Friday, May 12, 2023

How to Honor Saint Honoratus: Take the Cake

The feast of Saint Honoratus is coming up, and it is good to be prepared; May 16 is the day that the Church honors this great patron saint of pastry chefs. Honoré or Honoratus of Amiens (d. ca. 600) was born in Port-le-Grand, France to a noble family. His parents, noting the lad’s piety, had him educated by Saint Beatus, the sixth bishop of Amiens. After Beatus’ death, Honoratus was chosen to become his successor. Being a humble man, Honoratus felt unworthy of the job, but according to tradition, God confirmed the decision through several signs: a ray of light descended upon him, and holy oil miraculously appeared on his forehead.

But the most famous miracle about Honoratus is that when news of his election reached his family, his old nursemaid, who was baking bread at the time, said that she would not believe what she had heard unless the baker’s peel she was using turned into a tree. Sure enough, when she stuck the end of the peel into the ground, it sprouted roots and turned into a mulberry tree. Why, we wonder, did the nursemaid refuse to believe the news? Did she think, like Honoratus himself, that he was unworthy of the job? Maybe it was her own shortsightedness.
There is a saying attributed to the German philosopher Hegel: “No man is a hero to his valet. This is not because the hero is not a hero, but because the valet is a valet.” That is, the job of a domestic servant is not to recognize greatness but to focus on the weeds and how to deal with them. Or perhaps the nursemaid had the opposite reaction: knowing how holy Honoratus was and how rare good episcopal appointments are (!?), the news was simply too good to be true. Whatever the reason behind the nursemaid’s incredulity, we can credit her for helping to make Saint Honoratus the patron saint of bakers, and for that we should be grateful.
Gateau Honoré, or the Saint Honoratus Cake, is a magnificent confection, but it is difficult to make in its original form, requiring puff pastries, profiteroles, caramel, and Chantilly cream. Instead, enjoy this simple hack from Dining with the Saints to help get the flavors without the fuss.
Simple Saint Honoratus Cake
  • 5 puff pastry sheets, cut into 3 x 6–inch rectangles
  • 2 Tbsps. butter, melted
  • 3 Tbsps. confectioner’s sugar 1 tsp. cinnamon
The Layers
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place the puff pastry sheets 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Combine melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  4. Brush the butter mixture onto the top of each of the puff pastry pieces.
  5. Cook for 15–20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.
  6. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the puff pastries to cool for about 15 minutes. 
  7. Carefully cut each piece of pastry in half lengthwise to make 10 separate rectangular pieces.
Filling #1: Chantilly Cream
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, refrigerated
  • 2 tsps. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  1. Refrigerate a large bowl for 30 minutes.
  2. Combine the heavy cream, vanilla extract, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in the bowl and use a hand mixer to whip them together until the cream begins to thicken and peaks form.
  3. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.
Filling #2: Caramel Sauce
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsps. water 
  • 4 Tbsps. unsalted butter, cubed and kept cold
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. salt
  1. Add the sugar and water to a nonstick saute pan and cook over medium heat, using a high-heat spatula to stir, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan.
  2. Continue cooking until the sugar begins to bubble, lower the heat, and stop stirring, but continue to scrape the sides to avoid crystallization.
  3. Cook 5–8 minutes, as the caramel turns an amber color, keeping an eye on the sugar so that it doesn’t burn.
  4. Remove from the heat, carefully add the butter, and whisk together until the butter is fully incorporated.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and salt and continue to whisk together.
  6. Set aside to cool for 10–15 minutes.
Assembling the Cake
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 6–8 fresh strawberries, stems removed and halved
  1. Put one rectangle of the puff pastry on a plate and drizzle with a little caramel. 
  2. Put another rectangle of pastry on top of the caramel. 
  3. Spread a little of the Chantilly cream on top of the puff pastry. 
  4. Put another rectangle of pastry on top of the Chantilly cream. 
  5. Repeat the process to make a 10-layer cake with interspersed caramel and Chantilly cream layers between the puff pastry.
  6. Top off with strawberries and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
Food for Thought
It is easy to be distrustful in this cynical world filled with misinformation and fake news. But rather than give in to incredulity and skepticism, let us pray for the virtues of discernment and sound judgment, that God may illumine our minds without having to turn kitchen utensils into mulberry trees.
This recipe is by Fr. Leo Patalinghug, co-author with Michael Foley of Dining with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Righteous Feast (Regnery, 2023).

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