Besides being an incredible word (pronounced, “croak-ohm-boosh”) that I could never get enough of saying, croquembouche is a mountainous French dessert. Bound together with sticky caramel, rows of creampuffs are stacked to form a delicious pastry pyramid that is usually decorated with chocolate or webs of spun sugar.
Such a showpiece of a dessert is reserved for occasions that call for celebration. Traditionally, Croquembouche is served at French weddings either on its own, or on top of a regular tiered cake. They can be as tall as the ceiling or as small as an individual portion. Croquembouche is especially great for Christmas time because it looks like a tree.
I don’t remember what it was that sparked it, but it was all the way back in the summer when I decided that I wanted to make a Christmas Croquembouche. I wrote the word down on a piece of paper and it stayed on my desk until December. I had envisioned walking into my aunt and uncle’s house with a Croquembouche tall enough to cover my face.
In real life, it wasn’t nearly as big, but it was just as pretty and I couldn’t have been more proud to have accomplished my little goal.
I follwed this recipe by Food Network as a guide for the pate a choux, aka cream puff pastries. I have to say, I thought it was a really well-explained recipe for pate a choux, which can be a little tricky sometimes. It was practically seamless. I used my CIA Baking and Pastry cookbook for the pastry cream that I filled them with, and added Nutella to give the cream a little chocolate-hazelnut flavor.
As for the caramel “glue,” I really don’t know what the hell it is about anything caramel, but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience for me. A simple formula of 2 ½ cups of sugar to 2/3 cups of water boiled until golden, and I could barely get it right. It took two batches and a nice burn ring on our wooden kitchen table until I got something decent. One of these days I’ll get it right.
Croquembouche literally translates to “crunch in the mouth,” and between the pate a choux and caramel candy spun around it, that is exactly what it does. I also decorated mine with red and green M & M’s to make it a little more Christmassy. Everyone really liked it, and my pretty pastry pyramid looked so nice on the table!
P.S. After Victoria showed them on her blog, Mission: Food, I had to visit the holiday window display at Barney’s this year. The theme was, “Have a Foodie Holiday” and they featured celebrity chefs! The windows were divided by women, innovators, and my favorite--a food fight among the men. Here are a few photos. And yeah, I don’t know why the women are all wearing snuggies.