A totally absurd creation. This epitome of pastry civil engineering is constructed from dozens or (normally) hundreds of profiteroles or choux buns, which are stuck together with caramel to form a huge tower. It is the traditional wedding cake in France, as well as being the centrepiece of choice for first communion.

Now, a couple of weeks ago, in my capacity as a former pastry chef, I made a couple of these for a restaurant who had had a request for them for a wedding. I'd made them twice before in slightly strange circumstances, but that was two years ago. I thought I'd never have to set foot in a commercial kitchen again.

After making four of these daft things, and billing them £150 a day as a 'croquembouche consultant', I feel qualified to share my experience.

You will need:

(Approx)

Preheat oven to 220° C. Pipe 150 buns onto trays lined with baking parchment, using a piping bag fitted with a 1 inch nozzle. Bake these in batches, opening the oven door after 5 minutes to stop them going leathery.
As soon as they come out of the oven, poke a small hole in the bottom of each one to let steam escape. Allow to cool.
Meanwhile make the nougatine. Roll it, on a heat-proof surface, preferably with a nylon rolling pin, into a disc about 14"/35cm in diameter. Trim the edges with a sharp knife while its still hot.

Now for the fun bit! Strictly speaking you should cook the sugar to very hard crack stage, first dissolving it in water then gently heating for about half an hour, brushing the sides of the pan with water to avoid crystallisation, until it reaches 160° C. Personally, I can't be bothered with that crap. I just heat the dry sugar over a high flame, keeping the sugar moving so it doesn't burn. This takes about 5 minutes. Melt about 1 quarter of your sugar in this way, then carefully dip each bun into the hot caramel to cover about a third of its surface. You will burn yourself. Live with it. I find a little bowl of water nearby is useful to ease the pain. Make sure you don't cover the hole in the bun with caramel, or you won't be able to fill it.

Mix the creme pat with the whipped cream. Once the choux buns are cool, take a narrow nozzle for the piping bag, and fill each one with the creme pat/cream mix.

Now, melt some more sugar, and start to stick a circle of buns around the edge of the nougatine disc. Fix each bun to the next by dipping it in the caramel. Create one row and then start building another row on top on that one, just slightly closer to the centre. You are trying to create a cone shape. Continue building upwards - it should eventually be about 2' / 60cm tall. Keep a close eye on the shape. It's easy to make it wobbly if you don't keep checking the angles. You'll probably need to keep melting more sugar as it starts to cool. Time for some ASCII art!


      OO
      OO
     OOOO
     OOOO
    OOOOOO
    OOOOOO
   OOOOOOOO
   OOOOOOOO
  OOOOOOOOOO
  OOOOOOOOOO
 OOOOOOOOOOOO
 OOOOOOOOOOOO
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Decorate with spun sugar just before serving. The traditional way of serving this is to put it on a table with a table cloth. Gather up the corners of the cloth to cover the cake. The bride and groom then take a champagne bottle and smash the cake. Its impossible to cut it otherwise.

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