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The tale of my croquembouche: A love story


StephMac
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A few months ago, my brother-in-law and his fiancee asked if I could make a croquembouche for their end-of-December wedding. Now, normally I make cakes, but I couldn't resist the challenge.

Then I started to worry: how was I going to do this? I'm used to making and decorating cakes, not cream puff towers; I've never worked with caramelized sugar, I've only made a few cream puffs in my entire life, and I've either got to transport this thing 2.5 hours in the car or make it at the site (a relative's house, luckily) the morning before the wedding.

Well, where else to turn but egullet? I read through every choux paste and croquembouche and caramelized sugar post - all the tips about how to assemble and how to be careful with the sugar and so on. I asked a few questions and got some very helpful answers. And I made hundreds of cream puffs using Pichet Ong's recipe :wub:, burnt two batches of sugar (pee-yew!), and stacked two small test croquembouches. And slowly, I started to feel a lot more confident that I could do this - and not only that, but it would turn out pretty well. Nevertheless, my fingers and toes were crossed that it would not rain that day... not only because the wedding ceremony was outside, but because I didn't want the cream puffs to come tumbling down in a pile of humidy-softened sugar, melting filling, and floppy pastry!

We headed up to the wedding site the day before to help get the place ready, so I carted half my kitchen there and made everything on-site. After several hours in the kitchen (and a last-minute run to the store for heavy cream, whoops), I had 200+ profiterole-sized puffs, a double batch of pastry cream, a triple batch of cheesecake mousse, and my caramelized sugar ready for assembly the next morning. (I caramelized the sugar and put it in a glass container to microwave the next morning; I didn't want a hot pot of sugar on the stove while people were running around in wedding chaos.)

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The next morning, bright and early, I started filling puffs. The wedding was at noon but family photos were at 10, so I had about 3 hours to get the croquembouche ready -- not to mention getting all pretty for the pictures. The bottom half of the croquembouche puffs were filled vanilla pastry cream; the top half were cheesecake mousse. I formed a cone out of posterboard, lined it with Reynold's Release foil (the kind that's supposed to be non-stick - it worked like a dream! No need to oil the foil at all!), warmed up the sugar and started dipping and sticking. I did not dip the tops first; I dipped only the sides to stick the puffs together. When I dipped the tops, it ended up being too much caramel per puff, and eating one nearly pulled your teeth out.

Despite having to re-warm the sugar a couple of times, it went well and faster than expected. Since I hadn't made a test-version this large, I was surprised at how heavy the cone got as it filled up... and that made me worry. Would it stand up OK?

The croquembouche sat upside-down in its foil until about 11:30, when I set it on its stand, removed the paper cone... and took my hands away. It was still standing! Next, however, I had to remove the foil. Slowly, I pulled... a little further... a little more... and it was done. The croquembouce was standing on its own - and quite solidly, I must say. I slipped a few more cream puffs into gaps around the bottom to even out the base, and that was ready for showtime. Huge sigh of relief.

After the ceremony, I popped into the kitchen, heated up my sugar again, and made some spun-sugar strands to wrap around the croquembouche. I didn't make these earlier in the day because I knew they would be the first to soften and potentially melt in a warm house full of people. I made three sets to wrap around the cone. And then... finished! Here's how it came out:

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(that's grandma's famous apple pie on the left, and mom's pecan pie on the right. It was a pie-and-puff wedding.)

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I'd say the final height was about 1.5 to 2 feet, and it used somewhere between 160-180 puffs. By the time they served it, the sugar was just a little soft, enough so that we could break of chunks of puffs without smushing them and sending sugar shards all over the carpet. We served them with raspberry puree and dark chocolate sauce. It was a hit, the bride and groom were happy, no one lost a filling while eating the caramel, and I was thrilled. Now I can't wait for an excuse to make another one, and I ponder variations... I'd love to try a chocolate one...or, if I made a savory croquembouche, what to stick it together with?... hmmm...

So I wanted to say thank you to the eGullet pastry forum folk for helping make this a success. I'm so proud of how it all turned out, and I really could not have done this without you. I'd especially like to thank chefpeon, Wendy DeBord, Patrick S and KarenS for all the advice and insight they've posted to this forum over the years; your previous experiences with cream puffs, croquembouches, and spun sugar made my first croquembouche fabulous. Grazie mille!

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That was absolutely beautiful. I'm amazed that your puffs all seem to be identical in size. Great job.

As for a savory croquenbouche, you could use melted cheese to stick it together if the cheese would go with the flavor profile.

check out my baking and pastry books at the Pastrymama1 shop on www.Half.ebay.com

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That was absolutely beautiful. I'm amazed that your puffs all seem to be identical in size.  Great job.

As for a savory croquenbouche, you could use melted cheese to stick it together if the cheese would go with the flavor profile.

That was my first thought, as well, but remember, in a lot of Latino cultures, the meat pies are brushed with a sweet glaze to finish them and are very, VERY good! So, maybe the caramel would work with a savory, too.

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Thank you for all the kind words :biggrin:

Marmish - as for how far ahead of time you could put one together - a lot depends on the weather (humidity and rain cause the caramelized sugar to soften quickly) and what you're filling the cream puffs with (how long it can stay out of refrigeration). I made one small test croquembouche of empty puffs that managed to stay standing overnight (8-10 hours), but the caramelized sugar was very soft by morning and the cone fell apart as I was taking it to the office to share. I think the longest I'd push it would be to assemble the cone in the late morning of an evening event- that's assuming you have a filling that doesn't need refrigeration - and I'd leave it upside down in the paper mold until it display time.

Chezcherie - the stand is not an antique; it's actually an embossed silverplate cakestand, about 12" round, I think. I got it for cheap around the time of my wedding from another bride who didn't need it. It has come in handy a couple of times for cakes and dessert tables!

I like the savory croquembouche ideas, and I'm definitely going to keep thinking about this. The tricky part is finding a substance that is not overly sweet but will also harden well enough to keep the puffs stuck together in a solid mass. I need a savory royal icing!

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Sorry to hear that. Of course, you can make the cream puffs at any time and freeze them, and make the fillings ahead, too. But I don't think the assembly process can be done too far in advance unless you have some kind of perfect temperature/humidty-controlled environment to store it in...

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Bravo! Your croquembouche is positively perfect and professional. Your family is lucky to have your talents "in house".

You should be very proud. Save those photos for your portfolio!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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That's a really nice effort, congratulations. I'm thinking about offering those on special dinner party menus at my establishment. I'd only seen it done once before, but it didn't look like it would be impossible to pull off. As an FYI, they make special cones for them, I've seen two sizes and they aren't prohibitively expensive..maybe thirty bucks if I remember correctly.

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