Dominique and Me: Vanilla Religieuse

The day I can confidently spell religieuse without looking at the book will be the day I feel true happiness.

I know Dominique didn’t invent the French language, but JESUS half of the time I’ve spent making this recipe and writing this blog post has been spelling the name five different times until one of them looks mildly correct ;). I swear to god, it has more vowels than I ever thought possible.

These vanilla religieuse are Ansel’s take on the classic: nun religieuse – a smaller choux pastry stacked on top of a larger choux pastry in order to look like a nun (weird concept I KNOW). In England we have ginger biscuits shaped to look like people, whereas, France has choux that looks like nuns, there’s a real class difference in there somewhere ;). Next thing you know they’ll have monk shaped brioche (if I see anyone making this I will be contacting my lawyers ;)).

Ansel is WILD though – ABSOLUTELY WILD. After arriving in New York and when people started chuckling at the concept of eating a nun (sounds like a bit of a weird kink), it occurred to him that he could become the Vivienne Westwood of choux. There has been no stopping him since, Ansel dresses them up as anything from little sailors, to witches and even Santa! There’s a really cute one in the book that has a little marshmallow top hat and white chocolate bow-tie (I think I’m actually attracted to it/HIM? If I’m honest ;)). Suddenly New York Fashion Week has a whole new meaning. ;)

The flavour profile of this recipe is actually incredibly simple, purely tasting of vanilla. Although, to be fair, we all know how Ansel feels about vanilla (in case you haven’t read the ice cream blog, Ansel is actually in love with vanilla and would happily name his first born after it ;)). I love vanilla as well to be honest, as does my mum (if she didn’t get a mention in the vanilla paragraph pretty sure she would’ve kicked me out of the house ;).

The recipe begins with the whipped ganache. There was a time, quite a few years ago (I’m gonna say that I was roughly 10 years old – that means I’m talking about the years around 2013 in case you didn’t know my exact age ;)), when me and my mum were obsessed – OBSESSESD with whipped ganache. We would literally eat it constantly; this therefore was an exciting filling for us.

The recipe includes a sheet of gelatine to make it set easier and is pretty simple to follow. I must say, much to the disgrace of Dominique Ansel, I never use real vanilla beans as he instructs. I don’t do this by choice, its just that I’m not the rich prince of some middle eastern country with gold coming out of my ears (does that mean that Ansel is a prince??). I made the ganache as instructed, allowing it to set while I move onto the next stage of the recipe.

Next, we come to the choux crust (otherwise known as craquelin). We all know how obsessed I am with choux pastry, IT’S A MAGICAL THING. However, for some reason I have never ventured into the realm of craquelin. I don’t really know (I’m lying - I do know why – IT SEEMS LIKE AN ABSOLUTE PAIN ;)). Once I realised I was making craquelin, I suddenly could only think of when Tan France made it on Celebrity Bake Off. You know, the moment when they had to make choux for their signature and Tan went all out and made craquelin AND EVERYTHING. Unfortunately, his was much too thick and acted like a lead weight on top of his choux (or his choux was just homophobic – CONSPIARCY). Luckily for me, Ansel is quite specific on how thick it should be, allowing be to roll it out with a smidge of confidence. ;)

Of course, the main event is the actual choux pastry (for a blog post practically about choux, it certainly took a while for us to get to it ;)). He instructs to make two batches of the choux from earlier in the book, this was fairly straightforward and pain-free (we stan). To make them look like little people/nuns, he instructs that they get piped in two different sizes, before being topped with circles of craquelin and baked. I always get really nervous about them not puffing up, and today this was heightened by the addition of craquelin, however they puffed up BEAUTIFULLY.

While the choux were cooling, it was time to whip the ganache. I don’t really know what went wrong at this point (of course something had to go wrong ;)), but the ganache would not whip. After quite a while in my Kitchenaid it got to a point where I was concerned it was going to end up like butter, but was still painfully runny. After a few minutes of deciding what to do, I decided to whip up some extra cream and fold this through the ganache. Luckily, this managed to save the ganache (even if it did sacrifice some of the flavour).

The assembly was relatively pain-free. I hadn’t even thought slightly about what sort of clothes mine would wear (this is like a really wild build-a-bear), and so mine ended up closely resembling a nan at a wedding wearing a fascinator that she found in the back of her wardrobe ;). Mine were certainly not supermodels compared to Ansel’s ;).

BLIMEY, these tasted good. It was such simple flavour, but it worked so well, and the crunch from the craquelin really took the whole thing to new heights.

NEXT UP: Cotton-Soft Cheesecake (I think this might be what me and my mum have been looking forward to most to be honest.)

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Woody ✨