May 29, 2010

The Daring Bakers' Challenge: Piece Montée (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.

The Original Recipe Source: The recipes I am using for this month’s challenge come from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and were originally created by famed pastry chef, Nick Malgieri.The recipe for caramel cream filling is adapted from Martha Stewart.

And here it comes - my second challenge in The Daring Bakers group! I liked this one much more than the previous, because I liked the food much more and also the preparation, itself, seemed to me to be more "colourful". However, this French "cake" which name means something like "crunch in the mouth" truly is delightful. I decided to make a caramel cream filling, coffee pastry cream and chocolate pastry cream.

The taste like Croquembouche has nothing else in the world! I was accompanied by a nice smell of caramel during the whole preparation. That spun mass was everywhere. Mainly when decorating the whole thing. The worst thing is it was uncleanable. There was sugar all over the kitchen. I remember having such a mess around at Easter. Everything was sticky - dishes, bowles, pans...simply everything.
Well, but that's enough about mess. Let's get to the caramel cream filling, which I completely overeat with by the way. It was wonderful. When doing it for the first time, I burned the sugar. I followed Martha Stewart's recipe step by step, but it didn't work so for the next time, no Martha, thank you. So I spent three hours making the caramel cream filling, because I had had to start all over again. The other two fillings - chocolate and coffee pastry cream - were quite fast and the most important they were incredibly tasty. The taste...yum yum.
I had fun assembling the piece montée. The caramel mass was everywhere. Plus the caramel cream filling was a bit runny, so it ran from the puff pastry. Simply everything was all sugary. And well, at the beginning the piece montée didn't want to hold the shape, so you can easily imagine my face when it started falling apart. But in the end it went great. I used a bowl as a supporting structure.
It was time to serve the cake to my parents. The Croquembouche was made as a birthday cake for them. They were not allowed to eat anything to make them be able to eat our "piece of mountain". It was a huge success! Really a genormous one! Everyone loved it (so did I)! Awesome challenge!

You'll need for 450g of Vanilla Pastry Cream:
  • 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

1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk.
2. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
3. 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.
4. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
5. Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil.
6. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

7. 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:
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:
Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water. Whisk into pastry cream with butter and vanilla.

You'll need for 800g of Caramel Cream Filling:
  • 290 g sugar
  • 235 ml water
  • 500 ml whipping cream
  • 60 g sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt

1. Prepare an ice-water bath.
2. Heat sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves, washing down sides of pan often with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming.
3. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until sugar turns light amber. Immediately remove from heat, wait until a little cooler and carefully whisk in 250 ml of whipping cream.
4. Return to low heat, and cook until sugar melts completely and mixture boils.
5. Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl set in ice-water bath. Let caramel cool, stirring often, for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in sour cream, vanilla, and salt.

7. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 5 days.
8. Just before using, beat remaining 250 ml of whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into caramel sauce, using a rubber spatula, until incorporated. 9. Whisk to thicken, about 1 minute.

You'll need for 28 Pate A Choux:
  • 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

1. Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally.
3. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.
7. 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).
8. Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.
9. 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.

10. 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. Then use the glaze to assemble your piece montée.

You'll need for hard caramel glaze:
  • 1 cup (225 g.) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
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.
3. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color.
4. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

Assembly of Piece Montée:
1. 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.
2. Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in caramel 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.
3. When done, it's time to decorate the dessert. I used 100g of bittersweet chocolate and 100g of white chocolate. Melt each chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Drizzle the "cake" with bittersweet chocolate and then with white chocolate. When cooled, drizzle with remaining caramel glaze.
Bon Appetite!

The Final Word:
The Croquembouche truly is an amazing dessert! The gentle taste goes well with bittersweet chocolate and sweet white chocolate. All creams are really great, so whatever you decide to make you won't be sorry. Overally the taste is just perfect. I highly recommand eating whole piece montée within the day when prepared, otherwise it gets soggy - I'm speaking from my own experience.
Rating: *****/*****


  1. It is lovely, congratulations!:)))

  2. Ciao Yummita ! your piece montèè is really wonderful ! Bravissima !