Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Piece Montée or Croquembouche (May 2010)

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.

Ahh...the traditional French wedding cake. Different and delicious. This month's challenge came as a relief in some ways. Since I'd just finished my classes at Cookology where we had made creme puffs, I knew I could ace that part of the challenge. *phew*

So, it was with a bit of an "I've got this one" attitude that I entered the kitchen. Honestly, it wasn't until I realized that the cream had to chill over night that I ran into my first problem. (I really do need to get better at reading the ENTIRE recipe before I start.) But, that was easily remedied...I'd just have to wait.

The pate choux recipe that was given worked like a charm for me. I used some of the tips I'd heard at the baking bootcamp classes and passed them along to my fellow Daring Bakers. The two that seemed to be most relevant were: 1) Dump all of the eggs in at once, not one at a time. I don't know why this works, but it does. Keep in mind that you must stir by hand with a wooden spoon and your arm will feel like it wants to fall off before you're done...this is normal. Smile! 2) As soon as the puffs come out of the oven, poke a hole in the top with a really sharp paring knife. This allows the steam to escape and helps the dough to not get soggy, thereby falling.

My puffs puffed beautifully, they stayed beautifully puffed. The creme came out super yummy. I was well on my way to Piece Montee success! It was once I started to fill the puffs that I realized, I shouldn't have halved the creme recipe as suggested. Sure, we were given two recipes (one for vanilla, which I made, and one for chocolate, which I thought I'd make but didn't), but I only made one. I didn't have a lot of finished creme puffs. But I pressed on thinking, "Ahh, no worries, it just won't be as tall!" This turned out to be true...and a bit sad.

The other area where I ran into trouble, I mean challenges which make me a better baker, were the stacking and glazing. Oh sure...chocolate was my choice, but only because making caramel still terrifies me. I know, I know... practice, practice, practice...but I wasn't in the mood to severely burn myself or ruin the few finished creme puffs I had. I don't think my chocolate glaze was much of a success though (as you'll see in the photos below).

Individually, the puffs looked and tasted wonderful. The filing was creamy and had just the right sweetness. The chocolate added a touch of glamour and the puff itself was airy and light. Ahh....if only the challenge had been to make creme puffs alone....

But, alas, the challenge was to stack these balls of deliciousness into a cone shape and drizzle beautifully. So, I started to stack, using chocolate as my glue. I think it went ok, it worked, it retained its shape and didn't fall over or crumble to the floor. That's success right?! Right?! :::Sigh:::

Once stacked, I turned to the glazing/drizzling part. I had a feeling now that this part of the challenge, which initially sounded like an afterthought, was going to be the most difficult. I was right. My chocolate should have been mixed into a ganache, but I didn't realize that until it was too late. SO, I got this:

Trust me, it tasted great....but I certainly won't be offering to make for a special occastion like a French wedding anytime soon....

This was a good reminder that sometimes, it's the simplest steps that trip us up. Onward....I will conquer caramel....someday....

The Recipe:
Piece Montée or Croquembouche
Preparation time:
 You will want to use your puff pastry batter and chocolate glaze or caramel as soon as it has been prepared and as close to serving time as possible. This is not a dessert that stores well and it may be a bit temperamental in humid areas as the glaze needs to harden to hold the choux together. The crème patissiere can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use.

You will need approximately 10 minutes to prepare the puff pastry, 10 minutes to pipe and about 30 minutes to bake each batch. The crème patissiere should take about 10 minutes to cook and then will need to be cooled for at least 6 hours or overnight. The glazes take about 10 minutes to prepare.


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.

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

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.

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:
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.
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!

Enjoy With Love,


  1. WOW well I think that your final dish looks smashing and the most important point was that it tasted wonderful. I hope that the caramel skills come soon to you. Beautiful work on this challenge and thanks for the tips on the puffs. I added my eggs one at time but I will try a batch were I add all the eggs at once and see the results.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. I agree with Audax, your dish looks yummy :-) And I love the single puff too. What did you use to decorate it?

    Caramel work was fun, though you do end up with a mess. Give it a try sometime!

    Best regards from Patri in Madrid Spain.