Do they really look like nuns? Fat nuns, maybe. Sorry Sister Claire, I didn’t invent the name. The French did. Always the French! They are also to blame for foie gras, by the way. And possibly French fries, the one thing in the world that I love as much as my family.
There’s some debate that they could be of Belgian origin. Doesn’t matter to me, they’re called French fries, so the French should take the blame. For making fries the bane of my diet, and the reason that I find it hard to shed a few pounds. I love them in any shape or form. Thick, thin, long, short, it matters not, as long as they’re potatoes and fried, and there’s ketchup or honey mustard sauce for dipping them in.
Here’s another French creation I can easily use to sabotage my diet. Religieuse. The word means “nun” in French. The pastry is thought to resemble the appearance of a nun, although I find it hard to see. Maybe with loads of imagination. After a few glasses of Champagne.
Make these religieuses, enjoy them with much pleasure, and then if you gain some weight because of them, just blame the French entirely. For always coming up with irresistible, delectable food! You want proof? Béarnaise sauce, their fault. Croissants, their fault. Éclairs, their fault. Macarons, definitely their fault!
Religieuses are not widely available in American pastry shops, at least not where I live, but I first had them in New York, believe it or not. Not in Paris. In Paris, I had my first full-fledged Israeli meal. So, it’ll only be natural that when I finally go to Israel, which I will (right, hubby?), I probably will enjoy my first proper Russian dinner. Just a feeling I have.
Religieuse au Chocolat
For the pastry (pâte à choux)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) of butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine water, salt, and butter. Place over medium-heat and cook just until butter melts.
3. Add all the flour at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms.
4. Continue stirring until dough becomes stiff and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 2 minutes.
5. Scrape the dough into a bowl; let cool for 1 minute. Then add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each one, until mixture is smooth and glossy.
6. Transfer the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide round tip and pipe the dough into rounded mounds on parchment lined cookie sheets. Make 5 bigger rounds (about 2 inches) and 5 smaller rounds (about 1 inch). With a wet finger, flatten and smooth out tops slightly.
7. Bake for 20 minutes (15 minutes for the small ones) or until golden brown. Pierce each pastry with a skewer, near its top, and bake for another 5 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.
For the filling
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
1. Mix sugar, salt, and flour until well blended.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg and the yolk until blended, then slowly whisk in the flour mixture. It’ll become thick and pasty.
3. In a medium saucepan, heat milk just until bubbles start forming around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and slowly add it to the flour mixture. Return mixture back to saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk vigorously and continuously until it thickens and comes to a boil. Essentially, you’re making a custard.
4. Remove from heat, strain through a fine-mesh sieve to catch any lumps. I strained mine into a stainless steel bowl set into a bigger bowl filled with crushed ice. You can chill in the refrigerator, if you have plenty of time. It must be completely cold before incorporating whipped cream into it. While custard is chilling, cover it with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly on the surface of the custard, to prevent skin from forming.
5. Whip the heavy cream until it holds a peak and thick.
6. Fold the whipped cream into chilled custard, until thoroughly combined. You’ll get about 3 cups of filling, enough to fill the 10 choux pastries, with leftover.
The chocolate ganache
Scald 1/4 cup of heavy cream, pour over 1/3 cup chocolate morsels/chips. Let stand for 30 second, then stir until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
To assemble the pastries
1. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip with the filling.
2. Try to find the hole left by the skewer near the top of each pastry, and pipe the cream in. Or make another small hole if you can’t find it.
3. Dip each pastry half-way down into the ganache. Set a small one on top of a bigger one.
4. Decorate with whipped cream, however you like.