Croquembouche (Piece Montée) – Daring Bakers Challenge May 2010

May 27th, 2010

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’ve made two croquembouches’ so far, the original one from Masterchef and the chocolate swirl one, also from MasterChef. So, when I found out this month’s challenge was also a croquembouche I was both a bit indifferent, and also excited.

First of all, the slight disappointment was due to it not being something new. Although the excitement came from knowing how gorgeous the custard filled profiteroles with lovely crunchy toffee are. My family and I cannot resist croquembouche, although the next Christmas or event I make it for, I’ll just be pouring the caramel over the top and not building a cone shaped tower.

The other excitement came from trying the different recipes, I was hoping for a harder choux pastry, one which was a bit crunchy and kept its shape quite well. I think this choux pastry recipe may have succeeded in this, although I still need to learn my oven better, as they were cooked in 10-15 minutes, almost burning, so I couldn’t leave them in the oven to dry out longer, for fear of losing them.

For my own challenge, I decided to try making cute little caramel corkscrews. Using a spoon, I spun the caramel around a clean knife (sharpening) steel. And they worked! I had to keep heating and cooling the caramel though to make it the right consistency – which was quite difficult to figure out.

Unfortunately for the presentation, the lovely caramel strands around the outside started beading within 20 minutes and by the time we ate the croquembouche, a few hours afterwards, there were no strands to be seen. I’m not sure whether this was due to the humidity we had here, or whether the glucose added to caramel contributes to the stability of the caramel.

Overall, I was very excited making this again, and I think it made the perfect quantity (even though people asked – where’s the rest of it?). The different components themselves are relatively easy, and I will consider making it more often, now that I won’t be making trays and trays worth of profiteroles, and a large lasagna dish filled with custard.

Croquembouche (Piece Montée)

Recipe Source: Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and were originally created by famed pastry chef, Nick Malgieri.

Vanilla Crème Patissiere (Half Batch) [I made a full batch – double this – although I think I could have made 1.5 batches – three times this]
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch / cornflour
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar – I used caster 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.

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

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28) [Mine made more than 50]
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. [A KitchenAid works so well for this]

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.

After mixing in the first egg

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.

After mixing in the second egg

After mixing in the third egg

After the fourth and final egg

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. [mine cooked in 15 minutes total]

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.

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.

Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.

Hard Caramel Glaze: [I needed 1.5 – 2 times this recipe, as I stirred it too early]
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.

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!


  1. Trissa says:

    Great job Anita! The croquembouche is still something I have yet to do – I can’t believe you’ve done this several times already!

  2. Cakelaw says:

    Love your croquembouche, especially the corkscrews! I’m with you – the quantities given here were perfect for feeding a normal sized group of people, as opposed to a footy field of people.

  3. Steph says:

    You know you were the first person I thought of when I saw what this month’s challenge was! Still in total awe of your last effort. Aww those little caramel spirals are so cute 🙂

  4. maybellesmom says:

    we had the same problem about the disappearing caramel strands, but i think you did a great job. Though it looks like you are now a pro.

  5. Karen says:

    You are the queen of croquembouches, I’ll always love your chocolate swirled one! And I absolutely hate how caramel starts to melt and bead so quickly.

  6. FFichiban says:

    Woooww they all look so amazinnnggg! and I just wanna munch on those caramel spirals!

  7. I am glad you enjoyed making this despite being a croquembouche afficianado! Yours is lovely and I love the caramel spirals. Yup, humidity was to blame for my quickly disappearing strands as well. Bravoo!

  8. chef_d says:

    Amazing crocquembouches! Love the one with the swirl and the star!!

  9. charlotte says:

    lovely croquembouche! I definitely adore the corkscrews.. 🙂

  10. Love the caramel spirals – they really add a gorgeous touch!

  11. Swee San says:

    wow yours looked really pretty!

  12. Barbara says:

    Wow. This is some challenge, Anita! And you did a fabulous job.
    I remember when I was much younger seeing a photo of croquembouche in the really old Gourmet cookbook. I said to my mother: I want to make that. And she just smiled. But I did it. And it was heavenly.
    Haven’t made it since then and it is such a presentation and crowd pleaser. And fun to eat!

  13. This is so adorable. The coils were a lovely touch. I love croquembouche… especially mini ones 🙂

  14. Jeanne says:

    I love the sugar corkscrews! Beautiful presentation! And your chocolate swirl croquembouche is incredible. Excellent work!

  15. Oh my gosh, that’s an impressive tower! This inspires me to try making a croquembouche someday soon.

  16. outoftheoven says:

    I just love your caramel corkscrews!! Beautiful presentation!

  17. Renee says:

    It looks great Anita, well done. I love those corkscrews, they look perfect!

  18. Rosa says:

    Your croquembouches are splendid! The big one is amazing!



  19. Amanda says:

    You’re a croquembouche pro! And it’s a shame the corkscrews didn’t last. They are beautiful!

  20. bakingaddict says:

    Amazing creations. Love your caramel corkscrews 🙂

  21. Sue says:

    You look like a pro at making croquembouche! They look textbook perfect! Beautifully done:)

  22. lisa says:

    I’ve always been amazed by these gorgeous works of art. It’s beautiful and so impressive. Fantastic job.

  23. marcellina says:

    Beautiful croquembouche! I had the same problem with the spun sugar. I think it is the humidity because the second time I made it on an overcast day it was even worse! Anyway we all enjoy our croquembouches. Your sugar work is fantastic!

  24. I somehow knew that yours was look fantastic Anita! 😉 Beautiful work as always!

  25. Renata says:

    Love your creations! The big one is pro! The small one is so cute with the caramel decoration!

  26. Michelle says:

    Your croquembouche is gorgeous and I love your little corkscrews! Seeing everyone’s spun sugar is making me really regret not having the time to give it a try!

  27. Parita says:

    Very well done on the DB challenge! Kudos to you!

  28. When I saw all the posts for this month challenge starting to pop up, I immediately thought of you. You would have to be the croquembouche Queen, no? 🙂 Looks delicious. Yeah, it’s a shame all that beautiful caramel doesn’t last longer, but I have the same problem.

  29. Hoglet K says:

    Great job on the caramel corkscrews! I’m glad you’ve found a crisper choux recipe too.

  30. sweetlife says:

    great job, stunning, I love the swirls..that’s what first caught my eye…


  31. Pretty profiteroles with the hardened caramel! Amazing spun sugar and cute cockscrews! A beautiful overall presentation 🙂

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  32. Oh wow – I am in love with those corskcrews! Croquembouche always terrifies me slightly so well done you for rising to the DB challenge!

  33. Michele Mircev says:


    i need some advice please. I am making a croquembouche that contains 60 profiteroles filled with custard. The party starts at 7.3pm and they should be giving out the cake at about 10.00-10.30pm.

    How long before I should assemble the croquembouche. I don’t want it to collapse. How long can it stand before collapsing.

    I really would appreciate your advice.

    With Kindest Regards


  34. Chris McAlonan says:

    I made one of these with a difference for a mid-winter xmas dinner we had for our neighbours. Each profiterole was filled with creme patissiere which had finely minced xmas fruit mince and brandy (of course) added to give a festive air. The tower was held together with chocolate instead of caramel glaze

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