Croquembouche! My Piece Monteé, a Daring Baker’s Challenge

by Irvin on May 27, 2010 · 27 comments

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If you’ve been reading my blog at all, you’ll remember that last month that I had posted a little blog entry about my first Daring Baker’s Challenge. I had joined them out of fear that I would run out of things to blog about (definitely not an issue) but instead have found wonderful community of supportive bakers! Well, the May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake who challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Now if you remember correctly, I wasn’t super enthusiastic about my first challenge, but it turned out great. This one, however, I was THRILLED to do! I have always wanted to make a croquembouche, but I just have never really had a good excuse to make one! I guess some would argue that I don’t need an excuse to bake, but when you are making something this elaborate and time consuming I needed an excuse.

An aside, I internally scoffed at the suggested time that should be allotted for the challenge – 10 minutes to prepare the puff pastry, 10 minutes to pipe and 30 minutes to bake, with an additional 10 minutes to cook the pastry cream and 10 minutes for the glaze. If you added that all together that’s an hour and 10 minutes to make an entire croquembouche, and maybe an accomplished pastry chef could do it in that time, but I knew there was NO way I could do that….

First let me tell you that not only was I SUPER excited about the challenge, but I’m a fan of Nick Malgieri who’s recipe we were using. I have several of his books (he’s the former Executive Pastry Chef at Windows on the World) and though I don’t use his recipes all that often (he has fondness for nuts in his baked goods, which I usually don’t care for) his latest book The Modern Baker is excellent. The fact that the challenge was going to be based on his recipe meant I could totally feel confident in it.

Which was a good thing, because before I could second guess myself, I sent an mass email out to some of my friends to see if any of them were available to come over for my “mystery dessert”. I needed people to eat the crouqembouche! As per the challenge requirements that I don’t reveal what my baked item is before the 27th of the month, I didn’t tell any of them what the dessert was beforehand (all I told them was that it was going to be “elaborate”) and that they couldn’t tell anyone else what it was either once they found out.

I contemplated having them sign non-disclosure forms beforehand, but then I thought that might be going too far.

That’s AJ on the left, putting the final one on top!

Did I mention that I was excited about this challenge? So excited that I ended up chatting about it with Nora Tong at Nora’s Patisserie at the Meals on Wheels Gala that I attended a few weeks ago! I’ll be posting an exhaustively comprehensive review of the Gala on this blog in the near future, just as soon as I finish processing all the photos!

Nora, who by the way is totally awesome, approachable, and makes the most astounding European-style petit-fours and tea cookies, seemed genuinely amused by my enthusiasm in making a croquembouche. She humored me when I told her how much I was looking forward to making it, and then related a story of one of the first croquembouches that she made for a client. She had built it in her kitchen and was driving it to the client’s event, and the humidity of the day started to melt the caramel that bound the crouchembouche together. Along with the pastry filling which started to make the bottom creampuffs get soggy, her crouchembouche was nearly destroyed by the time she delivered it to her client!

She told me (in a conspiratorial whisper to me) that she now makes her crouchembouche with a Styrofoam mold on the inside to ensure integrity. I hope she doesn’t get too mad at me for leaking her secret! Of course, I don’t know how anyone could make a really tall one without a mold. The weight of the creampuffs filled with pastry cream along with the humidity in the air would just make ANY large mounted piece disintegrate.

I wanted to go and find a Styrofoam mold but I couldn’t get down to Michaels in time (it would have required me borrowing AJ’s car to go there anyway as there isn’t one in the city). They might have had a mold at Sur la Table in the city, but I didn’t think to check when I went there to get some cookie cutters. I did leave with a several cookie cutters, a couple of cupcake paper liners that were too cute to pass up (stripes! polka dots!) and two books from the clearance section, including an autographed copy of Martha Stewart’s Cooking School (for only $9!).

But back to the croquembouche. I took an idea from Martha Stewart and made some sugar cookie with royal icing and sanding sugar beforehand and used them as decoration for the croquembouche. And someone else on the Daring Baker’s forum had a link to how to make caramel corkscrews, which were SO much fun to make as mini decorations!

I had a blast. I love making caramel, but had never really made any spun sugar creations before. SO. MUCH. FUN. I got to explain what I was doing to my friends as well, as I was putting the finishing touches on the crochembouche….

Also, ouch. Spun sugar and caramel can be slightly painful, as I burned myself a few times. But I have tough skin and it was totally worth it.

I decided to fill the cream puffs with a caramel pastry cream and a chocolate pastry cream. Held together with the burnt sugar caramel, and then with spun sugar wrapped around the croquembouche, my guests were duly impressed. We ordered some pizza, hung out and then, with some slight hesitation on my guests end (“It’s so pretty! I feel bad eating it!”) we dove right in!

Two of our guests were under the age of 2 years old. Having eaten a couple of sugar cookies and a creampuff each, they then proceeded to jump up and down on our couch – much to the amusement of the rest of us. Ah…the sugar rush. They then they got a bit flirty with each other, which was utterly adorable.

The party ended early, due to the fact that the 2 year olds needed to get to bed, and also because a few guests wanted to rush home to watch the Lost finale. Ah… how television rules our lives.

The rest of the crochembouche went to AJ’s students. They polished them off immediately (no leftovers!) which pleased me. They kept on asking AJ where he got them, and AJ kept on telling them that I made it. Ha!

