Mini Pièce Montée (Daring Bakers Challenge)

May 27, 2010

By the burning of my thumbs, Something saucy this way comes.

Pièce montée means 'mounted piece.' A croquembouche is an assemblage of pastry cream filled puffs held together with caramel or chocolate sauce. Unlike mine, they are usually formed into a high, conical shape and served at weddings and baptisms in France.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a pièce montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. Thank you, Cat. Despite everything you had going on, you were an excellent host.

In baking, as in sports, one usually performs better when they are faced with a tougher, more worthy opponent. It forces us to summon all the skills which lay dormant during the easier tasks. This is one of the many reasons why I joined the Daring Kitchen. It pushes me to be better. I have always had a hard time making crème patissiere and custards. They almost always end up looking like cottage cheese. During this challenge, the pastry cream took on an unexpected yet equally frustrating manifestation, lumpy crêpe batter. The second attempt was much more successful. And, for the first time, I made gorgeous, silky pastry cream from a recipe that didn't come from Dorie Greenspan. Believe me, that's huge!

There were a few more snags. Because I was worried about not having enough pastries, my pâte à choux were very small. This caused an engineering dilemma. Sublime in their rich, delicate hollow mounds, they were too tiny and round to support each other. I only managed to build one mini pièce montée, and it had to be held together with massive amounts of toothpicks and hope.

Then along came my fair-weather friend, caramel. The caramel sauce acts as a glue and fingerprint burner. I have made it several times and every recipe is a little bit different. This one didn't like me, nor did it like my stove (though in all fairness, I've got issues with it too.) As soon as the sauce reached the perfect colour, I placed the pan into an ice bath, whereupon it transformed from a sauce into a hard, sticky, impossible to clean circular layer of anger. But I did manage to pull up a little bit of spun sugar. I remade the caramel and added some corn syrup and cream. It felt like I was cheating but at that point I had a lot of questionable pâte à choux and soupy pastry cream so I didn't brood too long over the ethics of my technique. The next tricky part was actually making more spun sugar. In my numerous attempts at achieving the perfect caramel over the last several years, I have mistakenly produced spun sugar about 80% of the time. So I didn't think it would be that difficult *wa wa waa* I did manage to produce what was possibly the best caramel sauce I've ever made, of course after I had already dipped the pastries into the other one. The 2nd time was the charm in this challenge. On take take #2, the sugar dripped from the whisk like spun gold. I only wish I had more dessert to decorate it with.

This really was a fun challenge! Despite all the do-overs, it was very enjoyable. The pâte à choux were scrumptious as was the successful pastry cream batch. Thank you, Cat! This was an excellent dessert challenge for the Daring Kitchen. Burnt finger tips and all. :)

Pièce Montée
(from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan)
*printer friendly Recipe*

Ingredients for the Almond Crème Patissiere
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
1/2 of a teaspoon of pure almond exract

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 almond.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Ingredients for Pâte à choux (if you are not shy with the piping, this should 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 (Can be stored in a airtight box overnight.)

Filling the Pâte à choux
When you are ready to assemble your pièce 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.

Ingredients for caramel glaze (I'm giving the original recipe since most of the bakers didn't seem to have a hard time with it. Please let me know if you would like the recipe I used.)
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 Pièce 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.


  1. Beautiful piece montee! That golden spun sugar looks gorgeous!

  2. Ciao Valerie ! After all these burns I might go simply chocolate !! i'm putting it together tonight !

  3. You mini piece montee is a mini-masterpiece! I was not brave enough to even attempt the spun sugar, but your creation makes me want to have some of my own! Amazing work, even through the frustrations and complications!!

  4. Very well done! Your croquembouche looks beautiful!



  5. I love the shape you made, and the top is gorgeous

  6. Despite all the "learning", your mini Croquenbouche looks so delicate! Great job!

  7. Hey Valerie, pretty! Your Montee has a very different style than others I've seen, and it's a good 'different'.
    By the way, please do check out my guest post over at Lazaro cooks! I would appreciate it...
    p.s.I've been meaning to e-mail you something, so I might do that today (smile)...

  8. I think your croquembouche is adorable, and I wouldn't want to share it with anyone else! The spun sugar looks amazing. I also made spun sugar by accident, but didn't have time to play. I plan to put spun sugar and corkscrews on the next thing I make, however inappropriate!

  9. Great Croquemboche! Certainly some work assembling it. Good job!

  10. I hope the burnt fingers were worth it. The spun sugar looks lovely. I was too chicken to try it, but now I wish I had. Great job Valerie!

  11. My, what we bloggers go through to hone our culinary skills! With all the grief, you did an amazing job. I so love cream puffs and haven't made them in years. You've made me hungry for them.

  12. Many foodie dreams are built on toothpicks and hope - beautifully done!

  13. Your croquembouche came out great. Nice with the almond creme. Love your tower, fun and different. Congrats!

  14. hehe I loved your little poem at the beginning! I burnt my fingers too and ended up using tongs as I couldn't bear burning more (although using fingers is easier). Your piece montee looks amazing! :D


Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie


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