Daring Bakers Make Piece Montee

Thursday, May 27, 2010

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Why, oh why do these Daring Bakers challenges always sneak up on me? It happens every time!  I woke up at 4:00 this morning in the kind of cold sweat that could only mean that today was the “reveal date”.  And, I had nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Again.  So, I dragged myself out of bed, put on a pot of coffee and (very quietly) got to work.  Let me tell you, it’s not easy to create a culinary masterpiece in the dead of night with few night lights and a sleeping puppy in the corner of the room! But, I did my best.  Unfortunately, the situation wasn’t conducive to taking photos, so I didn’t get any “process shots”.  But, I did get a few nice ones of the finished product once the sun came up.  C’est la vie!

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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. A classic piece montée is a high cone made of profiteroles (cream-puffs) sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons.  Piece Montée, literally means “mounted piece” in French.  You may know this dessert by its other name – Croquembouche (“crunch in the mouth”).

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I had grand plans for this one too. I originally wanted to make it as my birthday cake last week, but since I couldn’t manage to get my whole family together to celebrate, it seemed pointless.  And then, I got busy with other things and forgot about it.

Since I was so pressed for time, I decided not to try to get too creative with my piece montée, and stuck to the recipe provided by Cat.  It was just as well, because plain creampuffs are one of my all time favorite treats.  Fortunately, I had made both pate a choux and crème patissiere  a few times before and kind of knew how what I was doing.  The caramel part kind of scared me a little, but I have made that before too, so I knew the pitfalls I might face.  I guess the angels were smiling on me (or else they just felt sorry for me), because I didn’t run into any significant problems along the way.  (Hmmm. Maybe I should make all of my fancy desserts when I’m half asleep!)

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I didn’t use a form for my tower of creampuffs. That was an extra step I didn’t need to deal with.  I just piled my “pieces” on top of each other and “glued” them together with the (extremely hot and treacherous) caramel.  Then, I decorated it with some pink tea roses and a few swirls of leftover caramel.

We haven’t torn into my piece montée yet, but I did sneak one of those creampuffs while I was assembling it.  Tres délicieux!

If you’d like to try your hand at making a piece montée, I have provided the recipe below.  Don’t forget to also check out the rest of the groups creations at the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Bon appétit!

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Piece Montée

Note: This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. While you can purchase or make a cardboard conical structure to build your piece montée or use toothpicks as an aid, it is relatively easy to assemble it using just the baked pate a choux as the main building blocks and the glaze as the glue.

While a piece montée may be a bit time-consuming to assemble, the various components are relatively easy to make and don’t require any special ingredients. The best part about them is that once you have mastered them, you will be able to go on and make many beloved French French pastries such as éclairs, profiteroles, Paris-Brest, etc. all of which are made with this pate a choux recipe, a filling and glaze.

Preparation time: You will want to use your puff pastry batter and chocolate glaze or caramel as soon as it has been prepared and as close to serving time as possible. This is not a dessert that stores well and it may be a bit temperamental in humid areas as the glaze needs to harden to hold the choux together. The crème patissiere can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use.

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.

Ingredients:

For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)
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.

For the 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 the Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Directions:

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.  Add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Piping:

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).

Baking:

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.

Filling:
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.

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 – 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.

48 responses to Daring Bakers Make Piece Montee

  1. On May 27, 2010 at 3:59pm, Mallory said...

    Your piece montee is absolutely stunning! I love the fresh pink flowers mixed in with an otherwise beige dessert! Lovely!

  2. On May 27, 2010 at 4:05pm, Katrina said...

    Looks gorgeous, Susan! Go take a nap! ;)

  3. On May 27, 2010 at 4:11pm, Jill said...

    Um, you made this first thing in the morning while half-asleep? And it’s gorgeous and perfect and delectable-looking? You are gifted, Susan!

  4. On May 27, 2010 at 4:24pm, Ciaochowlinda said...

    Wow, this is truly a masterpiece. I love how you tucked those roses in between the cream puffs. Bravissima.

