Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Croquembouche/Piece Montee

Woo hoo! I got to make Chocolate Eclairs because of the Daring Bakers! One of my ambitious projects that has been on the back burner ever since I tasted a delightful chocolate eclair for a little bakery back in the day in Gaborone. Yes, Gaborone as in Southern AFRICA, far cry from a patisserie in Paris.

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.

So not only did we have to make the eclairs, we then had to build a tower of them to form a croquembouche. I remember a French co-worker mentioning to me that these were the standard pastries at French weddings, in lieu of a wedding cake.

I LOVED this challenge and I am so proud I was able to do it. It took a trial at first because I was sure I would mess up somewhere. I had my trusty little hand held mixer, and when it came in contact with the pate a choux, it groaned and whimpered. So I utilised some elbow grease and hand mixed the dough. It came out runny and was hard to pipe, I even omitted one of the eggs because the texture was too soft. However the eclairs rose beautifully and I was able to experiment with making some mocha crème patissiere/pastry cream (Chocolate and espresso mixed into vanilla pastry cream).

In order to carry the Daring Baker torch higher, I went out and convinced my stingy self to stop stalking Pioneer Woman at all her giveaways and instead, fork up the dough to buy this little beauty....*grin*

Yes, I went above and beyond people! I have added a stand mixer to my kitchen arsenal in the name of the Daring Baker's! Well, to be honest, I was REALLY sore after the hand beating of the pastry in the first trial.

Onto Round 2 - with the mixer to do all the work, I now found my pate a choux to be a little "tough" so I added all the eggs in the recipe compared to my earlier trial. It was still stiff, and proved quite difficult to pipe, so I ended up scooping the pastry with a spoon onto the baking sheets.

I used my Mocha pastry cream again, and glazed the eclairs with a milk chocolate ganache.

I finally put all the eclairs together and made a haphazard attempt at spun sugar (It didn't work out, the spun sugar didn't form threads and all I was able to salvage were some shards which I placed at the bottom of the plate). Some of you may be wondering what my daughter asked ALOUD "Why did you put COBWEBS on the dessert?" In her honor (she graduated Kindergarten today), I prettied it up with pink and some flowers.

All in all a FANTASTIC challenge. Thank you CAT!

This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it.

You will need approximately 10 minutes to prepare the puff pastry, 10 minutes to pipe and about 30 minutes to bake each batch. The crème patissiere should take about 10 minutes to cook and then will need to be cooled for at least 6 hours or overnight. The glazes take about 10 minutes to prepare.

Equipment required:
• several baking sheets
• parchment paper
• a whisk
• a pastry brush (for the egg wash)
• a pastry bag and tip (a plain tip or no tip is best for piping the puff pastry; you can use a plain or star tip to fill the puff pastry with the cream)
• a flat surface such as a baking sheet or cake board/stand on which to assemble your piece montée
• some of the items you may want to use to decorate your piece montée include ribbons, Jordan almonds, fresh flowers, sugar cookie cut-outs, chocolates, etc.

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

1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk.
2. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
3. 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.
4. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
5. 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.
* MOCHA Variation
Dissolve 1/2 Tbsp espresso powder in 1 Tbsp hot water. Mix into the pastry cream.
Melt 1 Tbsp chocolate chips in 2 Tbsp hot milk. Mix into the pastry cream as well.
6. Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

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
For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C 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.
6. As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.
7. It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

11. 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.

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 Tbsp chocolate chips

1. Place the whipping cream in a double boiler. Add the chips and stir till the chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Cool before using to glaze eclairs.


Rachel said... have dressed it up so well..and yes am green with envy regarding the stand mixer :)

My Kitchen Antics said...

Even i picked up a free standing mixer recently and boy isnt it awesome...whisking egg whites an all is such a breezy affair now..

Asha said...

Beautiful! Love the contrast betn chocolate and pastry, real creative. Your kitchen almost looks like mine too! :))

Sayantani Mahapatra Mudi said...

congratulations on the stand mixer.

Sayantani Mahapatra Mudi said...

you know I was checking other DB's creations yesterday and was thinking of you. you made it amazingly good looking. love those flowers and ribbons in between. love eclairs and here is a whole pile of that. yum

Bombay Foodie said...


chef_d said...

That's a very pretty croquembouche and congratulations on your new mixer

Ann said...

Thanks ladies! looks like my stand mixer is the star of this post - tee hee. i had to give my poor hand mixer a rest, it is almost yellow in color (or discolor) and wheezing and sputterring. poor thing!

Padmajha said...

It looks fabulous Ann!!!

Deeba PAB said...

Those are gorgeous profiteroles Ann, and a pretty pretty piece montee. My aching arms are screaming for your mixer! One day...sigh!

Pavithra Elangovan said...

WOnderful wonderful wonderful looking piece montee..looks awesome nice job dearie...

Swapna said...

Beautiful Croquembouche with those flowers and ribbons in between Ann!! Congrats on your new stand mixer!!!

Srivalli said...

Oh this is what I saw in FB..very lovely!

Divya Kudua said...

Woohoo daring baker,love the tower of goodness!!Love the KA..sigh when will I get one myself???