The Daring Bakers Make A Piece Montee' | The Gingered Whisk: The Daring Bakers Make A Piece Montee'

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers Make A Piece Montee'

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.

A Piece Montee (pr croquembouche) is essentially a tower of cream filled puff pastries stuck together with caramel! Sounds awesome, doesn't it?! This is a traditional French party cake - often served at weddings, baptisms, and communions. 

When I first saw this month’s challenge I was extremely excited – it seemed like such a fantastic challenge! Baking, Art, Architecture! It had everything! I wanted to do something special for this one, jazz it up a little, and not just do the recipe as submitted to us. I decided on a tropical theme – strawberry, coconut, pineapple and lime pastry cream! And I was really excited about building my tower and doing spun sugar for the first time! I had always wanted to try that, but had always been slightly petrified of the thought of swinging boiling hot caramel around my kitchen with 3 dogs, my clumsy self, and my darling husband who would invariably walk in to see what I was doing at just the right second. Can you imagine the mess?

I set aside a perfect day to do my baking – the weather was just perfect, the dogs were content to lay on the porch (which never happens) and I sent the husband off to play. And that, my friends, is where the perfect-ness of the day ended. First I made the pastry cream. It turned out beautifully, it was so delicious! I divided it into four batches and added pureed strawberry to one, pureed pineapple to another, lime zest and juice to a third, and coconut milk to the last one. Into the fridge they went to set up for 6 hours! And onto the puffs!

The first set of puffs did not turn out. They were little flat blobs that expanded sideways instead of puffing up. I know exactly what I did wrong, though, so it was easily fixed! The second and third batch were perfect! Beautiful little puffs, perfectly golden, with lovely little caverns inside (I know, I checked!) So I know what you are thinking – you are thinking that I said the perfect-ness of my day ended a long time ago, and here I just said that everything was going swimmingly! What‘s up with that?!

The problem came when I went to permeate my perfect puffs with my perfect pastry cream. The strawberries and the pineapples were in too big of chunks to go through my pastry tip – it kept getting clogged and bursting out the seams. Switching to a bigger tip did not help at all, it just made a bigger hole in the puff, and the puffs started splitting down the side. I decided to give the pastry creams a whirl through the food processor to see if I could get the chunks into smaller pieces. It worked, but it made the pastry cream super thin and it refused to stay inside the puffs! So back into the fridge the strawberry cream and the pineapple cream went so they could thicken up a bit. The lime went in perfectly, actually, so no complaints there! The coconut flavored one was too thin to begin with, so I knew that one wasn’t going to work. After the pineapple, strawberry, and coconut pastry creams had had a chance to think about their bad runny behavior in the fridge for a while, I decided to try to pipe them once again. Still too runny. My father suggested using some corn starch to see if that would help thicken them up a bit. But no, that would have been too easy.

By this time it was late. As in 10:00 PM, which is really late for a 9 month pregnant lady who has been on her feet in the kitchen all day and nothing is working right. I didn’t want to give up on this challenge, but I didn’t have the time in my schedule to start all over, either. What to do, what to do? I’ll tell you what I did. I made the caramel, took my beautiful empty little puff pastries, and glued those puppies together. Not all of them, mind you, because I actually had a lot. I would have made a bigger tower like I wanted except the caramel kept cooling the second I took it off the stove top and it took a really long time to get them up there. My first attempt at spun sugar was totally half assed, I will admit, because by that time I was exhausted, upset, and just wanted to go to bed. I took the spoon and swirled it around the tower, and viola, we’re done. It worked, but it wasn’t as pretty or as delicate as I would have liked.

So, I can’t decide. Did I pass this challenge, or not? I made the puffs. I made the pastry cream. I made the tower. I made the spun sugar. I just didn’t do it well, and I didn’t have it assembled as it was supposed to be.

It did taste good, though! And I did enjoy dunking the puffs into the bowls of pastry cream the next day! (The lime was my favorite!)

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. (Make sure that you do not skip this step, even if it looks like your batter is dry and is pulling away from the sides without the additional cooking. If you skip this step you WILL end up with flat, pathetic little anti-puffs.) 
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 – 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!


  1. I think you succeeded! Your solution of dunking the puffs in the cream makes sense to me. :) I had a similar experience with my first batch of puffs, too; they were like little hollow pancakes instead of fluffy spheres. I also applaud you for doing this with the possibility of 3 dogs underfoot -- I had to kick my 1 dog out of the kitchen so I could concentrate!

  2. You absolutely passed! How creative of you to try all those flavors of pastry cream. And to complete the challenge in the face of adversity! You've got lots of perseverance!

  3. I'd say you definately passed! Well done!

  4. Oh, more than went above and beyond because you made four fruity flavors of pastry cream AND your puffs, tower and spun sugar are gorgeous! Your poor pregnant aching feet and you rocked it anyway! *hugs* I'm so excited for you and can't wait to see your new baby girl soon!!

    BTW..I think I could find some easy but delicious summer recipes for you. In fact, just checked this one out and tell me it doesn't look fabulous?? That pesto is slaying me! :) Here's a linky!

  5. Thanks for all the comments!!


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