But more importantly, onto the actual recipe. When I first found out what I was going to be doing for my first Daring Bakers Challenge, fear came over me like no other. The look on my face would have probably been hilarious had it been captured on camera. I'm not exactly sure why I was so nervous. But the more I thought about the recipe, the more excited I got. A pièce montée is simply French for "assembled (or mounted) piece" and can refer to any decorated centerpiece dessert. More specifically, we made a croquembouche, another French word stemming from 'croque en bouche' meaning "crunch in the mouth." It's basically a bunch of cream puffs stacked up into a cone-like mountain of deliciousness and then decorated. I've been wanting to try my hand at cream puffs for a while now, so this was my chance. I apologize again, as I know that mine doesn't look very impressive. In my defense, however, usually people use a cone made of parchment paper or the like and then coat the cream puffs in a kind of sugar syrup or caramel and then just place them upside down in the cone, filling it up. The parchment pretty much does the work for them. I didn't have any and (admittedly) was too lazy to go out and get some, so I stacked them free hand.
The recipe itself wasn't too difficult. Definitely time consuming, but I do think in the end it was worth it. What's awesome about this recipe is that it doesn't require any special ingredients. They're all pretty much standard pantry ingredients. I had two friends over to help me, and we had a pretty good amount of fun. We had even more fun devouring them as soon as I was done taking pictures, ha ha. I went with the traditional vanilla pastry cream and I thought that the melted semisweet chocolate was a great compliment. I'd love to make cream puffs again, but try different fillings and coatings. Yum!
Yields about 28 cream puffs
For the vanilla crème patissiere (pastry cream):
- 1 cup whole milk, divided (I used 2% since that's all I had, and it worked out fine)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- (I also added about a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla butter & nut flavoring)
- Dissolve the cornstarch in a 1/4 cup of the milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; remove from heat.
- Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the milk and cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of the boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
- Return the remaining milk to a boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing to whisk.
- Continue whisking (extremely important so that the eggs don't solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. (I cooked mine over medium high heat and mine became thick extremely fast, and pretty much went from liquid to extremely thick within a couple seconds. Just be careful about that!) Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.
- Pour the cream into a stainless steel bowl/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface against the cream. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- 3/4 cup water
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, divided
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (I used foil.)
- Combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. When it comes to a boil, remove from the 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. (This happened very quickly for me.) Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute to cool slightly.
- Stir in 3 of the eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg is completely combined before adding the next. The batter will go from appearing loose and shiny to like lightly-buttered mashed potatoes.
- Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. (I just piped without a tip, being as the bag had a large, round opening.) Pipe the choux about an inch apart on the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch tall and 1 inch wide. Use a clean finger dipped in water to press down on any tips that have formed on the top of the choux when piping. You want them to be shaped like a ball with a smooth, curved top.
- With the remaining egg, make an egg wash by placing the egg in a small bowl and lightly beating it with a pinch of salt. Brush the tops of the choux with the egg wash. Bake the choux at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.
- 8 ounces finely chopped chocolate (I used semisweet, but feel free to use whatever kind you like.)
- Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.
- Using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux using either the same round tip for piping the choux or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet.
- Dip the top and bottom of the choux in the chocolate glaze. Dipping the top will act as decoration and dipping the bottom will allow for the glue to hold the choux together. Start assembling on your plate/stand using the largest choux first. You may want to practice building with unglazed choux first, seeing what fits together best.
- Continue dipping and adding the choux in levels, building up into a cone shape.
- Once you have finished stacking, feel free to decorate with the remaining glaze, a sprinkle of powdered sugar, flowers, ribbons, etc. Have fun and enjoy!