Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring to do it: Piece Montee

(Early warning – this is kind of long and pretty picture heavy… Grab a snack and enjoy!)

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.

One of my favorite treats when I was younger was cream puffs and éclairs. So decadent, I knew it was a special, occasional thing. When I saw this month’s challenge I couldn’t decide if I was more nervous or excited! I had only ever seen croquembouches on tv as part of pastry challenges or VERY fancy wedding celebrations. And now I was going to have to make one? Way cool but way challenging!
The first challenge was to figure out when I could make this. A croquembouche is not exactly small. It is pretty hard to scale back the recipe. Even making a half batch, I knew I would have a lot of puffs. So I needed an occasion when there would be more people than just myself and Hubby to eat. (Little Girl is turning into a great eater, but I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I give her desserts like this yet... Maybe soon...)
The second challenge would be the filling. Creme patisseere sounds fabulous. But with me being lactose intolerant, whole milk isn’t something I want to keep around. (I know, Little Girl will soon be drinking it... but she isn’t yet!) I use soy milk as my dairy replacer, and it works well. But it is not “thick” enough to sub out for whole milk... So I decided to make my standard vanilla pudding recipe instead. (The American interpretation of pudding, not the British we were challenged with last month!)
The next challenge was the “glue.” Every croquembouche I have ever seen had the amazing spun sugar caramel holding it together and decorating it with amazing golden threads. Yeah. Gorgeous. But not going to happen when I am cooking with Little Girl underfoot. I am clumsy enough that I risk injury when I cook and bake. I have come to accept that. I will NOT risk injuring Little Girl! So the spun sugar option was not going to happen. So chocolate it was! (Good thing Hubby loves chocolate, right?!)
So far two of the three challenges have been dealt with. Just that first one – when can I make such a generous dessert – was lingering. Then my brother-in-law helped me answer that question. He didn’t know he was helping me, he wasn’t even going to be there to help eat it! (Lucky for him, though, Auntie Twin is also a Daring Baker, so he would be getting his own croquembouche to try!) Here’s the story, if you can follow:
I am a HUGE fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. I follow the team, watch the games, get really invested in the players. The hockey playoffs were just getting underway, and I was really psyched up. Then the challenge was posted. Auntie Twin and I were on the phone discussing it when her husband looked over her shoulder. (The following are not exact quotes, but approximations based on my none-too-stellar memory.) “Croquembouche? Isn’t that the Flyers’ goalie’s nickname?” The Flyers’ goalie is Brian Boucher. His nickname (as brother-in-law knows and was playing off of) is Bouch (with fans yelling “BOOOSH!!!” after great stops in net). That was when inspiration struck. A friend was going to be coming over to watch the next game with us – I would make a “croquemBoucher!”
In order to make this a proper croquemBoucher, I had to make sure I was using Flyers colors – orange and black. The black would be easy – I was using chocolate to begin with! For the orange I added red and yellow food coloring to my choux pastry batter. True, the batter looked orange-er before it was baked, but it was the best I could do.
Hockey aside, the choux was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be. I always had it built up in my head as this complex, very French patisserie recipe. Turns out, you just have to cook the batter while you make it. I can handle that! I was a little worried during the baking process – it didn’t look like the puffs were puffing as much as I had expected. But it turns out that patience is, in fact, a necessary ingredient in baking... By the time I took the puffs out of the oven, they were puffy and beautiful!! Unfortunately, though, I do not have parchment paper. I used wax paper, coated with non-stick spray, but the puffs still stuck some. Which left me with the problem of some puffs having either no bottom at all or having big holes. Not so great for holding filling in... I decided that this was nothing that a little bit of chocolate couldn’t fix. Using the melted chocolate which was going to be my glue anyway, I dipped the bottoms of the puffs and created “lids” (well, the opposite of lids, as it was the bottom not the top!) for my puffs! After setting, these worked great and made a pretty base, as well as an extra burst of chocolate!!
Filling the puffs was a little intimidating for me. I do have a pastry bag and tips, but I am really a lot better at spilling stuff out of the bags than filling or piping from them. So I used condiment squirt bottles. You know, the kind that are usually filled with ketchup or mustard at restaurants... It worked pretty well, actually!
Once filled, I set about stacking my piece. By this time, though, I had learned that our friend would not be able to join us, so we were back to just myself and Hubby for dessert. So I made a miniature stack, and we enjoyed our croquemBoucher in front of a great hockey game!
(Side note- since making this Flyers themed dessert, Boucher was injured, but the team has made it into the Stanley Cup finals! Hopefully the croquemBoucher wasn’t a jinx, and the positive thoughts helped push the team to a great playoff run! Let’s go Flyers! Beat the Blackhawks!!)
I did actually decide to make a “real” croquembouche to celebrate Little Girl’s first birthday. Since she is not quite ready for the rich filling and chocolate drizzle (though she did try to break into Mommy’s chocolate earlier… that was exciting…), I made a “baby-bouche” of choux puffs filled with mashed banana to accompany the grown up croquembouche filled with a cream cheese/Greek yogurt buttercream filling.

