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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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croquembouche a French term which means ‘crunch in the mouth’ is the name for a whole range of elaborate French pastries which traditionally play an important role at weddings, baptisms, christenings, etc. The crunchiness is the result of glazing the component parts with sugar cooked to the stage before caramel.

The typical shape of a modern croquembouche is an inverted cone, formed by piling small choux pastries (see chouquettes, profiterole) on top of each other. However, when Alice Wooledge-Salmon (1981) investigated the history of these confections she found herself in a whole new world of architectural structures which had their origin in the subtleties displayed in medieval tables and evolved, under the influence of carême in particular, into the category of grosses pièces de fonds, where they kept company with Turkish mosques, Persian pavilions, Gothic towers, and other pièces montées. The shape in those days was that of a Turkish fez, something like that of the confections later known as sultanes. The same author goes on to explain, vividly and in detail, how the whole genre spiralled upwards out of control towards the end of the 19th century, but then subsided to manageable dimensions—permitting the survival of a relatively plain range of croquembouches through the 20th century, the basic form being simply a conical pile of choux balls on a nougat base with a spun sugar aigrette (plume) or other decoration at the top.