Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Piece Montée or Croquembouche

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.

It was definitely a challenge, to say the least! This project took me a little ways out of my comfort zone. I get nervous to make layer cakes, let alone something like this. But that being said it was a very fun learning experience and I am so glad I got to try it! My dad and my stepmom are both French, were married in France and had a croquembouche for their wedding cake. I didn't make it to the wedding but I have seen the picture and been very curious about this dessert ever since. I am sure theirs looked and tasted much better than the one I made (at least I REALLY hope so). Still I don't think I did too bad a job for my first try :) If I make one again, don't think I would use the caramelized sugar. It was a pain, literally! I ended up burning the tip of one of my fingers, which kind of ruined some of the fun. Were I to try this again, I think I would try the chocolate. Much more user friendly and who doesn't love cream puffs and chocolate. So not sure if I will ever make the whole thing again but I can definitely say I will make cream puffs again and I am excited to make other things with the pate a choux.

I followed the recipes and used the vanilla cream filling. Yummy! To finish off my croquembouche, I made my favorite sugar cookies and used a basic royal icing to decorate them.
Making the pate a choux was actually pretty quick and easy. The piping was a little more difficult for me to get right. For some reason when I tried to pipe it at first, it seemed a little too liquidy (spell check tells me this is not a real word but c'est la vie) but after sitting for a minute the flour seemed to absorb more of the egg and it worked out fine.
Some of the puffs were not quite as puffy as they should have been but they still tasted yummy and worked out okay.
Here are the sugar cookies. They were pretty fun and easy to make.

Following are the recipes used in making the piece montée, including the sugar cookie recipe.

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

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.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip (I actually used a squeeze bottle as per the recommendation of Martha Stewart), 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.

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

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk 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.

Here is the recipe for the glaze I used and following is the chocolate glaze I wish I had used.

Hard Caramel Glaze:
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.

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.

Finally here is the recipe for the sugar cookies. I found them on this wonderful blog.


1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp good quality vanilla
1 cup sour cream
4.5- 5 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
4 tsp. baking powder

Cream butter and sugar. Mix in eggs. Add sour cream and vanilla. Blend well. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to cream mixture a little at a time. Roll dough on floured board and cut into desired shapes. Bake on parchment lined sheets at 350 F for about 10 minutes.

Seriously these are amazing cookies and I usually use the frosting that goes with them (which you can find on the same blog) and it is even better!

Here is the link to the Daring Bakers challenge. There is some awesome information along with some extra recipes that I didn't use. Also you can use the blog roll to check out how the other, very talented, Daring Bakers did with this challenge.

1 comment:

  1. You did a great job! Well done! I opted for the chocolate glaze due to timing reasons and, though I'm really jealous of everyone's caramel and spun sugar, I have to admit that the chocolate was a great touch!