Archive for May, 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. Piece Montée literally means “mounted piece”, while croquembouche means “crunch in the mouth”. Regular watchers of the first season of MasterChef Australia would be very familiar with the croquembouche and the various perils that accompany it!

This recipe has 3 main components: the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. Cat advised that, while you can purchase or make a cardboard conical structure to build your piece montée or use toothpicks as an aid, it is relatively easy to assemble it using just the baked pate a choux as the main building blocks and the glaze as the glue.

We were given the opportunity to flavour the creme patissiere as we desired. However, having decided to make the hard caramel glaze, I wanted to keep the filling quite simple so elected to use the standard vanilla flavour with a small dash of orange blossom essence. I couldn’t really taste this in the final product though.


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.

Here is a picture of my creme patissiere on the day I constructed the piece montee, ie the day after I made the creme patissiere. As you will note, it is pretty solid.

I obviously didn’t use the chocolate or coffee pastry cream recipes but have included them here for anyone else who is interested.

For Chocolate Pastry Cream (Half Batch Recipe):
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 recipe)
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.

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.
ransfer 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.

Mixing the eggs in was somewhat daunting because the mixture immediately turned into loose slops before rapidly “seizing” and reverting to something more appealing. However, I still think my mixture was too wet as it didn’t pipe into solid shapes. Instead, I got little puddles. At this point I got despondent and decided I was going to have to make another batch, so I didn’t bother taking a photo of the piped shapes. Here is a photo of the mixture to show the source of my concern:

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. Mine never really had a ball shape…

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 colour, 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.

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.

I found the above instructions a bit confusing in that I thought you were meant to leave the pan in the ice water. I think it should actually have been plunged then removed, as leaving it there caused the caramel to form hard toffee, so that I had to reheat it. This extra cooking resulted in a darker, stronger flavoured caramel (and some additional panic on my part which I probably could have done without).

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.

I was planning to serve the piece montée as part of a low-key dinner party, which was somewhat ambitious. As the schedule panned out, our guests arrived just as the roast chicken was fully cooked, Miss B started banging her fork and demanding dinner and I was halfway through trying to pipe the pastry cream into the profiteroles (not well, to be honestly). Luckily, our guests are absolute champions and immediately jumped to my aid. Lucy took over the piping duties and acted as creative consultant for the actual construction. She was also the OH&S consultant: pointing out that I was at high risk of caramel burns by recklessly plunging the profiteroles into the hot toffee. After one too many burns, I agreed she had a point and starting used tongs.

Cat advised that, 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.
I had plans to place them artistically and then drizzle the final creation with delicate fragments of spun sugar. As it turned out, I ended up piling them up like a little waterfall then pouring the caramel over them. I found myself thinking of it as a “Flintstones croquembouche”, although it is obviously very unlikely that the Flintstones ever ate such a dessert. The heavy caramel was pretty good though, and meant a very satisfying crack in the mouth!

Here is a video from Martha Stewart in which Martha makes a perfect dessert without breaking a sweat – Martha Stewart Assembles a Croquembouche:

One thing I liked from Martha’s video was that she filled the profiteroles using a squeezy sauce bottle. I am definitely stealing this for next time – and there will be a rematch!

Thanks for a great challenge Cat. I am already looking forward to the next Daring Bakers Challenge.


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Quinces baked in honey

I bought some quinces from Marrickille Markets the other day and poached them in red wine with a cinnamon stick and cardamon pods. The fact that they ended up being quite delicious says more about the quinces than any effort on my part, as I didn’t really know what I was doing. Coasting on that success and feeling the chill of Sydney’s recent cold, grey wet days, I decided to try Stephanie Alexander’s recipe for Quinces Baked in Honey from her fabulous book The Cook’s Companion – a book that is dog eared, butter stained and much loved by me.

3 quinces, washed well
80g butter
4 tablespoons light honey
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 150 degrees celcius.

Halve but do not peel quinces, then remove pips and core from each with a spoon to make a neat hollow. Select a gratin dish that will hold the quince halves snugly and grease with a third of the butter. Arrange quinces halves hollows uppermost. Divide remaining butter and honey between the hollows and pour the water gently around the sides.

Cover with foil and bake for at least 3 hours until the quinces are soft and a rich red (turn quinces over after 1.5 hours).

Here are the quinces after an hour and a half:

And here is the finished product:

Serve hot or warm with hollows filled with honey juices and offer thick or clotted cream. I served mine with greek yoghurt purely because that is what I had.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of butter, or fat in general, so I struggled with the amount of butter used. Next time I would use far less (and my husband would be outraged as he has a love of butter only a man with almost no body fat can sustain). I also baked the quinces for quite a lot longer than 3 hours because I got distracted. Having made those qualifications, the texture was lovely and the dish itself was a warm and fuzzy winter type dessert. 3.5 stars.

