Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers May 10: Piece Montee/Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake.  Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montee, or croquembouche based on recipes from Peter Krump's Baking school in Manhattan & Nick Malgieri.  

How appropriate to be doing a French challenge when I've been preparing to go to and currently am in France!  I was super excited about this challenge because while I've made nearly all the components previously, I had yet to construct a croquemouche on my own before.  

I've grown to really like choux paste (what is used to make the puffs and swan) over the past year....  I've used it to make cream puffs, eclairs, even apple fritters!  In fact, we had to properly execute cream puffs and eclairs for my final in Bakeshop Production last fall.  

Because I've been challenging myself to think in terms of plated desserts, I decided to try to make something a little different that just a huge croquembouche.....  Thinking in terms of plated desserts isn't  something I've often done and is now required for me to do for my new job.  So, I decided to make a Banana Cream Mini Croquembouche with a Chocolate Cream Swan, Caramelized Bananas & Caramel Sauce.  Though my finished product doesn't quite look as good as it looked in my head prior to the challenge, I'm still pretty happy with it.....  I'd like to practice doing more swans in the future.... I seem to struggle with making the head proportionate :)  

One component I had no experience with was the caramel threads.  I've had terrible luck with burning myself this spring, thus I was extra cautious and probably not as adventurous as I could have been, but I still tried :)  

Ironically, I ran out of milk right before I'd planned to make the pastry cream; however, I did have almond milk (which is my milk of choice for consumption these days).  So I had my first experience making almond milk pastry cream, which also is an egg free pastry cream and thus vegan....  It's relatively easy to make, just almond milk, sugar, cornstarch and a little salt.  Then I added some chocolate to half the batch and bananas to the other half to make my flavored creams.  Even though the cream was chilled over night, it still has a much more loose consistency that the regular pastry creams I've worked with.  I think if I were to make it again, I would probably add some gelatin, unfortunately not making it vegan any more but it would hold up better.  And the bananas added to the pastry cream do discolor it slightly, so do not be alarmed and do consume it quickly!  

Since I am still relatively new to the South, I'm still learning about traditional southern desserts, but one that I'm growing to greatly love is a Banana Puddin' (note the lack of a "g"....  it's important to leave it off when pronouncing, haha).  Banana Puddin' is basically a layered dessert of Vanilla Wafer Cookies, Sliced Bananas and Vanilla Pudding.  My Croquembouche variation has some of the same flavors as Banana Puddin'  but it is a bit more elegant and exotic.  I had absolutely no trouble consuming the entire thing!  


Pate a Choux 
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.  {NOTE: I cook mine several minutes  longer (at least 3 minutes, if not longer) to allow it to dry out further, which in turn allows it to better absorb the eggs. A starchy film should form on the bottom and that film should develop some color) 
Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to cool slightly. 
Add the eggs one at a time.  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. {NOTE: I made minis} 
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. {NOTE: I froze mine for a week until I had time to complete the rest of the components.... I just allowed them to thaw at room temp before using} 
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.
{NOTE: because I made minis, i simply filled the cavity of the nearly assembled croquembouche with cream instead of filling the individual puffs} 
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.

Almond Milk Pastry Cream  from the Silk PureAlmond site. 
1/3 cup sugar
3 cups Silk Pure Almond Vanilla
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Chocolate and Semi-ripe Bananas {my additions}

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in Pure Almond. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.  

Transfer to large bowl and cool completely, whisking occasionally, about 1 hour.

My Variation
I strained my cream right after removing it from the heat and then divided it into 2 containers.  One I added some semi-sweet chocolate pieces. In the other, I added some banana slices.  I allowed both containers to chill over night.  Then the following day, I pureed the banana cream in the food processor.  

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  1. WOW! I love it. A swan, teeny tiny croquembouche, banana, caramel = amazing. And your choux buns are so perfectly round.

  2. This is gorgeous! The swan is so cool! Maybe you could use agar agar instead of gelatine to keep the pastry cream vegan?

    Also love the caramel and banana combo. Yum!

    Saskia from

  3. Love the swan. Beautiful spun sugar as well.

  4. Hi :) I've never seen more beautiful swan puff pastry! Great idea, I love it! WOnderful job!



  5. WOW! just love it. swan looks amazing!!