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.
I’m going to suck it up and pick one name to stick with for this post…so croquembouche it is. I like the sound of it and how it rolls off the tongue. Try it yourself: CROAK-EM-BOOSH. Isn’t that fun? “Piece montée,” on the other hand, means “mounted piece.” So you can see that, clearly, “croquembouche” is the superior term.
Croquembouche means “crunching in one’s mouth,” because of the caramelized sugar holding the pieces of filled pastry together. It’s a tower formed of profiteroles, or miniature cream puffs, which are made with pâte à choux pastry batter then piped with a creamy filling. The traditional filling, since we’re being French, is of course pastry cream, or crème patissiere. Once the cream puffs are ready you melt some sugar, dip the cream puffs in the very hot sugar, and assemble the tower.
The croquembouche challenge appeared just in time for Mother’s Day, so I had a good reason to get off my ass and make it early in the month for once. Sadly, I’m terrible at following rules, and instead of preparing the challenge recipe for pâte à choux, I used the whole grain recipe from King Arthur Flour, because around here we love when whole grains work just as well as refined flours. And it did…but more on that in a few days when I put up the pâte à choux recipe proper.
The whole thing made me very nervous. Piping fillings into cream puffs? Dipping said puffs into burning hot caramel? Sticking them together in a stack so they don’t fall? Making spun sugar?
I found this video pretty helpful as far as the whole assembly process. At least it made me less frightened of burning my fingers off.
So how did the croquembouche go over on Mother’s Day? I wound up making two because I misjudged how large I could make the first, beribboned one. I kind of like the small one, on the red plate, a little better: it’s funkier in its irregularity, leaning like the Tower of Pisa and twisting like an insane DNA strand. Sis was more impressed with small croc’s spun sugar, too: my fork must have caught the quickly-cooling sugar at just the right temperature to drag thick, personality-filled strands of sugar the color and shiny, hard consistency of amber.
The family’s verdict: mini filled cream puffs are yummy. Croquembouches look really cool. But they’re a pain to eat: wrestling delicate, cream-filled pastry from its diamond-hard caramel sugar glue is an exercise in destructive futility. You don’t make one of these expecting them to stay purty once the guests begin pawing at it.
Unless your guests turn it into a game of Jenga. Then it’s kind of cool. Insert Jenga-like croquembouche picture here, because I’m in Chicago right now and forgot to upload it before I left.
Loved this challenge, because it reminded me of how dead easy cream puffs are to make. I’ll show you soon!