Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers-Piece Montée or Croquembouche

I am not sure how I managed to publish this on time. The restaurant I am working at just got the permit from the health department yesterday and we are working like crazy to open next week, my life revolves around this now. I will write more about this new adventure in another post, there is so much to say. Knowing that the 27th would be crazy I made the little paté a choux on Saturday instead, as dessert for a group of friends that came over for dinner. I filled them with a meyer lemon cream and accompanied by a sinful caramel sauce (I will have to write another post with the recipes). They were delicious but I would love to try all the other variations of the pastry cream you can see below, but this is for another time.

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.

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.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Hard Caramel Glaze:
1 cup (225 g.) sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place – see video #4 below).

When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate. Have fun and enjoy! Bon appétit!


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.

For Chocolate Pastry Cream (Half Batch Recipe):
Bring ¼ cup (about 50 cl.) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces (about 80 g.) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.
For Coffee Pastry Cream (Half Batch recipe)
Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water. Whisk into pastry cream with butter and vanilla.

Thanks go to Cat for choosing this month's challenge and to Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, the creators of the Daring Bakers' challenge. To check other daring bakers' creations, please check the daring kitchen's site.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Making of a Cake

I have been making cakes for friends and clients for a while. This doesn't happen too often, but once in a while I get asked. While I didn't go to baking school, I had some "formal" training on cake decorating while working for this insane but very talented woman who will remain unnamed. She made very traditional French cakes, and her decorating techniques were amazing. Decorating cakes is such a work of patience and you need hours and hours of practice to get the manual skills you need to execute perfect piping. I am a little of a perfectionist so it is really stressful to decorate a cake because I keep trying to get that perfect smoothness and perfect edges. By no means I am good, and I haven't mastered any of the designs that some people like on their cakes, however I can make cakes that taste really good and are simple but beautiful.

Throughout the years I have learned that planning is essential for my sanity and to avoid disasters. The more prepared I am the better the end result (sounds simple, right?). The cake layers are made two days before the event (this in case a baking disaster happens and I have to start again), assembled the day before, chilled for hours in the fridge so the flavors can come together. The cake is then crumb coated, chilled again, and frosted with a rough layer. The day of the event, the cake is "polished" and any final decorations are piped on. Then comes the most stressful part, the delivery. Moving the cake to the car is the first hurdle, then comes the ride of the precious cargo, then the walk from the car to the final destination. Imagine walking in slow motion, checking steps, people around you, doors that can swing open at any minute, all carrying a very heavy cake and sweating cold bullets. The sense of relieve when you finally lay that baby down and you admire the final product is priceless.

I made this cake for a very special person, a woman I met when she waited tables at a restaurant where I worked six years ago. She was my favorite person there, her attitude was remarkable, without an ego and no sense of entitlement, a very mature young person indeed. She is also a phenomenal babysitter, who comes with two huge tool boxes full of things to make fun projects with the kids. She also believes in saving and recycling, and uses salvaged items for her art work. She chose a vintage dress for her special day, how cool is that? She is also always smiling, I actually think that she walks few inches above the ground, I kid you not.

When she asked me to make this cake for her wedding I was really touched, and I put lots of love into it. The cake consisted of a lemon raspberry bottom tier and two tiers of chocolate cake with a chocolate mousse in between. Then I made a second little cake because she also wanted an amaretto cake. I always fear that the cake I made was not perfect, so I was waiting patiently to hear back from her. Bre loved the cake and since she didn't get to try the amaretto cake I promised to make one for her first wedding anniversary.

Congratulations Bre!


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