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've certainly enjoyed my venture thus far as as a Daring Baker. I love going to the site on the day that the challenge is revealed. This month I was quiet surprised. I could not, nor can I now, even pronounce the name of the recipe to be made. You know us Southerners only speak southern. We just don't do so well with the precise accents of languages, such as French :) Oh, we can't help it, its just that special southern "twang" that is so easily recognized if we step outside of our born and bred southern regions. Anyways, despite my lack of pronunciation, I was very intrigued. Here are the key elements to create this beautiful tower:
Cream puff shells (also known as choux), Pastry cream and caramel.
I have always wanted to make cream puffs, and this was my chance. Well, my chance without too much guilt, since it was my challenge of the month:) I thought they were amazingly simple. Now, you should know, if you decide to make this, you can make the choux or cream puff shells a day in advance and freeze them. But, once the Piece Montee is assembled, it needs to be eaten that day. Preferably within a few hours. Cream puffs do not improve with flavor. Just to give you an idea of what to look for, here was my choux after piping it onto the baking sheets.
Here is the baked choux:
This tower of cream puffs known as a Piece Montee or Croquembouche is actually a traditional French wedding cake. I like the idea of this. Not so much frosting to mess up while decorating. I chose to decorate my Piece Montée with handmade gumpaste flowers.
This will make your life much easier in the filling process, as the tip punctures the cream puff and fills, all at the same step. My honest opinion on the filing is that it tastes like vanilla pudding, but oh so good vanilla pudding. Like good, homemade southern vanilla pudding (I suppose you could call it a custard) that should be used to make the perfect banana pudding.
Though the Piece Montee requires several steps. None of the steps are overly complicated or require ingredients that cannot be easily obtained at your local grocery store. I highly recommend this for any special occasion. And I can absolutely see making this at Christmas time and using the cone-shape as a Christmas tree. Now, wouldn't that be cute! Enjoy!
Piece Montéebased on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri
Crème Patissiere (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
Pate a Choux (This is the dough for the cream puff shells)
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.
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.
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.
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 (cream puffs) 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. Decorate as desired.