FOOD HISTORY: Croquembouche

Croquembouche, meaning, "crunch in the mouth", is a traditional French festive (weddings, baptismals, 1st communions, etc.) cake, made of profiteroles (cream puffs) filled with pastry or whipped cream (Creme Chantilly) that are formed into a pyramid/cone  shape by being "glued" together with caramel, drizzled with more caramel, and decorated with sugared Almonds, Hazelnuts, chocolate or ribbons. The cake had it's origin in the fanciful, edible architectural structures prepared for French Royalty and Nobility called Pieces Montees. Credit for creating Croquembouche goes to the great French Pastry Chef, Antoine Careme (1784-1833), who made spectacular structures out of spun sugar, marzipan, nougatine and other sweet ingredients. Careme was a student of architecture, admiring classical buildings and studying architectural masterpieces of ancient Rome and Greece. His architectural interest and knowledge was used to create his Pieces Montees; Croquembouche was one of these in which he made a tower of cream puffs. His original tower was in the shape of a Turkish hat called a Fez, but, later, was transformed into a cone shape. Careme could not have conceived of his creation if it were not for Catherine of Medici, an Italian noblewoman who married the future King Henry II of France in 1547. When Catherine came to France from Italy, she brought her Chefs with her. Her Pastry Chef, named Panterelli, brought with him a recipe for a hot, dried dough known as Pate a Panterelli. Over the next centuries, Panterelli's dough was modified by French Pastry Chefs and, eventually, changed into a dough known as Pate a Choux (pastry of cabbages) because baked bits of this dough puffed up into hollow pastry shells resembling cabbages.  Puffs made from this dough were filled with all kinds of sweet and savory fillings. In 1760, French Pastry Chef Avice filled Pate a Choux with pastry cream and called them Profiteroles. After the many historical transformations in this pastry from Pate a Panterelli to Pate a Choux to Profiteroles, in the late 18th century, Careme took Profiteroles to greater  heights by using them to create his famous dessert, Croquembouche. Croquembouche is as dazzling a dessert today as it was in the time of Careme.