Thursday, May 27, 2010

daring bakers: piece montée (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.

This was my favorite DB challenge so far. I've been meaning to make cream puffs for quite a while now, but I've been too intimidated. And croquembouches sounded even more fun, and even more intimidating, than regular cream puffs. Thanks to Cat, I've conquered my fear of choux pastry. The recipes she provided were easy to follow and the results were delicious. For eating out of hand, I prefer the vanilla pastry cream. But for the actual cream puffs, the chocolate pastry cream won, no contest. Everyone who tried them preferred it. Unfortunately, I was the only one who liked the croquembouche. Or perhaps not so unfortunate, as it left more for me. I love the feel of the caramel coating cracking in my teeth.

The pastry cream and the choux pastry were simple to make, but I'll need more practice to get my pastries a consistent size and shape. And to be able to assemble a piece montée without burning my fingers or having the finished dessert come out lopsided.

Anyway, we all loved these. I ended up making a whole batch of both the chocolate and vanilla creams and two batches of the puffs. One just wasn't enough. And my son particularly loved the cream puffs. They were just the right size for his hands. I don't have any of Nick Malgieri's cookbooks yet, but that's going to have to change after trying these. Thanks to Cat for such a great pick.

cream puffs

vanilla crème patissiere (half batch)
1 C whole milk
2 TB cornstarch
6 TB sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 TB 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.

chocolate pastry cream (half batch)
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 (yield: about 28)
¾ cup water
6 TB unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 C all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

egg wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425 F. 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. Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high and 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 until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350 F and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool. They 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.

assembling 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.

1 comment:

Newt said...

You win at life.