With the number of French contributions to our culture, you probably won’t be surprised to find a croquembouche at a Canadian wedding. However, you might not be familiar with the history, details and preparation behind these fascinating pastry desserts. Whether you’ve adopted a French theme for your festivities or just want a different type of wedding cake for your reception, this delightful tower of goodness might be just right for your crowd.
Origins in 19th Century France
While much of Canada was still under British rule, a young Parisian baker began crafting a pastry creation that would become his enduring legacy. In January 2017, the U.S. media network National Public Radio website published a piece on legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, the famed inventor of the croquembouche. Born to an impoverished family around 1783 or 1784, he was presumably orphaned by social turmoil resulting from the French revolution. Carême began working in a Paris kitchen at the age of eight, and by the time he was 15 years old, he’d landed a position as an apprentice to top-rated pastry chef Sylvain Bailly.
As Carême honed his craft during his late teen years, Bailly regularly displayed Carême’s stunningly elaborate pastries in his bakery shop window. By the late 1700s, this young sensation had fashioned a tower of small, round cream puffs called “choux” festooned with spun sugar. A recipe for this dessert, which he called a croquembouche, was published in his 1815 cookbook “Le Pâtissier royal parisien.” Meanwhile, Carême continued to rise to culinary stardom, designing lavish, beautiful sweets for the likes of Napoleon, Russia’s Czar Alexander I and prince regent George IV of England.
The Croquembouche in the Modern World
While there are many modern variations on this delicious pastry, they still follow the same basic format: a tall mountain of cream puffs covered in spun sugar and other wonderful edibles. You’ll probably have no difficulty finding bakers in any province to supply one for your special day, and it’s an appropriate wedding cake for many types of wedding themes. Wedding Bells Magazine showcased a French vintage matrimonial affair in a 2012 piece on its website, adding that the couple chose a croquembouche to add a delicate grandeur to their festivities.
If you think that such a spectacular wedding cake should get its own entrance and fanfare, you’re absolutely right. In fact, contributor Kim Petyt on The Good Life France blog revealed that a croquembouche is usually not presented until dessert time. With the lights dimmed and celebratory music playing, guests typically begin chanting “Le gateau! Le gateau!” as the star of the hour is brought out to the dining hall while decorated in small, sizzling fireworks. Once the display is over, the staff serves each guest three or four of the sweet, creamy choux to enjoy.
Flavorful Possibilities Abound
In both exterior decorative touches and inner fillings, the croquembouche presents a wide variety of lovely flavors. Traditionally, each choux contains vanilla-bourbon crème in the center. Nevertheless, bakeries offer several popular filling choices which can include favorites such as caramel and chocolate, or less common tastes like rose, pistachio or orange blossom. Besides spun sugar or pastel-tinted icing, a croquembouche wedding cake can be decked out in sugared almonds, chocolate, candied ribbons or even edible flowers.
A Delicious Wedding Cake Idea for Your Nuptial Affair
The croquembouche is a distinctive and delightful wedding cake that offers a complex combination of aesthetics, French culture and flavor. Its name appropriately translates to “crunch in the mouth,” and your guests will enjoy the taste and texture of this now-classic sweet treat. Add to that the customary celebratory fanfare with which it’s presented during your festivities, and your croquembouche will certainly be a memorable part of your wedding day.