Thursday, 27 May 2010

Daring Bakers' May 2010 Challenge - Piece Montée or Croquembouche

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”). It is a kind of decorative confectionary centerpiece in an architectural or sculptural form used for formal banquets traditionally served at parties celebrating weddings and baptisms in France.

I had to sit out the last challenge due to various reasons so I was really excited to get back into the kitchen for this challenge. Unfortunately I didn't have time to do it justice as I've been really busy lately and made this at the last minute. I wanted to make a caramel glaze and try my hand at spun sugar but I'll have to save that for another time. However, I was really pleased with the final result and everyone at work loved it as well.

I've never made choux pastry before and was slightly nervous that it would not turn out but fortunately it did. It was so exciting watching it rise in the oven! Making a croquembouche looked daunting initially but it was actually quite simple and not as time consuming as I thought it would be. I'm so glad I now know how to make this as I can re-create it for future special occasions. I used classic flavours - vanilla and chocolate. It was really fun to make and even more fun to eat :)

pate choux batter

adding eggs - it looks runny but dont worry, just keep adding the eggs and keep stirring.
piped batter
flatten the tops and brush with egg wash

choux pastry

So pleased that it puffed properly

vanilla cream patissiere

pastry filled with cream

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!


  1. How gorgeous! Love your daisy and rose buds.

  2. Beautiful! They look so pretty with flowers on them. Great job on the challenge.

  3. This looks wonderful, and I'm glad you're back! The flowers are so pretty.
    I am indifferent to chocolate and will always choose any other flavour first! That's not to say I don't eat it sometimes, though!

  4. I love the chocolate drizzle with the flowers. Very season appropriate. Love it!

  5. It is really fun to watch them puff in the oven. I stay and watched almost the entire time. I wish I had made a vanilla and chocolate version. Yours looks so tasty!

  6. Beautiful decoration.. looks gorgeous..


  7. Great job! :D I agree it's so exciting seeing them rise! I always turn on the lights in the oven to see how my "babies" are going :P

  8. Your dessert looks yummy, love all the chocolate drizzle

  9. Wow, this is just so impressive. I remember James Martin saying on TV that even HE has difficulty making these. I've been wanting to try making choux pastry for a while (get to get out of my box and stop being so afraid to try new things), but you have totally outdone yourself. Its beautiful.
    So how did it taste???
    Have a wonderful weekend ahead daaahling.
    *kisses* HH

  10. Wow your croquembouche looks delcious, Im so jealous your choux buns puffed up hehe, mine looked like theyd been steamrolled!

  11. Thanks, that cake stand was a gift for Christmas but I believe my friends actually got it from next! It must have just been in stock over Christmas though cause I just checked the website and it's no longer for sale but I just happened to find one on ebay that is ending in 21 hours so you may be able to snap it up if you wanted it!! just type in next cake stand and you should see it. What you made this month certainly does look challenging but you pulled it off, that vanilla cream in the pan looks so delicious!

  12. Cute decoration with the flowers, and the puffs looked gorgeously golden and perfectly puffed. Nice work.

  13. thank you so much for your comment. Your croquembouche looks so good - a fork worthy affair!

  14. That looks so pretty! LOvely take on the challenge!

    Thank you for visiting my blog :) See you often!

  15. Lovely!! It WAS so exciting to watch the puffs puff!

  16. Beautiful, I liked your decorations.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  17. It was easy, wasn't it! I loved the pate a choux too. And I love how you decorated yours!

  18. Your pastry looks amazing - I'm jealous! ;) Fantastic job on the challenge.

  19. All that chocolate looks amazing on top. Yum!

  20. that looks so good! i love a good egg wash! yummy!

  21. The caramel glaze and spun sugar would have been, literally, the icing on the cake, but even without them, your croquembouche look fantastic! The simple decorations are perfect!
    Thanks for stopping by at my blog. I share your passion for baking.

  22. Looks fantastic !
    Especially the decorations :)
    Great job !

  23. We went the classic chocolate drizzle and vanilla creme patisserie too - it was so good!!! Love your flower decorations - great job! =)

  24. Lovely croquembouche - the flowers are particularly pretty!

  25. Perfect puffs and lovely decoration! Looks really yummy!

  26. Hello:

    Thank you for your lovely comment. Your Pièce Montée is too beatiful and very, very good.

    A great kiss for you

  27. How pretty! You did a great job! Like you, I am thrilled to have added a new recipe to my repetoire and can't wait to make chocolate eclairs next! :-)

  28. Beautifully done! Love the daisy!

  29. These looks so yuumm!! gorgeous!
    Thank you for your lovely comments!

  30. I, too, was surprised to find out that it didn't take that long to assemble! Your croquembouche looks delicious and I love the flowers. The pastries sure did puff perfectly!

  31. Not only is your croquembouche gorgeous with the flowers, but such chocolatey drizzled goodness. A scoop of ice cream on top and it's a croquembouche fudge sundae! Beautiful job!

  32. A beautiful pièce montée! So tempting!



  33. You have a beautiful site here! I am so happy I found it!
    This recipe look amazing!

  34. Wonderful results on the cream puffs and the croquembouche! Cute flowers used to decorate!

  35. c'est magnifique et c'est très réussi
    bravo et bonne soirée

  36. Beautiful decoration! And the drizzling chocolate is just irresistable :-)

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  37. Very pretty interpretation of the challenge. Can't go wrong with vanilla and chocolate, yum!


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