The May 2010 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montee, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump's Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.
This is the first Daring Bakers' challenge that I participated in since I've joined them (I didn't like the previous two challenges) and it's also the first one I was actually excited to make. Even though it sounded very complicated, I made it the first weekend after the recipe was revealed. It wasn't that difficult to make. I have never heard about Croquembouche before, but I know the taste of choux pastry because I like profiteroles. The options for decorating the croquembouche were spun sugar and chocolate glaze. I, of course, chose chocolate, because I'm quite new to the baking world and I didn't want a disaster to happen. The biggest problem I had was that the bags which I used to pipe the batter kept ripping apart. But I kept trying with more bags and less pressure and I finally made it. Did I mention the dough is really sticky? Yeah, it was fun getting it from one bag to another...lol.
Overall, it was a good desert, but too much for three people to eat in one day. I assembled my piece montee with only half of the choux, and left the rest to be filled the next day.
Pate a Choux (makes about 28)
3/4 cup (175 ml) water
6 tbsp (85 g) unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
For the egg wash: 1 egg and a pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 425° F (220° C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- 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. Pipe choux about 1 inch apart in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high and 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 with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with a pinch of salt).
- Bake the choux until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350° F (180° C) and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.
Chocolate Creme 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 extract
- Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 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.
- Bring 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces (90 g) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth.
- Continue whisking the egg mixture (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, vanilla and the chocolate mixture.
- Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.
8 ounces (200 g) finely chopped chocolate
Melt chocolate in a microwave or a double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.
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 montee, dip the top of each choux in your glaze 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 might want to use toothpicks to hold them in place - I didn't need them).
When you have finished the design of your piece montee, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers etc. to decorate.
Approximate cost: 5 €