Croquembouche Is The Decorative French Treat To Try When You're Tired Of Cake

While cakes are a tasty dessert, their rich, dense, and sweet consistency is not for everyone. However, in many places, like the U.S., they are the traditional go-to for special occasions like birthdays, weddings, and more. So, if you're not a fan of doughy baked goods, or are simply wanting to change things up, look to France for inspiration and craft a croquembouche. This stunning dessert definitely turns heads with its assembled structure of caramel-dipped cream puffs formed into a pyramid. 

And not only is it distinct from cake in shape, but in mouthfeel, too. The dish is crafted fresh to create a crunchy and creamy contrast of textures, hence its name, which translates to "crunch in the mouth" in French. Traditionally consumed for weddings, the dessert can also be remolded into a variety of flavors and reinterpretations, like this Christmas tree croquembouche. Ready for the perfectly crunchy, sweet, and flavorful bite? Let's dive into this spectacular creation.

Croquembouche started as a dessert for French nobility

This awe-inspiring pile of pastry dates back centuries, with early forms of croquembouche emerging in the 16th century. From the get-go, it was not an everyday dessert; instead, it was only enjoyed by royalty and aristocrats. Although uncertain, some believe the unique pastry structure took inspiration from Middle Eastern sweets. After all, the individual bites drizzled with caramel do recall Turkish desserts like tulumba tatlısı.

Croquembouche didn't become established in the French pastry oeuvre until the 19th century. Its popularization was expanded by famed chef Marie-Antoine Carême, who published a recipe describing the rigorous logistics of the dessert's creation. His writing touched upon forming the pastries to resemble grand structures, noting mosque design as one inspiration. 

The now ubiquitous cone shape only took hold later, sometime in the 20th century. However, all the while, croquembouches continued as an all-out, go-to sweet for festive events, especially weddings. And with such intensive preparation, it's easy to see why the delicious dish is undoubtedly synonymous with such life-defining events.

How to make your own croquembouche

The ornate dessert is built from several dozen cream puffs, which are dipped in caramel and then drizzled with an optional sugar syrup. The puffs are crafted from choux pastry, which is made on the stovetop using butter, flour, sugar, and water. Eggs are then added to the mixture before it is piped into spheres and baked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then 35 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, each puff is filled with a decadent pastry cream, which is usually flavored with vanilla. 

The cone structure is then achieved using a rolled parchment sheet. The individual cream puffs are covered in caramel for both flavor and adhesion and then carefully assembled and stacked on the paper in any shape desired. Finally, strings of caramel are pulled across the structure for an added flourish. To serve, guests either grab the puffs by hand, or the structure is disassembled and split up. 

Due to its maximalist character, there are many croquembouche deviations. Varying flavors can be imbued into the cream, such as orange, strawberry, anise, and other fruits and spices. And the drizzle is often modified, too — it can be crafted from chocolate or other flavored syrups. What's dependable is arranging the croquembouche into an impressive shape; it always offers a head-turning beauty and can be tailored to match any occasion.