Piece Montée (Croquembuoche) - Daring Bakers May 2010

Croquembouche start

Sometime back, I realised that I had not yet baked a few French classics and made a mental note to do so very soon-ly. And, then guess what happens?! Daring Bakers! It's like the host(ess) read my mind! Again! Just like the Macaron challenge..

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.

Croquembouche before spun sugar

I was super excited when I saw the theme 'coz it killed two birds with one stone; one Classic down and it was just in time for Mr. FSK's birthday! So, I didn't have to rack my brains and stress out about making a cake for him.. :)

Since I had planned my attempt so late in the game, I lived vicariously for most of the month through tweets of other Daring Bakers. Some had made the components before but had not put them all together. I hadn't made any of the components before. So, this was indeed the perfect challenge in many ways...

Pate Choux whole and filled

The trickiest part for me was the Pate a Choux. It was also the part that wasn't a complete success. I think I stumbled at the point where the eggs are whisked in. I didn't do it long enough. So my profiteroles weren't as airy as they are reputed to be. Tastewise, it came out perfect, if a little bland in my opinion. But, apparently, that is how they are meant to be.

As for the filling, I used coffee pastry cream. The idea was from Mr.FSK's cousin who is visiting us from London for a few days. Her face lit up when I mentioned what I was making and she highly recommended the coffee flavor. She was spot on with it! Since the pastry itself is quite flavorless and just a container for the cream, the coffee adds a touch of individuality in essence.

Croquembouche 2

And, finally to the games. I got more practice with the spun sugar that i started experimenting with two months back during the Orange Tian challenge. I surprised myself by actually getting it right in my first try. My practice the last time must have been half decent, after all! I was pretty happy with the toffee I spun. The next step is to try to make the cotton candy stole like effect that I saw on Desperate Housewives, ironically draped on a Croquembouche!

Verdict: Definitely enjoyed the challenge and going to make it again till the pastry comes out perfect. Also, next time, I want to flavor the pastry as well. I don't see the point of having a cover that doesn't add to the pastry's flavor. Of course, once I have the technique pat down, sky's the only limit! :)

Also a reminder, there are only four more days to enter my Anniversary Saffron Giveaway.

Pate a Choux
(Yield: About 28)

3/4 cup (175 ml.) water
6 T (85 g.) unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 T 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, 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.

Hard Caramel Glaze

1 cup (225 g.) sugar
1/2 tsp 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.


Coffee Pastry Cream
Joy of Baking)

1 1/4 cups (300 ml) milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp instant coffee powder
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
1/8 cup (20 grams) all-purpose flour
Scant 3 T (20 grams) cornstarch (corn flour)
2 T brandy

In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a wooden spoon. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste. Set aside.

Meanwhile in a saucepan combine the milk, coffee and vanilla on medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Place the egg mixture back into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 - 60 seconds until it becomes very thick and it is hard to stir.

Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the brandy. Immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Let cool before piping into shells. If not using immediately, refrigerate for up to three days.