I hope I have a chance to make another one again real soon, or at least to make something with spun sugar again. It was so much fun, though I’ll remember to put newspaper down on the ground first off. Our floor and table got a little sticky from the caramel…

Yay! I can’t wait for the next Daring Baker’s Challenge!

Whilst baking, I decided to be thematic and listen to the French band Autour de Lucie’s first album L’échapé Belle (It was released here in the US under an eponymous CD). Think of an early 90’s jangly guitar alt pop band like The Sundays, but with a French singer. Breezy and perfect for baking an elaborate confectionary dessert.


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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

ap269 May 27, 2010 at 8:58 am

Really enjoyed reading your long story. And I absolutely love the caramel corkscrews. Good job on the challenge!


bcswerit May 27, 2010 at 9:00 am

that is truly beautiful! well done!


chef_d May 27, 2010 at 9:10 am

Your piece montee is beautiful! Very nicely done!


Karen @ Citrus and Candy May 27, 2010 at 9:18 am

Your croquembouche is beautiful! I love the idea of using sugar cookies as decorations and yay to spun sugar fun 🙂


sweetdiscovery May 27, 2010 at 10:32 am

Gorgeous! I love your decorated cookie additions too. Well done!!!


maybelle's mom May 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

enjoyable blog. and, i also fed mine to a toddler, but we ate ours outside so she could run the sugar energy off outside.


Poires au Chocolat May 27, 2010 at 11:52 am

Looks lovely – the sugar cookies are a great idea. I enjoyed your whole story, too.


shelley c. May 27, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Really beautifully done. Chocolate and caramel pastry cream both sound delicious! And your spun sugar is so impressive. Truly beautiful job.


kudzu May 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Fabulous job! Can't believe it's your first go, considering how professional it looks.

Loved the small photo where you're carrying the finished product and the design on your tee looks like a flag flying atop the tower!

….and how nice to have such supportive, appreciative and lovely friends (esp. the affectionate babies).


Emily May 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm

OMG this is gorge Ivin!


Basht May 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm

It's so pretty and the flowers make it perfect for spring!


HIpGayChemistryTeacher May 27, 2010 at 5:08 pm

It was amazing! Caramel & more caramel (with some chocolate)! I loved it!


Rita May 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Utterly beautiful. The spun sugar looks magical, and those cookies are pretty enough to design a whole Web page around! Absolutely stunning, congratulations!!


Ruth H. May 28, 2010 at 12:10 am

I love the combination of the cookies and the spun sugar! It really makes your croquembouche a work of art! Great job!


fulltimefoodie May 28, 2010 at 1:20 am

Your piece montee looks beautiful!!!!!! I love the flowers!!!


fulltimefoodie May 28, 2010 at 1:30 am

Your piece montee looks beautiful!!!!!! I love the flowers!!!


Mr. Jackhonky May 28, 2010 at 5:42 am

so much love! Thanks everyone! I had the best time making it!

Now I want to make more spun sugar creations… so much fun!


petoke May 28, 2010 at 9:37 am

holy moly, that is some fancy stuff you are doing. FANCY. I love the pink cookies; so pretty.

also dig those photos of cute Lily & her blonde boyfriend.

I'm also really excited to find out what "piece montee" is. I have a jacket, and "piece montee" is the brand name. have always wondered what it meant.


Baking Addict May 28, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Wow what a beautiful creation. Love the sugar cookies. Very Martha Stewart 🙂 Great job on the spun sugar – amazing!


Laura May 28, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Wow, you really went the extra mile, making the cookies and the caramel corkscrews! Very nice! Well done. It looks beautiful.


Tara May 30, 2010 at 3:03 am

Beautiful! (And delicious, I'm sure.) Nick Malgieri's recipes really are fool-proof. (Full disclosure: I'm an alumnus of ICE, so I'm practically required to like Chef Malgieri.) Spun sugar is such fun, isn't it? At a restaurant I used to work at, we'd make spun sugar "nests" for one of our desserts. Crazy-messy to make, but the end product looked like spun gold – just don't try it in a humid kitchen! Anyway, I have no reason to make a croquembouche in the near future, but you're making me want to anyway . . . evil, 😉


Mr. Jackhonky June 1, 2010 at 1:50 am

@petoke. Thanks. Lily and Brady were adorable! They entertained us with their antics for most of the evening.

And I love that you have a jacket with the brand name "piece montee." Fancy!

@Baking Addict & Laura. Thanks! The spun sugar was crazy fun. I DID feel very Martha Stewart making the cookies and everything.

@Tara. I didn't know you went to ICE! I have long dreamed of going to culinary school, but I can't really justify the cost, as I have no real desire to work at a restaurant on a day to day basis.

The next time I have a fancy dinner, I'm totally going to make something with spun sugar. it was too much fun…

And yes, I'm SO glad I had an excuse to make a croquembouche. I've always wanted to make one! But no real reason to!


Renata June 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Very beautiful Croquembouche! Lovely decoration with spun sugar and the cookies are so delicate!


aol June 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm

OMG! I want to move to San Fran just so I can come over for your mystery parties darling. I miss you.


Tracy June 25, 2010 at 6:24 am

I used only 3 eggs for the choux. The first time I used 4 and it turned into a sloppy mess. Aside from this, it's a good recipe.


Délices January 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Beautiful and delicious,congratulations!!


Bozenka March 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm

All I can say is … WOW, totally and completely amazingly impressive. Stunning and beautiful. You are sooooo clever and your lucky friends and family get to share.


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