Sunday, May 30, 2010

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

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.

I was pretty confident going into this challenge, because in the past year I've made both pâte à choux and pastry cream, and ganache is something I can do in my sleep. The caramel is what had me hesitant. The few times I've tried it, I've either burned it or it's just not worked out somehow.

Well, this challenge just kind of fell apart for me. It tasted great -- what's not to like about cream puffs and chocolate? But my pâte à choux was sort of flat, and in an effort not to burn the caramel, I didn't cook it enough, and it was more like chewy corn syrup. But of course the entire thing was consumed within a 24-hour period. That's what I love about dessert -- you can mess it up, but when was the last time you had one that was inedible?

I guess these are called "challenges" for a reason ;-).


  1. I was afraid of burning the caramel too... so i microwaved it for 45 sec. intervals till it was done.

  2. How did you know when it was done?

  3. The thing about burnt sugar caramel is that every single recipe warns you to be diligent and careful because it BURNS SO FAST. I think they totally over exaggerate the dangers of burning the sugar.

    I've never had a problem. There's a pretty big tolerance between when it starts to caramelize and turn golden amber to when it starts to turn darker and more smoky to when it actually burns.

    When I make caramel sauce I tend to pull my caramel super dark, almost burning it before I pour in the cream. But I'm less agressive when I'm making the hard caramel.

    Tips I would give you for the first time making caramel is to use a regular (not nonstick) pan, as the nonstick coating is dark and makes it hard to see the color of the sugar. However all my pans are nonstick at home so I actually just pull the pan off the stove, walk over to the window or under the light and just peer closely at the sugar to see what it looks like.

    Also feel free to crank the heat up in the beginning and then drop the heat down to low as the sugar starts to color. And swirl/shake the sugar around so that it evenly gets the heat.

    When the sugar starts to darken, feel free to pull the pan off the burner and swirl it around and see what it looks like off the heat. That way you won't over cook it. Caramel is actually really forgiving! I mean you can't bring it back once you burn it, but until then, you can stop cooking it, decide it's not dark enough, and put it back on the heater to cook it some more without a problem.

    Having a large metal bowl filled with water and ice is also good, so you can immediately stop the pan from cooking the caramel once you deem it the right color. Also for any accidental burns!!!

    Have fun with it!

  4. Thanks! I don't have any nonstick pans, so I'm good there. I'll definitely come back to this post next time I've got caramel on the agenda. Thanks for taking the time to explain it.