It was the semi final – things were getting serious.
Surely this week’s technical challenge would be a stinker.
And, true to form, Prue threw in a smoking grenade – a gâteau Saint Honoré.
Her words of wisdom? “This is very difficult to make look good, good luck.”
Naturally, Saint Honoré is the French patron Saint of baking.
A total of 28 choux balls, evenly round in shape, should sit atop two trimmed layers of puff pastry. The choux balls are dipped in caramel and filled with crème Chiboust. The same crème is spread between the choux palls, on the puff pastry, before crème Chantilly is lovingly pipped on top.
Prue then said: “This is really difficult to make and not make a mess.”
Ok, Prue we get it – it’s going to be hard.
Paul said it was worth every single calorie – I would need to get friends round to eat it.
I did something I’d never done before in the technical challenges – I read the recipe through fully.
I tallied up the time it would take – with resting, chilling, mixing and baking I figured it would take about five hours.
I set aside a day purely for the gâteau Saint Honoré – what was happening to me.
Half an hour in I was at the end of step four – the puff pastry had been the centre of my attention but it still needed another 90 minutes of chilling in between folds so I jumped to step nine – the crème Chiboust (essentially crème pâtissière lightened with stiffly beaten egg whites).
I ploughed on.
I made the crème Chiboust and left it to chill in the fridge, all ready to go in two piping bags – one fitted with a jam nozzle for filling the choux balls and one fitted with a Saint Honoré nozzle to pipe onto the puff pastry.
I had ten steps left after 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Three and a half hours in I wanted to give up (it probably didn’t help that I was tired from a late night the night before).
I wondered why the hell I was doing this – I just couldn’t see the home straight.
I’d made the puff pastry (butter had oozed out of the layers causing the fire alarm to go off – on the plus side the lamination was still ok) and I was halfway through making the choux pastry.
I still had to pipe and bake the choux, let it cool, fill them with crème Chiboust, make the caramel, dip the choux in caramel, make the crème Chantilly and assemble the finished dish.
There was only two of us at home to eat it and it was gigantic – what was I doing.
I sat down for five minutes and wondered if I could pause the challenge and pick it back up the next day.
Pleased with the crème Chiboust I’d made, I didn’t feel confident that it would keep overnight without losing air.
There was only one thing for it – I had to continue.
I was on a journey and it was the penultimate technical challenge in my baking masterclass.
The choux went into a piping bag and was piped onto two baking sheets lined with paper that had been pre-marked with 2.5cm circles.
I delicately placed them in to the oven.
If these worked it might save my day and buoy my spirits.
After 20 minutes, some had risen, some hadn’t.
I knew exactly why this wasn’t working – my heart was no longer in it.
I know I probably sounds ridiculous, but getting things right really matters to me and this wasn’t going right.
But I figured I didn’t need to conform to presenting something exactly the same as we saw on the show – as long as what I did had all the elements.
By the time it came to making the caramel, I was back in it for the long run.
I made the caramel, dipped the choux in it and burnt my finger (note to self, caramel is blooming hot).
I had one more element to make – the crème Chantilly and do you know what, I cheated, I simply whipped some cream, time was running out.
I’d decided to cut the size of the final gâteau Saint Honoré down so it was more manageable for two people.
First up it was a trimmed rectangle of puff pastry with a ribbon of crème Chiboust piped down the centre. Either side of this I placed four choux balls – all secured in placed with a dot of crème Chiboust.
The layers were then repeated before crème Chantilly was pipped on top of the crème Chiboust.
The end I thought I’d never see was here.
Assembled it looked OK, I’d used a Honoré nozzle to pipe the cream but I’d rushed it and had left my finesse in the other room.
But that was fine, I had a form of gâteau Saint Honoré to serve.
I plated up and immediately cut a slice.
I stood where I cut it and sunk my teeth into it.
The texture was crisp and soft. It was creamy and buttery. It tasted like French patisserie.
It tasted good.
But is good really enough when it’s taken you five hours to make – yes, it look five hours.
Is anything worth taking five hours over – unless of course it’s beef cheeks or short ribs?
Yes, maybe if it’s patisserie for a special occasion or for the semi final of a competition you’re actually a competitor in!
Yes, it pushed me.
Yes, I learnt a lot.
Yes, I tried new things.
Would I make it again – maybe, if I used pre-made puff pastry (that in itself took about two hours to make). Buying it would save a lot of time.
Am I looking forward to the final – not right now but I know that will change.
As I sit in a darkened room with a gin and tonic I’ve decided that I’m more of a home cook rather than a home baker – it’s a much more versatile title.
I’m now gearing myself back up to make a Goan fish curry for supper – using my favourite fish to curry, dogfish. That’s if I can bring myself to head back into the kitchen…