To make a croquembouche (French for “crisp in the mouth”) at the height of a cold and tail end of a day is not recommended. With a sleeping toddler and Miles Davis playing in the background, the setting may be a little too relaxed.

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 French dessert is easy enough to make: tiny custard-filled cream puffs (pate a choux filled with creme patissiere) coated with a chocolate or caramel glaze and stacked in a tall pyramid shape. As it turns out, cold medicine complicates things. 
For starters, when you feel like you’re floating along on a liquid cloud drift, you accidentally add too much water to the whole wheat pate a choux and end up with pancake flats instead of cloud-like puffs. At least the second batch turns out to be perfect, which isn’t bad since whole wheat pastry is substituted in the mix.

cream puffs (baked pate a choux)

Or you measure the milk, forget to set some aside, and add the cornstarch to the full cup of milk instead of the requisite one-quarter cup. With a medicated shrug say, you say Oh well, and continue with the recipe. Bring the cornstarch, milk, and sugar to a boil, instead of setting aside the cornstarch and milk to add later.

creme patissiere

Doubling the creme patissiere recipe would solve the problem, but that’s not how it goes. You beat the eggs into the milk mixture as the recipe says to do and to counteract your mistake you whisk the mixture fast, until your forearm veins bulge in an attempt to keep the eggs from scrambling. This would mean an immediate do over, which you are trying desperately to avoid.

The cream isn’t as silky as desired, but once you refrigerate it then tuck it inside a cream puff coated in chocolate—Who really cares anyway?


(Oh, and before I forget, I’m giving away samples of King Arthur Flour, in case you get inspired to make another croquembouche).

recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri

For the Vanilla 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

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 into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

For Chocolate Pastry Cream 
Half Batch

Bring ¼ cup (about 50 cl.) milk to a boil in a small pan; remove from heat and add in 3 ounces (about 80 g.) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, and mix until smooth. Whisk into pastry cream when you add the butter and vanilla.

For Coffee Pastry Cream
Half Batch

Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water. Whisk into pastry cream with butter and vanilla.

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.

To prepare 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. 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.

To pipe:
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).

To Bake:
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 a airtight box overnight.

To fill:
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. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place – see video #4 below).

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.


  1. Mary says

    I'm glad it all worked out for you in the end! You're right about the pastry cream–who would ever notice? It looks fantastic.

  2. A Thought For Food says

    Just the sight of these makes me feel all warm and cozy. These look absolutely scrumptious!

  3. Julie @ Willow Bird Baking says

    Hope you feel better! Despite your cold, your croquembouche looks like a great success :)

  4. culinography says

    I had a similar thought I was whisking, whisking, whisking my pastry cream (for the second time).

    Beautifully done!

  5. Jenn says

    lol, you just described most of my baking adventures when I don't have a cold! No matter how many times I read directions I am always forgetting to do something or misreading and adding in too much…. your croquembouche looks fantastic!

  6. Fresh Local and Best says

    I love that you drizzled the cream puffs are coated in chocolate. This must be heavenly!

  7. Lisa Michelle says

    LOVE the idea of whole wheat profiteroles and your croquembouche is gorgeous!! I love your problem solving antidotes..especially the 'who cares?'? LOL That about sums it up when faced with the 'horrid task' of having to eat a cream puff :)

  8. Heather says

    Your croquembouche looks very delicious. And what a beautiful blog you have! It's great to see all the different bakers' blogs and their creations. I used chocolate too and really enjoyed the challenge.

  9. dreaminitvegan says

    These look perfect! It's been years since I've made cream puffs!
    I'll need to work on a vegan version.

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