This recipe has terrified me from day one; so much so that it almost singlehandedly put me off the whole idea of this challenge. The recipe spreads across not one, not two, but THREE pages! Fear had seeped into every atom when I saw how many components there are to this Parisian speciality. I would be forced to revisit my nemesis, paté sucrée (or to you and me sweet pastry), then move on to choux pastry which, on its own, I quite enjoy making. However, it wasn't going to end there. I'd then tackle Crème Patissiere and boil up a helping of caramel AND spun sugar. Surely even the most experienced baker would be daunted by the mere mention of a Gateau Saint Horne! If I was wearing boots I'd be quaking in them!
Without trying to sound over dramatic, it felt as though I was about to walk the plank rather than enter the kitchen! The time had finally come to make this dreaded recipe and I could think of at least a hundred other things I'd rather be doing!! Unfortunately I had to face my old arch enemy, sweet pastry, first of all. I think every baker has something they battle with and mine is certainly sticky sweet pastry. I dug a bowl out from the cupboard and measured in the plain flour. The butter was supposed to be softened but mine was still in the fridge, whoops! As it turned out it didn't much matter, as the heat from my hands soon worked its magic! After the butter had been successfully rubbed into the flour it was ready for the addition of a little sugar and couple of egg yolks. Goodness knows what the chickens had been eating; the yolks were fluorescent orange! I brought the mixture together to form a soft dough. It was easier for me to get stuck in with my hands rather than use a spoon or knife; no doubt I'd pay for it later with an overworked tough pastry! As instructed, I wrapped the smooth dough in cling film and placed it into the fridge for half an hour. I was lulled into a false sense of security at this point as I was able to sit down with a cup of tea while I waited; it was all pretty straightforward so far!
After the cup of tea had been sipped it was time to trot back into the kitchen to take the chilled pastry from the fridge. I usually roll pastry out between two sheets of cling film. However, as I was running low, I used greaseproof paper instead. Unfortunately the pastry circle I'd just rolled glued itself to the bottom sheet of paper. ARGH, the stress levels started to rise! Neil suggested placing the baking tray on top of the pastry and flipping both over so the paper could be peeled away. It worked beautifully and I ran over to embrace my genius husband. I ignored the terror in his eyes as I forcefully planted a kiss on each cheek!! I clumsily crimped the edges of the pastry and placed it into the hot oven to cook for around twenty minutes. It must have been in the oven for a tad too long as the pastry ended up a little brown around the edges.
While the pastry cooled on a wire rack I made a start on the choux pastry. I've made this pastry quite a few times and it is one of my favourites. Maybe this has something to do with the omission of a rolling pin! I poured some water into a saucepan and tipped in a thick slice of butter. With the pan set over a low heat, I waited for the butter to melt into the water. I then brought it to a bubbling boil. This signalled that it was time to turn off the heat and reach for the flour. I dropped the flour into the pan and used my whisk to bring it all together. Almost immediately the mixture transformed into a silky smooth ball of dough. I left the mixture to cool down for around ten minutes before beating in the eggs. This in turn loosened things up and the ball of dough turned into a shiny paste.
My energy levels were flagging at this point but I had yet to pipe the mixture. After a prolonged search I finally found a piping bag well hidden in an untidy drawer. I didn't bother with a nozzle as the hole in the bag was already the perfect size. I piped an untidy ring of choux pastry onto a greased baking tray and then dotted walnut sized pieces alongside with the remainder. The full tray was ready to go into the oven where the pastry would cook at a high heat for ten minutes. The temperature was then dropped and the pastry carried on cooking for a further twenty minutes. Finally I could sit down and tuck into some lunch. I hoped that a sandwich and a drink would help to fuel my weary body. It was perhaps a mistake to sit down, as twenty minutes later, I could barely peel myself from the sofa. However, my aching feet managed to transport me to the kitchen and I took the well risen, golden delights from the oven. I used the prong of my cake tester to stick little holes into the base of all the pieces of cooked pastry to release the hot steam. To dry out the pastry completely I put the tray back into the oven for a further five minutes before leaving them to cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile I got on with the next stage of the recipe! To make the crème patissiere
(vanilla egg custard) I needed to measure quite a lot of milk into a saucepan. I couldn't use a small pan as suggested as there was just no way that it would fit. I could just picture the milk boiling over the sides and spilling onto the hob! I'd purchased some vanilla pods ages and ages ago on a whim but had yet to make use of a single one. Here was finally a chance to break into the packet as I needed to add a pod to the milk! I brought the milk to just below boiling point, then turned off the heat and left it to infuse for about ten minutes before straining the milk. The vanilla pod had served its purpose and was callously tossed into the bin! I grabbed yet another mixing bowl and to it I added numerous eggs, a heap of sugar and a little plain flour along with a dribble of milk and beat them together. Back into the pan it all went; I was very glad I'd used a larger saucepan!! I kept stirring the mixture whilst it was on the heat and, after a few minutes, it thickened up. This meant that it was ready to be poured into a clean bowl to cool.
