Ingredients (makes 8):
- 60g butter
- 150ml water
- 75g plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 500ml full-fat milk
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds
- 6 egg yolks
- 75g caster sugar
- 20g cornflour
- 25g plain flour
- 150ml double cream
- 200g plain chocolate, pieces
- 150ml double cream
- Preheat the oven to 220ºC. On a piece of baking paper, draw eight circles 5cm wide and eight circles 2.5cm wide, and use it to line a baking tray
- In a saucepan, heat the butter and water together over a medium heat until the butter melts. Bring the mixture to the boil before immediately removing from the heat.
- Add in the flour when you take the mixture off the heat and stir vigorously and continuously with a wooden spoon until it forms a soft ball. Cook over a low heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Remove from the heat once more and leave the mixture to cool. Add the eggs, beating each one in fully before adding the next, to create a shiny and smooth paste.
- Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a 1.5cm nozzle and pipe round discs onto the baking tray in the marked circle. Dampen your finger and gentle smoothen the top of each disc.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes at 220ºC, then reduce the temperature to 190ºC and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove the choux pastry buns from the oven and pierce each with a skewer to allow the steam and heat to escape. Turn the oven off and put the choux buns back in for 4-5 minutes to dry. Remove once more from the oven and leave them to cool.
For the crème pâtissière:
- Add the milk and vanilla seeds to a saucepan and gradually bring to the boil. Once the mixture has started to boil, remove from the heat and leave it to cool for 30 seconds.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together until pale, then add in the cornflour and plain flour to the mixture. Combine with the vanilla-flavoured milk and whisk continuously.
- Bring the mixture back to the boil over a medium heat whilst continuing to whisk and cook for 1 minute.
- Pour the crème pâtissière into a bowl and cover it with cling film, as doing so will prevent it from forming a skin. Put the bowl in the fridge to cool.
For the chocolate ganache icing:
- Bring the double to a boil in small pan, and then remove from the heat.
- Add in the chocolate and stir consistently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is shiny.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and leave in the fridge to cool until the ganache is thick but still spreadable.
For the cream collar:
- Whip the double cream in a bowl until peaks start to form.
To assemble the religieuse:
- Spoon the crème pâtissière into a piping bag with a long thin nozzle, and use it to fill the buns.
- With a teaspoon, gently spread the chocolate ganache over the top of each bun, using the ganache to help keep the smaller bun on top of the larger.
- Spoon the cream for the collar into a piping bag with a star shaped nozzle. Pipe a collar of cream around the joining point between the two buns.
(Recipe adapted from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/religieuse_46431)
Now, I must be honest with you here and tell you that when I first tried to make these, my crème pâtissière really didn’t work as I’d hoped. As you can see, the mixture was far too thin, as the milk I was using had too high a water content and too low a fat content. I have since learnt the error of my ways. One of the things I also took from the experience was that with some things, no amount of whisking is going to make them thick enough to resemble cream in any form, and you’ll just end up with a vanilla-flavoured milk substance that refuses to change texture.
I was first introduced to religieuses, as with many baked goods, through The Great British Bake Off, and I loved the concept. As a long-time lover of profiteroles, the idea of stacking them seemed like genius. I will admit, the fact that the name is French may have also been a contributing factor in my love for these delicacies, especially because of the wonderful attempts at pronouncing the name made by the various GBBO contestants and presenters.
The French name, for the finished good as well as the choux pastry and crème pâtissière, made this recipe a clear forerunner when it came to deciding what to bake for a French tea party. (Yes, French tea party. I’ll explain.) Once the words ‘tea party’ had been mentioned, I naturally felt an obligation to don my apron and bake something for the occasion. Hence the French connection to religieuses.
At the end of my second year studying French and German at Oxford, our French language tutor offered to host our final class in her flat nearby. Given that it was the end of the year and we were preparing to go off on our Years Abroad, our only task was to produce a hilariously bad translation of a pop song, which we then read to each other at said tea party. I appreciate that to those of you who don’t have much to do with translation this may not sound like the most fun experience ever, but when you’ve made some pretty creative but ultimately wrong word choices and produced horrific contortions of both English and French, laughing at deliberately bad attempts is somewhat therapeutic.
To aid in our therapy therefore, our tutor very kindly provided us with a miniature feast. She made brownies, banana cake and flapjack for us, so with the religieuses as well we were rather spoilt for choice! What these photos do lack sadly is some sense of perspective, but know that these nuns were rather large. Thankfully the other French students at my college came along at the end to help us out with the cornucopia we’d found ourselves with.