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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 month’s challenge recipe was for a Piece Montée, which literally means “mounted piece.” You may also recognize this dessert by its other name – Croquembouche (“crunch in the mouth”). A classic Piece Montée consists of a high pyramid created by stacking cream filled puff pastries. The pastries are then bound with caramel and decorated with spun sugar, flowers, or ribbons.

For this challenge the recipe had 3 main components: pate a choux (puff pastry), crème patissiere (to fill pastries), and a glaze to mount/decorate the Piece Montée. The flavor of the crème patissiere was up to us, and we could use either a chocolate glaze or caramel glaze (or a combination of both) to mount and decorate the piece. The main guidelines we had to stick to were that we had to use the pate a choux recipe provided and the final piece had to be a “mounted piece,” although the overall structure of the piece was up to us as long as it had some height.

I decided that I would attempt a vegan version of the Piece Montée. When doing some initial research on the internet about creating a vegan pate a choux batter it appeared that I may have been a bit in over my head. There was a Daring Bakers eclair challenge in 2008 that used a pate a choux batter, and most bakers reported a myriad of problems with getting their eclairs to rise. I then turned to cookbooks to see if I could find any that contained a recipe for a vegan pate a choux.

I found a book that had a vegan pate a choux recipe in it, but unfortunately my attempt with this recipe was a total failure. Once in the oven the choux didn’t rise at all, and the outsides were rock hard while the insides were still moist and doughy.

I went back to the internet and looked over those eclair challenges again. I read all of the blog entries I could find and tried to prepare for my second attempt. For this attempt I decided I would invest in some Ener-G Egg Replacer and go that route. Again, I piped my puffs and they came out of the oven looking just like they had when they went in – no rise whatsoever. Back to the drawing board…

As I prepared for my third attempt I started thinking that maybe it really is hard to replace 4 eggs in a recipe and maybe I would have better luck if I halved the recipe. I also decided that I needed more help with the rise, so instead of using regular water to mix with the egg replacer, I decided to try carbonated water (club soda) on the next attempt. It also occurred to me that maybe the way I was piping the puffs was setting them up for failure from the very beginning. I had been following the instructions from the initial book recipe I found and piping a little swirled mound. For my third attempt I decided I would try piping in more of a Hershey Kiss formation. I also wanted to try some not piped at all, and instead planned to shape them with a spoon similar to a drop cookie.

I got really excited with the consistency of the batter in my third attempt and wound up piping out about 3/4 of the batter into Hershey Kiss shapes because I was so confident they would finally work. They didn’t. The choux still came out of the oven in the same exact shape they went in. Disheartened, I took the remaining 1/4 of the pate a choux batter and using a teaspoon, scooped out heaping teaspoons of batter that I then rolled into balls and placed onto the pan. After peeking into the oven after about 5 minutes it appeared that I was about to experience failure yet again, but I went back to cleaning up and when I looked back in after 10 minutes, to my surprise and delight I was getting some puffing action! I quickly had to work to assemble the pastry cream and chocolate sauce so that I could actually enjoy these little puffs when they came out of the oven. For the pastry cream I used the vanilla pastry cream recipe found in the Joy of Vegan Baking.

Of course, as luck would have it, when I finally hit upon the right combination to get the choux to puff I had only used a small amount of pate a choux batter, so I wasn’t really able to have any height to my Piece Montée, but to finally have a success made it all worth it – and even better, the choux were awesome. They actually tasted like real cream puffs! I had to fight off my husband to grab a few for myself!

You can check out my final recipe for the pate a choux and learn how to assemble the Piece Montée after the jump.

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