I was able to enjoy another sit down whilst I waited for the vanilla custard to cool. In fact it took ages to cool off and I grew increasingly impatient as I was dying to get on and finish the recipe! Thankfully, Isaac managed to distract me from my clock watching with his new toy, a plastic whistle. His granny had posted him a few little goodies and this little toy had proved to be a real hit. He was thrilled to learn quickly how to produce a high pitched whistle. The only problem was that he was keen for me to have a go too. “Mummy do it” was frequently demanded and I was forced to ignore the dribble!! It’s amazing what you'll do for your child!
After well over an hour the custard was finally cool. This meant that I could move on to whipping up some double cream and folding it into the mixture. Yay – this was another section of the recipe I could tick off! I put the rich custard into the fridge to chill. Thankfully this didn't take long and I was soon able to pipe the soft mixture into the awaiting choux pastry. This was a bit of a messy business as the custard insisted on dripping from the end of the nozzle and all over the worktop.
Now came the part I had been dreading the most – it was caramel time! Surely this could only end in a third degree burn and a lot of tears! I required a heck of a lot of granulated sugar and a modest quantity of water which was poured into what felt like the hundredth saucepan of the day. Mary says to bring to the boil and boil the syrup until a golden colour. This seemed a little bit vague to me as I would have preferred to use a sugar thermometer rather than guessing when it might be ready! However, I hoped for the best and, as soon as the bubbling syrup turned a golden shade, I plunged the pan into an awaiting sinkful of cold water and relished the loud sizzle! I had a large bowl of boiling hot water to one side of me, ready to receive the pan full of scorching hot syrup; Mary says this will help to keep the caramel fluid. Quick as a flash I picked up the by now heavy and highly delicate ring of filled choux pastry and placed it on top of the circle of sweet pastry. With a shaking hand I gingerly dipped each choux bun into the caramel and positioned it onto the pastry ring. Once in place nothing would budge them, not even a hammer and chisel!! For a finishing touch the remaining caramel was spooned over the top of each choux bun.
Sadly there was STILL yet more work to be done. I really didn't see the point of spun sugar, but I was determined at least to try it! I made up the syrup in the same manner I'd made the caramel but in a smaller quantity. While it came to the boil I oiled a large amount of foil and placed some on the worktop and some around my biggest rolling pin. I pinned two forks together back to back with an ancient rubber band. I was ready for a bit of spun sugar action!!! I got to enjoy the sizzle once more as I plunged the searing hot pan into the cold water again. I dipped the prongs of the forks into the syrup and attempted to flick the forks back and forth over the rolling pin. Sadly I did not create long strands of sugar as Mary suggests. Instead I managed a few tiny pieces which clumped together into an unfortunate lump. I wasn't surprised by my unsuccessful attempt, but at least I could say I'd tried!!
I spooned the remainder of the vanilla custard into the middle of the choux case and propped up my pathetic tiny mass of spun sugar against a choux bun! It couldn't exactly profess to be a pretty gateau. It looked rather plain if anything. It certainly didn't suggest the six hours spent on it.....yes I really did say SIX hours (to be fair I had to wait for things to cook and cool down, so wasn't on my feet for all of that time)!
The pastry was lovely and crisp. The vanilla pod had definitely served its purpose well as the flavour was quite strong in the creamy custard; this was Neil's favourite bit. The choux pastry was still crisp but we had trouble eating it due to the caramel. It managed to weld our teeth together and made talking almost an impossibility! This may cause anxiety for those with fillings or loose teeth! It was a very tasty bake but I don't think it was worth the hours of effort, not to mention the mountain of washing up. A big thank you to Neil for selflessly clearing up after me....it has to be love!
|Not the most attractive thing I've ever made!!|