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My fabulous friend Reemski recently underwent surgery on her knee, leaving her hobbling around her apartment unable to source sustenance. Actually she had no difficulty with the sustenance part – if anything she was flooded with gifts of food from loyal and talented friends. If I had seen the brownies she was given, for example, I may have been too daunted to bring my own efforts.

In any event, I have been trying to challenge myself to try new ingredients and techniques, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try baking with buckwheat flour and cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are roasted cocoa kernels and have a dry texture and a nutty, somewhat sharp taste. I used Callebaut cocoa nibs from the Essential Ingredient. Buckwheat is also interesting as, although the name leads you to assume that it is a grain, it is in fact a herb.

I decided to make Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies recipe from Alice Medrich’s book Pure Dessert; a book that inspires and intimidates me in equal parts. And yes, I know that as an Australian I should use the word “biscuit” instead of cookie. However, while I will never use the expression “Anzac cookie”, I am using Alice Medrich’s language in the title. I can’t bring myself to use it in the description though.

Alice explains that the bits of roasted cocoa beans are a perfect complement to the nutty flavour of the buckwheat. She goes on to say that, since buckwheat flour is low in gluten, it works like cornstarch to give the biscuits a fine sandy texture that is crunchy yet very tender.

5.6 ounces (158g) plain flour
3 ounces (85g) buckwheat flour
0.5 pound (226g) unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Whisk the flours together in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, with the back of a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer (I used a mixer), beat the butter with the sugar and salt for about 1 minute, until smooth and creamy but not fluffy. Mix in the nibs and vanilla.

Add the flours and mix until just incorporated. Scrape the dough into a mass and, if necessary, knead it with your hands a few times, until just smooth.

Form the dough into a 12 by 2-inch log (my brain struggled with the conversion to metric here), wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or, preferably, overnight. I should have taken more time to shape the log because (as you will see from the photos below) my log was very irregular in shape – not the perfect circles you see from the professionals!

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit (about 175 degrees celcius). Line the baking sheets with baking paper.

Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4-inch thick slices (yep, struggled with this conversion as well). Place the biscuits at least 1.5 inches apart on the baking sheets.

Bake until the biscuits are just beginning to colour at the edges – about 12 to 14 minutes – rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through cooking. Cool the biscuits in the pans on the rack until completely cool.

And the verdict? I liked them – they were not too sweet and had an interesting texture – fine, sandy yet crunchy and tender – just like Alice promised! I’m not sure they really did much for Reemski’s recovery but they were made with love!

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My husband came home from work recently and told me that his boss had advised him that I owed him baking. This was apparently because he had agreed to go to an international conference instead of my husband. Given that our 2 year old, Miss B, is currently demanding at least 4 bedtime stories at the same time as little Squirt requires feeding, there was some merit to his argument.  I also owed the lovely Michelle (aka Twitter’s Grooviegal) cake for her kind donation of a huge bag of clothes for the Squirt. But really I just wanted to try another recipe from a cookbook that is proving to be a favourite – Belinda Jeffery’s Mix & Bake (and thanks again to Y for the recommendation!).

Belinda says in her introduction to the recipe that, although the potato might sound like an odd inclusion, it makes the cake ‘wonderfully moist”.  She also promised that it was easy to make, with all ingredients whizzed in the food processor. What’s not to like?!


145g plain flour, plus 2 teaspoons extra

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

190g castor sugar

2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa

1 small (60g) potato

1 cup sour cream

60g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

165g good-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Belinda says to butter and flour a 20cm shallow round cake tin but I decided to make individual cakes using a friand tin.

Put the flour, bicarb soda, salt, sugar and cocoa into a food processor and process for 30 seconds.

Grate the potato and add it to the flour mixture in the processor, along with the sour cream, butter, egg and vanilla extract. Process everything for 2.5 minutes, stopping and scraping down the sides occasionally with a rubber spatula.

In a bowl, toss the chopped chocolate (and by the way, I had great fun chopping up the chocolate with a big chopper) with the extra 2 teaspoons of flour so that it is coated in flour, then stir into the batter in the food processor.

Spoon the batter into the prepared tin (or tins in my case) and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a fine skewer in the middle comes out clean. Mine took about 20 minutes. Cool the cake tin on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn it out onto the rack to cool completely.

I must admit that I only had a small bite of one cake, partly because they were promised to other people and partly because I prefer to bake than eat. But I was pretty happy with what I tasted. Moist and rich, yet light – all good! Belinda served hers with ganache and gold leaf but I ran out of domestic goddess steam.

Here are a couple of pretty ordinary photos of some tasty, tasty cakes:

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