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.
This month’s challenge was really fantastic. I’ve made cream puffs before, and a piece montée — or croquembouche — is pretty much just a tower of cream puffs (to put it simply). It was a unique turn of events to have actually made the challenge before, so it wasn’t a daunting task but just something I was really looking forward to. Plus this month, I had the perfect occasion to make this for!
May was a month full of graduation festivities, but it was also my roommates birthday. And since her birthday coincided with one of our big senior week events, we had a party before hand, and lots of people came over.
It seemed the perfect occasion to make the piece montee for, because it would be a good, fun dessert to share. And I’m happy to say, it went over really well. For something that’s fairly simple to make, it seems so impressive, and it’s so fun to look at!
(1) To begin, I made the pate a choux, and cooked the choux the night before I filled them and assembled the dessert.
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.
Piping: 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. (I omitted the egg wash (just because I forgot… oops!) and they came out fine. However, it does give them a nice sheen, so if you can remember then go for it!)
Baking: 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.
(2) Next, I made the pastry cream. I also made this the day before I assembled the dessert, and let it chill overnight.
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.
(3) Once I was ready to assemble the dessert, I melted some chocolate.
Chocolate Glaze:8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate
Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.
(4) The final step before assembly is to fill the choux with pastry cream.
Filling: 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.
(5) To assemble the 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.)
As I’ve already said, this challenge was great. I was so happy that the birthday girl liked it, and all of her guests! And since I only made a half batch of vanilla pastry cream at first, I only filled half of the choux to make the piece montée. So I still had half to fill later that week, so we got to have these yummy little treats, freshly made, TWICE! This is one of those desserts that seems so much harder than it is, and is so super impressive when finished. Plus, it’s extremely versatile — the pastry cream can be any flavor that you dream up, and you can cover them with chocolate or caramel, or anything else that you’d like!
I know I blogged about my blog boredom yesterday, but remembering this challenge reminds me so clearly why I’m writing this blog — to express the passion I feel for baking, and the happiness it brings, and finally to share it all with you!
I’ve got a few more updates coming, and AW and I made a simple but delicious new dessert tonight that I’ll also share with you soon. Until then…
With love, and sugar! Enjoy