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 recipe is for a Piece Montée, which means literally “mounted piece.” You may know this dessert by another name – Croquembouche (“crunch in the mouth”). I have been fascinated by this dessert for a loooong time. In fact, I saw Martha Stewart make one on her TV show about 15 years ago and have always wanted to try my hand at one, though never had a good enough excuse…until now! In all seriousness, the piece montée is the traditional wedding cake here in France. They are often served at baptisms and communions as well.
The classic piece montée is a high pyramid/cone made of profiteroles (cream-filled puff pastries) sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons. Modern pastry chefs have taken to assembling this dessert in all manners of shapes and sizes, and you should feel free to express your creativity too!
Recipe Source: The recipes for this month’s challenge come from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and were originally created by famed pastry chef, Nick Malgieri. Please note you must make your own pate a choux (puff pastry) and crème patissiere. And your piece montée needs to be a mounted structure with some height to it.
Note: This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. While you can purchase or make a cardboard conical structure to build your piece montée or use toothpicks as an aid, it is relatively easy to assemble it using just the baked pate a choux as the main building blocks and the glaze as the glue.
Pate a Choux is my archnemesis from a previous Daring Baker's Eclair Challenge. Pate a Choux is easy in terms of concept and making, but for some reason I had a difficult time getting the rise while baking in the oven. Hopefully this time around things will be different.]
[I made the Chocolate Pastry Cream.]
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
Ingredients are pretty straight forward...
1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
2. 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.
[Here I'm tempering the egg yolk mixture with a little of the hot milk. This slowly warms up the egg mixture so we don't end up with scrambled eggs.]
3. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
4. 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. [Since I'm adding chocolate, I held off on the butter until the end.]
For Chocolate Pastry Cream (Half Batch Recipe):
¼ cup (about 50 cl.) milk
3 ounces (about 80 g.) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
5. Milk and chocolate were heated in the microwave... about 30 to 45 seconds. I waited about a minute before mixing.
6. Mix until smooth. [Note: I also added the butter here from step 4.]
7. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.
[At this stage, the chocolate is smooth, but seem loose. However, the pastry cream is pretty thick.]
8. Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.
[Note: For some reason, the pastry cream did not thicken in the fridge, it turned out like a soft pudding sauce.
My solution: I recooked the pastry cream and added another 1 T of cornstarch/1T water to thicken the pastry cream. Below are the lumpy results. I chilled the pastry cream and pressed through a fine sieve to mash out the lumps.]
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.
1. 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.
[Sifting the flour into the hot liquid.]
2. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
[Note to self: Try making pate a choux in a steel pan. I'm using a non-stick pan so it's hard to gage when the pate a choux is pulling away from the sides. Instead, I cooked about 5 minutes.]
3. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.
4. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.
5. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.
6. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.
[Patiently mix the egg in. You want the dough to form soft peaks when you pull the spoon out of the batter... so you may not need all of the last egg. However, I did use the entire fourth egg.]
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).
[The egg wash will give the baked choux a nice brown appearance.]
10. Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.
11. 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.
[Out of the oven... looking good.]
[I have a couple flat choux which will probably puff up when I fill, but most likely they'll just be eaten as samples/quality control. lol]
12. 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
½ teaspoon lemon juice
[Warning! Be careful when working with hot sugar... This stuff is 300F. I absentmindedly tried to knock a drop of this stuff off a bowl and it stuck to my finger. HOT!]
1. Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand.
2. 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.
3. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately. [I did not do this step... If I cooled too quickly the sugar would solidify before I could get to it.]
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.
[The finished Piece Montee, Croquembouche]
The pate a choux turned out. The chocolate pastry cream was a problem so I'll probably use a different recipe next time. I thought the hard caramel would be chewy, but as the name "croquemboche" implies there was a nice crunch to the cream puffs.
Overall, flavors were good. The pate a choux and the spun sugar/hard caramel worked together to give a crunchy cream puff.