  5. On May 27, 2010 at 4:26pm, Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

    This is beyond amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it! The flowers are a darling touch, and I love that stand it’s sitting on. xxSAS

  6. On May 27, 2010 at 4:34pm, Jenn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog) said...

    Those look very elegant. I feel as though I should wear a fancy hat and white gloves to partake in their deliciousness. :)

    Jenn

  7. On May 27, 2010 at 4:39pm, Meeta said...

    simply gorgeous! i love the fact that you too used roses to decorate it. great job in this!

  8. On May 27, 2010 at 5:58pm, Rosa said...

    Wow, that is a beautiful pièce montée! It looks perfect! I also made mine while half asleep ;-p…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  9. On May 27, 2010 at 6:07pm, Memoria said...

    Wow. What a beautiful croquembouche. You did an AMAZING job on this challenge. I’m not a fan of pink and flowers, but I still think they added a nice touch to the dessert.

  10. On May 27, 2010 at 7:23pm, Sinful Southern Sweets said...

    Absolutely stunning!! The roses are just beautiful!

  11. On May 27, 2010 at 7:35pm, Joanne said...

    Why hello there gorgeous! I can’t believe this is something you just threw together at the last minute. It looks like it should have taken weeks to make!

  12. On May 27, 2010 at 7:57pm, Wei-Wei said...

    Oh, how absolutely beautiful! I’ve never heard of Piece Montee, but boy, have you gotten my attention! This is an incredible work of art. :D I like the flowers! (Don’t know how I’d like them with the glaze sticking to them, though… :S)

    Wei-Wei

  13. On May 27, 2010 at 8:59pm, deeba said...

    Gosh, it’s SO BEAUTFUL Susan; a piece of art! Last minute? WOW!! You were born to make croquembouche … STUNNING!

  14. On May 27, 2010 at 10:08pm, FFichiban said...

    woooww look so classy and divine! Love the look of that shiny caramel mmm just want to crack into it!

  15. On May 27, 2010 at 11:57pm, Anh said...

    This is so pretty! I am speechless!

  16. On May 28, 2010 at 2:08am, MrJackhonky said...

    I love the flowers!

    I’m impressed you woke up early and whipped that one together! I could never do caramel in a half awake state! Mine took a little more planning to do… Congrats on it! Lovely!

  17. On May 28, 2010 at 6:29am, my little expat kitchen said...

    Oh this is amazing! I’m drooling over it. Beautiful!
    Magda

  18. On May 28, 2010 at 8:45am, Jamie said...

    Stunning! And even more so considering you woke at 4 a.m. to start it! LOL! Amazing! I loved this challenge and love making choux. Everyone’s looks delicious but yours is especially beautiful!

  19. On May 28, 2010 at 9:52am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    How beautiful. The flowers really dress it up.

    I have a recipe and method in one of my cookbooks to make this. You coat the puffs in caramel and then drape the whole thing in threads of sugar. I had problems making a good cream puff for years until I discovered Julia Child’s recipe. They were the most perfect puffs ever! Maybe one day I’ll get ambitious and do something like this.

  20. On May 28, 2010 at 10:35am, Helene said...

    It’s been a while since my last visit since I am in the middle of a move. Right now I am in a resort in Florida since 3 weeks. I enjoy it very much here. Your pictures are improving so much. This is beautiful. Your dessert is stunning.

  21. On May 28, 2010 at 11:11am, Cristina said...

    By far, the best Piece Montée presentation from the DB Challenge! Nicely done with the roses. Beautiful photography.

  22. On May 28, 2010 at 4:11pm, Tracy Moulton said...

    Wow, What a beautiful dessert. Do you do wedding cakes? Someday, wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy in the future my girls will hopefully get married and I want you to make their cakes! You are so creative! Love, Tracy

  23. On May 28, 2010 at 4:20pm, ingrid said...

    Darn it! How come that doesn’t happen for me? A chaotic mess would have been my outcome. Kudos for pulling it off at the last minute.

    Hope you have a safe & happy holiday weekend. BTW, happy belated birthday!
    ~ingrid

  24. On May 28, 2010 at 5:09pm, Karen@Mignardise said...

    “Oh it’s just a little something I whipped up when I rolled out of bed early this morning…” I couldn’t make that EVER, never mind doing it before noon. Very, very impressive Susan. And a belated happy birthday to you!

