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.
Pate a choux has been on my list of things to learn for quite a while… So, I was happy to discover that it was involved in this month’s Daring Bakers challenge. Mine didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but I am satisfied since it was my first attempt. We’ve had some hot and humid weather lately, and I don’t think that did me any favors. My batter was quite wet (you can see that in the pictures below), and the choux didn’t puff up quite as much as I would have liked. I plan on trying again using one fewer egg and baking them for a bit longer – both of which worked for some of the other Daring Bakers.
To fill the puffs, I made the vanilla pastry cream that was provided, substituting vanilla bean paste for the vanilla extract. It was pretty simple to make and tasted pretty good. Next time I will probably flavor the cream, too… I didn’t have any instant espresso in my pantry (I need to put that on my shopping list), but if I did I probably would have used it to flavor the cream.
To assemble the croquembouche, I made a quick chocolate glaze out of some 60% cacao chocolate chips. I dipped the puffs individually and then stacked them in a pyramid shape with some chocolate covered strawberries. It wasn’t a grandiose show piece like some that I have seen, but it was a tasty dessert for my hubby and I and some of our friends as we sipped coffee and watched a movie!
Here’s the recipe provided for the challenge…
- several baking sheets
- parchment paper
- pastry brush (for the egg wash)
- 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)
- 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.
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.
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.