The Decadence Of The Towering Cake: Croquembouche & Meringue

French Decadence: The Croquembouche
French Decadence: The Croquembouche

The towering decadence of the Croquembouche
The traditional French wedding cake is a towering wonder filled with scrumptious masses of profiteroles filled with creme. Decadence, indeed.

The Croquembouche is also known as Croque-en-bouche, which literally means “crunch in mouth”, “crack in mouth” or “bite in mouth”. Who knew? This French pastry which is presented in a high, conical shape is not only a centerpiece on its own, but a concotion of pastry delight. Sweet toffee or chocolate are used to hold together this towers medley of pure bliss, glazed with a spun caramelized sugar or caramel strands– thus the ‘crunch’! The pastry itself is known as ‘choux’, a light pastry dough piped with a sweet vanilla cream filling for this lofty cake of splendor. The Croquembouche is the largest of all choux pastry cakes and has been traditionally decorated with almonds, fresh lavender sprigs and other various decorative touches that make this cake a stunning celebration.

Croquembouche was created in the late 1700’s by French pastry chef, Antoine Careme. Already in the history of French weddings there was a tradition of bringing wheat cakes by the guests for the marriage (later sweet buns were given). These buns were stacked as a tall pyramid in between the bride and groom. The challenge was for the bride and groom to kiss each other without disturbing the tall cake mound. If they achieved a kiss, the marriage was said to bring prosperity to them. Imagine the disappointment for those wedding couples whose kiss brought the tower to a cascading fall! It was Antoine Cereme who made a towering cake by coating the buns entirely with a sugar frosting, spun around the entire cone shaped cake, so that it would not fall. Alas, the precussor of a great wedding caterer tending to the needs of a bride! This became very popular throughout France and is known as the French wedding cake. Needless to say, Careme is a prominent pastry chef in French history.

French pastry chef, Antoine Careme (1784-1833)
French pastry chef, Antoine Careme (1784-1833)

History offers more interesting enlightenment about this towering, decadent cake of profiteroles…
Traditionally, the Croquembouche used to be hit by a sword, silver mallet or a champagne bottle as it was believed to be bad luck to use a knife. Again, who knew? The Bridesmaids collected the falling profiteroles by holding up the corners of the tablecloth the grand cake rested on. The collected cake was then served to the guests. In modern day, however, the bride and groom pose in front of the camera and the towering cake is whisked away to the kitchen, to be served to the guests or the guest may be encouraged to pull the Croquembouche apart. However it is served, this towering and decadent cake is simply magnificent.

Towering Wonders Of Meringue
Towering Wonders Of Meringue

Meringue is a type of dessert often associated with Swiss and French cuisine. Meringues are light and airy sweet confections often flavored with vanilla, almond or coconut extract. The base of the meringue is made from whipped egg whites and sugar and is formed into stiff peaks. A hardened, whipped delight of sugared sweetness!

The exact origin of the meringue is debated, but the first appearance of this confection is in the 1692 French cookbook of Francois Massialot, a French chef who served as chef de cusine (officer de bouche) to various distinguished patrons. Traditionally, meringues were shaped between two large spoons. It was, yet again, Antoine Careme who introduced the piping of the meringue through a pastry bag with a gored tip. Quite a pastry chef, indeed! To Careme we owe the perfectly formed meringue!

Modern Towers Of Decadent Elegance
Modern Towers Of Decadent Elegance

Ah, Parisian elegance with the timeless Macaron. Heavenly. The macaron (pronounced mac-ah-rohn) has indeed taken over the pastry world (alas, in the United States it is said to have surpassed the cupcake!). A macaron is a type of light, small, sweet cake confection consisting largely of ground almonds, similar to the Italian amaretti. The English word macaroon and the French macaron come from the Italian maccarone or maccherone (which is derived from ammaccare, meaning to crush or beat- referencing the crushed almonds). Macarons trace their history to the Italian Renaissance and the bakeries of French monks. Today, it is the Parisian patisseries that have brought forth the soaring array of cone-shaped delight with the colorful macaron. It is no wonder that these colorful morsels of heavenly taste have found their way onto the conical towering cake. The creamy sweetness of the marzipan paired with the filled ganache and colorful array of delicate pastels or vibrant jewel-like colors creates a stunning, decadent, delectable centerpiece, indeed. Could these towering wonders possibly replace the Croquembouche? One never knows…

The Norwegian Tower Of National Pride:  The Kransekake
The Norwegian Tower Of National Pride: The Kransekake

Finally, the traditional cake of Norway, the Kransekake and Denmark, Kransekage. The Krasnsekake cake is the towering wonder that I recall through my childhood. The Kransekake (Wreath Cake) is also referred to as a macaron cake, is known as the Norwegian celebration cake and is made of a series of concentric graduated rings of richly baked almond dough held together with white icing. The dough consisting of almond, sugar and egg whites (Marzipan) is baked in molds or is piped onto ovenproof paper in which the rings have been drawn in pencil. Who knew? The Kransekake is firm to the touch, yet soft and chewy It is an indispensable centerpiece for any Norwegian celebration, particularly weddings.

The sophisticated statement of the elegant towering cakes….for weddings? Divine. For any celebration? Perfect. Consider the towering wonder of these decadent cakes. Consider the towering sensations and decadent opulence of sweet pastry delight. Consider a towering cake. Not soley for weddings, but for any event in life that requires a sweet statement, something above and beyond the ordinary. Alas, no cake is ordinary, but the sweet spires of sumptuous grandeur are worth deliberation for any grand event in our lives. With the history behind these cakes, perhaps each of these towering wonders will take on new traditions of their own. Either way, a memory will be made. A sweet, decadent memory photographed in admiration, indeed.

Cheers and eat cake- and don’t forget the champagne!

Kristin

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