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, which means crunch in the mouth, is the traditional wedding cake in France. The traditional croquembouche is a pyramid of profiteroles (cream-filled puff pastries) dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons. This dessert was so much fun to make. It looks impressive, but really is not that difficult.
The recipe has three main components: the pate a choux – the shell, the crème patissiere – the filling, and the glaze used to build/decorate it. I loved the pate a choux recipe. It was quick and easy and I was really pleased with how my puffs puffed up.
I decided to make a caramel cream pastry filling because I thought it would pair wonderfully with the hard caramel glaze, but I may have cooked the caramel too long and it was sort of bitter and I wished I would have used our favorite pastry cream filling.
My family also wasn’t crazy about the hard caramel glaze, too much crunch in the mouth for us. If I make it again, I would definitely try the chocolate glaze. Since we love chocolate éclairs, it would be more like a tower of chocolate éclairs with spun sugar on the outside.
My favorite part of the challenge was definitely the spun sugar decoration. I had never worked with spun sugar before, but once I got comfortable with cooking the caramel, creating the sugar strands and corkscrews was easy and so fun. There is a great video on About.com that teaches you how to make the beautiful sugar corkscrews.
Visit the Daring Kitchen Recipe Achieve for all the challenge recipes and the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see the gorgeous croquembouche the other Daring Bakers created. Thanks Cat for hosting one of my favorite DB challenges.
Pate a Choux:
- 3/4 cup (175 ml.) water
- 6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
- 1/4 Tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt
- 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)
Hard Caramel Glaze:
- 1 cup (225 g.) sugar
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Pate a Choux
- 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. (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer for this and the next step.) 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 (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).
- 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. Can be stored in a airtight box overnight.
- 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. Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.
- Chocolate Glaze: 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: 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.