Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 2010 Daring Bakers Challenge - Piece Montee

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.
Cat's advice was this - "The classic piece montée is a high pyramid/cone made of profiteroles (cream-filled puff pastries) sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons. Modern pastry chefs have taken to assembling this dessert in all manners of shapes and sizes, and you should feel free to express your creativity too!"
I was thrilled with this month's challenge as I have made many profiteroles over the years and really enjoy making and eating them. However I have only once attempted spun sugar. This was going to be fun but what occasion would I serve it at. As the month passed I decided that the occasion would be "my family". What I mean is that I would make it just for my family to enjoy and eat the whole lot because usually I make cream puffs to take to a special occasion dinner or party. Yes, it is a little indulgent!
The only specification in the May challenge was that we were to use the choux pastry recipe provided.

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.Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.
As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.
Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.
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).

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.
I always cool my puffs in the switched off oven with the door ajar and if not using immediately store them in the freezer.

I made my favourite vanilla creme patissiere. For this quantity of choux 3 times the recipe is required. 

Choux puffs filled and waiting for the caramel to be ready.

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.

Five choux puffs were dipped in the caramel and and arranged on the plate.  The next two layers were of four puffs and then three and so on until all the puffs were used. This quantity made 28 puffs but I only used 27 because one puff dissappeared after my son sneakily entered the kitchen. Oh, well! 

The croquembouche was decorated with spun sugar and fragrant fresh flowers.

This was a really enjoyable challenge and within most baker's capabilites. Many thanks to Cat for hosting the challenge. Be sure to check out Shaz, Pavithra, RenataLacerda and all the other Daring Bakers 
 for some more fantastic croquembouche!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's the School Fete

I've been busy! Really busy! It's school fete time again. It seems to come around so quickly. Now, if you have been reading Marcellina in Cucina for some time you will know that in October 2009 my son's school prepared and sold over 1500 cannoli as a fundraiser so you will understand that this school has a very active parent group. The fete is no different to the cannoli fundraiser.

Our fete is probably a little different from others as it begins at 4.00pm and continues until late becoming a community event rather than just a school function. There is always the barbeque steak sandwich, fish, chips and battered hot dog plus a delicious dessert stall where your choice of cheesecake, small cakes or tarts can be purchase along with a cappuccino, mochaccino or strong black. Naturally many cannoli are made and sold on the night. Of course, the usual raffles abound as well as the displays of singing and dancing by the
school children.

I take charge of the cake and sweet stall always providing the cake to be raffled which this year is the chocolate mud cake which heads this post. Then along with the obligatory variety of cakes I also produce a few old fashion sweets to keep the children happy.
I ask for donations of cakes and am always impressed by the number of chocolate, sponge, carrot, banana and fruit cakes that arrive lovingly homemade and beautifully packaged. This year I also had great toffee apples, muffins, marshmallow and chocolate fudge to offer. The night was a great success. 
The chocolate mud cake recipe can be found here. I simply cut it in half, drizzled each half with dark rum and sandwiched it together with the glaze the recipe provides. Chocolate shards around the outside, piled wrapped chocolates in the centre all finished with a gold ribbon.

These meringues were very popular.
4 egg whites
220g castor sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white vinegar
food colouring of you choice

Preheat the oven to 100C. Line baking trays with non stick baking paper
Beat egg white until soft peaks form and gradually add the sugar beating until it dissolves. Beat for another
 2 minutes. Add the cornflour and vinegar whisk to combine. Colour and decorate as you wish. Pipe mixture onto trays and bake in preheated oven for 2 1/2 hours until meringues are crisp. Turn oven off and leave in oven for 3 hours. 

Candied popcorn is fun!

(adapted from AWW Cooking Class cookbook)

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn
1 tabs oil
1 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
food colouring

Pop the popcorn in a saucepan with the oil.
Put sugar water and food colouring in a large saucepan, stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil uncovered until small amount of toffee "cracks" in cold water. Remove from heat. Add popcorn to toffee. Stir constantly until toffee crystallizes and coats popcorn. Turn onto large tray to cool. Repeat for each colour you wish to have, mix and store in airtight containers.

This delicious gourmet almond toffee is a hit with the adults as much as the children!
You can find the recipe here I just like to add 2 tablespoons of corn syrup which I believe helps stop crystallization and ensures a smooth creamy toffee.

If you find yourself in charge of your school cake stall remember to present your products well. I really like to use clear oven bags for the cakes. This way they are well sealed but the cake can be seen easily. A little bit of ribbon on the packaging or colourful decorations all help sell you products which is a good results for the school and ultimately a good result for the students.