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.
Information on pièce montée and recipes for the different elements of the challenge can be found here.
In her introduction to the challenge, Cat explains: "The classic pièce montée is a high pyramid/cone made of profiteroles (cream-filled puff pastries) sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons."
According to my dictionary, in Italian, the word profiterole indicates a small bignè alla crema (cream puffs filled with pastry cream) and by extension a dessert made of many small bignè. Profiterole has a special place in my heart: as a child I was fascinated by this elaborate dessert. Though bignè (with various fillings) are common pastries in Italy, the chocolate binding them together to my eyes elevated the composition to a higher sphere. I had not thought about making profiteroles before Cat challenged us to do so, though I had made pâte à choux before, both in the sweet and the savory realm. I wrote about the positive experience in bignè alla crema and gougères al gouda, respectively.
I halved the recipe for pâte à choux provided by Cat and got 20 bignè. I used a small spoon to shape the bignè (my preferred method), then used a finger dipped in hot water to smooth them out, as suggested in the recipe. To fill the bignè, I made a batch of my crema, infusing half of a vanilla bean cut in half lengthwise in the hot milk to flavor it (instead of lemon peel). Once cooled, I piped the crema into the bignè, which turned out nice and hollow inside.
I never had any doubt that I would use only melted dark chocolate (cioccolato), 70% cocoa content, to construct my little pièce montée. From an early age, I have had a problem with hard caramel glaze on bignè, as I don't like the contrast between the hard caramelized sugar and the lightly crisp bignè shell, which segues immediately into the soft filling. Melted chocolate offers, in my opinion, the perfect binding material: it provides stability by hardening into a layer of the right consistency, so the progression of taking one bite is: 1) crack thin layer of chocolate, 2) break crisp bignè shell, 3) glide into creamy filling. Basically, heaven.
As you can see, my decoration was simple. However, I am proud of my ability to construct a piece that showed some height (four layers) and a solid structure. As support, I used an espresso cup (tazzina da caffè) without handle (due to an accidental fall). The roses come from one of the bushes planted by a previous owner of our house on the side where our bedroom is located.
Back to the lovely dessert. A special thank you goes to our host for her choice and her efforts. It was an interesting and fun challenge. I hope you will take the time to go around and look at the creative output of my talented fellow Daring Bakers.