I think I’ve declared my unconditional love for French pâtisserie time and again and well, it’s also all over my blog, but I don’t get tired saying it again – I love French pâtisserie! Every cake or pastry has a little story behind it, boulangeries are so culturally significant in France and the French have their respective bakers from whom they’ve been buying bread and pastries for years.
You will hardly find a French dessert that is one dimensional. The basic French pastries are as it is so technical and complex and more often than not, two or more pastries are married together to form another beautiful dessert and another variant of that dessert is born out of something as simple as adding a dash of liqueur or lemon zest to it.
You have Crème Chantilly, a seamless amalgam of vanilla and whipping cream. There’s crème anglaise which otherwise is known by most of us as English cream. Adding a dash of corn flour to crème anglaise will give you a rich, voluptuous cream called crème pâtisserie (pastry cream), adding whipped egg whites to crème pâtisserie will give you crème Chiboust and adding whipping cream to crème pâtisserie will give you crème Légère (light cream). And this is not even a fraction of the ocean that French pâtisserie is.
The texture of a dessert is as important as its flavour; the French’s grasp of what goes with what and how to balance sweetness is unbelievable. If you can’t indulge in a little bit of imaginary eating, you can’t get anywhere with cooking and baking, and that’s exactly what the French do, imagine the elements of a dish, perceive its taste and visualize its look.
Today is about one such celebratory French classics, which is built up one element on top of the other – Gâteau St. Honoré. A puff pastry disc holds the crisp crème Légère filled choux buns, the choux buns are dipped in caramel, the cake is then piped with crème Légère again and the icing on the cake, literally, is crème Chantilly.
There are four elements to this dish. Don’t worry though, if you plan and divide the work between 3 days, it’s really easy to create this beautiful dessert way ahead of your dinner party.
For puff pastry base
- 150 g puff pastry
For choux buns
- 1 recipe choux pastry
For crème Légère
- 250 ml whole milk
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 ½ tbsp caster sugar
- ½ vanilla bean
- 1 tbsp corn flour
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 2 ½ tbsp caster sugar
- 4 eggs, yolks only
- 1/3 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
For egg wash
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
- Pinch of salt
For crème Chantilly
- 1 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
- ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 recipe caramel
- You can buy readymade puff pastry but if you choose to make puff pastry from scratch, follow this recipe. Roll 150 g puff pastry into 1/8 inch thickness. Dock the pastry all over using a fork. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate overnight.
- Prepare the pastry cream by combining, flours, egg yolks, 2 ½ tbsp of sugar and ½ cup of milk in a bowl. Whisk together. Bring remaining milk, vanilla pod and remaining 2 ½ tbsp sugar to the boil in a saucepan. Once the milk comes to boil, pour half the milk into the eggs mixture while continuously whisking. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and cook the mixture stirring continuously until it thickens. Remove the vanilla pod. Spread the pastry cream over a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. Cover with plastic wrap again and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. Once cooled, fold in the whipped cream. Chill the crème Légère until use.
- Prepare the crème Chantilly. Refrigerate.
- Using a 9 inch ring/cake mould, cut out a circle from the puff pastry. Refrigerate again.
- Preheat the oven to 200 C. Prepare choux pastry as per the recipe. Fit a piping bag fitted with 1 inch plain tip. Fill it with choux pastry. Combine the egg wash ingredients in a bowl. Remove the puff pastry disc from the fridge. Brush the circumference of the disc with egg wash using a pastry brush. Holding the piping bag at 90 degrees and pipe a ring over the disc, on the egg wash line (see pic). Then, hold the pipe at the center of the disc, 1 inch above, and pipe a loose spiral (see pic).
- Line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Pipe 13 1 inch circles on the sheet. Place the choux buns in the oven and bake them for 30-35 minutes until risen and golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.
- Bake the puff pastry disc for 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
- Fit a piping bag with 1 inch plain tip and fill it with crème Légère. Make 1 inch incisions at the base of every choux bun. Fill the choux buns with crème Légère. You’ll have left over crème Légère, reserve.
- Prepare the caramel. Dip the surface of the choux buns into the caramel and place on a sheet lined with parchment paper. Dip the base of one choux bun in caramel and place it at the 12 o clock mark. Repeat for 3, 6 and 9 o clock marks (see pic). Dip the base of the remaining buns and glue 2 of them between each mark. You should now have 12 buns at the circumference of your disc.
- Pipe the remaining crème Légère on the disc and even it with an offset spatula (see pic). Fit a piping bag with ½ inch star tip and fill it with crème Chantilly. Pipe it over the crème Légère. Place the last choux bun in the center of the cake (see pic). Refrigerate until serving.
Recipe source: The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer