the tastiest failure ever - gateau st-honore

my life is at last regaining a semblance of normalcy. my boxes are mostly unpacked, the kitchen is clean and well-stocked, i suffered through the week subsisting on a diet of fast and pre-made foods to shore up my strength for this weekend.

why did i need my strength? because this weekend brought upon me the latest challenge from the daring bakers. helene of tartette proposed that we make a gateau st-honore, a traditional french pastry in honor of the patron saint of pastry, st-honore. this was appropriate for my may on just so many levels--to begin with, i recently returned from paris, where i spent many happy hours strolling down the rue st-honore and sampling the various patisserie offerings. (especially the macaroons). secondly, although this jewish girl rarely turns to a saint for help, my pastry offerings continually fall short...

i should say at the outset that this particular offering was no exception to the falling short rule.

the recipe came in three parts: firstly, a puff pastry. secondly, a pate a choux. and thirdly, a diplomat cream--that is to say, a sort of pastry cream but with gelatin. ostensibly this is to help stabilize the cream but i confess i’d rather use cornstarch any day of the week. my diplomat cream, as is typical for my pastry cream efforts, did not quite thicken appropriately. i live in fear of curdled pastry cream. there have been times when, despite all of my practicing (and i practice this a lot) that i had to make a creme anglaise ice cream base three times and STILL failed. but the diplomat cream, even in its unthickened state, had a fantastic lightness of texture and flavor that i’ve never seen in a pastry cream. (i’ve got a large bowl of leftover cream that i am even now plotting what to do with)

here comes confession number two: i used store-bought pastry. i’ve found store-bought pastry to be tasty and easy to work with and i didn’t want to ease back into the kitchen after a month-long absence by trying to wrestle with a laminated puff dough. just the thought of working with that butter block makes me tremble a little bit. of course, having said that, i’ve only just this morning discovered a nigella technique to make puff dough in the food processor, so i expect that one of these days i will try that in order to overcome my fears.

i’ve seen a lot of recipes for gateau st-honore, most delectably photographed in the seven sins of chocolate, but helene was firm in her conviction that we make this a pure offering: no chocolate. this is really where the wheels started falling off the wagon for me.

well, that and the unthickened diplomat cream. after failling to adequately thicken the diplomat cream i turned my attention to the pate a choux. i’ve made a choux before, sort of. i’m not sure that kosher for passover really counts for much. but i was confident in the technique, at least. i got a nice choux which puffed up pretty well only i’m fairly certain that i didn’t let them cook long enough. a sample puff was a bit squishy and bland.

i assembled the gateau as follows: i cut out a circle of the puff, and piped concentric circles of the choux right onto it. i dotted the rest of the parchment paper with choux puffs to use as cream puffs and profiteroles and really just to have extra puffs. these baked while the cream was meant to be thickening, and then i filled the cream puffs with the diplomat cream and set them atop the circle of puff and choux. at this point, i should have carmelized some sugar to use as a bit of glue, but everything was such a shambles by now that i didn’t have the heart to play with fire--or at least to risk setting one in my kitchen from the burned sugar.

i ate the gateau in its naked form, with streams of unthickened cream running across it and filling my mouth as the puffs exploded.
failure never tasted so good.

Gateau Saint Honore:
Components and respective recipes follow:
Puff pastry
Pate a Choux – Cream Puff Dough
Saint Honore Cream
8oz sugar for caramel
1 cup heavy cream + 1 tsp sugar

Pate a Choux – Cream Puffs Dough

4 ¾ oz. all purpose flour (135 gr)
1 cup water ( 240 ml)
2 oz unsalted butter (58 gr)
¼ tsp. salt (1 gr)
1 cup eggs (240 ml)

Sift the flour and set aside.
Heat the water, butter and salt to a full rolling boil, so that the fat is not just floating on the top but is dispersed throughout the liquid.
Stir the flour into the liquid with a heavy wooden spoon, adding it as fast as it can be absorbed. Avoid adding it all at once or it will form clumps.
Cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the lumps if necessary, by pressing them against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, about 2-3 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a mixer bowl. Let the paste cool slightly so that the eggs will not cook when they are added. You can add and stir the eggs by hand but it requires some serious elbow grease.
Mix in the eggs, one at a time, using the paddle attachment on low or medium speed. Do not add all the eggs at once. Check after a few, the dough should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
Transfer the dough to a piping bag and use as desired.

