The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a pièce montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.
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. Please note you must make your own pate a choux (puff pastry) and crème patissiere. And your piece montée needs to be a mounted structure with some height to it.
This will have to be a quick posting I'm on a short holiday down to Melbourne for the Eurovision song competition.
Pièce montée are a wonderful and fairly easy dessert that is spectacular to the eye. And it has the added bonus of being absolutely delicious.
Also the recipes provided proved to be easy (by most of the comments in the Daring Bakers' forums) and very tasty. The only piece of advice is that when making the puffs a lot of bakers got good results just using three eggs instead of the four suggested in the recipe I think is due to the size of the eggs - the puff batter needs to be like thick mayonnaise.
Please try this dessert - it really is the worth the effort.
I made three versions - one sweet and two savoury!
One sweet croquembouche
I wanted to do a trial pièce monté to see how the recipe worked – I always thought that this very fancy looking dessert wouldn't be that good tasting but I was wrong they are so delicious and such fun to eat and they are so gooey wonderful for kids (and adults).
I made a ½ batch of the choux puff balls I still got 32 puffs and I needed a whole batch of the cream filling. I used 85% dark chocolate with a coffee cream filling. This was marvellous I really liked the bitter chocolate topping and the very sweet filling yum yum.
The unbaked puffs
The baked puffs
The finished pièce monté
Two Savoury Croquembouches
I wanted to do some savoury croquembouches using herb puffs these were amazing, so delicious. They were so much better than I could imagine the herbs really work well in the puffs. Each croquembouche served 12 people as an entrée.
Herb flavoured puffs – rosemary and chives on left; dill puffs on right
Hollow crisp puff
Two savoury croquembouches
Herb Puff Blue Cheese Croquembouche with Honeyed Walnuts with Prickly Pear Syrup and Dragon fruit balls
This was so good I used skewers to place the puffs. Prickly pear tastes like watermelon with a just hint of bubblegum and dragon fruit has no taste but it really picks up the flavour of other ingredients it has the most delightful mouth feel and looks gorgeous. The honeyed walnuts and prickly pear syrup pairs so well with the salty blue cheese and the rosemary is spot-on with the total flavour profile, these tastes are so well balanced this was a very memorable entrée.
Prickly pear and dragon fruit
How the skewers work
Choux pastry – add 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, leave out the sugar.
Filling – blue cheese, sour cream and cream cheese to taste add some extra rosemary if you wish
Topping – toasted walnuts add honey and make dragon fruit balls
Syrup – the juice of 2 prickly pears, ½ cup honey (I used iron bark), simmer until very thick.
The salty cheese was superb with the sweet topping so lovely.
Deluxe Seafood & quail eggs croquembouche with lemon gastrique
This was really decadent and luscious so creamy and smooth. Yum yum. The quail egg goes so well with the seafood especially the caviar, this very rich and the dill combines so well with all the ingredients it really binds and harmonizes all the tastes together.
Choux pastry – add 1 tablespoon each of chives and dill, leave out the sugar.
Filling – quail egg; and the filling consists of lobster, salmon pieces, crab meat, truffle oil and caviar add cheese cream and heavy cream to taste and consistency
Topping – dill, salmon strips,
Gastrique – the juice and zest of 1 lemon, ½ cup sugar and ½ cup of rice vinegar simmer until thick
In each puff place a quail egg, add the filling then use some of the filling to make the croquembouche. Cover with gasrique and salmon strip and extra dill.
Advice with tips and hints
Pâte à choux dough, know as panade, is the only dough that is cooked before being baked. It consists of water, butter, flour, and eggs. During baking the eggs help form a thin crust on the outside, while the steam trapped inside expands giving to the choux pastries the typical puffed hollow shape.