  25. On May 28, 2010 at 6:41pm, Mary said...

    I love your post…I had this dessert at my wedding and people freaked out with excitement about it.

  26. On May 29, 2010 at 2:31am, marcellina said...

    If this is a last minute entry I can’t imagine what you would do with more time! THis is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!!

  27. On May 29, 2010 at 3:51am, Cherine said...

    This is a masterpiece!! WOW really really amazing!!

  28. On May 29, 2010 at 5:22am, Jane said...

    I can’t believe you made this in the middle of the night..it is amazing I have linked
    to you on my blog, I hope that is ok. I just got news a freind got married.

    http://ldswoman.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/wedding-bells/

    I visit now and then but will beback more often…

  29. On May 29, 2010 at 11:21am, Michelle said...

    Oh how I can relate to it being reveal day with nothing to reveal! Your piece montée is absolutely gorgeous, Susan!

  30. On May 29, 2010 at 1:09pm, Delishhh said...

    I really enjoyed this months challange and yours look fabulous.

  31. On May 31, 2010 at 1:38pm, Mika said...

    Wow, what a piece!!
    And the picture is stunning…what a good job!

  32. On May 31, 2010 at 2:42pm, The Italian Dish said...

    Holy Cow – you did an outstanding job! I love the little flowers – what a great touch. It’s absolutely beautiful!

  33. On May 31, 2010 at 6:33pm, sara said...

    SO pretty! This is gorgeous…love how you arranged the roses!

  34. On June 01, 2010 at 7:38am, Friedl said...

    O my ! It looks really beautiful ! Love the roses :-)

  35. On June 01, 2010 at 11:31pm, Ruth Ann said...

    Susan your croquen’ bouche is gorgeous! It is so pretty with the little roses.

  36. On June 03, 2010 at 2:50pm, CookiePie said...

    Beautiful!!! Only you could roll out of bed at 4 a.m. and whip up this gorgeous masterpiece :)

  37. On June 07, 2010 at 11:22pm, Lori @ RecipeGirl said...

    I’m speechless. I could never in a million years create something like this!! Bravo, Susan!

  38. On June 08, 2010 at 8:25pm, Sue said...

    Absolutely STUNNING and GORGEOUS!!!

  39. On June 10, 2010 at 8:44am, Aparna said...

    For someone who had nothing to reveal, this is quite a masterpiece! Its gorgeous. And you put it together in the dead of the night!

  40. On June 10, 2010 at 9:27am, Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) said...

    Absolutely beautiful!! I’ve always wanted to make croquembouche, never got around to it.

  41. On June 10, 2010 at 6:09pm, Rock said...

    Sounds really delicious.Yummy!

  42. On June 13, 2010 at 8:57pm, Rachel-Rawr said...

    That is a very nice Piece Montee. They are a bit tricky but, I like working with sugar I usually never have any problems. The reason I wish to comment though is because of your Sesame Brittle Coconut Ice Cream entry. I have searched high and low for a recipe or site that sells it since Haagen-Daz stinks and took the flavor away. T_T It was my absolute favorite flavor of icecream and while I probably could come up with the recipe myself it’s just easier to have a basic recipe to work with. So thank you so much. I have been looking for four months now and only now do I have a recipe so thank you.

  43. On June 14, 2010 at 5:56am, Linda V said...

    Puffs and caramel look so deliciously golden, Tres délicieux indeed. The roses are a beautiful decoration, and I just adore that stand.

  44. On June 15, 2010 at 12:35am, Eliana said...

    WOW – this is such a beautiful piece of art. It almost looks too good to eat.

  45. On June 17, 2010 at 9:02am, Kristen said...

    It looks so beautiful – worth waking up for?

  46. On June 17, 2010 at 12:51pm, Babycakes said...

    very impressive, looks lovely

  47. On June 26, 2010 at 10:49am, Megan said...

    I can’t believe this is something you just threw together at the last minute. It looks like it should have taken weeks to make. thanx for the post.

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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