Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

I'm back again with another Daring Baker's recipe. I sat out April's challenge as I had NO interest in tradition British pudding using suet. Yuck! (I guess maybe I'm not that daring....)

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. I was totally thrilled by May's challenge- A Piece Montee. From Wikipedia: A pièce montée (from French, literally "assembled piece" or "mounted piece". As Cat explained, "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."

Chocolate cream filled puff pastries dripped in chocolate! Yummy!!!
I learned a few things during this challenge. I was out of parchment paper so decided to substitute waxed paper instead. I learned it's not the same thing, although I think a continuation of my oven issues contributed to the waxed paper issue. This recipe called for a 450 oven. I preheated the oven to 475 (oven thermometer read 450). I put my pastry in. About 10 minutes later, just as I was about to lower the temp as the directions indicated, I smelled smoke. I opened the oven to a billow of smoke. My oven thermometer read 500. I opened up the house and luckily the smoke detector did not go off (especially given that I was enjoying a day where both of my kids took a nap at the same time!) The bottoms of my pastry were done, but the tops were still cooking. I lowered the temp and carefully watched. I was able to finish cooking them without burning the bottoms. They were quite brown though and when I went to remove them from the waxed paper, most stuck.
I filled the pastries, made the glaze, and began construction. For a first attempt, I think I did a good job with construction. My poor tower did lean a bit and my pastries got a bit squished. I learned a lot though and was proud I did it myself. When you live with an architect you tend to defer to them for construction projects. I was proud to show him my leaning tower when he got home and he was sweet enough not to critique my structural support approach.
I could have drizzled chocolate to finish it off, but I'd seen a few other completed recipes on the Daring Baker forum. A couple of people, obviously well versed in spun sugar, had used it to complete their decoration. I decided to give spun sugar a try.
I'm starting to enjoy boiling sugar. Maybe I should nurture my inner candy maker. This time I boiled until 310 degrees, the "hard crack" stage.
Once it hardens- it's hard.
Decorating was very messy, but great fun too. I had wispy sugar threads everywhere.
 I admired the tower for a bit and then dove it. The puff pastries were delicious! It was a fabulous challenge!

Pastry Cream, Puff Pastries, Glaze, Assembly, & Spun Sugar
Printable Recipe
Pastry 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

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Puff Pastry
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

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. 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.

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. 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.

5. 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.

6. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

7. Bake the choux at 425◦F until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350◦F 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 Pastry
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.

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)

1. 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

1. 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!
YouTube Assembly Video
Spun Sugar
Adapted From:

2 c sugar
1/2 c water
1/2 c corn syrup

1. Cover work space and floor. Spray a large baking sheet with vegetable oil.

2. Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan, over low heat. Stir occasionally. Bring mixture to a boil. Continue cooking until the temperature reaches 310 (hard crack stage) on the candy thermometer.

3. Remove from heat and plunge saucepan in ice water to stop cooking. Let mixture thicken for 1 minute.

4. Dip a fork in sugar and wave back and forth. Long, fine strands will cover the baking sheet. The syrup will harden almost immediately.

Clean-up Tips: Boil water in pan to redissolve sugar. Run pieces under hot water and slowly dissolve sugar.


  1. Wow, those look awesome, Renee!! I am so impressed! (and envious: YUM...I would love to eat one now!)

  2. Renee -- you are totally inspiring! I am amazed by the fantastic things you are doing in your kitchen (and with two little ones to boot!)

  3. How fun, I have always wanted to make one of these, but never felt like I could pull it off. Your post is very all looks great! LOL on the smoking oven, yep, one always goes RUNNING when you smell that smell. Been there, done that several times.


Related Posts with Thumbnails