Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spring flower "croquembouche" bouquet (gluten-free)

One year ago today we were eating home cooked ratatouille on our patio overlooking the French Riviera. All around us, gorgeous green hills and just below a city filled with yummy treats. While the Riviera isn't really known for it's food in comparison to the rest of France, there are culinary gems. There is a fantastic little gelato shop that changed chocolate sorbet for me, the gluten-free street treat called socca (a chickpea flour pancake) and an amazing chocolatier that has won international chocolate competitions. The area is also known for the use of flowers. So when Daring Bakers went French this month, I knew I had to celebrate the season and become a little nostalgic with flowers - violet, lavender and rose.

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.

For this challenge, I made gluten-free choux puffs. Choux puffs get most of their structure from eggs, so it actually works very well gluten-free. I used Jules Gluten-Free flour blend, measured by weight with a teaspoon of added guar gum in the interest of time, but I have been successful with starch based mixes. It ended up taking an additional egg white and expanded nicely to a crisp light puff.

To fill my puffs, I chose banana rose, a favorite combination of mine (I often put rose and banana together in breakfast). My second flavor for my spring flower bouquet was honey and lavender and finally chocolate violet.

I had intended to ship the croquembouche off with Jason, but I let the kids try it for dessert - they polished it off in no time and declared the honey lavender the best filling. Isaiah also loved watching the spun sugar - it is a fun project.

Pastry Cream

For the Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter

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 beat in the butter.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.


For the honey lavender, steep 3/4 cup scalded milk with about 1 teaspoon lavender for about one hour, then strain. Continue with the recipe, replacing the sugar with a good quality wildflower or lavender honey to taste.

For the banana rose, place half a very ripe banana in 3/4 cup milk and puree. Then continue with the recipe as directed.

For the violet chocolate, replace the sugar with violet confit, continue with the recipe as noted, but add 2 ounces of chocolate with the butter.

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 of a stand mixer and beat for 1 minute to cool, then add the eggs one at a time until the batter holds a peak which tips over when you point it up.

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.
Lightly brush tops with egg wash or spray with egg wash.

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.

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.


  1. Very nicely done! Love your gluten free version!

  2. Lovely! Congrats! And gluten free too! I love baking gluten free! I didn't bother with it this time round for the challenge though. I had enough going on...

    I've never used Jules GF flour, as I usually mix my own. Is it as good as I've read about?

    And how did you do the flowers? Are they fondant?

  3. Mr. Jackhonky,

    I usually mix my own too, but I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The flour is convenient and reliable for applications like these. I will post more on my side by side comparisons in coming weeks, but we liked it for some things and less so for others.

    The flowers are marshmallow fondant, quckly thrown together on a busy day...

  4. what a beautiful creation :)
    mouthwatering, love the flowers...

  5. Nice! I love how you tied in your flower decorations (very nice, BTW) with the creative fillings. Very well done.

  6. Interesting flavor choices! Cute decorations too.

  7. Lovely ! And gluten-free too, nice one :-)