Thursday, June 3, 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.

Croquembouche is a tower of cream puffs held together by a thin coating of crunchy caramel and adorned with spun sugar. The word "croquembouche" literally means "crunch in the mouth". It is the traditional wedding cake in France and is used in many communions and baptisms as well. I gave mine to my good friend, thetreatgirl, for her birthday. She loves special treats! Happy Birthday!

Pam and the birthday croquembouche

The components used in this dessert are:
1. Pate a choux made into small, round puffs. I used a pastry bag to pipe 1-inch rounds onto a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat. I brushed the cream puffs with egg wash before baking to attain a shiny browned color. As Sherry Yard suggests in her book The Secrets of Baking, I placed a pan on the oven floor and poured about a cup of hot water into the pan just before closing the oven door. Be sure to bake the puffs until they are nice and brown. Undercooked puffs will deflate and look like a pancake, like the puff on the left in the photo below. The puffs will stay puffed if cooked long enough, like the one on the right.

Pate a choux

The puff will be hollow inside, like in the next picture. It can then be filled with a vanilla or other flavored pastry cream.

Pate a choux

2. Pastry Cream - I chose to make a vanilla pastry cream, but I'm sure the chocolate or coffee-flavored pastry cream would be delicious too. I used a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip to fill the puffs. After filling, cover the cream puffs and place them in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.

3. Caramel - cooked to hard crack stage or 325 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Have all the filled cream puffs ready to go before starting the caramel. Work carefully but quickly so that all the cream puffs can be assembled before the caramel starts to thicken. If the caramel cools too much, it can be reheated over low heat until useable again. After the croquembouche was assembled, I drizzled the extra caramel on top.


Vanilla Crème Patissiere
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) 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
Bring ¼ cup (about 50 cl.) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces (about 80 g.) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

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
(Yield: About 28)

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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 and 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. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place).

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. Bon appétit!


  1. I saw this on Treat Girls blog ~ YUMMY! How lucky she is to have a friend like you! Have a great weekend!

  2. I love cream puffs and the pile with spun sugar has always been so special looking. I can't believe you made this!

  3. These look amazing...And ANYTHING with spun sugar....yum.

  4. The sister of my grandmother (yes we've got a pretty tight family) used to make those at every Jour de l'An party, and it was always my favorite. They grew up in France, moved to Quebec and now I live in the States... I'm hoping to give it a try pretty soon :-)



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