For our Daring Baker's challenge Cat of Little Miss Cupcake asked us to make a piece montée (aka croquembouche). The classic piece montée is a tall cone shaped tower of pastry cream filled cream puffs that are dipped in chocolate or caramel. The puffs are bound together with caramel to hold the cone shape.
There are 3 components: pate a choux (cream puff dough), pastry cream (to fill the cream puffs), and caramel or chocolate glaze (to "glue" the filled cream puffs into shape).
Making pate a choux is something I've done many times. You have to make sure the flour gets cooked until the dough forms a ball and there's a film on the bottom of the pot. Then it's ready for the eggs. I cheated a little and beat in the eggs using my KitchenAid stand mixer instead of by hand. The machine really helps work the dough so that the gluten will develop and hold the structure of the puff. But I've done it by hand in the past and have gotten successful puffs that way too. Using the given recipe and piping 1x1-inch puffs, I got 45 puffs which is way more than the 28 mentioned.
I didn’t really want to make a tall tower since it would be hard to transport it. So I made a sad little pile of cream puffs to photograph and keep for me and my husband. Thankfully Cat said we didn't have to make it super tall and that we're only required to make it a “mounted piece” meaning that it has some height. I know mine barely has any height and is a poor excuse for a croquembouche, but two people can only eat so much dessert. I filled all the remaining puffs, glazed them with chocolate and served them as individual cream puffs.
Even though Cat provided some recipes for pastry creams, she also gave us the freedom to use any crème patisserie we liked. I decided to make a coconut pastry cream since I was already making some for another baking project. I didn't feel like working with hot molten sugar so I chose to "glue" my puffs with melted chocolate instead of a caramel glaze. To finish them off I gave it a light dusting of finely shredded desiccated coconut just so you know that it's coconut.
So there you have it. Another Daring Bakers' challenge completed! To learn more about the Daring Bakers or to join the bakers, check out The Daring Kitchen.
The fine print:
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.
Piece Montée (aka 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 pastry cream (crème patisserie) can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
You will need approximately 10 minutes to prepare the cream puff dough, 10 minutes to pipe and about 30 minutes to bake each batch. The pastry cream should take about 10 minutes to cook and then will need to be cooled for at least 2 hours or overnight. The glazes take about 10 minutes to prepare.
• several baking sheets
• parchment paper
• a whisk
• a pastry brush (for the egg wash)
• a pastry bag and tip (a plain tip or no tip is best for piping the puff pastry; you can use a plain or star tip to fill the puff pastry with the cream)
• a flat surface such as a baking sheet or cake board/stand on which to assemble your piece montée
• some of the items you may want to use to decorate your piece montée include ribbons, Jordan almonds, fresh flowers, sugar cookie cut-outs, chocolates, etc.
Coconut Pastry Cream
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
To make the pastry cream:
Combine the whole milk, coconut milk and vanilla bean and seeds in a medium nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl.
Remove vanilla bean from warm milk.
Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture and then return the mixture to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until thickened.
Scrape the mixture into a clean bowl and whisk in vanilla extract and butter until the butter is melted and incorporated.
In order to avoid a skin forming on the custard, cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the custard.
Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.
Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
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
Pre-heat oven to 425F/220C degrees. 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 (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 425F/220C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.
Lower the temperature to 350F/180C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.
Cooled puffs can be stored in an airtight container overnight at room temperature before filling with pastry cream.
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 the chocolate glaze or caramel glaze to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced.)
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
1/2 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.