Pate Feuillete – Puff Pastry:

Makes about 2 1/2 pounds.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface (420 gr)
3/4 cup cake flour (105 gr)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (7 gr)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, well chilled (60 gr)
1 1/4 cups cold water (295.5 ml)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (14 gr)
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, well-chilled (405 gr)

1/ Make the dough package: In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours with the salt. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture; using your fingers or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
2/ Form a well in center of mixture, and pour the water into well. Using your hands, gradually draw flour mixture over the water, covering and gathering until mixture is well blended and begins to come together. Gently knead mixture in the bowl just until it comes together to form a dough, about 15 seconds. Pat dough into a rough ball, and turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap tightly, and place in refrigerator to chill 1 hour.
3/ Make the butter package: Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon flour on a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Place uncut sticks of butter on top, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon flour. Top with another sheet of paper; using a rolling pin, pound butter to soften and flatten to about 1/2 inch. Remove top sheet of paper, and fold butter package in half onto itself. Replace top sheet of paper, and pound again until butter is about A inch thick. Repeat process two or three times, or until butter becomes quite pliable. Using your hands, shape butter package into a 6-inch square. Wrap well in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until it is chilled but not hardened, no more than 10 minutes.
4/ Assemble and roll the dough: Remove dough package from refrigerator, and place on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9-inch round. Remove butter package from refrigerator, and place it in the center of the dough round. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score the dough to outline the butter square; remove butter, and set it aside. Starting from each side of the center square, gently roll out dough with the rolling pin, forming four flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch the raised square in the center of the dough. Replace butter package on the center square. Fold flaps of dough over the butter package so that it is completely enclosed. Press with your hands to seal.
5/ Using the rolling pin, press down on the dough at regular intervals, repeating and covering the entire surface area, until it is about 1 inch thick. Gently roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 9 by 20 inches, with one of the short sides closest to you. Be careful not to press too hard around the edges, and keep the corners even as you roll out the dough by squaring them with the side of the rolling pin or your hands. Brush off any excess flour. Starting at the near end, fold the rectangle in thirds as you would a business letter; this completes the first single turn.Wrap in plastic wrap; place in refrigerator 45 to 60 minutes.
6/ Remove dough from refrigerator, and repeat process in step 5, giving it five more single turns.Always start with the flap opening on the right as if it were a book. Mark the dough with your knuckle each time you complete a turn to help you keep track. Chill 1 hour between each turn. After the sixth and final turn, wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before using.

Saint Honore Cream (Rapid Chiboust or Diplomat Cream)
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7 gr.)
1/4 cup cold water (60 ml)
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar (130 gr)
½ cup all-purpose flour (70 gr)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk (500ml)
1 Tb. rum
¼ cup whipping cream (57 gr)
3 egg whites
dash of salt
1/2 cup sugar (105 gr)

Soak the gelatin in the 1/4 cup of cold water.
Put the sugar, flour, and salt into a saucepan and stir together with a whisk. Add the yolks and enough milk to make a paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.
Place over low heat and stirring constantly, cook until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Stir in the whipping cream.Set the mixing bowl in cold water and stir until the cream is cool. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and using clean beaters, whip them with the dash of salt. As soon as the whites begin to stiffen, gradually add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until they are very stiff. Fold the egg whites into the cooled cream.

8 oz sugar (240 gr)


Roll the puff pastry out to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, 12 inch square (30 cm). Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate covered at least 20 minutes.
While the puff pastry is resting, make the pate a choux and place it in a pastry bag with a # 4 (8mm) plain tip. Reserve.
Leaving the puff pastry on the sheet pan, cut a 11 inch (27.5 cm) circle from the dough and remove the scraps. (An easy way to cut it is to use a 11inch tart pan as a “cookie cutter”). Prick the circles lightly with a fork.
Pipe 4 concentric rings of Pate a Choux on the pastry circle. Pipe out 12 cream puffs the size of Bing cherries onto the paper around the cake.
Bake the puff pastry circle and the cream puffs at 400F (205C) until the pate a choux has puffed, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F (190C) and bake until everything is dry enough to hold its shape, about 35 minutes longer for the cake and 8 minutes longer for the cream puffs (just pick them up and take them out as they are done)
Place about 4 oz (114 gr) of the Saint Honore Cream in a pastry bag with a #2 (4mm) plain tip. Use the pastry bag tip or the tip of a paring knife to make a small hole in the bottom of each cream puff. Pipe the cream into the cream puffs to fill them. Refrigerate.
Spread the remaining cream filling on the cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set the cream.
Caramelize the 8 oz. of sugar:
Fill a bowl that is large enough to hold the pan used for cooking the sugar with enough cold water to reach halfway up the sides of the pan. Set the bowl aside.
Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and cook until the sugar until it has caramelized to just a shade lighter than the desired color.
Remove from the heat and immediately place the bottom of the pan in the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
Dip the cream puffs into the hot caramel, using 2 forks or tongues to avoid burning your fingers. Place them on a sheet pan. The caramel must be hot enough to go on in a thin layer. Reheat if necessary as you are dipping, stirring constantly to avoid darkening the caramel any more than necessary. Also, avoid any Saint Honore cream to leak out of the puffs and get mixed in with the caramel while dipping as the cream can cause the sugar to recrystallize.
Whip the one cup of heavy cream and teaspoon of sugar to stiff peaks. Place the whipped cream in pastry bag fitted with a #5 (10mm) star tip. Pipe a border of whipped cream around the top of the cake. Arrange the cream puffs, evenly spaced, on top of the filling, next to the cream.

