once cooled with crème patissiere which can be flavoured with your choice of vanilla, chocolate or caramel. Then, a toffee glaze must be prepared before stacking the profiteroles, using the toffee to stick them together. Once the conical shaped croquenbouche is complete, the team decorate it in your theme colours using ribbons, fresh/silk flowers or whatever you want before delivery.
Petit Paris's advice to couples wanting a croquenbouche for their wedding is to come in and see them to discuss your requirements. Delivery costs are involved and delivering to South Taranaki can become costly. Free pick-up is advised and don't worry, they make them extremely well so it won't collapse easily. Depending on how many people are attending the wedding will determine the cost and also how high the croquenbouche is. Allow about 3 profiteroles per person, so a wedding of 150 could be a very tall and impressive show stopper!