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.

Vegan Pate a Choux
adapted from provided challenge recipe and various blogs related to creating a vegan pate a choux
(this recipe would be comparable to a half batch of the original pate a choux challenge recipe)

  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 T Earth Balance
  • 1 T Ener-G Egg Replacer + 1/4 c club soda (whipped stiff) [I used a no sodium brand club soda]
  • 1/2 c unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Preparing batter:
Preheat oven to 425◦F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Prepare your egg replacer and set aside. Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine almond milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. At boil, add the flour mixture all at once, and reduce the heat to low. Stir constantly until the dough forms a smooth ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. (This should take about two minutes or so.)

Remove the dough from the heat and transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl. Working quickly, add half of the egg replacer and beat well until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the bowl. Add remaining egg replacer and again beat until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

Shape the puffs by using a teaspoon and scooping out heaping teaspoons of dough. Roll the heaping teaspoons of dough into balls. Flatten the bottoms of each ball a little so they are slightly more dome shaped and place on your prepared baking sheet.

Bake choux at 425◦F for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350◦F (without opening the oven door!) and continue baking for about 20 minutes more. Remove choux from the oven and cut a tiny slit into the bottom of each choux to let steam escape. Return choux to the oven, turn off the oven, and prop oven door ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon. Allow choux to dry in oven for about 20 minutes. Transfer choux to a wire rack to cool.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, fill the choux with pastry cream using a plain pastry tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet.

Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate

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).

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. Have fun and enjoy! Bon appétit!

To see the original recipes and all of the other great creations please visit the Daring Kitchen website.