A baker's guide to croquembouche

croquembuche
A croquembouche can have a sweet or savory filling. 

The croquembouche consists of cream puffs glued together by caramel or toffee in the form of a pyramid shaped tower. Most pastry decorate them traditionally with sugared Almonds, Hazelnuts, chocolate or ribbons, but as pastries are an art, modern pastry chefs should take liberties with this form to create their own unique works with the festive French dessert.

A Brief History

French pastry chef Antoine Careme (1784-1833), created his original tower of cream puffs in the shape of a Turkish fez and later it was transformed into the conical shape that it’s known for today, but the complete history goes back much farther.

In 1547 an Italian noblewoman, Catherine of Medici married the future King of France, Henry II. She brought her chefs from Italy upon her move to France, and her pastry chef brought a recipe for a hot dried named Pate a Panterelli after the chef.

French pastry chefs modified the dough over the centuries until it evolved into hollow pastry shells called pate choux. French chefs filled pate choux dough with a number of different ingredients both sweet and savory. In 1760, French Pastry Chef Avice filled Pate a Choux with pastry cream and called them Profiteroles (cream puffs). Many more transformations took place over the years until Careme took Profiteroles to greater heights by using them to create his famous dessert, Croquembouche.

Construction

Bakers and pastries do things their own way according to what works best for their staff, time frame, customer preference, etc. However, a few universal and basic directions will get someone started if they’re unfamiliar with the elaborate French dessert cake.

Making a good croquembouche involves several steps and considerations from beginning to service. First, the baker must make cream puffs, from choux pastry stuffed with crème patisserie which can be flavored with Grand Marnier or other chosen custard flavor. Then, a toffee or caramel glaze must be prepared. Several hours before the croquembouche is to be served, the cook carefully stacks the cream puffs, using the toffee to stick them together, and then the outside of the croquembouche must be decorated.

The traditional decoration for a croquembouche is dusted with candied almonds. The base and the top decoration support can be made of Nougatine (a mixture of caramel and slices almonds) or sweet pastry disc. Some bakers drizzle chocolate over the croquembouche, or add more exotic ingredients like candied flowers or even fresh flowers. The top of the croquembouche may be adorned with ribbons and other ornaments.

The most popular portion to be served to each guest is three profiteroles, but two profiteroles could be sufficient if another dessert is also being offered.

Marketing and Promotion

The time and labor it takes to create one of these beautiful pastry sculptures puts it into the same class as any elaborate cake, Bakeries and pastry chefs need to market, promote, and especially price it as such. Whether setting a per cake price, per serving or time and materials, the croquembouche represents a high-end product.

Weddings, baptisms and other important family gatherings serve the croquembouche due to its extravagance and significant elegance. In today’s world any numbers of important occasions warrants such an interesting and rich dessert, but remember its high-end nature. Make sure your customers know that it’s a viable substitute for events that call for expensive cakes. Customers looking for something different and willing to spend the money will no doubt embrace its exoticness.

With time and experimentation a baker could shape the dessert according to an occasion. Graduation caps would make and excellent dessert for an important milestone in someone’s life. Sports themes, for a big win or a symbol like a tie for getting that big promotion shouldn’t be too hard for an experienced baker to create.

Always remind your customers that croquembouche is a cake, special care must be taken to refrigerate it, especially in conditions such as heat and humidity, as they are sensitive to these circumstances.