26 May 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge - Croquembouche

There are two things I have noticed about the Daring Baker’s Challenges –

1. Sometimes the weather in Australia can be just as much of a challenge as the actual challenge
2. My family is getting more and more involved each month - and I love it!

This challenge was brilliant for a number of reasons. The Croquembouche was one of the challenges on MasterChef 2009 and I was DESPERATE to try it – I was convinced it wasn’t nearly as difficult as they made it look on TV.

AND because it is currently winter in Australia this was also the first challenge that I wouldn’t need to have my aircon pumping at 15C (hello, Orange Tian), freeze my dessert so I could take pictures before it melted into a pool (like I did for the Tiramisu) or throw it out the day after I made it because it brought an infestation of cockroaches into the house… (Thank you Gingerbread House!).

When I told my parents about this challenge they were so excited. We discussed how they would steal me a traffic cone in lieu of buying one of those fancy cones and when Dad’s strong morals kicked in (mine and Mum’s are obviously lacking…) he then went about thinking up options that didn’t involve roadside theft.

The caramel was an issue considering I have never made it before and most of the recipes called for glucose syrup – which I have never seen before and refused to spend my weekend tracking down. My favorite recipe included these words of advice: “Cover your ENTIRE kitchen in taped down newspaper and lock small children and animals in another room”. Yikes! I don't think so...

In the end – after one badly burnt batch of toffee and a ruined saucepan, I got it right and managed to dip my puffs without too many screamed obscenities and hastily applied Band-Aids. Success!

All in all - I LOVED this challenge - I have been wanting to make this for ages - so thank you Cat!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.

Croquembouche Recipe:

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford)

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 the Croquembouche:

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 baking paper 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, 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 assembling, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate.


  1. Looking good! You're so daring. Always wanted to try this.

  2. Wow joy- You are much braver than I! What an amazing outcome for your first attempt... Perhaps the next round of masterchef is waiting for you!

  3. Very nice - and pretty! I got a couple of burns too. I think it was a compulsory part of the challenge!

  4. AnonymousMay 26, 2010

    Very nicely dne, joy. It's nice for yr family to get involved!

  5. What I want to know is if you've got around to eating it yet! And LOL at the instructions to lock up small children and pets =p

  6. it looks great! I've made proffiteroles (sp) but i've always wanted to try a croquembouche. What a challenge! Well done!
    You've convinced me i HAVE to join daring bakers!


  7. AnonymousMay 27, 2010

    It's so pretty! Well done - I flagged it because my eczema got really bad and I didn't want to have to wash hands heaps but I *am* making yoyos as we speak ^^

  8. LOL at covering your entire kitchen in newspaper! You know that's not bad advice! Your croquembouche looks fantastic! :D

  9. A traffic cone! That would have been an interesting mold. Great job on your challenge!

  10. It looks amazing! I'm glad the weather cooperated for you--not so much for me, but then again, I haven't had any DB-related cockroach invasions!

  11. AnonymousMay 27, 2010

    Great job on the challenge, everything looks wonderful!

  12. AnonymousMay 30, 2010

    I concur! the winter-ness of the time was perfect for this challenge! congratulations on a great job!

  13. Your Pièce Montée is lovely and looks delicious... I'm sorry about all the band-aid stuff, and I'm still laughing here with your father's theft idea! LOL LOL LOL!

  14. Yours is beautiful! And how corageous to try the caramel which I refused to do (after the DB Gingerbread House and one burned Le Creuset saucepan) but I love cream-filled choux and these were delicious.

  15. Looks absolutely divine. I wouldn't know whether to eat it or frame it though.