Daring Bakers – Piece Montée

When Mishi came over for dinner a few weeks back she commented on the fact that I’ve really taken to baking – something I’ve always professed a mild aversion to due to so many failures at it when I was younger.  I made all sorts of weird, wacky and wonderful but utterly inedible ‘cakes’ as a kid and I also had a bad habit of not using measures or doing substitutes which didn’t work.  Now that I’m a bit older, and have a bit more patience, I find it easier to stick to recipes and I have a teeny bit more experience with ingredients – so my substitutions usually work out a lot better if I do make them (though not always).

Thus when I signed up for Daring Cooks, after a few days of uhming and ahhing, I also signed up for Daring Bakers which, as you can imagine, is along similar lines.  The last few months they’d been making things like Tiramasu, Gingerbread Houses and Orange Tian.  All were complex and a good way more adventurous than anything I’d ever made but I figured they weren’t too scary for a beginner.

So I waited, sort-of patiently, for this months challenge recipe to roll around.  Then I gawped.  Then I thought  ‘aw crap’.   Then I tried it anyway.  If you haven’t guessed from the title, the recipe for this month was Piece Montée or Croquembouche.  If you’ve no idea what that is, go have a look at google image search for a start.   It’s choux pastry puffs, filled with flavoured crème pâtissière (egg-custard-like creamy filling), stacked high and held together with either chocolate or caramel and decorated with shiny, fancy nice looking stuff.  All in all, it looks amazing as a dish.

But I had to cook it?  Eep.

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.

I will say, now, that in the end this actually felt easier than the cooking challenge for this month did to me!  The recipe and directions were very well written and made it easy enough for a beginner like me to actually make this dish.  Now, I’ve never even made my own pastry before, so that’s quite something!

The challenges all have a degree of freedom and a degree of ‘control’  – that is, something which everyone has to attempt to do the same.  In this case, the recipe for the pastry was to be used exactly, but we were free to make our own fillings and choose what to stick it together and decorate it with.  I had a quick shufti through my fridge and decided I’d try to do something with the blueberries I had.  What goes well with blueberries?  Citrus! (which, oddly enough, they love as an amendment to soil they grow in).  So, blueberries and lemon zest – what about the crème? At first I figured I’d just go with the plain vanilla, then toyed with the idea of the coffee recipe which was posted, but I thought it’d compete with the fruit too much.  After a while, an idea came to me – why not tea?  And, since I had it, Lady Grey – which is a nice, soft tasting tea with a touch of citrus. Sorted!

I actually made the puffs the evening before I was going to make the whole thing, knowing it’d be a footer and a long slog to get everything done at once.  It also meant that if I messed it up, I could try again, hehe.  It was the first time in many, many years that I’ve used a proper piping bag (as opposed to a wrapped up piece of greaseproof) and it was so much fun.  I had gotten it for this challenge and I’m now looking for more excuses to use it ;)

Choux pastry is very odd to make – and requires a wee bit of precision, but not, overall, that difficult if you follow the instructions.   I halved the recipe given, as there were only going to be two of us to eat it, and it still ended up being so much that Andy took some to work and I had a few more puffs for lunch the day after!  The sugar, being modelled above by Andy’s hand, was actually the hardest part for me.   I burned the first lot and had to re-do it and I didn’t manage the nice spun-sugar I wanted to try but it did taste really good with the fruit, so I’m glad I went with that rather than chocolate.

Although mine was not nearly as spectacular as some of the other bakers, I am proud of my creation.  I baked, I got to use my creative side in both flavour choice and how it looked and, as a bonus, it actually tasted really good!

(I’ll post a link to the daring recipe and directions when I get back from holiday – this is set up to post automatically, but I can’t link to the recipe post as it wasn’t up before I left, being as the challenge had still not been made public.)

Here’s the link to the recipe and instructions!

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