When I was in Paris I finally got the chance to try the famous Gateau St. Honoré– a toothsome confection consisting of a layer of puff pastry, topped with a piped choux pastry swirl, topped with a ring of caramel-dipped cream puffs, and filled with fluffy cream. It was rich, decadent, and begging to be reproduced at home. Of course, I can rarely leave well enough alone, so when I decided to try making one I thought it would be delicious to incorporate elements of another famous French dessert, the Paris Brest.
Paris Brest is made of a large ring of choux pastry (meant to resemble a bicycle wheel, as the dessert was created in honor of a bicycle race), which is split and filled with a praline mousseline cream. The praline is made of caramelized hazelnuts and almonds, pulverized until they turn into paste, which is then folded into the cream.
I actually vacillated between which of these desserts to make, as both sounded fantastic, but in the end the Gateau St. Honoré– being both more complicated (I always love a challenge) and involving puff pastry, which I always adore– won out. But instead of the regular chiboust (mixture of plain pastry cream and Italian meringue) to fill the center, I made two changes: First, I used diplomat cream (mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream) instead of chiboust cream, because I hate making Italian meringue– too fiddly with the sugar syrup. Second, I decided to add praline paste to the cream to deepen the caramel flavor of the dessert.
The result? Spectacular. The flakiness of the puff pastry base adds just enough textural interest to the slightly firmer choux pastry and the gobs of creamy, hazelnut-kissed filling. The hard caramel dip on the cream puffs is just enough to crunch between your teeth and provide a hint of bitterness, and the dessert as a whole is light yet rich. I will absolutely make this again the next time I need an impressive finish to a meal.
I admit that while I originally intended to make my own puff pastry from scratch using the last of the amazing French butter I brought back from Paris, I cheated. My excuse: the weather was not in my favor. In average 80-90 degree temperatures, even my air conditioning couldn’t bring my kitchen down to a decent level for making puff pastry. (Remember, my Cordon Bleu course had the kitchen temperature at just about 60 degrees for our laminated dough days) Not wanting to risk wasting my precious butter, I opted for storebought.
This recipe can take a while to assemble– I started making the components the day before to ensure plenty of time for chilling.
Praline paste: (do this first to get it out of the way)
Makes 1 cup (photos depict a double batch)
75g skinned hazelnuts
75g blanched almonds
150g granulated sugar
1. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicone mat, and arrange the nuts on it in a single layer. Toast at 350 degrees F for about 7-8 minutes, until you can smell the nuts when you open the oven door.
2. If your hazelnuts are not skinned (and I know it’s tougher to find skinned ones), put the warm nuts into a tea towel and rub them briskly until most of the skins come off. Put all of the nuts back on the silicone-lined pan.
3. Combine sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over high heat (without stirring), covered, until sugar is fully dissolved and syrup starts to bubble thickly. Check back every minute or so to monitor the color. Once it starts to turn pale yellow, you can remove the cover. Continue to cook until it turns amber.
4. Remove from heat and pour over all of the nuts.
5. Let cool completely, then break into small pieces and process in a food processor into a paste.
The nuts will whirl around for quite a while, getting warmer and warmer and will feel slightly damp. Keep processing, stopping every now and then to redistribute the nuts, and they’ll get there.
6. If the paste seems too dry, add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil to help it along.
7. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbs. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
1. Line a 13×9″ baking pan with plastic wrap. Have a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl ready near the stove.
2. Whisk the eggs and cornstarch in a small bowl until completely smooth.
3. Combine the milk and cream in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Remove ¼ cup of the cold milk/cream mixture and whisk into the egg mixture until smooth.
4. Add the sugar, vanilla bean if using, and salt to the saucepan with cream/milk. Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
5. Whisk 1/4 cup. of the hot milk/cream mixture into the egg mixture to temper it. Strain this mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. (this is to remove the chalazae and any bits of cooked egg)
6. Remove the vanilla bean and return the milk/cream to a boil over medium heat.
7. Quickly add the egg mixture to the milk/cream mixture and whisk rapidly. The sauce should thicken. Bring to a boil while whisking. Once in a while pause for a couple of seconds to see if you got a boil. Then cook, whisking vigorously, for 30 seconds.
8. Remove from the heat. Whisk in vanilla extract, then whisk in the butter 1 piece at a time until completely incorporated.
9. Immediately pour the pastry cream into the plastic-lined baking sheet and lay a piece of plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Allow the pastry cream to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, then refrigerate overnight.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 3/4 oz. flour (about 1 1/4 cup)
3 eggs, plus enough egg whites to make 1 cup
1. Bring water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a pot.
2. Remove from heat, and dump in all of the flour at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a dough.
3. Return to heat, and continue to work the dough with your spoon until you see a film of cooked dough on the sides and bottom of the pot. You’re trying to cook out some of the water to make more room for eggs.
4. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and let it cool for 2-3 minutes (you could also do this by hand).
5. Add the eggs, one egg (or one blob’s worth) at a time, mixing on the lowest speed until each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Once the mixture forms a smooth, shiny, loose dough, stop– even if you have some egg left over. It should not be runny– when you pull your beater out of the mix, it should make a long, thin, triangle-shaped point, rather than breaking off in a ragged edge.
