I originally started this blog to track my monthly Daring Cook’s challenges, but it rapidly evolved to showcasing whatever gets whipped up in the Pig Palace kitchen. I love the Daring Cook’s challenges, but they only come once a month and I’ve often completed them within the first week! So, being brave, I’ve signed up to be a Daring Baker as well.
I’ve been watching the Daring Baker challenge reveals of my fellow foodies every month, and the Baker’s challenges look like such fun. They also look rather hard! But, I’m a firm believer in putting your head down and doing it. After all, I thought, how hard can something be? (Feel free to scoff at this point, I certainly did in hindsight!)
Seeing a beautiful croquembouche on Not Quite Nigella’s website, I was inspired to give it a try. I wouldn’t normally have dared to try it, but I remembered there was a recipe for it on the Daring Kitchen website for their Bakers’ May challenge. Apparently It was featured on the first season’s Masterchef, but those recipes require a mandatory 5 days in the kitchen and I wanted my croquembouche sooner (and with less effort) than that!
The recipe provided was fantastic. I was convinced every element of the dish would be hard, but in fact it was only the assembly that caused a few tears and a large quantity of sailor-mouth. The Crème Patissiere filling was straight-forward and delicious, and the choux pastry (which I thought was very difficult to get right) turned out light and fluffy. Even piping the custard into the buns was simple. It was just that darned toffee!!
The toffee turned beautifully amber, and then just solidified. I used tongs so I didn’t burn myself, but ended up ripping some of my buns while trying to drag them through the solidified toffee. Then when I held the buns to place them on the plate I touched the toffee and flicked the bun across the room in reflex. The toffee stuck to the counter and the bun rolled away, and I was left nursing a (tiny) blister and a counter covered in hardened toffee. I wasn’t able to decorate the croquembouche as I’d like, but I managed to get it looking like a tower-ish.
Despite the injuries, the effort was definitely worth it! I’ll definitely use the Crème Patissiere and the choux recipe again, but leave out the toffee in future efforts…
Croquembouche – recipe from the Daring Bakers’ May challenge
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.
For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere
2 cups (450 ml.) whole milk
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
12 Tbsp. (200 g.) sugar
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbsp. (60 g.) unsalted butter
2 Tsp. Vanilla
Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 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
Pate a Choux (Yield: About 24)
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
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 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/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.
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.
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. 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.