Option: Before filling the cake, take care of the cream puffs, dip them in more caramel, hook them up to the base. Fill with the cream filling and fill the holes with the whipped cream.

please check out helene of tartlette and anita at dessert first for the rest of the DB roundup. most of them, i am pleased to say, had far more success than i did!


Anita said...

Just wanted to let you know that I've linked your post to my site. I'm sorry it didn't come out the way you wanted but I'm sure it was tasty - all the components make it so fantastic!

gilly said...

I agree with Anita - there are so many delicious parts of this cake - as long as you enjoyed it, that's the important thing. Glad you were able to participate!

valentina said...

I personally find that the individual parts of this cake are just delicious. So even though you did not get to assemble it as you wanted, you tasted its deliciousness.

Mary said...

I give you an A+ for effort. I'm glad you could join in even though you're still settling into your new place.

Lis said...

You DID NOT fail! You accomplished your first challenge and I for one am VERY PROUD OF YOU!

No one is going to make a perfect challenge every single time.. and no one expects us to. I'm glad you like the cream and puffs (my favorites as well) :D

I keep seeing Bril's suggestion of freezing the left over cream and eating like ice-cream.. I wish I had some left over to try that! I've also read that it's wonderful spooned on top of coffee. *swoon*

Regardless of what you do end up doing with the extra cream, I'm sure it will be delish!

Congrats on moving in and getting settled and I'm just so happy you had the chance to join in this time.

Well done!!

puu said...

thanks for all of the support. :-)
i really enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to participate at last.

and i think i am going to freeze the leftover cream, a la diplomat cream, because in my most recent creme anglais failure, i just ruined the mint chip ice cream i had wanted for tonight's dessert. :-)

Helen said...

Yeah! You did it! With your hectic life right now, I applaud you for going along with it. Good effort!

Kelly-Jane said...

Well at least you did it! and you are so enthusiastic too :) It's a good job it tastes good!

Elle said...

For a 'failure' that sounds really delicious! I'll bet your puffs were as good as any and you get extra points for keeping going when the cream didn't thicken. Way to GO!

Cheryl said...

I'm so sorry you had alot of trouble with it, but it all taste good going down, doesn't it! Don't give up, there will be another challenge soon to kick all of our butts again.

breadchick said...

Even though all the components didn't come together, you stuck with it and that is what being a Daring Baker is all about. Besides, like you said they were all tasty jumbled together! Welcome back in your kitchen!

Peabody said...

At least you hung in there and finished it...excellent effort! And like you said...it was tasty.

Veron said...

At least you tried and you got a delicious dessert out of it. For me taste comes first before looks .

Anne said...

the best part of this challenge is we learn something out of this and trying out the recipe was already an achievement. Even though your pretty busy right now you still took the time out to participate, I'm proud of you!

Ivonne said...

Well done! It's like a deconstructed gateau. And not to worry about using store-bought puff pastry. I'm sure it was delicious!

Laura said...

If it tastes good... sod the aesthetics

Quellia said...

At least it was a tasty mess! Glad you have moved, settled some, and are back in the kitchen!

Culinarily Curious said...

"Failure" is a matter of perspective. If you learned something AND it tastes good, that sounds like success to me.

Claudia said...

I had issues too, but you are absolutely right - it was still delicious! And I don;t feel at all bad about my "failure" I had fun and it tasted great. Besides - no-one eating it had any clue that it was a flop - LOL!