May 27, 2010

{may daring bakers: piece montée}

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.

This months challenge at first glance was very intimidating. First of all, the title of the recipe was french and then a little googling of what piece montée (aka. croquembouche "crunch in the mouth") looks like revealed these towering masterpieces of puff pastries. The requirements of the challenge were that we had to make our own pate a choux (puff pastry) and crème patissiere (filling). We were allowed to experiment with the flavors of the filling.  Thankfully it was actually a relatively simple process to create the puff pastries and fillings. I say relatively simple because not everything puffed like it was supposed to...I think it had something to do with the humidity in the air today with all the rain we've been having. In the end I was fairly pleased with how everything turned out. I chose to try a few flavors: vanilla, chocolate and rum. My favorite was the chocolate.

Now, my boyfriend and I are continuing our efforts to source everything we eat from within a 100 mile radius, as well as, use up any leftover pantry items we might have had before beginning this locavore challenge. For the challenges of daring bakers, I have decided that I will do my very best to continue using local ingredients, but if I must purchase an item or two from the store, well then I must. For this challenge the only things I had to get as extra were the soy milk and chocolate. My boyfriend pointed out after the fact that we did have cocoa powder that I could have used, but I forgot about it and bought semisweet chocolate chips instead. Other than that, the eggs, flour, butter were all local and all other ingredients I had in my pantry.

It took me a while to find a flour mill that was local, but Virginia happens to have a few of them. Wades Mill is a stone ground flour mill that is a little less than an hour away from our home. Its a lovely drive down a skinny road that passes a winery and several other farms all with green rolling hills. I could totally live out there! (after the jump I've shared a few pictures from the mill and the drive) As I pulled up I saw a large water wheel that I learned is a working power source for grinding some of the flour with the rest being electrically powered. The woman I met in the little shop was very passionate informative of all sorts of issues facing the local farmers. Having worked in the farming industry the majority of her life, she had a lot to say about the issues they face with the term organic. I won't go into it here, but it was really a great experience getting to chat with her. I think thats become one of my favorite things about doing the locavore challenge; getting to speak with the farmers themselves. Anyway, I digress, back to the flour. They have a wide variety of flours you can purchase either online or at the store. Since shipping is almost more than the cost of the flour and I was driving that direction anyway, I chose to stop by. I picked up whole wheat bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour which I used for this month's challenge. So far its been very tasty! I'm still learning the proportion of flour to liquid so that what I make doesn't come out too dense, but I can honestly say its pretty freakin delicious.

Recipe and pics after the jump

{vanilla crème patissiere}

A few notes about the process. Have your flavorings ready because the chocolate, coffee, rum, etc. gets added into the vanilla crème patissiere at the same time the vanilla and butter are added. I split my recipe into thirds to create a vanilla, chocolate and rum version. For this you did not need to have a full batch of the flavorings but I've left the ingredients in portions as if you were doing a full batch of each so just keep that in mind as you plan out your fillings. The fillings do need to refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.


1 cup soy milk (you can use whatever milk you like)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
6 tbsp. sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla


Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 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. This is the time you also add in any flavoring you might like.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

for chocolate pastry cream

Bring 3/4 cup milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

for rum pastry cream

Whisk one ounce of your favorite rum into pastry cream with butter and vanilla. Taste for strength and add more if you feel it needs it.

for coffee pastry cream

Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder in 1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water. Whisk into pastry cream with butter and vanilla.

{pate a choux}

(yield: about 28)
Note: humidity effects how much they puff up. Some of mine came out puffier than others which effects how much of the creme you can pipe in (the important part!). Some people on the forums did say that you can freeze the puff pastries unfilled and then pull them out when you want to fill and eat. You definitely want to eat them soon after filling since the pastry will become soggy fairly quickly.


3/4 cup water
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
4 large eggs
for egg wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

to make the pate a choux

Pre-heat oven to 425ºF. 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 (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 425ºF until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350ºF and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

You can be stored in a airtight box overnight.


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 the following glazes to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.


to make the chocolate glaze

8 ounces 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.

to make the hard caramel glaze

1 cup sugar
1/2 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.

to assemble the 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.


  1. I totally wanted to do the strawberries with this challenge - I never got to decorate - it was gone. I like the healthy ingredients you used! I may use your variations this weekend.
    with love,

  2. darn, i need to find a local mill. bravo on a local db challenge.

  3. The strawberries and chocolate are amazing looking - so fresh! Great work by you, especially working to make your diet local. I admire your dedication, effort and commitment!

  4. I'm terribly impressed that you used a local flour. Are there any sugar mills nearby? (I'm definitely coming to visit if so.) The chocolate and strawberries really look perfect. I wanted to try some different flavored creams as well, but in the end, I opted to just go for vanilla.

  5. The strawberries and the chocolate are so yummy! Congrats on your "local" croquembouche!