Is 17 dinner guests too many? Not if they are family members visiting from Canada. They slept at a hotel, but Saturday night was dinner at our house. It took two weeks for me to create a menu for the evening (for some reason I always agonize over menus). Although I love to cook, I do not like baking. I needed help. I usually buy something from a bakery or serve ice cream with fresh berries. Yet, I have always admired the french dessert croquembouche. It's stately conical shape and amber spun sugar definitely draw attention. Croquembouche is a French dessert made by stacking cream puffs in a conical shape and cementing them together with a caramel or spun sugar mixture. The dessert is typically ornamented with an outer layer of spun sugar, chocolate, sugared nuts, or other ingredients, and it is designed to be displayed as the centerpiece of a table. This dessert has been used at French weddings and celebrations for centuries, and it is served outside of France to add a French flair to an evening's events or to just create a grand impression. The croquembouche has a long history. It appears to have been invented by French pastry chef Antoine Careme in the late 1700s, when it became very popular as a wedding cake. Many of the individual components such as the cream puffs date to the 1500s, illustrating the long history of fine pastries in France. (from wiseGEEK.com)
To save on time, I bought frozen cream puffs from my local grocery store. I used plain. However, it's totally fine to use chocolate covered as well. In total I used two packages or 40 cream puffs. The caramel was simple to make. I combined 2 1/2 cups sugar and 2/3 cup water. I heated and stirred until the sugar had turned into a light brown syrup. I dipped the puffs into the syrup and created a circle of ten puffs glued together by the caramel. I followed with filling in the ten puff ring with dipped puffs and then started building my pyramid. To make an even more dramatic effect, I re-heated my remaining syrup and with a spoon "flicked" the pyramid to create the spun sugar effect. The web of sugar is beautiful and the extra delicate caramel crunch is wonderful.