Thursday, May 27, 2010

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.
This month I was challenged to make a Piece Montee. You might know that dessert by it's other long French name, croquembouche. When I saw this challenge I freaked. The giant cone of cream puffs seemed impossible for me to make. I imagined days of making cream puffs and the long time it would take to create a sky high cone of caramel glazed treats. My fear made me procrastinate until the last possible day, which happened to be the hottest day of the year! I was standing in my kitchen stirring a bubbling pot of hot caramel while it was 35 degrees centigrade outside!
Once I actually read through the recipes for the piece montee, I started calming down. It wasn't that hard! I had to make a pastry cream to fill the puffs, pate a choux and a caramel glaze. Not too difficult! I started by making the pastry cream, chocolate of course, the night before I made the puffs. I followed the recipe and I substituted soy milk for the whole milk in the recipe. I was a bit nervous that the cream wouldn't turn out since I only had low fat soy milk on hand, but it still ended up being quite thick and tasty!
The next day I started making the pate a choux. No substitutions were needed for this recipe, everything is dairy free! Making the pate a choux reminded me of making play dough with my mom when I was younger. You know it's done when it pulls away from the side of the pot. Luckily, the pate a choux tastes a lot better than the salty mess that is home made play dough! The recipe doesn't say this, but stirring the eggs into the hot flour mixture counts as a work out! My arms were sore by the time I was done incorporating the eggs. The mixture gets quite stiff after the addition of the last egg!
When it came time to pipe out the cream puffs, I thought I was making them quite small. It turns out that the little blobs of pastry turn into gigantic airy puffs once the hot air hits them! Next time I will pipe them really small so that I get normal sized puffs. After the puffs had cooled I started filling them with the pastry cream. I used a medium sized round tip on my pastry bag and jammed the tip into the bottom of the puff. I was worried that I wouldn't have enough cream to fill my gigantic cream puffs, but I had exactly enough! I placed the finished puffs in the fridge and started to make my caramel.
The caramel glaze only has two ingredients- sugar and a tiny bit of lemon juice. I ended up making two batches since my first one got way too dark and tasted like smoke. Nasty. Now I know that when you set out to make caramel, take it off the heat a bit before it's done since it continues to cook for a bit afterwards. I used my burnt caramel to make little sugar corkscrews, so it wasn't a total loss. The second batch of caramel worked perfectly. Instead of dunking the puffs in the caramel like the recipe states, I spooned a bit onto the bottoms of the puffs and built my pyramid that way. I figured I'd be better protected from horrible hot caramel burns that way, and it worked!
Once the croquembouche was assembled I drizzled the remainder of the sugar all over and arranged my sugar corkscrews. When it came time to rip the croquembouche apart I was a little leery. Would this taste good? The answer was yes! It was really good! Would I make it again? Maybe not for any old dessert, but if something special was going on or someone requested one I would definitely do it. It wasn't as hard as I thought and it was very easy to make dairy free!

Chocolate Pastry Cream
1 cup soy milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
2. 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.
3. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
4. 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 milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

Pate a Choux

¾ cup water
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

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. 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.

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


  1. Looks amazing. Love your spun sugar decoration, wish I'd given them a go.

  2. I'm so envious of everyone that could pull off the spun sugar decorations - I love your additions of the corkscrews! The whole piece just looks amazing; great job!

  3. I love the sugar corkscrews they remind me of shirley temple's hair, so cuuute. I hear you on the choux being a work out my arm turned to rubber after awhile.

  4. Wow, seriously impressive! That pastry cream sounds awesome too.

  5. What a great blog!

    This looks so delicious!

    Have a nice time!

  6. I have three boys who are allergic to dairy. I was so excited to try this since "No substitutions were needed for this recipe, everything is dairy free!" But there's butter in the recipe. What do you use to substitute the butter?

  7. Hi Michelle. I always use margarine when the recipe suggests butter.