May 3, 2010

Saint-Honoré Trifle

I'll bet you didn't know that Saint-Honoré is the patron saint of pastry chefs. A gateau Saint-Honoré is made with a cream puff dough and filled with Chiboust cream. This is named after a famous French pastry chef. At least, he's famous in some circles. I don't think you have to be French in order to have Saint-Honoré be your patron saint. Had I known this fact when I was making the spun sugar, I would definitely have said a little prayer to Saint-Honoré.
I said a few weeks ago that this trifle was on my list of Most Feared Cakes, so I feel pretty good about making it. I was chickening out about the whole spun sugar thing, thinking it could easily turn into quite a fiasco. You may have guessed this when I gave everyone advance permission not to bother with the spun sugar.
Then Jim bought a whisk and trimmed the ends off, so I felt obligated not to waste my surgically altered whisk.
This recipe has the most components of any that I've tried so far: the cake, the syrup, the Chiboust cream, the strawberries, the preserves, the whipped cream topping, and, of course, the spun sugar. No single component (except for the you-know-what) is difficult in itself, but it takes two days of baking--at a relaxed pace--to get everything done.
The cake is an easy sponge cake, if you already have beurre noisette stashed away in your freezer. I used up the last of mine when we made financiers, so I should really count it as a separate component.
I don't think I'll ever tire of watching a few eggs magically turn into a thick, creamy, pale yellow mixture. I love kitchen alchemy.
And, of course, there's nothing to making the syrup. But how is it that I have three opened bottles of Calvados and none of Grand Marnier? I could have sworn I had at least one bottle. At least I had Triple Sec.
The Chiboust cream (or crème Chiboust) is not difficult--just a version of creme patisserie.
Here I'm going to admit to a little skepticism. This recipe calls for one-half of a Madagascar vanilla bean and one-half of a Tahitian vanilla bean. Really? Is there honestly someone out there who can tell when a Chiboust cream is made just with the Madagascar bean?
A quick Google search tells me that the difference between Madagascar and Tahitian vanillais the subject of much writing, and perhaps I should not admit to being a vanilla ignoramus.
Mixing some orange marmalade with a little water or liqueur? Easy.
Cutting up the strawberries? Easy. I'm always disappointed when the strawberries turn out to be white on the inside, even when they're nice and rosy red on the outside.
Assembling all these components wasn't hard, either, although it did take a while.
I borrowed a trifle bowl from Woody, and I just had to cut away the outside ring of the cake.
I thought these outside pieces were a bit dry, so I brushed plenty of syrup on the cake when I was putting the trifle together.
When I dipped the outside pieces in the Chiboust cream, they no longer seemed dry, and I wouldn't have cared if they had. My compliments to M. Chiboust. He made a mean pastry cream.
I read the instructions for making the spun sugar about 100 times, and I still had a hard time picturing exactly what was going to happen. We decided to make it on the back porch instead of in the kitchen, because I had visions of caramelized sugar all over the walls, ceilings, and floor.
Jim really battened down the hatches in the back porch. He took four weeks of the New York Times, and spread it over the floor, our patio table, and my porch work station. Almost every square inch of the porch was protected by a section of the paper.
No problem making the caramel syrup. My instant-read thermometer told me just when the syrup hit 360, and I poured it into a measuring cup. Then we dashed out to the porch, only to discover we had to wait a bit until it cooled. My friend Karen had volunteered to come over and help. In this case, "help" meant doing the whole thing. She stood on a stool, and started waving the whisk. At first it looked like nothing was happening. Then we could see that strands of gossamer-thin caramel were actually forming between the oiled spoon handles. A miracle!
After I realized that it worked, I told Karen I wanted to try it. She graciously stepped down and let me have at it. We got a nice bundle of spun sugar (with some "angel tears," which I do not consider a defect, although apparently they are). After a while, the caramelized sugar mixture got too thick to spin, and we decided we had enough.
No caramel got on the walls, the floor, or the ceiling. Not much even got on the paper. I definitely wouldn't have needed four weeks worth of papers. Just Monday and Tuesday would probably have been enough to protect everything.
Only one thing left--piping the whipping cream. You may recall that I have a real problem with the whole concept of piping, not to mention its execution. But it's a lot easier with whipped cream than with buttercream, and it actually ended up looking okay.
I must have looked very pleased with myself. Karen said, "Aren't you proud?" I had to admit I was. I come from a long line of women who think it would be the height of rudeness to admit to any self-satisfaction, especially with cooking. Our Thanksgiving dinners were always filled with apologies for the dryness of the turkey, the lumpiness of the potatoes, and the toughness of the pie crust. But I can't help it. I really liked the looks of this trifle. (Sorry to brag, Grandma).
I liked the taste of this trifle, too. It is a quintessential Rose creation in that each individual element complements the others, and the flavors are beautifully harmonious. Even though each piece probably has about 2,000 calories, it's deceptively light. The Chiboust cream, whipping cream, and the cake all seem ethereal, and, if you're lucky enough to get a bit of spun sugar on your plate, that's just one more contrasting texture.
I'm not sure what kind of occasion it would take to tempt me to make this again. It was kind of a lost weekend, after all. But I hope that something does, because I'd like like believe I'm going to be able to taste it at least one more time in my life.
(Only two members of the tasting panel this week, although I ended up giving away containers of the cake to a lot of people. This was one cake I didn't want to have sitting around tempting me to have it for breakfast.)

