In terms of immediate, tangible responsibility, this is one of the most demanding jobs I’ve ever done. I’ve been making cakes all my life, but I’m not a professional baker, even less a patissiere, so this was quite a challenge – especially when you consider the end result has to not just please the couple getting married (in this case, two friends), but also their one hundred guests. Yikes!
I’m confident when it comes to sponge cakes and variations thereon, but our friends Sara and Mike – I suspect at the suggestion of my missus, Fran – primarily wanted a croquembouche. This is a French wedding cake that involves piling choux buns filled with a crème pâtissière and whipped cream mix up into a tall cone, all glued together with hard crack sugar. The name means “crunch in the mouth.” I don’t think I’d made choux pastry for about a decade, never mind the fact that I’m not that au fait with sugarcraft. Double yikes!
We experimented, making a few mini-croquembouche. One can be found over at Cake-Off. It’s a bit wonky, but was otherwise fairly successful. The challenge then was doing the same but about 10 times the size. Oh, and making the back-up cake too. I suggested this for lack of confidence over the croquembouch. I would also make a tiered cardamon cake, covered in chocolate icing. The cardamon cake is an old fave from a Molly Katzen cookbook that I’ve been making for years.
Anyway. So, here’s the making of the three-tiered version of the cardamon cake. Never made quite such a vast cake mixture – all that creaming of sugar and butter was hard work (about 1.5kg of each, plus the same of flour, 1.5l of sour cream, a dozen eggs etc). No wonder Victorian cooks had such beefy arms…
I made a ganache for the filling, then an icing with melted chocolate, butter, water and icing sugar to cover the whole thing. It’s very rich and pretty dense. Here’s a slightly rubbish pic of the finished cake:
The main event, however, was the croquembouche. I started making choux buns at 8am on the day of the wedding, but managed to screw up two double-quantity batches initially, which didn’t help. They weren’t quite crisp enough. I left them in a warm oven to crisp up, but they weren’t ideal. So I just kept making batches. Must have made a hundred or more choux buns that morning, then dipped them all in sugar boiled to 160C (hard crack stage), and filled them with the creme/cream mix. This pic shows just some of the choux buns, as well as the nougatine base Fran made:
I was loosely following the Roux brothers croquembouche recipe, though I found Delia Smith’s choux paste recipe more reliable. Different croquembouch recipes suggest different means of making the cone of buns, but we got a stainless steel mould, 480mm (19 inches) tall. Some recipes suggest you just make the cone one layer thick, but we thought, 100 people, why not fill the whole thing – especially as we’d made so many choux buns. I was hoping it would give the finished cone better structual integrity too…
Here’s the finished thing, turned out, relieved of its greaseproof paper (which prevented it from sticking inside the mould), and decorated with a few crystallised violets:
It’s not quite as refined as the pics I’ve seen of ones made by the professionals, like those crafty Roux chaps, but it wasn’t bad. After a slightly worrying taxi ride across London, both cakes reached the venue, with only slight damage to the top of the croquembouche (minor squashing). Mike and Sara seemed pleased. And how many times have you been to a wedding with those nasty traditional frou-frou fruit cakes where the bride and groom end up with most of it sitting in their cupboard for months afterwards. These results speak for themselves:
[Apologies for the somewhat messy pic spacing. Can never get the pic and text integration right…]