Religieuse: recipe

The challenge: Eat a classic pastry from a top patisserie in Paris and, using it as inspiration, create a similar recipe that can be made easily at home. 

The pastry: religieuse

The pâtisserie: Cyril Lignac, 2 rue de Chaillot, 75016, Paris

In Catholic Europe, it is no surprise to find food and beverages named after members of the church. In Italy, for example, the cappuccino, takes its name from the capuchin monks, who wear coffee colored robes and always seem to have long white beards. France is no different, where one of its most traditional cakes is la religieuse, which literally means nun. A large choux bun, filled with coffee flavored crème pâtissière, with a smaller one, stuck on top by means of a cream necklace, and both buns covered in chocolate ganache, la religieuse is a common site in pâtisseries all over Paris. 
I am no big fan of chocolate and coffee in pastries, so I visited Cyril Lignac’s patisserie in the trendy 16th district of Paris, since I had heard he did a raspberry religieuse that sounded intriguing. Originally from the south-west of France, Lignac came to Paris thirteen years ago, and trained and worked with some of the best chefs in the city, namely Alain Passard, the Pourcel brothers, and the legendary Pierre Hermé, and Alain Ducasse. He now owns three restaurants, including Le Quinzieme, which holds a Michelin star, and two pâtisseries, all in Paris. 
Lignac is a common sight on French TV, where he is currently one of the hosts of Le Meilleur Pâtissier, the French version of the BBC TV cult, The Great British Bake Off

Cyril Lignac’s shop on the Rue de Chaillot, Paris 16ème
Lignac’s religieuse was quite extraordinary. He used red choux pastry, which gave it an original look, reminiscent of a cardinal, but which was clearly a woman, in her Sunday best all ready for church. She wore a collar of chocolate which had been colored a metallic bronze, and her raspberry hat was topped off with gold leaf—an extremely elegant touch. The pastry was filled with a rich chocolate cream with mouth-wateringly tart raspberries throughout. I remember thinking, as I ate it in a nearby park, in full view of the Eiffel Tower, that it was one of the most exquisite things I had ever tasted—a truly religious experience. 
I decided to make my version to suit my own taste. Out went the milk chocolate, and in came white, combined with strawberries, my favorite fruit since childhood. I kept the red colored pastry, but decided to try and make it look like a cardinal, dressed up for a grand Vatican ceremony. To achieve this, I used white chocolate ganache as his surplice, and cut a strawberry in the shape of a mitre on top. To keep it simple to make at home, I abandoned the necklace, as this would have required piping skills and voilà the result. Not so stylish as Lignac’s but impressive for a family gathering or as a dinner party dessert. I am going to work on refining the presentation and will give you an update when I have, but remember, the challenge was to prepare something that could be made quickly and easily at home. So, how did I do?
The recipe follows after the pictures. 

Strawberry and white chocolate religieuse

Active time: 45 mins
Total time: 2 1/2 hrs
1/2 tsp red powder food coloring
12 strawberries
50g / 1/4 cup white chocolate
50g / 1/4 cup cream
1. Pre-heat the oven to 250°C / 480°F. 
2. Prepare the choux pastry, but mix 1/2 teaspoon of red powder food coloring with the flour. When it is ready, put it in a piping bag and pipe six large and six small buns. Turn the oven off and place the buns in the oven for 25 minutes. Then turn the oven on to 160°C / 325°F and cook the small buns for 10 mins and the large ones for 20 mins. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. 
3. Prepare the creme pâtissière. When it is ready, chop 6 strawberries into small pieces and stir into the cream. 
4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a glass bowl. Boil the cream and then add it to the bowl. Leave for 10 mins and then stir to incorporate all the chocolate. Leave to cool. 
5. Make a small hole in the top of the choux buns with a skewer. Place the creme pâtissière in a piping bag and fill each of the buns. Then dip the large buns in the white chocolate. Pipe a small amount of creme pâtissière on the top of each large bun. Dip the bottom of the small buns in the white chocolate and then stick them, upside down, to the large buns using the creme pâtissière. Cut the remaining six strawberries into mitre shapes, and then place on the top of each small bun. 

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