Thursday, May 27, 2010

May Daring Bakers (by Kat)

Blog checking lines:
The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Oh boy, was this ever a fun month for Daring Bakers! I actually made the challenge twice. While it was very good the first time, the second time was even better.

No, it's not le Tour d'Eiffel...
it's une Croquembouche
(ou un Croquembouche?).
(Masculine or feminine, Je ne s'ais quoi...)

First, prepare a very simple vanilla pastry cream.
(I modified the recipe to include a vanilla bean)

Second, prepare a choux pastry.
(Ten minutes or less, baby. This is EASY!)

Third, stuff your baked puffs with the pastry cream.
(Lick your fingers lots)

Finally, dip each puff in melted sugar and build a tower.
Feel free to use the leftover caramel to make swirls, spirals,
spun sugar, or (awwww) hearts!

Here's the recipe, with my mods as noted:

For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla [I omitted this and used 1/4 vanilla bean the second time, and it was much better.]

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk [and vanilla bean, split open, if using] with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.

Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

For Chocolate Pastry Cream (Half Batch Recipe):
Bring ¼ cup (about 50 cl.) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces (about 80 g.) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

For Coffee Pastry Cream (Half Batch recipe)
Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water. Whisk into pastry cream with butter and vanilla.

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs [I used three eggs the second time, and the results were much improved]

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.

As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.

It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.

Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

Can be stored in a airtight box overnight. [If you store them overnight, be sure to crisp them up in the oven before filling. I didn't, and I regretted. On my second run through, I filled the little buggers about an hour after cooking them, and they were much better.]

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced; I recommend semi-sweet)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.

Hard Caramel Glaze: [this could be halved]
1 cup (225 g.) sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place – see video #4 below).

When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate. Have fun and enjoy! Bon appétit!


  1. Your caramel work is awesome! I had a lot of fun as well!

  2. You say this is easy? It doesn't look easy.

    It does, however, look beautiful and delectable, and it has a great name.

  3. Thanks Renata and Pollinatrix!
    This really was FUN. You should try it, P., you'll have a blast!

  4. Gorgeous croquembouche! I am in awe of your caramel decorations, I especially like the spirally ones. Keep up the amazing bakes :)

  5. Thanks, silverrock! I have discovered a new obsession in caramelized sugar swirls.
    Your challenge looked so yummy, and I sure hope you do well on your test. You're right about only so much studying being worthwhile!

  6. Num. Why did I move so far away? Ever think about homemade rootbeer? What do you think that takes? That is not a challenge.

  7. You are way braver than I am !!!

  8. Yum! How do you do the spirals?

  9. Hi Kate~
    I was inspired by another Daring Baker, who kindly posted this link:
    Believe it or not, it's super easy to do!