1) Make sure that the cooked water/flour/butter has cooled down below 140F (60C) before adding the eggs or else you will scrambled them! Remember to add the eggs one at a time. For the first egg I use a cold one straight from the fridge that way it is less likely to scramble. The quantity of egg should be just right. If the recipe calls for 4 eggs add the first 3 (one egg at a time) and the last a little at a time in order to control the consistency. Too much egg will cause the panade to be too liquid and unable to hold the shape when is baked. It should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
2) The panade needs to be cooked carefully till is smooth and dry. If it is undercooked the ingredients could be unevenly mixed, and it would retain too much moisture. If the bottom of the pan is covered with a thin whitish crust this is an indication that the dough is sufficiently dried. Do not attempt to scrape up the floury film that forms on the bottom and sides of the pan – just let it be.
3) Do the preparation very quickly. Piping and baking the panade immediately when still warm will help lightness and expansion. This is the biggest tip do the piping fast!
4) Bake the pastries until they are crisp, dry and golden. If the pastries are undercooked they could collapse when they are removed from the oven. Also it is preferable to cool the pastries slowly in the oven or else they might collapse.
These are the three most common problem areas with pâte à choux preparation:
* Insufficient beating of water, flour and butter before adding eggs – the water/flour/butter batter needs to develop sufficiently (i.e. dried out) to provide structure
* Failure to incorporate eggs one at a time – the eggs need to be beaten enough to provide leavening
* Baking at too low a temperature or removing puffs before fully baked – the water in the dough needs to steam to leaven the dough as well
Note: This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. While you can purchase or make a cardboard conical structure to build your piece montée or use toothpicks as an aid, it is relatively easy to assemble it using just the baked pate a choux as the main building blocks and the glaze as the glue.
While a piece montée may be a bit time-consuming to assemble, the various components are relatively easy to make and don’t require any special ingredients. The best part about them is that once you have mastered them, you will be able to go on and make many beloved French French pastries such as éclairs, profiteroles, Paris-Brest, etc. all of which are made with this pate a choux recipe, a filling and glaze.
Variations allowed: I am providing the recipes for 3 variations on the crème patissiere: vanilla, coffee and chocolate but please feel free to flavor your crème patissiere in any flavor of your choosing or a mix of different flavors. You may use either a chocolate glaze or caramel or both (recipes provided) to build your piece montée. You must use the recipe provided for the the pate a choux batter however. As for the structure, feel free to be creative as you want – but it must be a “mounted piece” meaning that it has some height; you may decorate it with any objects you desire.
Preparation time: You will want to use your puff pastry batter and chocolate glaze or caramel as soon as it has been prepared and as close to serving time as possible. This is not a dessert that stores well and it may be a bit temperamental in humid areas as the glaze needs to harden to hold the choux together. The crème patissiere can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use.
You will need approximately 10 minutes to prepare the puff pastry, 10 minutes to pipe and about 30 minutes to bake each batch. The crème patissiere should take about 10 minutes to cook and then will need to be cooled for at least 6 hours or overnight. The glazes take about 10 minutes to prepare.
• several baking sheets
• parchment paper
• a whisk
• a pastry brush (for the egg wash)
• a pastry bag and tip (a plain tip or no tip is best for piping the puff pastry; you can use a plain or star tip to fill the puff pastry with the cream)
• a flat surface such as a baking sheet or cake board/stand on which to assemble your piece montée
• some of the items you may want to use to decorate your piece montée include ribbons, Jordan almonds, fresh flowers, sugar cookie cut-outs, chocolates, etc.
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.
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.
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 – see video #4 below).
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!
Additional Information: Here are some videos you may want to take a look at before you get started on your piece montée.
1) Martha Stewart Assembles a Croquembouche:
2) Assembling croquembouche using the interior of a cylinder:
3) Asembling Free-standing Croquembouche with Chocolate Glaze:
4) Assembling a Croquembouche with Toothpicks and Cone:
See this google images search of Croquembouche for inspiration:
Here’s a link to a dairy-free pate a choux and crème patisserie recipe: