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!

The Daring Cooks Make Green Chili and Chicken Enchiladas!

Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

The reveal date might be a little late for your own Cinco de Mayo celebration, but this recipe is definitely worthy of your next fiesta! I personally made these for a Mother’s Day Celebration, and every single one of them was gone within minutes! I didn’t have the energy to attempt homemade tortillas, even though I really wanted to. But I went ahead and gave you the recipe (down at the very bottom) so you can try if you like!

Enchilada’s are a great staple for Mexican food – almost everyone has had them, and almost everyone has their own way of making them. I was intrigued by the stacking idea instead of the traditional rolling method! However, you will notice that I did end up rolling mine – it’s much easier to feed 16 people that way! But when I make these again I will definitely stack them! The homemade sauce a nice touch, too. I had never had a green sauce before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had also never blistered/roasted peppers before! I am pretty sure I botched my first attempt– I was lazy and broiled them instead of grilling, and it took a long time and they didn’t get evenly blackened. I didn’t think I was going to be able to get the skins off, but lo and behold, they came off beautifully! The sauce itself was interesting – a taste test during simmering found it to be green snot that tasted like burning. Haha! But some more salt and pepper, and a little green tobasco sauce and some more simmering really helped! And even though I wasn’t thrilled with the sauce by itself, it tasted amazing on the enchiladas!!

Because I was feeding a lot of people, I substituted the grilled chicken for some rotisserie chickens. After shredding the meat, I added some of the sauce and the cheese into bowl and tossed it all together, and stuffed the tortillas with that mixture. Then I topped the whole pan with more sauce, and then layered on the cheese! Serve with sour cream, extra sauce, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and onions.

Chicken and Green Chili Enchiladas
Preparation time:
Roasting/preparing chiles and tomatillos: 30 - 60 min.
Assembling/simmering enchilada sauce: 30 min.
Grill chicken: 10 - 15 min.
Assembly/ baking enchilada stacks: 30 min.

1½ pounds Fresh Anaheim chiles (about eight 6 to 8 inch chiles) 24 ounces 678 grams - roast, peel, remove seeds, chop coarsely.
7-8 ounces Tomatillos (about 4-5 medium)212 grams - peel, remove stems
4 cups Chicken broth (32 ounces/920 grams)
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons yellow onion, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ tsp Kosher salt (add more to taste)
¼ tsp Black Pepper (add more to taste)
2 tablespoons Cornstarch (dissolve in 2 tablespoons water, for thickening)
Hot sauce, your favorite, optional
2 Boneless chicken breasts (you can also use bone-in chicken breasts or thighs) I was feeding large crowd and used a rotisserie chicken….
3 tablespoons Olive oil or other neutral vegetable oil (use more as needed)
Kosher salt and pepper
12 Small Corn tortillas (5-6 inch/13-15 cm). (you can also use flour  tortillas or other wraps)
6 ounces grated Monterey Jack, 170 grams (other cheeses (cheddar, pepper jack, Mexican cheeses) can be used. Just be sure they melt well and complement the filling)
Cilantro for garnish, chopped and sprinkled optional
Roasting Fresh Chiles
1.Coat each chile with a little vegetable oil.
2. Lay the oiled chiles on the grill or baking sheet (line pan with foil for simpler clean-up). Place the grill or broil close to the element, turning the chiles so they char evenly. They should be black and blistered. This will take about 15-30 minutes.
3. As they are completely charred (they will probably not all be done at once), remove them to a bowl and cover with plastic, or close up in a paper bag. Let them rest until they are cool.
4. First, put on a pair of latex gloves! You don’t want to get pepper oils on your hands!! Pull on the stem and the seed core MAY pop out. Open the chile and remove the seeds. Turn the chile skin side up and with a paring knife, scrape away the skin. Sometimes it just pulls right off, sometimes you really have to scrape it.
Green Chile Sauce
1. Put a medium saucepan of water on to boil and remove the papery outer skin from the tomatillos. Boil the tomatillos until soft, 5 to 10 minutes. You can also grill the tomatillos until soft. If you boil the tomatillos, it will take 5 -10 minutes. If you grill them, it will take 2-5 minutes. If you broil them, it will take 8-12 minutes. This can be done the same time the chiles are roasting.
2. Drain and puree in a blender or food processor.
3. Return the tomatillos to the saucepan along with the chicken broth, chopped green chiles, minced onion, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper.
4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add the cornstarch/water mixture and stir well. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and reduced to 4-5 cups, another 10-15 minutes.
6. Adjust seasonings and add hot sauce if you want a little more heat. I found the heat to be plenty, but wanted a little more flavor, so I added some green tobacco sauce!
Stacked Green Chile and Grilled Chicken Enchiladas (makes 4 servings)
1. Heat a gas grill to medium high or build a medium-hot charcoal Coat the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Grill the chicken until just cooked through, 4-5 minutes a side for boneless chicken breasts.
3. Cool and then slice into thin strips or shred.
4. In a small skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Dip the edge of a tortilla into the oil to check – it should sizzle immediately.
5. Using tongs, put a tortilla into the pan and cook until soft and lightly brown on each side, about 15-20 seconds per side (at the most).
6. Drain on paper towels.
7. Add oil as needed and continue until all 12 tortillas are done.
8. In a baking dish large enough to hold four separate stacks of tortillas, ladle a thin layer of sauce.
9. Lay four tortillas in the dish and ladle another ½ cup (4 ounces/112 grams) of sauce over the tortillas.
10. Divide half the chicken among the first layer of tortillas, top with another ½ cup of sauce and 1/3 of the grated cheese.
11. Stack another four tortillas, top with the rest of the chicken, more sauce and another third of the cheese.
12. Finish with the third tortilla, topped with the remaining sauce and cheese.
13. Bake until the sauce has thickened and the cheese melted, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
14. To serve, transfer each stack to a plate. Spoon any leftover sauce over the stacks and sprinkle with cilantro, if you wish. The stacks may also be cooked in individual gratin dishes.

Corn Tortillas (from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen)
Makes about 15
1 3/4 cups masa harina
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
Pour hot water over masa harina, cover and let sit 30 minutes. Add (additional) cool water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is soft but not sticky. Divide the dough into 15 balls and cover with plastic wrap.
Heat a large (two burner) ungreased griddle or two large skillets, one on medium-low and one on medium-high.
Put a ball of dough between two sheets of plastic. If you don’t have a tortilla press, press to a 5-6” circle using a heavy frying pan or bread board or other heavy, flat object. Put the tortilla into the cooler pan or cooler end of the griddle. The tortilla will probably stick, but within 15 seconds, if the temperature is correct, it will release. Flip it at that point onto the hotter skillet/griddle section. In 30-45 seconds, it should be dotted with brown underneath. Flip it over, still on the hot surface and brown another 30 seconds or so. A good tortilla will balloon up at this point. Remove from heat and let them rest while cooking the remaining tortillas. Use quickly.

Skewers of Rosemary Chicken and Zucchini

I love this recipe! It has to be one of my favorite summer meals. It is quick, light but filling, healthy, and has fantastic flavor! The combination of the fresh rosemary and lemon zest is perfect. And who doesn't like grilled zucchini?! This is quick and easy enough to throw together during the week, but tastes special enough to be served to guests, which I have definitely done before! It's a win-win!


  • 1 large lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2  tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2   garlic cloves, minced and divided
  • 1 pound  skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 3/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 2 medium  zucchini, cut into 3/4-inch slices
  • Cooking spray


Place rind, rosemary, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon garlic in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken; seal bag and refrigerate 1 hour.
Prepare grill.
Combine 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon garlic, juice, salt, and pepper, stirring with a whisk.
Thread chicken and zucchini alternately onto each of 12 (12-inch) skewers. Place kebabs on grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill 12 minutes or until chicken is done, turning once. Drizzle with juice mixture.

Un-Stuffed Pepper Skillet Dinner

I have been looking for more one-pot, easy to make dishes that are tasty, yet still healthy, for when the little one arrives at the end of June. I know I am not going to have the energy/time to cook dinner every night, and yet I just can't let myself lapse into delivery pizza and take-out chinese every night.

I found this recipe after an online search, and was excited - I love stuffed peppers, so this sounded like something that could be good!

This was good the night I made it, but leftovers the next night were even better! I put the leftovers in a 9x13, topped it with a jar of queso, baked it until bubbly, and then served it with sour cream and Tostitos! Now that was good!!

Unstuffed Pepper Skillet Dinner
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 large green peppers, cut into chunks
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 1 t. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 t. cumin
  • 2 1/2 c. fully cooked rice
  • A few splashes of hot sauce/green tobasco
  • Shredded Mozzerella Cheese
1. Brown ground beef and onions in a large skillet. Drain. Add carrots and green peppers. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes. You want the peppers to stay somewhat crunchy.
2. Stir in tomato sauce, water, Italian seasoning and cumin. Bring to a slow boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
3. Stir in cooked rice until heated through. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Serve and enjoy. (Or refrigerate and reheat in oven or microwave just before serving.)
Leftovers of this work great as a burrito filling. Add some chili powder, more cumin and cayenne pepper, roll up in a tortilla and you’re all set.
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