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Daring Baker’s Challenge: May

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.

Daring Bakers May Challenge

I’d seen this thing before, never in real life but in passing on the Food Network or something. I never imagined I’d make one. And then this was May’s challenge. We were required to make the pate choux puffs, creme patissiere, and the caramel or chocolate topping or “glue”. The weekend after I got back from San Diego was my last chance to do it and since it was cloudy and I didn’t feel like doing anything else, it was perfect.

Since the creme needed to be chilled and could be made ahead, that was the natural place to start. It came together easily. I’ve never had a problem with creams or custards and this one came together easily. The directions stated we could make whatever flavor of cream we wanted, but I stuck with the tried and true vanilla partly because I didn’t want to leave my neighborhood and could only shop for things at the corner mart and partly because I knew the caramel part would be the hardest. I was kind of stressing out over it. The only change I made to the recipe was I used 2% milk rather than whole since that’s what I had. The corner mart’s milk all had expiry dates within the next week and I didn’t want to purchase more just to have it go bad. I also only made half the recipe. This didn’t look like a dessert that would keep nor did it look easy to transfer to work. Here’s the creme recipe. I made half this so-called “half” batch.

For the 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.

Now for the pate choux puffs. I’d made gougeres before which are based on the same recipe. I think the recipe I used for those, though, called for only yolks. This one required the whole egg. Once again, I only made half of the stated amounts. It’s hard to divide 3/4 of a cup in half, but I guess and figured I could just cook it off for longer if I added too much. Stirring the eggs in took a good amount of energetic mixing with a wooden spoon but eventually they incorporated as stated. The recipe made about 20 small ones and I poured them out with my piping bag. I’m terribly uncoordinated but they turned out more or less the same size. I just patted down the more enthusiastic peaks before baking them. One thing I didn’t do was paint them with an egg wash. I hate egg wash, it’s such a waste of a perfectly good egg. Since this wasn’t for a special occasion, I left them as is. They baked up perfectly and I put them in a plastic container overnight.

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.

Preparing batter:
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 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.

The next day after the gym, I made some coffee and organized all my stuff for putting this all together. I had a few tiny Ritters from my Economy Candy raid two weeks ago and so I melted down two of those alongside the sugar and lime juice for the caramel. I had never made or attempted to make spun sugar before. I’d once seen Sherry Yard create ridiculous clouds of spun sugar on Iron Chef before but I never thought I’d be called to try to do the same thing. Clearly, attempting to do anything like Sherry Yard is like asking Michelangelo to teach you to paint, but an attempt was made. I used two forks to create some rudimentary strings and spun them around the little tower of puffs as much as I could. They didn’t all cooperate and there were numerous spots where the caramel was so think that it proved to be a hazard to teeth and fillings everywhere. If I make this again, I think I’ll make a softer caramel with some cream just to keep it more edible.

I used a plastic bag to fill the puffs with the cream and a knife to make a small indentation in the puffs. I only have two nozzles for the pastry bag and both would be too big to fill the puffs that were only about an inch in diameter. I dipped the filled puffs in the caramel and made a little pyramid out of them. I bound them together with the attempted spun sugar and then topped the whole thing with strands of the melted bittersweet chocolate.

It’s delicious, probably the most taste-friendly thing I’ve yet made with the Daring Bakers. There’s nothing like a French classic. It was fun and it’s good to be reminded that choux pastry is really that easy to make. I’ll probably never make a croquembouche again, but I’ll revisit the choux again, that’s for damn sure.

P.S. I find the name “croquembouche” comical because this dessert is such a filling hazard. It may be all nice for Frenchmen with their nationalized health care, but for Americans on their own to foot those bills, it’s downright frightening. I’m an anti-dentite anyway. I’m proceeding with care.

P.P.S. Oh, yeah, I took that first picture using my hot shoe flash unit. I’d never used it before. The creme picture was taken with my phone.

One Response to “Daring Baker’s Challenge: May”

  1. 1

    Great work! I like the way you mixed caramel and chocolate.

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