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.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do this month’s Daring Baker challenge. Firstly, I’m massively disorganised and scatterbrained resulting in me clawing for kitchen time. And I’ve previously tackled a croquembouche so I wasn’t sure if I’d be in the mood to take on these large towers of profiteroled crazy again. Not to mention, I wasn’t quite mentally ready to risk getting scorched from caramel, seeing as I’m still healing from a rather large arm burn courtesy of my oven tin (damn those loose bottom flan pans!).
Yeah, I’m the queen of excuses this month so after a self-inflicted slap in my head, I decided to take my own motto under advisement; “get over it and get on with it”.
And man oh man, how I do love a good profiterole with a vanilla crème patissiere! If I was to die by drowning, I want it to be in this holy custard. So being part stupid and part crazy, I naturally had off-the-wall ideas for the humble croquembouche – domes, eiffel tower-shaped or perhaps a spiralled behemoth but seeing as time was of the essence, I decided to get wedding-classic. Sweet and simple.
The best part of this challenge was making spun sugar. I never thought I’d have so much fun with caramel! My favourite way of doing this is to lay my kitchen floor with newspaper, line up a few pots with greased handles in a line, grab a couple of forks and go mental spinning silky sticky tresses over the handles from a great height (I don’t recommend standing on a wobbly stool to do it though…trust me!). For the spun sugar I adapted from this recipe.
A quick tip for making silky spun sugar is not to start while the caramel is hot and fresh off the stove. What will happen is the caramel would be too flowy and you’ll end up with ugly beads of caramel and thick bumpy strands that resembles more thorns than fine strands. Cool it down so it’ll thicken up, that way it’ll flow off the fork in a steady, slow stream. From there you’ll end with a bunch of beautiful spun toffee for you to mould, lay and wrap your croquembouche however you please.
As for the recipes I definitely prefer the challenge’s choux pastry over my usual one from Michel Roux. The smell of the eggy pastry was so intoxicating, it bakes beautifully into a properly dried out profiterole, rises like a champion and stays risen. Winner! In our household, we like our profiteroles traditional and we are deadset lovers of vanilla so I stuck with my usual Michel Roux pastry cream. I didn’t have anything to pretty up the croquembouche with, so at 11pm while it was pelting rain, I went outside to grab a flower to throw it on. Ah yes, that should do it!
Last but not least, The Captain would be pleased to know that, even though I was using only my hands to dip, coat, assemble and spin sugar, I escaped unscathed (for once!) with not one caramel burn! Woo hoo!
- 6 egg yolks
- 125g caster sugar
- 40g plain flour
- 500ml milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways (or 1 Tbl of vanilla extract)
- icing sugar or butter
- Combine the egg yolks and a 1/3 of the sugar in a bowl and whisk to a light ribbon consistency. Whisk in the flour thoroughly.
- In a pan, heat the milk with the remaining sugar and the vanilla pod or extract. As soon as it comes to a boil, pour the milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly as you do. Mix well then pour back into the saucepan and return to the heat.
- Bring to a boil over a medium heat, whisking constantly. Allow the mixture to bubble, while still stirring constantly for about 2 minutes, then tip into the bowl.
- To prevent a skin from forming, dust the surface with a think veil of icing sugar or dot over with little flakes of butter. Alternatively you could also place a sheet of baking paper over the entire surface.
- Once cold, you could keep the crème patissiere in the fridge for up to three days. Remove the vanilla pod before using the pastry cream.
- 175ml water
- 85g unsalted butter
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 Tbl sugar
- 125g plain 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. (You can also an electric mixer to speed up the process and save your arm strength).
- 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 used a 1cm round tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide (makes about 28).
- 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 the egg wash.
- 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.
- (I used this for coating the profiteroles and as the ‘glue’. For spun sugar, I used this recipe)
- 225 g sugar
- ½ teaspoon lemon juice (I skipped the juice and made a dry caramel)
- 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.
- 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. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place – see video #4 below).
- When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate. Have fun and enjoy! Bon appétit!