This month, I was granted the privilege of becoming a member of the "Zeta" class of the Daring Bakers, a group started this past fall by Lis and Ivonne. In just half a dozen or so monthly challenges, the Daring Bakers have ballooned to include dozens of members.
This month's challenge came from Helene of Tartelette. Being an accomplished pastry chef, she put us through our paces with a multi-component concoction called "Gateau St. Honore." Traditionally served on birthdays in France, the cake is made from a puff pastry base topped with rings of pate choux, filled with a vanilla diplomat cream, and ringed with filled cream puffs coated with caramel. (Got all that?) I had reservations about this challenge, but I felt I had to tackle it given that I learned to make the choux and puff pastry in my class. It was a perfect chance to practice, and I am so glad I followed through.
Since the option was offered to purchase the puff pastry, I decided I would make my own using the shortcut "blitz" method, rather than the "butter package" recipe supplied by Helene. It worked well - as you can see above, the layers came up nice and flaky. My only mistake was that I didn't bake it quite long enough. The edges were perfect, but the center hadn't quite had a chance to finish, and it fell a bit when I took it out of the oven. The dough was very simple to make, and but for the resting time in the fridge, didn't take long at all. Here it is getting its last couple of turns.
The marble pastry board I purchased recently came in very handy for this.
Since I was in the aforementioned rush, I almost didn't do the caramel on top and on the puffs. I am so glad I did though - the contrast of the crunchy burnt sugar was a perfect accent for the flavor and texture of the rest of the dish. One interesting thing about this dessert is that the dough for both the puff pastry and the cream puffs are not sweetened at all. I barely sweetened my whipped cream, so the pastry cream and the sugar provided all of the sweetness.
Trying to do too many things at once, I stepped away from my pastry cream on the stove for a moment too long, and overcooked it a little bit. Not enough to scorch it, thank goodness - but enough that it went a little lumpy on me. Luckily I was able to save it by pushing it through a sieve and adding a little whipped cream. The one change I made to this recipe was to add a little vanilla paste to the cream, along with the suggested rum, which I thought was nice. I like the look and flavor of the little vanilla bean flecks.
My favorite part of this dessert - by far, were the cream puffs filled with diplomat cream and covered with the caramel. I had thought the process of making and dipping the puffs would be complicated, but it really wasn't. Helene's recipe worked like a charm, and after the puffs chilled, I loaded up a small pastry bag with a small tip and poked a little hole in them. I overfilled the first one a bit, and it squirted out like toothpaste from a tube, but I soon got the hang of it.
To do the caramel, I just put half a cup of plain white sugar in a dry nonstick pan, and let it melt over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the edges from getting too brown. You really have to watch this carefully - it can burn in a flash. When the sugar was completely liquid, I put the puffs on a rack over some paper towels, tilted the pan, and just dipped them in, one by one, setting them on the rack. As I did it, the caramel started to harden very quickly, and I had to reheat it to get it liquid. Once it thickens it's kind of hard to get the puffs out without squeezing them, and you don't want to get any cream in the caramel if you can help it. I just scooped out the couple of tiny bits that wound up in it, to keep the rest from crystallizing.
I couldn't figure out how to do the spun sugar, so I took the caramel I had left and just drizzled it over an upturned bowl sprayed with a little oil for an impromptu sugar cage. I think the spun sugar would have been much nicer, but you have to work with what you've got. I'm sure that once I've taken the sugar class I will be a pro - but that hasn't happened yet.
The only problem with this type of caramel is that it gets sticky very quickly and doesn't last very long - you wouldn't want to put this dessert together any longer than a couple of hours before serving. I served this at a small party at my parents house, and actually packed all the components separately, including the cream and whipped cream - to assemble on site.
If you're interested in reading more about the puff pastry and choux paste, check out my earlier post about the day we learned these techniques in my pastry class. The puff dough recipe and a different (but very similar) choux recipe are included. The full recipe for this creation, including the butter package puff, the choux paste used above, and the diplomat cream can be found on Helene's blog, here. Be sure to check out the links on the sidebar to see the creations of the rest of the Daring Bakers!