28 May 2007

Homework


Gâteau Saint-Honoré

Homework is one of those things that you are supposed to be freed from upon leaving school. One of the perks of ‘adult’ life, like going out on a weeknight, or the realization that calculus really was useless. Liberated from homework, people get to move forward in their lives and do fun things like fix the broken washing machine, fertilize the lawn, pay the bills, and have those little things called kids and tend to raising them. But we never really get away from homework, even if it no longer involves trigonometry. I sometimes bring work home with me, especially if I’m working on a piece of writing, I like to be able to mull over word choice and sentence structure at my own leisure. However, this week I was cursing myself for some self-assigned homework.

You may have read about a certain crepe cake I made way back when, part of a baking group I joined (the Daring Bakers), in which we have a ‘monthly challenge.’ So, along came this month’s challenge, and I’ll admit it, I balked. As the deadline approached, I grumbled sourly about “that thing I have to bake, as if I don’t have other things to do.” The assignment, a Gâteau Saint-Honoré, was indeed a challenge, with multiple components and steps. I could be heard muttering things about ‘stupid French pastries’ under my breath like a kid with a book report to do. In France, fancy pastries and cakes are almost always purchased from professional bakers, while home cooks rely on a repertory of simple baked goods and custards for everyday. I am very-much a home cook, but I hope I am also daring, so I gave it a go.




A Gâteau Saint-Honoré is a classic pastry comprised of a puff pastry base with rings of cream puff dough, then topped with a lightened pastry cream (rapid Chiboust), and decorated with cream puffs, whipped cream, and caramelized sugar. May 16 was Saint Honore (pronounced o-no-ray) Day the patron saint of bakers after whom the cake is named.

I finally buckled down and made the thing, and you know what, I’m so glad I did. Like the best homework assignment, it actually taught me some things. I’d never made cream puffs (choux paste dough) before, it’s an interesting technique, and one I look forward to experimenting with some more. I stirred the dough by hand, and nearly lost an arm to it, so if you have a stand mixer, I recommend using it. The puff pastry and Chiboust ( a pastry cream stabilized with gelatin and lightened with both whipped cream and beaten egg whites), are classic techniques worth knowing. If you wanted to simplify this, you could use a purchased puff pastry (I recommend Dufour brand), and a simple pastry cream lightened with whipped cream.

Most importantly, the cake was delicious. I had been contemplating giving half of it away to a friend, but after the two of us went back for seconds, I was told: “you better not give any of this away, it’s like a real French pastry.” I agreed, nibbling a delectable cream puff with a crunch of caramelized sugar, and feeling rather proud of my bit of edible homework. A+

Since it is quite lengthy, I recommend you head over here for the full Gâteau Saint-Honoré recipe. Also, much of my own success is due to Helen, who wrote out the recipe and offered great support and advice along the way. Many thanks!

__

23 comments:

Helen said...

I kept checking in and checking in...I was so anxious to see yours because I knew it would be a beauty...and it is gorgeous!
I am sorry it started on the wrong foot but I am happy to hear you ended up liking the final product! Yours makes me wish I still had some in the fridge!

Marce said...

It looks gorgeous, Mercedes... if only regular "homework" produced such results! I love the cake stand and your simple, yet elegant decorations.

Freya and Paul said...

I think your gateau looks lovely! Glad you worked through it and had a great result!

Meeta said...

Fantastic, Mercedes! What a lovely looking piece of homework. A+ for you on this one!

Anne said...

it's simply beautiful :)

Baking Soda said...

Love the way your cream looks! (mine was like that before I was so stupid to pipe the rest of the cream in between....messing up the whole thing!)

breadchick said...

Mercedes your gateau looks so perfect it makes me want to be in your in "math" class so you will bring one in to share! Great job.

Veron said...

Mercedes, your gateau looks simply delectable! I wouldn't mind this homework...

Lis said...

Beautiful gateau, Mercedes! Your cream looks amazing =) I'm so glad you decided to give it a try and even more happy that you loved it afterward! yay!

Way to go!
xoxo

valentina said...

Mercedes, absolutely stunning. How did you manage to get so much of that lovely cream in the middle? Mine got all squeezed.

Brilynn said...

I love your cake plate and your pictures are just beautiful, congrats on a job well done!

Cheryl said...

Beautiful gateau, beautiful presentation. It was worth the wait.

gilly said...

Lovely, Mercedes! So glad that you were able to overcome your initial thoughts and produce a beautiful gateau! Great job!

Mercedes said...

Helen- I know, I was a bit late! Don't feel bad, any initial trepidation on my part was due to my bad attitude, and I'm so glad you challenged us to do this! We have a few leftovers, but I wish there were more!

Thank you everyone for the kind complments.

Valentina- I'm not sure how I got that layer of cream in the middle, it just worked out that way. I would recommend making the outer-most circle a bit thicker and taller than the inner ones to make a sort of border.

Mary said...

Puff pastry + pate a choux + diplomat's cream = yummy to the millionth degree.

Laura said...

Utterly delectable.

Quellia said...

Beautiful! Glad you joined us in the end and enjoyed the recipe!

Claudia said...

Mercedes, it's just beautiful! I put bittersweet chocolate on my "second" gateau as my aunt requested one with chocolate on it. It was delicious that way. Yum for you!!!

Culinarily Curious said...

Mercedes, I'm *also* glad you did your homework... it turned out gorgeous. And the skills you picked up may prove more useful than calculus in the long run. :)

Patricia Scarpin said...

Mercedes, it looks scrumptious!

Mercedes said...

Mary- I totally agree, I have leftovers of all three. I piped some of the extra cream puff dough into eclairs, then filled them with the cream! And I have leftover puff pastry in te fridge, which I'm sure will be featuring here soon.

Claudia- I totally wanted to cover mine in chocolate after I saw a photo like that on Flickr. In the end, I was glad I didn't b/c it was so good and rich as is, but I can bet it was divine!

curious- trust me, I know these skills are more useful!

I love the comments about math, thanks again for the compliments!

Peabody said...

Excellent job. See, homework is not so bad :)

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

It looks beautiful! I am so happy your pushed beyond your initial resistance as this turned out to be a delicious masterpiece! I have just joined the daring bakers and I am excited to challenge myself in similar ways!