French fancy on your big day

It takes a lot of work, but Croquembouche - a traditional French cake - is well worth the effort.

Thu, Sep 5, 2013, 10:41

These days weddings are about an expression of a couple’s individuality, and nothing is more symbolic than the culinary centrepiece – the cake.

Croquembouche is the quintessential French celebration cake, a spectacular upturned cone of small choux pastries, piled high, filled with flavoured creams, held together with caramelised sugar and decorated with spun sugar; an elegant, interesting wedding cake.

The success of a croquembouche – which means “crunch in the mouth” – depends greatly on the quality of the choux buns. Choux pastry achieves its puff from its high moisture content which creates steam and then puffs out the pastry. The secret of success is not having the pastry too moist to begin with – it should be able to hold its own shape, then once the buns are crispy and golden brown, remove from the oven, prick to release the steam and return to the oven to crisp up. The extra crunch comes from the layer of caramel coating the buns. This helps each bun to stick to the next as you build the cone shape. My first attempt at croquembouche involved a traffic cone – the less said about that the better! I have since bought a conical mould especially for this cake, a vintage model courtesy of eBay, but I have seen cones made of card work well. Remember you are not sticking the choux buns to the cone, but to each other, the cone is just there to assist you, like scaffolding. The amount of buns depends on the size and height of your croquembouche, and number of guests. If it is being served as dessert, you would need to allow three to four per person.

For the cake in this photo, I made five batches of choux buns, three batches of crème patissière (folding in whipped cream as described in the recipe) and four batches of caramel. This cake will serve about 50 for dessert.