The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake and it was fantastic. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. We were required to make the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. I had contemplated this project since encountering one at a lavish wedding a few years ago and had chickened out, so it was great to be faced with it.
My pate a choux wasn't the smoothest but it all puffed. I marveled at the fact you could smooth out the batter with a wet finger without creating a mess. I always thought pate a choux was a temperamental thing to make...apparently not! I also was thrilled that my pastry cream once again was smooth. The cornstarch sped up the thickening process but left hint of flavor. In the future I will probably stick to the pastry cream recipe from making Tiramisu as I didn't particularly enjoy the taste/texture of cornstarch. I ended up mixing most of the pastry cream with homemade marmalade, which still stuns me in its simplicity and flavor. For this batch of marmalade, I added 2 tablespoons of ginger to the last three minutes of the third blanching and more vanilla bean paste for some punch. It made the cream reminiscent of a creamsicle. Yum.
Piping the cream into the puffs was a challenge... I didn't have a good feel for when they were full and one exploded like an overstuffed Pacman (see below). Caramel is risky and mine probably could've been a little less done but it was still tasty. The main issue was the HEAT and required speed when assembling the tower. Dealing with those aspects will definitely require some work but I think I'm up for the challenge once the weather cools off again.
This probably sounds crazy but other than the difficulty of assembling the tower, I found this challenge much easier than expected. I'm unsure if it was pure luck, really good recipe selections or my growth as a baker but I was very happy with my result, especially for a first try. I did everything over the course of 2-3 nights without any real difficulties. The result was the perfect treat for Gossip Girl's season finale, especially as some of the characters left for a Parisian summer. Thanks to Cat for a great challenge and to Meg for sharing the treat and show.
Detailed instructions and the recipes can be found here.