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The St. Honore cake is an extremely complicated dessert not to be attempted by the faint-hearted pastry chef. Named for the French patron saint of bakers, the St. Honore is nonetheless a specialty of many Italian bakeries as well as French ones. The cake is served mostly for special occasions, and is a rich and buttery combination of pastry, Bavarian cream and rum.
The base of a St. Honore cake is made of pate brisee, a French pastry dough that is simply a combination of flour, butter, salt and ice water. The base is filled with pastry cream or Bavarian cream, often thickened with gelatin or cornstarch and heavily infused with rum. Italian versions of the cake may also use Marsala wine as a flavoring instead of, or in addition to, rum. This liquored concoction can be quite potent, and may give an alcoholic buzz to those returning for seconds. Atop the cream filling sits a layer of choux pastry, a light dough often used for éclairs and profiteroles.
Surrounding the main cake are cream puffs, filled with either custard or whipped cream and dipped in a thin caramel, making them similar to croquembouche. The filling in the puffs may also be flavored, usually with more rum or vanilla. The top of cake is decorated with whipped cream and often glaceed cherries, a finishing touch on a pastry masterpiece.
Making your own St. Honore is a time consuming, daring enterprise best left to extremely able pastry chefs. In addition to the easily burnable cream fillings, you must prepare both the pate brisee and the choux, which are time consuming enough on their own. The St. Honore cake is truly a special occasion dessert, perfect for events where chocolate or vanilla will just not go far enough. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and no fears where baking is concerned, check local pastry shops and bakeries to see where you can find an authentic St. Honore cake.
The flexibility of the dough and the added bulk of the cream puffs allow the St. Honore cake to be made quite large. Although only a single layer, St. Honore cakes can easily be made to serve 100 people. They can make a spectacular tiered wedding cake, with both the main cake and the surrounding puffs easily accommodating a large gathering of people.
Since the delicious pastry delight is so time consuming, bakeries that provide it often build their reputation on this and similar spectacular desserts. As difficult of a recipe as it is, any St. Honore cake you can find is likely to be delicious. Feel free to try as many local versions as possible; once you’ve tasted your first St. Honore cake, you may never look at dessert the same way again.
This sounds like the ultimate decadent cake dessert. If I am ever in France, I will have to find place to try one...though I may not go back for seconds, the last thing my dessert needs to give me is a buzz.