Wednesday, May 26, 2010

croquembouche or piece montée

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 was an exciting challenge.  I had only made pate a choux once before, and that was in home economics back when I was 12.  I do remember that our cream puffs turned out quite nicely, but I've never made them again.  Mostly because I'd just never really thought about it.  So this month, I was excited to see pate a choux as part of our challenge.  But a croquembouche???  That seemed a little bit daunting.  
I do have a confession to make.  I don't enjoy making caramel.  Inevitably I manage to either a) burn the caramel or b) burn me.  During this months challenge, I managed to accomplish both!  For some reason, caramel and I just don't get along and darn - that boiling sugar gets super hot.  

However I think overall the challenge turned out well.  Sure I still have a love/hate relationship with caramel (love the taste as long as it doesn't hurt me in the process).  I wanted to make more spun sugar, but I managed to burn the second batch (see?!??!) and so I convinced myself that the one batch of sugar would suffice.  And so while I would have appreciated the extra drama that more spun sugar would have provided, I think it turned out well overall.  

Now I'm just waiting patiently for my boys to come home so that they can begin tearing this tower of pastry and cream apart!

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. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place).

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!


Anonymous said...

very nicely done! love it!

Wic said...

I too always burn the caramel and my fingers.
but the eating helps.
love your version, great job.

Renata said...

You might not get along with the caramel, but your building skills are excellent! Your tall croquembouche is awesome!

Lot-O-Choc said...

Wow great job on your croquembouche it looks amazingly good, i love the spun sugar that youve decorated it with!

Leslie Anne said...

wow! i am SO impressed by your spun sugar. It looks amazing.

Anonymous said...

Its funny how we all have something (like your caramel) that is against us! congratulations on persevering though and creating such an amazing challenge! well done!

Ruth H. said...

Your choux look perfect! And I didn't even attempt the caramel, so you are leaps and bounds ahead of me! I think your spun sugar looks beautiful!!

Baking Addict said...

Wow what an impressive creation. I didnt try the caramel this time. Love your spun sugar decorations. I'm sure the boys loved it.

Wolf said...

Everyone's spun sugar has me jealous! }:P

islandgirl4ever2 said...

Hi there...

I was just going through your wonderful blog and got to the post about croquembouche and saw my friend, Cat's name mentioned.. How cool is that!

Yours looks FANTASTIQUE, by the way!

LOVEEEEEE your blog! I'm going to try your caramel cake next... Take care, Leesa