6. Transfer the dough to a piping bag and pipe about 20 mini choux puffs (about 1 1/4″ diameter) onto a foil-lined baking sheet, using a fine-toothed star tip (not the one I use here, see Note 2). The little grooves in the dough will prevent the puffs from expanding in random directions, which would make the finished puffs asymmetrical.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then crack the oven door and keep it ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon. Continue to bake until dark golden brown and firm, another 10 minutes or so.
8. Remove the puffs from the oven and immediately poke a hole in each one, using the tip of a paring knife, to allow the steam to escape. Steam will make your puffs soggy, so don’t forget this step!
9. While the choux puffs are baking, get out your puff pastry and cut it into a 10″ circle. Place the circle on a parchment-lined sheet pan and prick it all over with a fork.
10. Pipe your remaining choux dough in a ring around the edge of the puff pastry circle, then use any remainder to pipe a smaller circle or spiral inside the original ring.
11. Bake at 400 degrees for about 45-50 minutes, until fully risen and deep golden brown. The puff won’t rise that much due to the weight of the choux, but don’t worry about it. Just make sure the bottom is firm and a nice deep color, not soggy and pale.
Stabilized whipped cream (technique from Rose Levy Berenbaum)
2 cups whipping cream
4 tbs powdered sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Mix powdered sugar, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of the cream in a small saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Transfer immediately to a small bowl and stir in the vanilla. Cool to room temperature over an ice bath. If you have time, chill completely.
- Beat the rest of the cream in a chilled bowl just until traces of beater marks begin to show distinctly.
- Slowly add the cool cornstarch mixture, beating constantly until stiff. Do not overbeat or you may curdle it!
1 recipe stabilized whipped cream
3 cups pastry cream
1/3 cup praline paste
- Stir about half a cup of pastry cream into the praline paste to loosen, then stir in the rest of the pastry cream.
- Stir in a cup of whipped cream to lighten. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream just until combined.
- Place 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Over medium-high heat, heat the sugar until it starts to melt, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula to distribute the heat. It’s okay if parts of your caramel start to melt or brown before all of the sugar melts– just keep stirring and tilting the pan (remove from heat temporarily if necessary) until it’s all melted.
- Once your caramel is a nice medium amber, immediately remove from heat and quench the bottom of the pan in an ice bath to stop the cooking.
- Dip each choux puff into caramel and place it on a silicone- or parchment-lined sheet pan to cool.
- Once the caramel has set (it won’t take long), fill each cream puff with the praline cream, using a piping bag, and set aside. If you think you’ll have enough, feel free to insert the tip of the piping bag into various points on the choux spirals on the puff pastry base, and squirt it into the base.
- When all of your cream puffs are filled, dip each one in caramel again (I like to do this so I get lots of caramel) and adhere to the edge of the choux ring on the puff pastry. If your caramel has cooled, gently heat it in the pot until it loosens enough to dip.
- Take your praline cream and pipe it into the center of your puff-choux base. Traditionally you’d use a “St. Honore tip,” which is kind of like an extra-thick petal tip, but I personally like the star tip better.
- If you have extra caramel, heat just enough so that it forms a string when you pull a fork away, and make spun sugar to decorate the top. I did it by drizzling the sugar strings over two skewers, but you could just use your fingers to pull it off the fork in long strands.
- Be careful with your praline when processing it– it’s best to break it up into small chunks (use a can of beans or something heavy, rather than your fingers– the sugar is sharp!) before putting it in the processor, or you could damage your blade. Also, monitor your processor so it doesn’t get too hot with all the work it’ll be doing. Don’t be afraid to add oil if your nuts aren’t getting “pasty” enough– if you overprocess without oil you could ruin the whole thing. It’ll get thick and chewy and the oil will start to separate out. Not good.
- In retrospect I don’t think the praline paste added all that much to the overall flavor of the dessert. I thought it would, but it didn’t. It’s not as caramel-y in flavor as I’d hoped, so it mostly tastes like toasted hazelnuts. Next time I might just crush up some regular caramel into a powder and stir it into the cream at the last minute for added flavor.
- I realize that my pastry cream recipe makes more than you need for a single cake. However, it’s not all that much more and it’s better to have too much than too little. Besides, this way you’ll have extra to eat with the puff pastry corner scraps. Or feel free to just use all of it for a thicker filling.
- Instead of doing the stabilized whipped cream this way, you could also just whip cream with powdered sugar, or with a stabilizer, or not stabilize it at all (if you’re going to eat the dessert right away). It’s not compulsory.
- The star tip I used for my choux wasn’t fine enough– the grooves it made were too deep and the ridges browned earlier than the rest of the dough. Next time I’ll use a finer-toothed tip, or just a plain round one.
- I dipped my cream puffs in caramel twice, expecting to put the flat “foot” of caramel from the first dip on the top side once I adhered the puff to the base. However, my puffs were too pointy on top to stick properly that way, so I just re-dipped the foot in caramel and stuck it to the base. I don’t think it’s as pretty this way, though. If you’re going to have the foot facing up, make sure you set the once-dipped puffs onto foil rather than parchment– foil makes for a shiny finish, parchment will be matte and dull. Not pretty.
- I served this shortly after assembly, but it will keep in the fridge for several hours without the caramel starting to soften (well, except for the spun sugar part, that’s for last-minute garnish), so feel free to make it ahead of time. I also hear that the baked puff-choux base will freeze nicely once baked, just bring it back to room temp when you’re ready to use.