French and Paris-themed weddings are all the rage these days. On nearly a weekly basis, I receive emails from brides-to-be from around the globe asking for hints on adding a touch of Parisian glamour to their local, hometown celebrations. One of my favorite suggestions is one that’s simple, unique, and comes with a MAJOR “wow” factor. Instead of a classic stacked buttercream or fondant cake, serve a traditional French wedding cake—a croquembouche – for dessert instead.
Invented by French pastry chef Antoine Careme (1783-1833) in the late 1700s, the croquembouche is a tower of cream-filled, puff-pastry balls (called choux in French) that are piled into a high pyramid and encircled with caramelized sugar. This sugar is what gives the dessert its name—croquembouche loosely translates to “crunch in the mouth.” In addition to spun sugar, the croquembouche can be decorated with icing, chocolate, sugared almonds or candy ribbons.
In France, any patisserie worth its weight in salt will be able to help you obtain a croquembouche. One of the most popular Parisian patisseries is Ladurée, who are known around the world for their macarons. Well, Ladurée also creates beautiful croquembouche in either plain choux drizzled in caramelized sugar or covered in icing in their signature pastel colors. Ladurée offers a wide selection of flavors of crème, like vanilla, pistachio, caramel, rose and orange blossom. The most popular among Parisian brides is the vanilla-bourbon cream, which is flavored with just the slightest touch of aged rum.
Now, one of the highlights of a French wedding is the presentation of Le gâteau (the cake). Unlike in traditional American weddings where the cake is on display as a focal point throughout the entire reception dinner, a French wedding cake is brought out at dessert time, usually with quite a bit of hoopla.
A typical serving of croquembouche is around three or four choux per guest. So at a wedding of 100 guests, you can imagine the height of some of these cakes. When it’s time to present the croquembouche, the lights will go down, and the DJ will start the guests chanting, “Le gateau! Le gateau!”. Amid quite a bit of fanfare (think “Rocky’s Theme” or “2001 Space Odyssey”), the head patissière and his assistants will carry out the cake to the happy couple. And as if a four-foot tower of cream-filled puff pastries dripping in caramelized spun sugar wasn’t enough, the croquembouche at a French wedding is also usually presented with fireworks (called “scintillants”) shooting out from all over it.
After the flames die down, the couple breaks off a few of the choux and feeds a few bites to each other. The cake is then whisked away to be cut, plated and served to guests.
Ask your local French bakery about creating a croquembouche for your French-inspired wedding reception, bridal shower or rehearsal dinner dessert. For those concerned with fire codes, try substituting individual, hand-held sparklers for the fireworks. Pass them out to guests before the dessert and let them know to light them at the designated time.
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Kimberley Petyt is a wedding planner in Paris and author of The Paris Wedding.
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