La pièce montée Posted by Elizabeth Schmermund on Dec 28, 2015 in Uncategorized
The holiday season is usually filled with delicious treats: sugar cookies, cakes and tarts, and even, for Italian-American families, struffoli. I’ve done my fair share of baking (and eating!) holiday desserts this week. All of the sugar got me thinking about another celebratory dessert tradition in France: la piéce montée.
Have you ever heard of la piéce montée? I hadn’t until right up until dessert was served at my wedding. My husband and I got married in the American Cathedral of Paris and we had a little reception in one of its beautiful rooms. When I heard that the wedding cake, or so I assumed, was arriving, I couldn’t wait to see it. It had been generously given to us by a baker friend of ours and I knew, rightly as it turned out, that it would be impressionante. But I’d never seen la pièce montée before and hadn’t known that it was part of traditional French wedding celebrations. I was stunned when I saw a huge tower of fried and caramel-coated cream puffs, or profiteroles, being carried into the room.
Literally meaning “the assembled piece,” la pièce montée is an ancient and re-adapted French tradition. It originally appeared in ancient Greece, where the towering cake was more simple and looked more like bread. In these ancient Greek weddings, a piece was broken from this cake and crumbled over the heads of the bride and groom in order to assure a happy, healthy, and fertile marriage.
In medieval France, this cake was adapted to become little cakes that were given to wedding guests. The guests would then construct the tower themselves and, according to tradition, the higher the tower, the more happy the marital union would be.
But what we know as a piéce montée in France today was born at the end of the 17th century, during a time of extravagant style and taste. You can learn more about the history of this wedding dessert in French here.
What the French refer to as la piéce montée today is perhaps more accurately called la croquembouche. Whereas chefs normally refer to la pièce montée as a dessert simply for display and not necessarily edible, la croquembouche is the edible form of the dessert (it literally means “crunch in the mouth”).
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, here’s a recipe (with pictures) from Rhe Daring Kitchen.
Bon appetit! Happy eating!
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