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Piece Montée, Crunch in the Mouth, Croquembouche!

So I joined The Daring Bakers!  It’s an online group of bloggers who issue and participate in a challenge each month.  There are rules and expectations, some people follow them, some use them more as rough guidelines…and lastly, everyone posts about the project on their own blogs the same day.

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.

So croquembouche.  Yeah…never thought I would be making one of these…which is a good part of the reason that I joined Daring Bakers.  I’m a little picky.  Everyone has their favorites, their fall-backs, their ruts.  Everyone can use an excuse to go beyond the recipes they lean towards.  I set out to make the whole shebang on a Sunday – yeah…that did not happen.

So I started with the custard – ’cause I had everything I needed to make it right then…and it needed to chill in the fridge before piping it into the puffs.  (recipe is posted below) Custard made on Sunday – and puffs made on Tuesday.

1/4 cup of milk is mixed with cornstarch…and the rest of the milk is mixed with sugar and heated on the stove.

Whole eggs are beaten into the milk and cornstarch mixture.

Then yolks are added – it is custard, after all.

Now is when things start to get dicey…and you start wishing that you had paid attention during those Patisserie classes, and you are crossing your fingers that you don’t scramble the eggs…as starting over at this point would bite!

You take the heated milk mixture off the burner and add some of it to the egg mixture…stirring constantly to avoid a chunky scrambling disaster…but this is not the crux yet.

*note – things were moving fast and stirring could not be stopped…so there are a few missing pictures.

Next, you add all the egg mixture back into the hot saucepan full of still-very-warm milk…and stir like crazy.  In my head –  I was thinking – okay…not so bad, I’m making custard…look at me go.  Then it was – wow…I’m really hot and sweating, is it done yet…?  It this thick enough…?  Oh god – how will I know when it is done enough…if my custard doesn’t set – croquembouche is a pipe(ing) dream.  Then…all of a sudden…and I mean SUDDENLY…I had custard.  It was thick and needed NO more heat.

You take it off the heat…once it has thickened…and hopefully not scrambled or burned…and quickly stir in butter and vanilla!  Whew!

I’ll admit…it is not the smoothest custard ever made – but taste was not sacrificed in the least.  Cover it and throw it in the fridge.

For the Vanilla Crème Patisserie
2 cup whole milk
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
12 Tbsp. sugar
2 large egg
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
2 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, and remove from the heat.  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/scramble) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil.  This can happen very quickly – not a good time to step away from the stove…or even look away.  Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour custard into a glass bowl.  Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface.  Chill immediately and until ready to use.

On to the Pâte à Choux

Start with butter, salt, sugar and water.

Once the butter has melted and the water is boiling, add in the sifted flour while continuing to stir with a wooden spoon. Continue  cooking the mixture until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

I’ve completed the next steps in my Kitchenaid mixer…but decided I would follow the recipe provided to the letter…so it was time for an arm workout.  The dough gets dumped into another bowl…mainly so the hot pan doesn’t immediately cook the eggs.

Add one egg at a time and fully incorporate it into the dough before adding another egg.  It’s also important to consider how big your eggs are…if using large or extra-large eggs, I would recommend adding just a touch more flour.  Otherwise your dough can end up a little runny.

While mixing, you might feel like it will never mix together and like it is a sloppy eggy mess…keep mixing.  It will come back together.

Fill piping bag (no tip necessary – and a Ziploc with the end cut off works just as well).

I piped just enough batter out to make small puffs – about one and a half times around.  The exact form is not super critical, as they sort of melt before puffing up from all the moisture in the batter as it converts to steam.

Since I had two trays in the oven at a time, I switched them halfway through cooking.  It should also be noted that this is one of those recipe’s where the oven temperature needs to be reduced 10 minutes into cooking – don’t forget.

It’s easy to think that you can pull these out of the oven before the timer dings…don’t be fooled.  They must stay in the oven long enough to dry out a bit and this is important for two reason.  One – they will sink like soufflé if they have not been cooked long enough…and Two – you’re filling them with custard…and no one likes a soggy mushy cream puff!

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 40)
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. Consistency is important.

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 an 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.

I planned my first layer before filling them, and used wax paper to make sure I ended up with a clean area around my finished ‘bouche.

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 dark chocolate – I used a 72% cacao chocolate)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately – although I didn’t have any trouble with it hardening up.

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 bottom of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be a little 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.

At this point, I was excited that my structure was holding, and decided I should take a break and let the chocolate harden a bit before continuing – I managed to catch a few minutes of Glee…thank goodness…and thank goodness for hulu.


Now, croquembouche are typically french wedding cakes and at least I was not under the pressure of presenting this at someone’s wedding…yikes.  It (or my version of it) is not the most elegant…but after taste-testing time after time after time (I ate at least 9 cream puffs at work – for the sake of research of course)…they were damn good!  I would make these again…just maybe without the design and engineering effort!  Can you croque…and bouche…?  🙂

Stay tuned for a Daring Cooks post in the next few weeks!

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