May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

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.
I’ve wanted to make croquembouche since I took French in high school - [in French it literally means ‘crunch in the mouth’].   If you don’t know what it is – it is essentially a tower of cream puffs, usually covered with chocolate or spun sugar.   So much fun! 
I really wanted to make the caramel glaze – but everywhere I read about it said that it does not work well with high humidity.   And luck would have it – I made this for my Mom’s birthday and it was hot and humid that day.  Oh well – instead I decided to make some chocolate butterflies and just make a chocolate tower with the cream puffs.  I also used chocolate pastry cream to fill them.   The puffs were delicious – I was really surprised at how easy they were to make – it was so much fun watching them really puff up in the oven.   The other thing I loved was that the recipe said that this made 28 – and I got exactly 28 – so I knew I did something right!    I’ll definitely use this recipe if I need to make cream puffs again!
For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere
  • 1 cup whole 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.
5. 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
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.
For Coffee Pastry Cream
Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water. Whisk into pastry cream with butter and vanilla.
Pate a Choux (the puffs) (Yield: About 28)
  • ¾ cup  water
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • ¼ Tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt
1. Pre-heat oven to 425◦ F degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. 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.
3. Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
4. Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.
5. Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.
6. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.
7. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip.  Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.
8. 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.
9. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).
10. Bake the choux at 425◦F degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.
11. Lower the temperature to 350◦F 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 finely chopped chocolate (semi or bittersweet)
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 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.
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piece monte 3
Check out what the other Daring Bakers baked up on the blogroll.  Thanks Cat for the great challenge!  I had so much fun – and it was something I never thought I would do – so it was truly a challenge!


  1. Absolutely beautiful! I'm jealous of your mad chocolate skills :)

  2. Wow your croquembouche looks beautiful, I love the butteerfly you topped it with! So pretty!

  3. Gorgeous Pièce Montée! Love the chocolate butterfly!

  4. Beautiful! I love the butterfly. The liltle white sprinkles (non pareils?)are really darling, too.

  5. Oh! Yours is so pretty! I'm also a fan of that chocolate butterfly. I too was delighted when I realized that I made the correct amount of puffs. I was surprised by how easy it was! (Full disclosure: I failed the first time. But the second time around, way easy!)

  6. that chocolate butterfly has made my day. it looks so pretty perched upon the puffs

  7. I love your presentation - absolutely beautiful! Well done!

  8. I love your chocolate butterfly! really beautiful croquembouche. Well done :)

  9. Very nicely done! Love it!

  10. The chocolate butterfly is outstanding and so are your chocolate covered croquembouche, love 'em!

  11. I love the butterfly!! It's beautiful!!! I must admit my favorite part is the purple. My favorite color is purple ;)

  12. Love your chocolate butterflies! I hope your mom enjoyed her birthday croquembouche. It is absolutely lovely! (PS and those chocolate cupcakes in your most recent post look heavenly too!)

  13. Loving the chocolate butterfly and I agree that the recipe for the choux was great! Well done!