French

The Cake Named after the Patron Saint of Pastry Chefs

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June 21, 2017

In honor of France Week—our exploration into dressed-down French cuisine—Ghaya Oliveira, of the fancy New York restaurant Daniel—has provided us with a simplified, home-friendly recipe for this iconic French dessert.

Working at a French restaurant in New York City, we are always balancing a respect for tradition with a constant desire to innovate and evolve. In the pastry kitchen, one way that we do this is to revisit the most celebrated desserts in history—from tiramisu to sachertorte—and to reinterpret them through a contemporary lens.

Each month we revisit a new classic, and most recently, we chose the Saint-Honoré. The story of the dessert dates back to the 1850s or 60s in Paris, at the Chiboust pâtisserie on Rue Saint-Honoré. The young pastry chef, Auguste Julien, created a new sweet comprised of a base of pâte sablée with a ring of pâte à choux piped on the outer edge. Small cream puffs dipped in caramelized sugar adorned the ring, while the center of the cake was filled with a beautifully piped crème chiboust (a pastry cream lightened with stiffly beaten egg whites) .

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It would be hard to imagine a more French dessert. To start, pâte à choux is the base of so many regional favorites, from the Paris Brest to the Religieuse, and of course, the Croque-en-Bouche. Creams and custards are also an essential part of the French pastry tradition, with endless variations on stiffness and weight. (Of course, the celebrated quality of French butter and dairy products is also an essential part of why our pastries have become so famous.)

Photo by Mira Lee Patel

Today, the original bakery where the Saint-Honoré was created no longer exists, but the story is a reminder that pastry, like wine, has a sense of terroir. Each of the iconic desserts we know and love originate from a specific time and place. While we may reinvent these dishes—as in our case, with the unexpected flavors of voatsiperifery pepper and a port reduction—ultimately, we are indebted to these classics and the chefs who created them.

For more on French food (sans white tablecloth), head here.

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