Archive for May, 2010

Well, it’s that time of the month again…and by that I mean the Bakers Challenge!
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. This is a very traditional French wedding cake and is really just lots of cream puffs “glued” together with a hard caramel sauce. You might think to yourself, “when am I going to need a traditional French wedding cake?”, but think again. Break is down and you have delicious cream puffs to serve as a dessert. If you can master the pate a choux (which is so incredibly easy), you will always be able to whip something up in a flash. You can fill them with ice cream, pastry cream, pudding, or whipped cream. You can make it as simple or complicated as you want. I loved the idea of making this colossal tower of cream puffs, but since this week it’s just me and my 4 yr old at home I opted to make a teeny tiny one. The balance of my cream puffs are in the freezer awaiting company.  I also made a version last week with chocolate pate a choux with a nutella cream center and chocolate sauce. Way too good!!!
Since we had to make a pastry cream for the filling, I chose to make a pistachio pastry cream then added some whipped cream mixed with pistachio brittle to lighten it up a little (funny how more cream can “lighten” something…) While I loved making this dessert in the future I will skip the caramel sauce my  – dentist will thank me.

Well, it’s that time of the month again… by that I mean the Baker’s Challenge.
The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of

For the Vanilla (or Pistachio) Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)
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 Tsp. Vanilla
1/2 C Pistachio paste (optional)

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 (and pistachio paste, if using).

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Place in the fridge to cool and until ready to use. You can make this up to 3 days in advance.
Pistachio Praline

1/2 C Sugar
2 Tbsp water
1/2 C shelled pistachios
1 C heavy cream, whipped

Line a sheet pan with either a piece of foil, lightly oiled, or a silpat.
Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let it boil until it turns a nice golden color (about 5 minute). Quickly stir in the pistachios and spread onto prepared pan. Let cool completely then break into pieces. Process in food processor until finely ground. Combine with 1 cup whipped cream and the reserved pistachio pastry cream.
Pate a Choux (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. When it comes to a boil, remove from heat and add 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 (this will happen very quickly).

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. Now, I happen to use my KitchenAide standing mixer for this, but it’s just as easy to do this by hand (I’m just lazy)

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 an airtight container 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.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced; I recommend semi-sweet)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.

Hard Caramel Glaze:
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!

Additional Information: Here are some videos you may want to take a look at before you get started on your piece montée.

1) Martha Stewart Assembles a Croquembouche:

2) Assembling croquembouche using the interior of a cylinder:
3) Asembling Free-standing Croquembouche with Chocolate Glaze:

4) Assembling a Croquembouche with Toothpicks and Cone:

See this google images search of Croquembouche for inspiration:

Here’s a link to a dairy-free pate a choux and crème patisserie recipe:

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In one of the book clubs I belong to we meet once a month for Sunday brunch at different local  restaurants. It is so nice to go to a “grownup” restaurant  with lovely women and good conversation. This month though, we are breaking from our norm and having a nightime gathering at one of the members house. Everyone is bringing  something, whether it be appetizers or cocktails. Our host is supplying the main course, which is pulled pork with carmelized onions and figs. I am going to bring individual almond cakes layered with a fresh raspberry filling and whipped cream. This recipe is a real keeper.I made this cake this past Christmas and for my birthday as well. OMG,it is so moist and delicious! The original cake recipe is from David Lebowitz, and I have only made a few changes. For my birthday last week I baked it in an 8 inch round pan and made 2 layers out of it, but you can bake this in a 9 inch round for a thicker single layer. Tonight I am baking this in a 9 x 13 pan so I will end up with about a 1 inch layer.When changing the size of your baking pan please remember to change your baking time accordingly. In a 9 in pan it takes about 1 hour, an 8 inch about 5 minutes longer and in the 9×13 it takes 30 minutes. This cake is nice because you can serve it plain or dressed up and have it be just as good either way. For tonight I am making individual cakes for everyone, but do what feels comfortable for you.

This reason this cake is so delicious is due to the fact that it is made with almond paste (which is NOT marzipan), a tasty delight made of ground blanched almonds and sugar. There are many recipes out there for making homemade almond paste but I am lucky enough to have a market here that makes it during the holidays and I buy a few pounds and freeze it.

grated almond paste

Yes, freeze it. I find it freezes really nicely as long as you have it very well wrapped. When I need to use some I grate it on  the large holes of a box grater and I find it mixes in with the other ingredients much easier as opposed to  when I try to break it into small chunks. Almond paste is not cheap, but certainly a pleasure not to be denied. Other than the paste, it is a very simple cake, which is why it is sooooo good.


1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted, for garnish

1 1/3 cups (265 g) granulated sugar

3/4 cup (4 oz) almond paste (not marzipan)

10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

7 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp pure almond extract

1 cup (250 g)all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees and position the rack to the center of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with a round of parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. With an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up (the sugar crystals helps break the paste into pieces-so don’t add the butter yet!)

3. Now add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl,  stir together the eggs with a fork and slowly add it to the batter as you beat. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until just incorporated.

5. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour(depending on your cake pan) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The baking time may take a bit longer due to the variation in different brands of almond paste.

Cool the cake on a rack before serving. This cake is extremely moist and will keep well for up to a week if well-wrapped.

Raspberry filling 

fresh out of the oven

2 C fresh or frozen raspberries

1/4 c granulated sugar

1 tsp corn starch , mixed with 1 Tbsp cold water to make a slurry

Heat the berries and sugar over medium heat for 10 minutes to break down the berries and dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium high and add the cornstarch slurry, stirring quickly, for 1 minute. Take off the heat and  cool completely. Strain through a sieve to take out the seeds (optional).

Stabilized Whipped Cream 

1 tsp unflavored gelatin, sprinkled over 2 Tbsp warm water. Wait 5 minutes then stir to dissolve all of the gelatin. If it is still not dissolved, pop it into a microwave for 15 seconds-no more.  Let cool for 15 minutes before starting the whipping cream.

2 C heavy cream (preferably not ultra pasteurized)

3 Tbsp sugar (if ou have caster sugar, use it)

Whip the heavy cream and sugar with the whisk attachment on your mixer (or by hand with a whisk) until it is to the soft peak stage. Add the dissolved gelatin and whisk for another minute.


Cut the cake with a 3 inch cutter. Slice each in half horizontally (or if you want bigger pieces leave as is). Brush the top of the bottom piece with the raspberry filling. Spread  about 2 Tbsp of whipped cream over that and top with another piece of cake. Repeat with the raspberry filling and whipped cream. Topped with toasted almonds.

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