I wanted to make this dessert for one of my best friends (hi Nancy!) who was visiting a few weekends ago and my goal was to minimize the amount of work I had while she was here. Since there were several steps to this recipe, I started early -- made the pastry cream 3 days in advance, baked the pâte à choux the day before, and filled and froze them overnight. The next day, I assembled the Croqembouche while the choux were still frozen. I think freezing them actually made the assembly easier. The choux were much easier to handle, and the glaze hardened quickly which helped them stick together. Nancy is a fan of fruity desserts and chocolate, so I filled the choux with a banana pastry cream and assembled the Croquembouche with a chocolate glaze.
I had never made a pâte à choux before but had been longing to try it for some time. Cat's recipe for the choux was absolutely perfect. These little babies puffed up so beautifully I almost couldn't believe I actually made them. I ate one right out of the oven - no filling, no frosting, completely unadorned, and it was simply amazing. Like the most delicious fluffy little pillow you could ever eat.
For the pastry cream, I started with Kat's recipe for vanilla pastry cream, reduced the sugar a bit, and added a mashed banana. The cream was good but not spectacular. It was a bit too sweet and not very flavorful. I scraped in some vanilla beans, which helped enhance the flavor a bit, but I still wasn't in love. I would have preferred a creamier, maybe even gooier, filling for the choux.
Assembling the Croquembouche was probably the step I was most intimidated by, but it actually turned out to be much simpler than I had imagined. As I mentioned, I think working with frozen choux made it much simpler, and my Croquembouche came together pretty easily.
All in all, I really enjoyed making, and even more so eating, this dessert. Cat's pâte à choux recipe has opened up a world of possibilities -- I've been dreaming about eclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles. This will be my go-to recipe the next time I want to make a pâte à choux, and there definitely will be a next time.
Piece Montée (Croquembouche)
For the Banana Crème Patissiere:
*1 cup (225 ml) whole milk
*2 tablespoons cornstarch
*6 tablespoons (100 g) sugar
*1 large egg
*2 large egg yolks
*1 small banana, mashed
*2 tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter
*1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
*1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
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 stir in the mashed banana, then beat in the butter and vanilla extract. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and stir in to combine. Finally, for a smooth consistency, strain the creme through a sieve.
*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 ( Instead of egg wash, I brushed the choux with a bit of milk)
Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
To prepare batter: 1. 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.
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) or milk.
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.
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.
*8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped semi or bitter sweet chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced)
Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use immediately.
Assembling the 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.