The Daring Bakers return for another intrepid adventure in sugar! Not content to just lick our wounds from last months sanity defying recipe, we embarked on our new mission (as we chose to accept it) to master the arts of pastry making, two kinds of pastry actually... and caramel.. again.
Hurled, guided onto the path to patisserie heaven by Helene at Tartlette and Anita at Dessert First, when I saw this challenge for the classic French Gateau Saint Honore, my first thought was to turn tail and run. My next, more cunning, plan was to take a spontaneous trip to Paris, take in a museum or two and pop into a patisserie for "a little something for the trip home". Instead, after procrastinating until the last minute, the thoughts of what I would eventually be sinking my teeth into proved incentive enough.
I'm going to try and keep this post fairly short, for my own sake as well as yours, as there are almost fifty of us posting this gateau today (find the links on the main page) all of which must be admired and a congratulatory comment left, (yes that is a brazen hint!) in order to boost our fragile egos. The gateau is named after St. Honore the patron Saint of pastry chefs and bakers (appropriate no?!) whose feast day is celebrated on May 16th. So, from the top. Okay the bottom really... starting with a base of HOMEMADE puff pastry, I went for a heart shape to keep my little one happy, on top of this are rings of choux pastry to keep the pastry cream under control . Top with pastry cream filled choux puffs gilded with caramel, a little whipped cream and by now the berries are beginning to feel outnumbered. Sounds delicious? There are no words. Sounds daunting? Absolutely.
We were given the option of using shop bought puff pastry and as this was the scariest part for me I did think about it, but I had made croissants once before and the techniques are similar so I rolled up my sleeves and took the plunge. Little secret? Puff pastry isn't difficult, patience and time are as important as the butter and flour in this recipe so you'll need to be in or near your kitchen for six hours or so. The actual working time is only about half an hour then the dough needs to be rested for an hour between each rolling and folding. It is a joy to work with and there is a certain satisfaction to pounding the butter then feeling the dough becoming smooth and elastic as you regularly roll and fold. Put on some music, do a little dance, make a few beds and get down to some laundry. Before you know it you'll have a slab of beautiful pastry and an immaculate house, apart from the kitchen. Leave it to rest in the fridge overnight before the next stage.
Choux pastry next folks. I had made profiteroles before but not always successfully and often soggy so I was still nervous about this stage. Much quicker to make, it involves heating water and butter in a saucepan, beating in the flour until the whole mess forms a thick smooth dough then beating in the eggs one at a time. While I had a moment or two of lumpy dough this was resolved by squishing the lumps against the sides of the saucepan. To ease the burden on your arms transfer the dough to a stand mixer before beating in the eggs. The main thing to remember here is not to add the eggs all at once, you're looking for the consistency of thick mayonnaise so that the choux rings and puffs will hold they're shape before going in the oven. Keep the oven closed until they have risen, then keep an eye on them until golden and dry, removing them from the oven as they are ready. I found that once they lifted easily off the parchment paper they were done. The rings are baked directly on the puff pastry and take longer, what you're looking for here is a deep gold and puffy base to your cake.
If your nerves aren't completely frazzled by now get started on the pastry cream filling. Essentially this is custard enriched with cream and lightened to cloud-like airiness with meringue. The only part that might cause problems is the custard and again patience is needed so you don't end up with scrambled eggs. I found the directions in the recipe helpful so just keep the heat under the saucepan low and stir... and stir. The rest is simply stirring in cream and folding in stiffly beaten egg-whites and you can choose your own flavouring. My heart belongs to vanilla so this is what I used.
Okay, you don't HAVE to make the caramel, and my poor hand suffered the consequences of this second outing in spinning sugar but it was my own carelessness really. The choux puffs are supposed to be dipped in the molten caramel after being filled with the pastry cream (you will need a pastry bag for this) then left to set before crowning the gateau. Despite my war wounds it was these little beauties that had my tasters weak at the knees. Assembly is easy just spread out your pastry cream in the centre of the cake, place the puffs on top and decorate as you please. It doesn't have to be fruit but it's strawberry season so how could I not! Despite the sugar strands on the ceiling, I am happy with how it turned out, though if I had a master French patissier at my shoulder throughout I'm sure I would have been rapped on the knuckles umpteen times with a spatula, but it would have been worth it.
When Helene was assuring us that she was not completely mad in expecting us to bake this, (note to self: cancel men in white coats) she told us to close our eyes and picture ourselves in Paris, so as I put on my best Pepe le Peu accent and every now and then peeped in the fridge at my creation, I was there. Perhaps your inner Francophile doesn't have a voice as loud as mine but I urge you to give this a try, if not the whole, then at least an element or two (and lo, on the eight day He did create caramel covered cream puffs, and we did eat them).
Paris can wait, for the time being at least.