Karen: "This would be a fantastic dessert to make when you want to impress. It's so beautiful, and it tastes as good as it looks. I love all the flavors, and everything tastes so fresh."

Jim: "I like all the different flavors and textures. It's another cake that's not too sweet, which I really appreciate."


faithy said...

Gorgeous trifle and your spun sugar is beautiful! You should be proud of yourself! :D

i like the idea of covering everything up with newspaper! would be something that i would do too if i did spun the! I'll definitely want to try it next time..for the next trifle..:) I never thought of standing on a ladder..good idea too!

Your remark on just needing Monday & Tuesday papers made me laughed out so loudly! LOL!

Julie said...

Really lovely job on the trifle and sugar, Marie, I loved following this post!

doughadear said...

I have a clear memory of my uncle, a pastry chef, standing high on a chair or maybe the counter itself, that part is not clear, but what is clear is how he whipped the hot sugary mixture over two dowels about two feet apart and parallel to each other that caught the sweet web of spun sugar and then when there was enough of the golden threads he carefully removed it from the dowels and draped it over a pyramid of cream puffs. To my young eyes it was the most beautiful confection I'd ever seen.

You should be proud of your results because this is one gorgeous dessert. I love trifle and this one looks incredible.

Melinda said...

This is one of my favourite write ups that you have done .And you know I love each and every one... really! But this is one is lovely. I just wish I could have been there for the spun sugar episode and the tasting! You have my permission to brag and be proud of your success. It feels mighty good to have something turn out so good. And it looks a real treat. A delicious confection of your hard work. I would love to have this for breakfast!
Well done.

Marie said...

Rose's instructions say to stand on a stool (she has the best details!), and this little step ladder was the closest thing. It really worked well. I hope you try this next time!

Thank you!

That's a really lovely memory. Someday I'd like to see an actual pastry chef doing this.

Well, I am proud, as you can tell. I wish you'd been there for the spun sugar exercise as well. (You know that Jini and I have been talking about taking a little trip to London? I'm not sure if it's possible or just wishful thinking, but it would be fun).

Jenn said...

Oh Marie, you made the spun sugar! Yay! And yes you should be very proud of yourself. That trifle looks gorgeous (and super yummy too)!
I love the picture of the back porch completely covered. Jim did a good job.
I used 1 madagascar vanilla bean, I thought it should be good enough since it's expensive and much better than the vanilla paste/extract.

Melinda said...

I will be keeping my finger crossed that you and Jini do come to visit!
I'd love it!

Lois B said...

Beautiful trifle; fantastic spun sugar!

I forgot to stand on something. I wonder if that accounts for my bad hair day spun sugar?

I'm eager to see your photos of Jim's baking. :)

Katya said...

Running behind again (curse all the job/theatre/school that gets between me and my baking), but hopefully up tomorrow! Looks beautiful.

Matthew said...

Bravo Marie!

Anonymous said...

That is beautiful!! I am fearful of spun sugar and need to make spun sugar BASKETS soon. So terrified. It's going to take a LOT of practice. BRAVO!

Monica said...

Oh boy! I love how you use so much newspapers too, I should I thought about doing this outside in the backyard (to save on the clean up), but I was afraid that it would fall on the dirty ground and I would have to start all over again!

I love how it came out... I'm going to finish mine today, but its sitting pretty much in the refrigerator now and Tom and I are dying to dig into it!

By the feedback and reviews, its going to be spectacular tasting.

evil cake lady said...

beautiful trifle marie! your spun sugar looks so pretty! i'm starting my move so i put this trifle on hold--i'll do it for the free bake so i can have it for my birthday. (yay!) congratulations on successfully tackling another Most Feared Cake!

Valen said...

Fantastic looking trifle! My mom loves trifle!

Mendy said...


Looks really great! Your spun sugar looks nice and golden.

Love how Jim set up for you. :)

Marie said...

Yay for all of us! I remember the first time I used a real vanilla bean--it seemed so exotic. And now I have to determine country of origin!

You may have to use your persuasive powers on Jini. :)

Lois B.,
I liked your "bad hair day" spun sugar--but it is easier if you're standing above the dowels. You can swing your arms at a better angle.

I know what you mean--I spent most of the weekend cooking and baking, and was sad when Monday morning came around so I had to be a lawyer again.

Thank you!

Good luck on the baskets! Rose says you can make those ahead of time and freeze them, so maybe you can get in some practice ahead of time.

Anna said...

Gorgeous ! Congratulations on your success with the sugar.

Marie said...

Just as well--if it had fallen on the ground, it would have been very hard to pick it up and dust it off.

Yes, now I just have to worry about Zach's La Bomba and the Apple Charlotte. Good luck on the move--I can't imagine why you didn't want to tackle a trifle and a move at the same time.

I love it too.

Thanks--I agree with you that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. (I also think that anyone who blithely bakes a sponge cake in a toaster oven shouldn't be afraid of anything).

Thank you--I'm pretty sure that just a few years ago, I never saw spun sugar in my future.

Alpha Baker Joan said...

Spectacular - From the newspaper to the crescendo! It is unbelievable. Love the post including the newspaper and the beautiful dark sugar on the whisk. What great photos. A la Jim, I suspect as you create wonders. I have been shopping and am about to plunge in, except for the sugar spinning - kitchen too tiny. I congratulate you!!! I know it was delicious. joan

Rachelino said...

Marie- great job! I will never forget the first time I saw Julia Child spinning sugar for a buche de noel on TV between two broom handles. I was in AWE and thought it impossible. Now you can say you have done it! The finished trifle is beautiful.
If only I was able to make this, but I was baking 600 cookies. For real.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

OMG what a beautiful job you did and the step by step photos--gorgeous. i competely forgot to look yesterday so entraced was i by my NEW IPAD!!!

will soon look at everyone else's version.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

you all were awesome! and such good sports. monica, the video was so charming and not only was your angel hair a real accomplishment given FL humidity but your hairdo is just perfect! raymond i just have to add that your burgeoning gâteau looks ever so enticing. you were all brilliant. mendy, great job and such a cute description. i loved the square version-so portable and the one in the glass. so many great ideas and renditions.
i know it has many steps and components but i would never have offered the recipe if i hadn't thought it was well worth-while. thank you for trusting me. and it is nice that after all that work it feeds so many

Shirley said...

So pretty! Love the spun sugar.

Vicki said...

Marie, it's gorgeous! You got the layers all nice and the strawberries to show. I think Raymond has the right idea with this one; make it in stages spread out over several days. It's so good not to make again. I might "cheat" and use Lady Fingers with the sugar syrup next time to cut down on time.

Allie said...

Great job with the spun sugar, I'll have to try it!

Marie said...

I think Jim must have taken 100 photos of the process. When I asked him if this was the cake he was going to bake for my birthday, however, he gave me a very emphatic "no."

I loved that Julia Child spun sugar episode too! Now I can say I've made spun sugar, but I can't say I've ever made 600 cookies at one time!

Do you love your IPad? I've never been an early adopter, but I've been sorely tempted to get a first generation IPad.
I was not only proud of my own trifle, but also so proud of everyone else's!

Thank you!

I'm hoping that baking this trifle is a little like childbirth. After a while, you forget the pain and just remember the end product, so you're ready to do it again.

you should definitely try it--it's one of the most impressive desserts you can bake.

Hanaâ said...

Marie, your trifle looks beautiful. Very sophisticated. Next time you make it, don’t forget to give me a call. I’ve love to be in your tasting panel :o)

I'm looking forward to Jim's cake. Are cake mixes allowed? :o)

Rozanne said...

Marie, your trifle is stunning! I wish I had made it.

Nicola said...

Still laughing as I type this. Good to know that I can get away with just two days of the NY Times! Jim obviously thought you were going to work out some stress with the caramel and the whisk of torture...

Ahhh, the apologising cook, I know you well, sister of mine! And honestly, one should only ever apologise if something *isn't* homemade. Nowadays I more critique the recipe, rather than my cooking skills, ahem.

Stunning trifle. And can I move somewhere between you and Woody so I can borrow his trifle bowl and your sugar spinning friend and your newspaper laying husband?

Zach said...

Don't be too intimidated by my La Bomba! It does have a lot of steps and you have to pay attention to detail, but it can be tackled. By the way, I developed this cake originally under the name "Manjari" to celebrate the chocolate I use in it that combines so well with the blackberry. My original is also in the shape of a cylinder, but we modified the shape for the book to make it more practical.

This cake represents the very reason I got to know Rose.

Good luck!

Marie said...

No mixes allowed! When you read Jim's post, you'll see he was tempted by a mix, but he averted temptation.

Thank you!

Oh, you can definitely move in next door.

Rose says that La Bomba is the culmination of everything in The Cake Bible. So guess which cake is going to be the last one I do? I thought I should end with a Quick and Easy cake, but Rose convinced me this would be more appropriate. In just a few more months, we'll start counting down.