Today is the feast day of St Honoré of Amiens (also called St Honoratus), who died on this date in 653. Not much is known about his life except that he was the seventh bishop of Amiens . There are, however, several legends concerning his life, and tales of miracles that his relics were responsible for long after his death. The most commonly repeated story is that his nursemaid was baking bread when she was given the news of his elevation to a bishop’s position and refused to believe it. At the time she was leaning on a baker’s peel (the long handled wooden shovel used to place dough in the oven and to remove cooked loaves). She is said to have proclaimed that she would only believe the news if the peel was struck into the ground and grew roots. Sure enough, she stuck it into the ground and it sprouted roots and leaves, and grew into a flowering tree. Thus when St Honoré is portrayed he is usually seen with a baker’s peel somewhere in the image, and he is the French patron saint of bakers, confectioners, and pastry chefs.
In 1202, a baker named Renold Theriens donated some land to the city of Paris to build a chapel in honor of the saint. The chapel became one of the richest in Paris, and gave its name to Rue Saint-Honoré. In 1400, the bakers of Paris established their guild in the chapel of St Honoré, celebrating his feast on May 16. In 1659 Louis XIV ordered that every baker observe the feast of St Honoré, and give donations in honor of the saint and for the benefit of the community.
The St Honoré cake is named for the saint and baked in France to celebrate the day. Making one of these cakes is a long process but it is not especially difficult provided you have the necessary equipment and some experience with baking. There are a great many variations in the way this cake can be prepared but the basics are the same: a disc of puff pastry is built up around the edges with one or more layers of caramel coated éclairs, filled in the center with crème pâtissière (baker’s custard), and topped with fresh fruit or chocolate curls. Just a tad decadent.
Saint Honoré cake
1 cup water
3 ½ oz (100 g) butter
pinch of salt
160 g plain flour, sifted
5 medium eggs
8 inch (20 cm) disc of rolled puff pastry
7 oz (200 g) poured fondant (recipe below)
9 oz (250 g) corn syrup
10 ½ oz (300 g) crème patissière (recipe below)
10 ½ oz (300 g) whipped cream
A few halved strawberries (or shaved chocolate) for garnish
Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Place the cup of water in a saucepan with the butter and salt and bring to a simmer. Add the flour in one go and, using a wooden spoon, mix the preparation into a ball. Transfer it to an electric mixer with a beater attachment on medium speed, add the 5 eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Transfer this mixture (called choux pastry) to a piping bag fitted with a .4 inch (1 cm) round nozzle.
Place the puff pastry disc on an oven tray lined with baking paper. First, pipe a choux pastry circle around the edges of the puff pastry then fill by piping in a spiral pattern starting from the center.
On a second oven tray lined with baking paper, pipe at least 12 choux puffs about 3 cm in diameter. Place both trays in the preheated oven at 350°F (180°C) until dry and browned.
Place the fondant and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Bring it to the boil and cook until it caramelizes. You must stir the mixture constantly and be very vigilant for the moment it starts to turn brown. Remove it from the heat immediately.
Very carefully dip the tips of the choux puffs in the hot caramel then place them, caramel side down, on a non-stick baking tray to cool. When cooled, dip the other tip of the choux puffs in the caramel, then stick them around the edges of the cake base using a little caramel to hold them in place.
In a bowl fold the crème pâtissière with the whipped cream and place in a piping bag with a special St Honoré nozzle (you can buy them online — they look like a regular nozzle but with a V-shaped notch cut on one side).
Using a serrated knife, cut the caramelized choux puffs in half lengthwise.
Pipe the custard mixture in the centre of the cake, then fill the choux halves that are attached to the cake. Top with the other choux halves. Place an extra garnished choux puff in the centre of the cake and garnish the cake with strawberry halves (or shaved chocolate). Lastly, dust with icing sugar.
2-1/2 cups (480 grams) sugar
1/2 (120 ml) cup water
1/4 cup (60 ml) corn syrup
In a heavy saucepan add sugar, corn syrup and water. Put in a candy-thermometer so that you can monitor the temperature.
Give the sugar mixture a quick stir and heat it on high heat to the “soft-ball” stage (238°F; 114°C). The mixture needs to be heated as fast as possible stirring constantly, to prevent the sugar from turning brown.
Pour the sugar syrup into the bowl of a mixer. Let it cool until it reaches 140°F (60°C)
When the sugar syrup has reached 140°F (60°C) start the mixer and let it beat at a slow/medium speed. DO NOT LEAVE IT UNATTENDED. [When it gets thick and creamy it can harden in no time and the paddle attachment could freeze into the mixture, ending up with a broken mixer. Only beat on slow/medium and stop to check once in a while.]
When the sugar syrup has turned into a thick dough it is done.
Scoop the fondant out of the mixing bowl and double wrap it in plastic bags. Let it rest for 24 hours, in a dry and cool place, and it is ready for use.
4 medium egg yolks
2½oz (65g) caster sugar
½oz (15g) plain flour
½oz (15g) cornflour
12fl oz (350ml) whole milk
½ tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
icing sugar, for dusting
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until they turn a pale blonde color. Whisk in the flour and cornflour and set aside.
Place the milk and vanilla syrup or vanilla bean paste in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 30 seconds.
Slowly pour half of the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time, then return the mixture to the remaining milk in the pan. It is important to pour the hot milk very slowly on to the cold eggs whisking constantly before you return the mixture to the pan to prevent the eggs from scrambling. (If they do scramble, start again!)
Bring the mixture back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking continuously, or until smooth.
Pour the cream into a clean bowl and dust with icing sugar to prevent a skin forming. Cool as quickly as possible, by sitting the bowl of pastry cream in another larger bowl of ice water. When cooled, refrigerate until needed.