If you are feeling a bit French, why not trying this extremely delicious cake? From a technical point of view, this is slightly difficult as it combines two types of pastry (puff and choux) and requires good piping skills, not to mention being able to make custard. Traditionally, a Saint-Honoré cake comprises a round base of crispy puff pastry topped with a wreath of choux buns and caramel and is decorated with piped chantilly or chiboust cream. The cake bears the name of the patron of patissiers, Honoré, although it wasn’t the latter to create this pastry masterpiece: rather, the cake was conceived by the genius mind of Monsieur Chiboust, a baker and patissier who had his shop on rue du Fauburg Saint-Honoré in Paris. The original gateaux Saint-Honoré was however very different from its contemporary version, comprising a croissant-like dough topped either by custard or whipped cream.
It wasn’t until the Julien brothers, great patissiers at the time, changed the base to a pate brisée and added the choux wreath on top. This not only was a breakthrough achievement at the time, but it also allowed the brothers to market a higher volume of Saint-Honoré cakes as the gateaux could be filled well in advance and it would still hold its structure. The ones made in the atelier run by Chiboust, on the other hand, had to be filled upon request and right before being sold or the pastry would have gone very soggy and damp. The cake underwent further changes, which established the use of puff pastry in the base and of caramel to both stick the choux buns on top and provide added flavour. Modern patissiers have given free rein to their imagination and the traditional round cake can now be found in all shapes and sizes. The cream on top is also piped in a characteristic shape, so much that you can buy a special nozzle (see here).
This recipe is a contemporary twist on the classic: the caramel is completely absent and the filling is a mixture of both whipped chantilly cream and sweet chestnut puree, and was featured in the December issue of the Yummy Magazine. Try and come across the sweetened variety which is sold in cans. I could only put my hands on a can of the unsweetened variety, which I then mixed with half a small can of evaporated milk and two tablespoon of icing sugar.
Ingredients (for the custard to be used in the choux buns)
- 330ml whole milk
- 3 medium egg yolks
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 40g plain flour
- 1 tsp cognac
- 80g cream cheese, at room temperature
Ingredients (for the chestnut icing)
- 15g condensed milk
- 35g double cream
- 65g chestnut puree
- 1 tsp dark rum
- 1 gelatine sheet
Ingredients (for the choux pastry)
- 125ml whole milk
- 125ml water
- 110g unsalted butter, diced
- 2 tsp golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 140g plain flour
- 4 medium eggs
Ingredients (for the chantilly cream)
- 250g double cream
- 1 tbsp cream cheese
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Ingredients (for the cake)
- 1 sheet of puff pastry (approximately 30x30cm)
- 200g sweetened chestnut puree
Start by preparing the custard to fill the choux buns. In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil, then remove from the heat. In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and the flour in a large bow. Don’t worry if the mixture clumps together, keep on whisking to combine the ingredients as evenly as possible. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel, then add the milk in a stream and keep on whisking the mixture. Transfer it back into the saucepan, then put on a low heat and whisk gently with a balloon whisk until thickened. Make sure to scrape every bit of flour from the bottom of the saucepan. Take off the heat and transfer to a bowl. Add the liqueur and cover the surface with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming, then leave to cool.
Next, move on to the chestnut icing. Soak the gelatine leaf in a bowl of cold water. Mix all of the other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Take the mixture off the heat, then remove the gelatine from the water, squeeze out excessive water and add to the pan. Combine together, then transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and chill.
Now you can start preparing the choux pastry. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, milk, butter, sugar and salt, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, then add the flour all at once and use a wooden spoon to combine. The mixture will be clumpy and gluey, but that is fine. Put back on the heat and use the wooden spoon to move the pastry around the pan. This is to dry out excessive moisture and ensure a crisper result later. After 2-3 minutes, the pastry should be ready. Transfer to a big bowl and leave to cool slightly.
In the meantime, roll out your puff pastry to a 30x30cm rectangle (if you’re not using a ready rolled sheet) or lay your puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Using a plate or a cake tin bottom for guidance, mark a 20cm circle in the middle of the pastry, use a sharp knife to cut around it and remove the trimmings, leaving you with a perfect circle. Chill until needed.
Back to the choux pastry. Start adding the eggs one at a time and use your wooden spoon to mix each eggs completely in before adding the following one. The original recipe called for 5 eggs, but I only used 4. The mixture will look like a complete disaster each time you add an egg, but don’t despair and keep on mixing it. Personally, I do this by hand as it allows me to control the thickness and the look of the pastry, but feel free to bang everything in a freestanding mixer or to use an electric whisk. Your pastry will be ready to pipe when if you run your finger in the middle, the two sides remain separate. Another way to check is to take a spoonful of pastry with the wooden spoon and to lift that above the bowl: the pastry should slowly start to flow down, creating a long drape stretching from the spoon.
Transfer the pastry to a piping bag equipped with a plain nozzle. Remove your sheet of puff pastry from the fridge and line two more baking trays with parchment. Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
Now, pipe a circle of choux on top of the puff pastry leaving a 1cm gap from the edge. Once that is done, pipe another circle inside the one you have just made, then a third one on the junction between the two (see picture below). Use the leftover pastry to pipe 2cm rounds on the baking trays. These will be the choux buns on top.
Bake the puff + choux pastry base for about 25 minutes, then lower the oven to 160C and bake for a further 20 minutes. This will ensure the pastry puffs up and then bakes all the way through. Reserve the same treatment to the individual choux buns, but reduce the baking time to 20 and 15 minutes respectively. I also took them out after the last bake, pricked their bases with a knife and returned them to the oven for another 10 minutes, but you don’t have to do that. I just wanted to ensure they were crisp all the way through.
Leave the base and the choux buns to cool completely before moving on to the next stage.
Either use a spoon or a piping bag to spread a layer of the sweetened chestnut puree on the base of the cake, inside the choux pastry circle. Transfer the custard to a bowl, then add the cream cheese and mix that in. Spoon it into a piping bag with a plain nozzle, then make a hole at the base of each choux bun and pipe the custard inside the buns. Leave them upside down for the time being if the custard is too runny.
Whip the double cream until it holds soft peaks, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. Transfer this chantilly to a piping bag with a star or Saint-Honoré nozzle and pipe on top of the chestnut puree layer. You can be as artistic as you like. Make sure to lightly cover the rim of the choux pastry circle with the cream as this will help the choux buns stick to it.
Now, glue each choux bun on the rim of the choux pastry circle, then top with the chestnut icing and keep chilled until ready to serve.