What can be better than a choux filled with chocolate pastry cream?! Two choux! That’s right, I’m talking about the chocolate religieuse: two choux of different size filled with chocolate pastry cream, topped with chocolate fondant and decorated with French buttercream. Well, decorated with whipped cream if you’re looking for an easier version!
A religieuse is a French dessert that translates into “nun”. Apparently, the dark coating of the choux was reminiscent of a nun’s habit. Although it is not hard to make, it does take a bit of time to prepare. The good news though is that you can easily break down the steps over a few days, even weeks if you want.
The Choux Pastry
Now that you know how to make choux pastry, this step should be easy for you. If you missed the post on choux pastry, it’s best to read it first. You’ll find lots of tips and troubleshooting.
The choux will have to be of 2 different sizes: one for the head, about 2.5cm and one for the body, about 5cm. You can make the choux any size you want really, as long as they are not the same size. One thing I should warn you about is that the smaller you make them, the harder it will be to dip them in the fondant. I wanted to make small portions but I had trouble holding them.
If you are just starting out and have no idea when the choux have set, I would recommend piping the choux on two separate baking sheets, one for each size. The smaller choux will bake faster and it’s best not to open the oven door while the big ones are still baking. If you really want to bake everything together, then make sure all the choux have risen and set before you open the oven door or else they will deflate. I actually bake everything together now and just keep the big ones about 5-10 minutes longer to dry out well.
Piping choux for a religieuse
To pipe the choux, it is best to draw an outline so that the choux are all the same size. You can trace circles on the back of the parchment paper using cookie cutters or even cups.
If you don’t feel like tracing circles, another method you can use is dipping your cookie cutter in water and then flour. If you gently drop it onto the parchment paper, you will get an outline.
I used a French star tip to pipe the choux in the featured image but you could just use a plain round tip if you prefer.
Craquelin or not?
Traditionally, religieuses were made without the craquelin. But more and more people use craquelin now for the even look it gives to the choux. It also makes it a bit easier to put one choux on top of the other. I was initially worried that the craquelin topped with fondant would be way too sweet but once you put the pastry cream in, everything blends nicely. So it’s really up to you, you can put it if you like or omit it.
The Chocolate Pastry Cream
We learned last time how to flavor our pastry cream with chocolate. Now that it has been cooling in the fridge for a while, we can use it to fill our choux.
- Whisk the pastry cream to loosen it a little.
- Using a knife, cut a small hole at the bottom of the choux (in the middle).
- Fit a pastry bag with a long thin nozzle or a small pastry tip.
- Fill the pastry bag with pastry cream.
- Insert the nozzle into the choux and start applying pressure to the pastry bag. Move the nozzle left and right to make sure you fill the choux completely.
- Remove the nozzle and wipe off the excess chocolate with a clean finger or a knife.
Careful not to apply too much pressure or the choux might burst! Been there, done that! If you are worried you won’t fill your choux enough, you could weigh it.
- Put your choux on a scale and tare it (bring the weight to zero).
- Fill your choux as much as possible and place it back on the scale (before it turns off!). You now have the weight of the cream inside.
I managed to fill my big choux with about 35 g of cream and the small ones with about 13 g. This will of course depend on the size you have chosen. If you have a choux to spare, you could fill it, weigh it and then cut it in half to make sure it is completely filled. This will give you an idea of how much it should be filled.
The Chocolate Fondant
The moment most of us dread! Coating the choux! If you are worried about this step like I was, I’ll tell you everything I learned so it will hopefully be an easy experience for you!
- In the top pot of a double boiler, put as much fondant as you will need. I used 85 g and it was enough to coat 5 religieuses (so 5 big choux and 5 small ones).
- Add sifted cocoa powder. I used 6 g of cocoa for 85 g of fondant but you can add more or less depending on the color and flavor you are looking for.
- Fill the bottom pot of a double-boiler with water and heat on low. Place the other pot with the fondant on top making sure that it does not touch the water.
- Add a few drops of water if needed to make the fondant thinner. Remove from the heat when the fondant looks fluid and smooth, like melted chocolate. The temperature should never exceed 37°C (98.6°F).
- Transfer the fondant to a small bowl if using a small quantity. This will make it easier to dip the choux in.
- Start dipping your choux in the fondant and keep it upside down for a few seconds over the pot so the excess chocolate drips back into the pot.
- Clean any drips with a clean finger.
- Depending on the piping tip you will use for the cream, you have two options. You can either put the small choux on top of the big choux while the fondant is still wet (they will stick). Or you keep them separate and then stick them together with the cream you are using.
- Refrigerate while you prepare your cream. It’s better if the choux and fondant are completely cold before you pipe your cream.
Tip #1: Don’t drown the religieuse in chocolate!
Don’t forget you have to be able to hold the choux! Don’t go crazy like I did trying to cover almost all the surface. It will be very hard for you to clean the drips and hold it.
Tip #2: The chocolate religieuse should shine!
