Thursday, May 27, 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.

May is the third month I will have taken part in a Daring Bakers challenge and so far the same thing has crossed my mind each month after reading the presentation of the challenge: "Oh man, what have I gotten myself into". It is typically followed by reading the recipe, looking at a few examples, and in general processing the whole idea before I soon realize that this is something that I can do. It may not be the most beautiful creation ever to grace a food blog, but it will be completed and done to the best of my ability. This month was no exception.

When I read the title (very French sounding) and saw the photo on the challenge instructions I immediately felt a certain amount of anxiety. I am imagining that if you saw a huge tower of pastries with firecrackers coming out of it you would be a bit stressed too! Couple that with the fact that the pastry components had unfamiliar French names and that I have never even made a cream puff in my entire life (and have rarely eaten any either), and I immediately felt the stress level increase. After settling my thoughts down a bit I began to look over photos of several other completed croquembouche and realized that there was quite a variety of flavors and styles of this elegant dessert. Whew, that made me feel a bit better. Well, that and actually watching the whole 15 minute video of Martha making one. I've told you before, I am a visual learner.

So, on to the challenge. A croquembouche, or piece montée, is a high pyramid/cone made of profiteroles sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons. In layman's terms, it is basically a tower of cream puffs that are bound together with chocolate or caramel and then can be decorated with a variety of edible and inedible items. For this particular challenge we were given a specific recipe for the crème patissiere (pastry cream), pate a choux (puff pastry), and a chocolate or caramel glaze.

My first intention was to make three different versions as mini towers so that I could experiment with different flavors and glazes. I had intended to make a whole batch of puff pastries, and then divide a half batch of pastry cream between a raspberry flavor and a coffee flavor. The raspberry flavor I was going to pair with a white chocolate glaze and the coffee flavor would be paired with a dark chocolate glaze. Unfortunately, I forgot my idea in the glee of my pastry cream actually turning out and added the raspberries to the entire batch. Not only that but I also forgot that I was going to freeze half of the puff pastries and promptly filled every single one of them with the raspberry cream. Oops! Add to it the fact that once my husband and I ate one for a taste test we couldn't seem to stop eating them. I think the fact that they are light as air has something to do with the fact that you have to eat a whole batch to feel like you've eaten anything. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Back to the process. There was one point when I was whisking the pastry cream where I felt that I had screwed things up because it was looking like it was starting to have chunks in it, like the eggs had solidified. I even gave up for a minute, set the whisk down and was ready to throw in the towel, but then I decided to keep stirring a bit. I'm glad I did because once it cooled in the fridge and I added the raspberry puree it turned out just perfect.

This was my first time making puff pastry from scratch. It was interesting to see how the dough would change as you added the eggs one by one, stirring between each addition. When first adding the egg the dough would be slimy and balled up, but as you stirred it in and the egg became absorbed, the consistency changed to that of mashed potatoes. Every time an egg was added the same thing happened. It was really quite fascinating. I did get a bit frustrated shaping the actual pastry since in my non-existent experience I was unsure of what to do to get the shape I wanted. They are supposed to be piped out of the pastry bag as round balls and you smoosh the little hat down with a wet finger. Mine not only had hats, but heads and bodies as well! I think it just added a bit of character to my little misshapen cream puffs, but that does not work to your advantage when you are looking for identical rounded balls to stack on top of each other.

Assembling the tower was not terribly difficult for me. Partly because it was a small tower in comparison to some of the croquembouche that are out there and also because I considered this my practice run. At this point I was still thinking that my final product would be raspberry filled cream puffs with a white chocolate glaze, but once I drizzled the white chocolate over the top I found it terribly plain looking. I knew I did not want a bunch of stuff sticking out of it like I had seen in some examples, and there was no way I was ready to do spun sugar, so I decided to add some dark chocolate drizzle to see if that livened it up a bit. Who can go wrong with dark chocolate? It not only livened up the appearance of the croquembouche, but it also livened up the flavor. I may still attempt another masterpiece before the month is over, but at this point I don't think my husband and I can get away with eating 35 raspberry filled cream puffs, half drizzled in oodles of chocolate, in a three hour time period again, so I'll have to come up with a different plan for its consumption. Enjoy!

If you would like the recipes for the pate a choux (puff pastries), crème patissiere (pastry cream), and the glazes, please email me. I followed the exact recipes, but I added a raspberry puree to the pastry cream once it had cooled and set up in fridge. The raspberry puree was made from frozen raspberries, thawed and then all the juices squeezed out through a cloth so there were no seeds. Sugar was then added to taste.



Wow these look amazing.I am drooling at the sight of them.I will post my efforts soon.

Eyes Bigger Than Belly

That looks gloriously, creamy, sexy, wonderful... mine is all eaten and now I want to eat yours!! YUM!! :) You did a great job! :)

shelley c.

Well I can see why you guys couldn't stop munching on those - they puffed up beautifully and raspberry cream sounds SO amazing. You did truly beautiful work on this challenge.


Wowo i am sure with the fruit filling it tasqted so so good. Looks beautiful.


Looks really beautiful and I'd love to try the raspberry filling!


well done, very impressive for your first time w/ the choux pastry. i love the idea of raspberry pastry cream: i think i'll try some for a tart base once the berries are in season here!


Yum, yum... raspberry cream and two types of chocolate drizzle?!??! That sounds simply divine. Way to go on this month's challenge, your croquembouche looks gorgeous. Keep up the great bakes!


Oooh, delectable! The raspberry cream was a brilliant idea.

tease-spoon of sugar

I really like the dark chocolate drizzle, it totally finishes it. Your filling sounds amazing too!


Beautiful job! They both look amazing :). I really love the idea of raspberry cream - might have to try it myself!

Baking Addict

Great job. Love the raspberry cream.


It looks amazing! And with two types of chocolate - how decadent! I did raspberry pastry cream as well, and it sure was delicious.

Ruth H.

I was drawn in by the dark and white chocolate drizzle. Then I saw raspberry creme. Oh. My. Goodness!!! I am in love! Thank you so much for sharing your creativity!


Your dessert looks great and the raspberry filling sounds divine


Raspberry puree sounds like a great idea to a piece montee. The chocolate drizzles look amazing, great job on the challenge!