Cooking my way through Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets, plus other treats I come up with
Thursday, May 27, 2010
May 2010 Daring Baker's Challenge: 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.
Fancy names aside, this dessert is essentially a tower of cream puffs, held together by caramel or chocolate sauce. It's a traditional French wedding cake where they can be very, very tall and decorated with all sorts of fantastical sugar creations. Spun sugar is very often wrapped around the tower like a fluffy golden shawl.
Unfortunately, I am not an expert in sugar works. My attempt to create a nest of sugar ended in clumps of sugar connected by spindly threads. It was still darn tasty, though.
The challenge has three components: the choux pastry, the pastry cream filling, and the caramel sauce. I was totally confident about the challenge since I've made cream puffs before with surprising success. I even invited people to come watch me assemble the whole thing.
As it turns out, luck wasn't on my side. I burned half of my cream puffs because I accidentally turned on the broiler instead of the oven. At 400 F, my puffs soon charred to a crisp. I had to quickly make a second batch of dough before the guests arrived to make sure I had enough puffs to build a decent sized tower.
Assembly was, well, exciting. There's nothing quite like the thrill of putting your finger tips millimeters away from boiling hot sugar. Martha Stewart suggests dipping the cream puffs twice - first to cover the top in caramel for a glaze, then to dip the bottom when stacking. I valued my fingers too much to attempt double dipping; instead I only dipped the bottom, then poured some caramel on top for extra crunch.
For all the potential danger this dessert poses, I have to admit that it's really fun to eat - as long as you accept the fact that you won't be able to daintily pluck off individual puffs, as Martha claims. What really happens is that you inevitably tear off the top of the puffs immediately below. Caramel forms a very strong bond between the puffs, which means the weakest link becomes the middle of the puffs. The jagged pieces, dripping with vanilla pastry cream and crunchy with caramel, are very good eats indeed (and kind of fun if you have a destructive streak) .