Growing up, my sister Claude and I loved the desserts prepared by our mother. The fun part was that we often helped in their preparation. We used to take turns in mixing cake batters, and kneading dough for brioches. A week before Easter my aunt and cousin would join us in a baking marathon. We would all sit around the table in the kitchen and start cutting and shaping brioches, crimping ‘kaak’ (those middle-eastern pastries filled with dates, crushed pistachios or walnuts), 'batons salés', and a variety of cookies. A true home-based bakery and hands-on baking school. All these goodies were made in huge quantities so that aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbours and friends would get their share during the holiday season.

We had a hand cranked egg beater for whipping egg whites but the results were so different done by hand, seeing the albumen transform into firm snow! This was a real workout. I never realized how much I loved baking until I made my first batch of choux à la crème. The rest is history. Nowadays, even when I bake my mother’s marble cake, the aroma in my kitchen is as heavenly as it was in hers.


History of the Croquembouche

The Croquembouche traditionally plays an important role at French weddings, Baptisms, Christenings and other Family gatherings. It has its origins as a fanciful, edible, architectural structure displayed on the medieval tables of the French royalty and nobility. Later, Antonin Carème (1783 - 1833), the most famous French Chef of his generation popularized this dessert. Carème studied architecture and was credited with saying, referring to pieces montées, that architecture was the most noble of the arts and that pastry was the highest form of architecture. He created Turkish mosques, Persian pavilions, Gothic towers and other pièces montées from choux buns. The most common shape in those days was that of a Turkish fez. Towards the end of the 19th century, these extraordinary architectural structures spiraled upwards and out of control. However, during the 20th century, the conical structure was the winning survivor.

What is a Croquembouche?

This traditional French wedding cake or this croquembouche dessert is a pièce montée made of profiteroles (choux buns) filled with pastry cream or chantilly or crème patissière, flavoured with a liqueur of choice, sitting on a round base of croquant or nougatine, and mounted in a conical shape. The choux puffs are bound with caramel, and the finished cone is usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds or hazelnuts, chocolate, flowers, ribbons or spun sugar. Depending of the occasion, the top decoration can be a bride and groom, a crown of marzipan roses, a small bowl of fresh flowers or an engraved nougatine or iced heart. The Croquembouche can also be decorated with 'cheveux d'ange' (spun sugar).

A croquenbouche, spelled out 'croque en bouche' means 'crunch in the mouth'. A pièce montée in French, literally meaning "mounted piece", is a decorative confectionary centerpiece in an architectural or sculptural form used for formal banquets. Nougatine or croquant is a mixture of caramel and finely chopped almonds. Because the choux pastry is very versatile, it can be shaped in a variety of shapes other than the traditional round choux puffs or long éclairs, and, with a bit of imagination a pièce montée can be made in different architectural structures to suit the occasion.

Price:  The price of the croquembouche depends on the number of profiteroles making up the cake and the number of people being catered for. Three profiteroles per person is the most popular serving, but two profiteroles could be sufficient if another dessert is also being offered.