Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ah, la pièce montée

I visited a blog yesterday, jintrinsique, and saw some pictures of wedding cakes. Which got me thinking about my wedding cake, which was just about the ugliest wedding cake EVER.

The traditional French wedding cake is a pièce montée. Cream puffs are piled together in a cone shape, about 2 ft. high at least. The puff mass is then decorated with pieces of nougatine and candied almonds and then the whole thing is coated with a sugar glaze that hardens, holding everything in place and adding crunch.

I like cream puffs as much as anybody. And I never say no to nougatine, who could? But I did not want a pièce montée. I was getting married in France but I didn't want it to be too French - I am American. I, probably like many little girls, have adored wedding cakes for as long as I can remember. I loved the big white kind they made when I was growing up, with lots of white frosting (no doubt made from hydrogenated fat and sugar) and those big frosting roses. Then people started to get creative and wedding cakes got better. I loved the pretty lemon curd filled ones, and the coconut groom's cakes, and the avant-garde chocolate ones. I tried to talk to bakers here about it. They were all stuck in the white cake phase, having seen too many episodes of bad American daytime television. None of them had ever made anything particular for a wedding other than a pièce montée.

The woman organizing the meal for the reception tried to understand. She consulted with the chef, they suggested a fraisier. Perfect! It's one of my all time favorite cakes. It's a vanilla genoise with strawberries and pastry cream in the cake or baked into the edges. I tried to describe how I wanted it to look. Apparently not very well.

When they brought it out, I could only laugh. Had I been a little more on edge, I would've cried. But I had already had my freakout crying session at the hair salon that morning, so laughing was the only option. Besides, I had just gotten married, my friends and family were with us, life was good.

There were four fraisiers, of various sizes, on a large aluminum foil covered board. A small plastic newlywed couple was stuck on top of one of the cakes. The organizer woman looked at me and said, "We tried to do just like you said." Yeah.

It was, without a doubt, the ugliest wedding cake I had ever seen. But, it was also the most delicious. Really amazing. The cake was not soggy, a risk with that kind of cake. It was a perfect balance between moist and firm. The strawberries were sweet and juicy. The pastry cream was light and vanilla-y. Even though it didn't look like it, it was the wedding cake of my dreams. I had two slices.


beth said...

It's a life lesson - not to judge things on how they look on the outside. I still wish I would have gone to your wedding.

Lorraine said...

It was a delicous cake and face it, even the prettiest of wedding cakes end up getting cut into and in no time just looks a mess anyway.

You gave the bride and groom to The Child. I think she still has them hidden away in her keepsake box.

Nicole said...

Beth - So true. I wish you could've been there too.

Lorraine - I remember that. She looked like I had just given her the keys to the universe. (I have a spare set, of course.)

beth said...

Could I borrow your keys to the universe? I have a few questions that I would love the universe to answer.

jin said...

Awww...I feel so sad when I hear that someone didn't get what they wanted for their wedding cake...that is what I strive for on every occasion. But I am also glad that it tasted so GOOD! That's VERY important!

If it's any consolation, the majority of American wedding cakes that look gorgeous DO taste HORRID!!! (Not mine, though!!! LOL)

Now, what is the difference between a piece montee & a croquembouche?


Nicole said...

Jintrinsique - You're a vixen. That's a trick question! They are actually the same thing but the name used depends on the region. Here in the west, no one knows what a croquembouche but everyone knows what a pièce montée is.