Don’t heat your fondant too much or it will lose its shine. It should reach about 37°C (98.6°F). You can use your thermometer if you have one or just your finger as it is the temperature of your body. It should feel neither hot nor cold. If you exceed 37°C (98.6°F), add a little bit of cold fondant.
Tip #3: The chocolate religieuse should be cold
Cool down the components before moving on to the next step. The choux shouldn’t be hot for example when filling it or coating it. When you finish coating the choux, place them in the refrigerator while you prepare the whipped cream or else it will melt.
Tip #4: The fondant shouldn’t be too thin
Don’t add too much water to the fondant or the coating will be very thin and you’ll be able to see the choux. It will also drip everywhere and be very hard to clean up.
Tip #5: The chocolate religieuse should stand tall!
Make sure your choux aren’t lopsided or your top choux will slide off and you’ll end up with some funny scene !
Tip #6: Use a suitable container
Since they contain pastry cream, the chocolate religieuses must be refrigerated. One of the mistakes I made was not thinking of the container I would be using for the fridge. I kept moving my chocolate religieuses around, from a plate to a box, and ruined the fondant by accidentally touching it or even bumping one onto the edge of the fridge! Yes, I’m very clumsy! So if you are like me, put them into a flat cake pan as soon as they are ready and then simply cover and refrigerate them.
Tip #7: Reheat the fondant when thick
If your choux gets stuck in the fondant and it becomes difficult to dip it in, it is probably time to reheat the fondant slightly. You can either put it back in the double-boiler or just pop the bowl in the microwave for a few seconds (about 2).
Piping Cream On The Chocolate Religieuse
The traditional cream used to pipe between the two choux is the French buttercream (crème au beurre). If you are not too tired when you get to this stage then definitely go for it, I’m sure it adds something. I personally haven’t tried it as I couldn’t bring myself to make an additional preparation for just a few dots of cream.
Which brings us to the speedier version: the chantilly cream (sweetened whipped cream). If you’ve never made any before, it is very straightforward. Just whip some cold heavy cream with sugar until stiff peaks form and you are done. If you need more tips, read how to make chantilly cream.
In the featured image, I actually made American buttercream (creamed butter and sugar) as I wanted something easy to prepare and that would hold well while I was taking a million pictures! I used a few drops of red food coloring. The buttercream is quite sweet so I’m not sure it’s the best way to go with the fondant (more sugar!) but I thought I’d mention it since I used it.
What piping tip to use?
I saw in videos an amazing piping tip which pipes a sort of circular ruffle leaving the center hollow. It is called a sultane nozzle. If you happen to have it, then this is a great one to use. I couldn’t help myself and actually bought it! I love it and it’s the one I used in the featured image for the pink collar. I think this tip is best suited however for thick creams, like buttercream and not so much if you are decorating with whipped cream.
If you don’t have it, you can use a small star tip and pipe where the two choux meet, creating a “collar” for the religieuse. I would actually recommend piping when the fondant has set so there is less chance of you ruining it if you accidentally touch it. Or you could put your platter on a turntable and simply turn so you don’t have to touch the choux while piping.
Okay, let’s be honest. A make-ahead section is a must for this dessert! It’s hard to pull it all off in a day. But you can prepare almost everything (except for the chocolate fondant or glaze) in advance then all you need to do on the day is assemble your amazing chocolate religieuse.
So let’s break it down into parts:
Making the choux pastry
You can prepare the choux well in advance and freeze them. Simply pipe the shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze them. When they are properly frozen, transfer them to a zip-lock bag and freeze them for up to a month. When you want to bake them, just thaw them on the baking sheet at room temperature (for 15-30 minutes) while you are preheating the oven and then, in they go!
You can prepare homemade fondant several weeks, even months ahead of time. It will keep very well in the fridge, wrapped in parchment paper and stored in a zip-lock bag. Then, when it’s time to glaze the choux, you can melt it gently with cocoa powder and use it immediately.
And if you don’t want to go through this step, you can make a chocolate glaze instead when it’s time to assemble the religieuses.
The pastry cream
You can prepare the pastry cream the day before. Then, simply whisk it a little when it’s time to fill the religieuses.
Assembling the religieuses
You can bake the frozen choux the day you plan to serve them, let them cool, then fill them and glaze them. And you’re done! You can eat them!
Chocolate Religieuse Variations
The beauty of choux pastry is that you can really be as creative as you’d like. You can fill the choux with coffee cream or caramel for example. You can even fill the two choux with a different flavor, which I’m very tempted to do. I’m thinking chocolate and salted caramel. Okay, I’m always trying to fit salted caramel into my desserts! It’s just so good!
And if you are worried you won’t be able to prepare something nice, maybe a little visual will help.
I went from a sloppy mess, to a pretty chocolate religieuse in just two trials! Hopefully, by following the tips in this post, you’ll manage to blow your guests away on your first attempt! Can’t wait to see your pictures!