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.
Having seen pictures of the traditional french wedding cake ‘Croquembouche ‘ (meaning “crunch in the mouth”) many times before, I never thought I would attempt to make something so ambitious. Well, the Daring Bakers (specifically Little Miss Cupcake) have surprised me again with this month’s challenge!
I have made choux buns before, and as long as the recipe is followed they are pretty foolproof. Ok, so I had that part of the challenge down. I quickly whipped up a batch of choux pastry, making sure the eggs were well beaten in at each addition. I piled the lot into the piping bag and set about making pretty patterns on the baking sheet…
I baked the pastry blobs as instructed, the only change I made was taking them out of the oven about a minute before they were done and making small skewer-holes in the side of each puff. This lets the steam escape when they are placed back in the oven, meaning no soggy pastry!
The next challenge was the pastry cream. I have never made a crème patissière before, and I was surprised how easy it was! When it came to choosing a flavour, I had to do with salted caramel. Pretty much everything is made better with darkly caremelised sugar and a large pinch of maldon salt flakes. The recipe I decided to go with was from Tasty Pastry and it worked like a charm.
After filling the choux puffs with the salted caramel pastry cream, I set about making another batch of caramel for the ‘glue’ that held the tower together. I managed to get away relatively unscathed, which I am thankful for as I hear caramel burns are the worst!
My first attempt at spun sugar was, I believe, a success, and for a little embellishment I made some caramel corkscrews.
Thank you, Little Miss Cupcake, for another thoroughly enjoyable challenge!
Pate a Choux
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.
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. 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.
Caramel pastry cream
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons water
1/2 tsp vanilla
Add cornstarch and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl and mix together well. Add the egg yolks and mix until paste is formed. Stir in 1/2 cup milk.
Place remaining 1/4 cup sugar and water in small heavy pot and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan but not stirring until sugar turns medium amber.
Carefully pour in remaining milk and stir until smooth.
Bring mixture to a simmer and then pour hot mixture over mixture in bowl whisking constantly.
Pour back into pan, cook over moderate heat stirring until smooth and thick.
Remove from heat, stir an additional minute, add the vanilla.
Transfer to a bowl, immediately cover with plastic wrap. Cool for at least 2 hours.
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.