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More Than One Way to Display a Croquembouche

Julie Couture
International Culinary Center
Professional Pastry Arts Student

One of the tasks awaiting Professional Pastry Arts students at the International Culinary Center involves the construction of the croquembouche. Literally meaning “crack the jaw” or “crunch in the mouth,” Chef Christopher Ciresi educates Level 1 Pastry students that the croquembouche is a traditional wedding dessert in France. Made of pate a choux puffs, each individual puff is typically filled with pastry cream. Once filled, they are attached to each other with caramel to form a cone-like shape. Unless however, the croquembouche is constructed as a special project. Then, it is displayed upside down in the 5th Avenue L’Occitane en Provence storefront, draped in sugar Verbena leaves and illuminated from the inside by white lights.

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This special croquembouche, inspired by L’Occitane’s  new Verbena Body Care collection, is the mastermind of ICC Director of Pastry Arts Chef Jansen Chan. A former architect, Chef Jansen designed the six-foot tall croquembouche, its framework and the decorative displays. Consisting of over 4,000 pate a choux puffs, many pints of royal icing, 700 sugar paste Verbena leaves and pastillage, Chef Jansen’s vision of an upside hanging croquembouche came to life within the course of one week.

Enlisting the help of student volunteers and Pastry Arts chefs such as Chef Kir Rodriquez, Chef Jurgen David and Chef Mark Gerlach, painstaking effort was taken to make individual pate a choux puffs. Once cooled, each was carefully dipped in caramel on one side to form a flat, shiny caramel disc. Due to the size and nature of this particular croquembouche, the puffs were not filled with pastry cream and were left hollow. Once all puffs were adorned with their caramel disc, they were carefully arranged on the cylindrical wire framework in painstaking detail to ensure no space was left un-puffed, so to speak.

Royal icing was used to fill in all small spaces and to act as additional glue for the puffs. Over seven hundred sugar paste leaves, airbrushed in shades of green with hints of glitter, were placed in a circuitous pattern around the croquembouche adding a sense of movement and color. They were also placed at the top of the croquembouche to finish the look.

The croquembouche was beautiful on its own; yet, it needed a suitable frame to further emphasize its beauty. The solution? Poured sugar. Six beautiful, blue poured sugar spheres decorated with green pastillage leaves were mounted on white pastillage stands. Once at the final destination, they would be placed strategically around the base of the croquembouche.

Transporting the unusually tall creation to L’Occitane en Provence was no small feat. Traveling to its final destination in a small moving truck through the streets of Manhattan was tricky in and of itself. Throw in an impending torrential downpour and skillful maneuvers at the final destination to turn the croquembouche into its inverted position and the chefs had their work cut out for them. Like champions, they rose to the challenge. As you can see in the photo below, the result is nothing short of impressive.

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Learn more about Julie’s class: Professional Pastry Arts