Thank you so much, Cat, for a great challenge! This was a lot of fun, and really allowed for a great deal of creativity and self expression! I am so glad you made me get over my fear of choux, and I am excited to have something new in my repertoire! Look here to see the great work done by my fellow Daring Bakers!

24 comments:

  1. Yum yum! Love the chocolate you used to "glue" everything together!

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  2. Wow, what a fantastic job you did and you're right, it's all about finding the right occasion for it. It's definitely a special occasion treat! :D

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  3. How nice to make a "baby-bouche"! Your Pièces look great!

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  4. Great job! Yours looks beautiful and I love the idea of a baby bouche!

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  5. The squirt bottles look like they worked great. Looks delish with that chocolate! Great work.

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  6. What a scrumptious way to celebrate a first birthday! You did an excellent job. Now I kind of wish that I had used chocolate instead. :D

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  7. Baby Bouche - that is so cute!! Mashed bananas are a great filling. That was a really creative idea.

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  8. Aww.. your baby bouche is adorable, and I love that you found a way to sneak in commentary about the Stanely Cup in there! Awesome! Great job on this month's challenge, keep up the great bakes :)

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  9. The mashed banana filling sounds so yummy!!! I know you made it for the little one, but that could be made into a tasty banana custard filling maybe... :D (Here I go trying to turn something healthier into something calorie filled hahah)
    Great job with these! :)

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  10. Gorgeous croquembouche - and I love the baby bouche! What fun :)

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  11. Oh yeah I so know what you mean about no hot sugar with the kids underneath. Great work and great adapting for little girl.

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  12. Very nice! Are you going to make another to cheer on the Flyers in the final?

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  13. I'll bet Little Girl was thrilled with her 'baby-bouche' - what a wonderful idea! And I agree, spinning sugar is not an ideal activity for our little helpers! xxx

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  14. I joined db when my first was about one. Now that's she three it's great for her to help and eat the challenges. As to the sugar. I did them at naptime

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  15. Thanks for all the great tips: the chocolate lid "bottoms", the banana filling and especially, the squirt bottle piping technique. Necessity really is the mother of invention, or in your case, of Little Girl!

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  16. No, no chisel required...good sharp teeth. Break em at your own risk. Hmm...considering you beat the Canadians out of the playoffs maybe I won't say what a great job you did ;-)

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  17. I definitely wanted a squirt bottle for filling the puffs! And how fabulous are the baby bouches - great idea!

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  18. And happy birthday to your little girl as well!

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  19. I love that you made a special version just for your little one. I love the chocolate version.

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  20. Happy birthday to your little girl.. and the piece montee looks gorgeous.. And special bouche for the little girl looks cute as well. Loved the filling too ...Yumm!!! Still I feel like eating some.

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  21. Hee! I love "baby-bouche" and croquemBoucher. What a great idea. They look and sound so delicious. (Why, oh why, am I reading this when I'm hungry? My stomach's grumbling like crazy!)

    Fab tips for fixing broken choux puffs and finding an alternative to a piping bag. A sauce bottle- brilliant!

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  22. As a diehard Red Wings fan, I have to root for the BlackHawks, sorry.}:P Otherwise the diehard Devils fan hubby would be really upset with me.}:P

    LOL.

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  23. I should have tried chocolate too on top of the caramel cause these look so scrumptious!

    Sawadee from bangkok,
    Kris

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