For the following two weeks, while I am in France, I am going to try a new pastry. Every. Single. Day.
In case you haven’t memorized your multiplication tables yet (don’t worry, I haven’t either), that’s fourteen pastries. Is that a lot? Honestly, I would be eating that many pastries—or more—anyway, so I might as well get something out of it besides an empty wallet and a gourmet French dessert baby kicking at my stomach.
So what is culturally significant about fourteen variations of dark, rich, chocolate, flaky dough, and vanilla beans? I plan on finding out, one bite at a time.
Read the entire series here.
Today, we’re getting fancy with our desserts.
The Religieuse consists of two choux pastries (remember choux from yesterday’s daily pastry, the éclair?) of different sizes (big on bottom, small on top, like a delicious snowman) filled with custard, iced with ganache, and joined together by buttercream. Sometimes the icing is piped to look like ruffles, or any other crazy edible design that the bakers come up with.
The Religieuse literally translates to “nun” in French. Apparently, it got its name because it looks like a nun’s habit. It doesn’t, really. But that’s what all my sources say.
They’re often chocolate or coffee flavored, but mine was vanilla on the bottom and raspberry on top. And, mmm, it was good. My Religieuse got smooshed in transport, and I didn’t get a photo when it was sitting pretty in the bakery case. But here’s an example of some particularly beautiful ones, from the very celebrated and bon French patisserie Laudrée:
Like all pastries seem to, the Religieuse has a complicated history. While the Religieuse in its current iteration found its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, the pastry dough used to make it actually has much deeper roots.
The batter was first created in 1540 by Panterelli, the Italian chef of the Florentine queen of France, Catherine de Medici (whose château I visited recently and will make a separate post about later). This batter evolved over decades, going from pâte à Panterelli to pâte à Popelin (the name change is because the batter was then used to make Popelins, which were allegedly little buns shaped like women’s breasts—oh, France).
Finally, it was our dear friend Marie-Antoine Carême who last improved the technique, and bakers still use his iteration of the recipe today. And it was Carême’s recipe that the Parisian pâtissier Frascati would use to invent the Religieuse in 1855.
I didn’t think it would be possible, but I’m getting a little sick of sugar, especially after the Religieuse, which is unbelievably large and sugary. I will, however, take one for the team and continue trying a new French pastry daily. It will be hard. But I will prevail.