A bite in your mouth
Updated: Apr 23
Since we’ve started our Christmas celebrations in class, no reason to ignore another popular time for pastry chefs. Yes, its Wedding Time. This past week, we were introduced to the traditional French wedding cake, known as a Croquembouche. Literally, this means a bite in your mouth. Ah, French weddings.
Croquembouche are made up many, many pate a choux or cream puffs, stacked up in a conical shape and held together with caramel. You take the cone and place it on a nougatine base, topped with a nougatine crown, and voila, you have a Croquembouche. This serves as the wedding’s centerpiece, and then each guest is served 3-5 choux, cut apart in various methods. Most dramatically with a sword, most efficiently with scissors. Me, I say go with the sword.
First off, we made 80 pate a choux. A simple recipe, made in a manner of minutes, but the tricky part is making sure that the batter you made will pipe out 80 choux…
…And they all have to be the same size. And shape. And have I mentioned you only get a max of 2 chances to pipe it out before it starts to get too difficult to pipe? And I’ve already addressed my piping skills. But I did it! 80 choux exactly.
So you pipe them out, put some butter on them to smooth out the edges and pop them in the oven. Pouf, these come out!
PS These are pretty delish just like this. I know because we ran late decorating our Croquembouche and missed lunch, meaning I ate my leftover choux. And I was totally ok with this scenario. Not sure if that’s a statement on my awesome choux making skills or how bad my caf is at serving lunch. Anyway, choux, check.
Next up, nougatine. I thought nougatine was like nougat in 3 musketeers until a few weeks ago. Nope, this is infinitely better. It’s caramel with almond pieces, molded while still hot and then set out to cool and hardened in the shape you desire.
Next up, you need to make the circle base, 4 crescent moons and small circle lid for the top of your Croquembouche. Again, rolling it out. We all had to toss ours by the oven for a couple of minutes to re-melt it a bit to make the rolling easier. (I guarantee there was a 4th moon…somewhere. Not that I used them. But I didn’t waste either – yum.)
Finally, some decorative touches, like the triangles to make a crown on the base and the topper. More rolling!
Ok, I just like that picture. Here’s what it all looks like:
I found my 4th moon! And a 5th! I ate the 5th… It really wasn’t the right thickness to do any good.
So, you take the topping pieces and make this little guy. Well, if you’re Chef.
And then you add the triangles to your base as well, to make it subtle.
Reminds me of Kermit. Jim Henson knows what I’m saying.
And that’s the Croquembouche!
Except for the assembly. Right, about that. Ok, so you take your choux and dip them in caramel, and plop them down on a silkmat caramel side down.
Then, after a minute or so, flip them up. This way the caramel won’t drip down the sides of the choux, but doesn’t form an exact disk (like our St Honore – another blog…I’m far behind, I know). Do this to all 80 or so choux…and don’t burn yourself.
Now its time to get serious. Each ring, which served as the base size for us, fits approximately 11-12 choux. So, to form the cone, you lay out all the layers, taking one less choux from each layer as you go up.
And then its time to start to build! Its sort of like being a kid again and building with blocks. But the blocks are round. And you keep them together with burning hot caramel. Luckily, my mom never let me do this as a kid.
You take one choux, dip two sides in caramel and then stick them together. Not the hardest thing. At least at the base level. Then you start building up.
You bring each level in about a millimeter or two and create smaller and smaller circles, going on up.
And up and up. And then up.
At this point, Chef let us go and make our towers while he decorated his. Next thing, I turned around and saw this.
Royal icing, Jordan almonds, silver balls, and pulled sugar. All while I was trying to just make sure my cone wasn’t leaning one direction (I had 2 layers with the same amount of choux….eek). I guess this will do.
But me being me, while this was pretty, it felt a bit dated. Its lovely and I would be proud to have made it. But I went in my very own Lauren direction and came up with this.
Aside from my Leaning Tower of Fatty just not going to do that, I just wasn’t into the classic design. I hate Jordan almonds. So, I made some poured sugar free forms, attached them, created some golden sugar threads and draped them around, and got rid of the ’80’s crown. I rather liked my first attempt at a Croquembouche. Chef, well, he’s a traditionalist. But my fellow colleagues really liked my interpretation and I got some creativity points. If nothing else, I’m creative. Right?
Here’s all of my class’s creations. They do look impressive in person, I must say. I got ooh’ed and aah’ed all over the place while I carried 4 of them down the stairs (who gave a platter of 4 towers, all 1.5 feet tall to the klutz?).