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.
Piece montée (French: mounted piece) can mean two things. First of, it can mean an ornamental pastry used as centerpiece for banquets and parties. It is made for merely decorative purposes. It is constructed out of blown sugar, pulled sugar, crystallized fruits, petit fours, marzipan, chocolate, etc. This type of piece montée reached the height of it's popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Piece montée can also refer to a classical French dessert called croquembouche(French: crisp in the mouth). Croquembouche is a conical shaped dessert made out of stacking cream puffs that has been filled with rich cream filling and dipped in caramel. It can then be decorated with spun sugar, nougatine, flowers, ribbons, etc. Croquembouche are traditionally served at weddings, baptisms and first communions.
In this challenge case, piece montée is pertaining to croquembouche. The recipes Cat provided for this challenge is really really good. The cream puffs 'puffs' really well, pastry cream is easy to follow, and the hard caramel is not prone to crystallize.
I have always loved making cream puffs. It's actually the first "complicated" dessert I made; I say complicated in the sense that it has different components. Although I have made them tons of times, I have never really made a croquembouche by myself. So that was the main challenge for me, to create a nice croquembouche. Oh, and face my fear with making caramel!
I have made two attempts for this challenge. The first one was filled with vanilla pastry cream and the second one was filled with lemon creme chantilly. Both are as equally as delicious, but I am a bit bias with the lemon creme chantilly simply because I love lemon flavoured anything...
With this challenge, I wanted to make a very elegant show piece. I'm not sure if was able to succeed on that one, but I did enjoy making it. Then I wanted to make a small cute version as well; that's when I thought of putting two swans on top of the croquembouche. I'm quite pleased with the second one except one of the swans broke it's neck.
Croquembouche is such a lovely show piece. Although I'm not really fond of eating them because I find it too sweet with all the caramel that's been used to 'glue' everything together.
Over all, this challenge was really fun. The most enjoyable part for me was the caramel part. I'm not so scared of making caramel as I was before anymore. It's not the burning bit that I have issues with; it's the anxiety I always have whether the caramel will come out right or will it be a disaster with the crystallization as I'm cooking it. I have finally found a good recipe.