A religieuse pastry is a wonderful dessert composed of two choux buns of different sizes filled with pastry cream. It is generally topped with chocolate ganache or fondant and decorated with French buttercream or whipped cream. If this sounds too complicated, don’t worry! We’ll be making a simplified version today. And if you’d like to take it up a notch, I got you covered with plenty of details below!
How to Make Religieuse Pastry
A religieuse is a French dessert that translates into “nun”. 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 religieuse dessert is composed of 4 parts:
- The choux pastry (with or without craquelin)
- The filling
- The chocolate ganache (or fondant)
- The piped decorations
You wouldn’t be able to make the dessert without the choux pastry and the filling. But the other components, although recommended, are optional. Let’s briefly discuss a few options just to give you an idea and you can decide how basic or complicated you’d like your dessert to be.
- Option 1 (easiest): choux pastry + craquelin + filling. This is what I’ve done in the featured image. I used the filling to decorate the religieuse.
- Option 2 (tastiest): choux pastry + craquelin + filling + chocolate ganache. This is our favorite version and worth the additional step if you have time.
- Option 3 (longest): choux pastry + craquelin + filling + ganache + whipped cream (for the decoration). I find it much easier to just use the leftover pastry cream to pipe decorations. But if you run out, you can always make some sweetened whipped cream instead.
Craquelin or not?
In case you missed the post on craquelin, it is simply a thin layer of dough that is placed on the choux before baking. It adds crunchiness to the choux buns and forms a protective layer so that the choux rise evenly. Traditionally, religieuses were made without craquelin. But more and more people use craquelin now for the uniform look it gives to the choux. It also makes it a bit easier to put one choux on top of the other.
The craquelin only takes 5 minutes to prepare and really adds something to this dessert. You could even make a chocolate version. When using craquelin, you can skip the fondant/ganache coating if you want a quicker, simpler version.
Let’s quickly go through the general process of making a religieuse before discussing each component in detail.
- Make the pastry cream and chill it at least 2 hours before using it.
- Prepare the craquelin, if using, and freeze it or chill it.
- Prepare the choux pastry.
- Top the choux with craquelin and bake. Cool down completely at room temperature.
- Fill with cold pastry cream. Chill.
- Prepare the fondant or chocolate ganache. Dip the choux buns in. Chill.
- Decorate with whipped cream or leftover pastry cream.
Take your time making this recipe and spread the work over a few days if needed. Make sure all the components have cooled down before moving on to the next step. The choux buns shouldn’t be hot for example when filling them or coating them.
Chocolate pastry cream
We’ll be filling the choux with chocolate pastry cream today. But you can replace it with vanilla pastry cream, crème légère, salted caramel filling or whatever you like! You can even fill the two choux with a different flavor.
- Sift together the flour and cocoa powder through a fine mesh sieve set over a small bowl. Set aside.
- Pour the milk, heavy cream and part of the sugar (about a third) in a medium-sized pot. Heat over medium-high heat until just simmering.
- In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a medium-sized bowl until combined. Whisk as soon as you add the sugar to the egg yolks or you will “cook” the eggs.
- Add the flour mixture and whisk once more to combine.
- Remove the hot liquids (milk/cream) from the heat and gradually pour over the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Be careful not to pour too quickly so you don’t cook the eggs! You don’t have to pour all the liquids if you don’t have enough space in your bowl. You can pour about half or just enough to dilute the eggs and slowly raise their temperature.
- Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce the heat if needed.
- Once the foam subsides and the cream starts to thicken, keep an eye out for bubbles forming. When this happens, keep heating for another 2 minutes to fully cook the starch and get rid of any starchy taste. Remove from the heat.
- Add the chopped chocolate and whisk until the cream is completely smooth. Add the cold butter and whisk again until fully combined. Tip: If you notice lumps in the pastry cream, strain it through a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl.
- Pour the pastry cream into a wide container so it cools down quickly. Place a piece of parchment paper or cling film straight onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Slightly cool down at room temperature then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Briefly whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl. If you’d like to make chocolate craquelin you can replace part of the flour with cocoa powder.
- Add the softened butter and using your fingertips, mix until a homogeneous dough forms.
- Divide the dough into two portions (100 g/3.5 oz. each). Place each piece inside a folded piece of parchment paper (or between two small sheets of parchment paper). Roll out to a thickness of about 2 mm (1/16 inch).
- If the dough isn’t too soft, cut out 5.5 cm (2 1/6 inch) and 3.5 cm (1 1/3 inch) circles using a cookie cutter. If it’s too soft, refrigerate it a little and then cut shapes. If the dough is too cold when cutting shapes it will have a tendency to crack. Let it warm up slightly at room temperature before trying again.
The size of the craquelin circles will depend on the size of the choux buns you are making. They should be about 1 cm (0.4 inch) larger than the choux.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or freeze for 15 minutes (on a flat surface).
We previously discussed in depth how to make choux pastry. If you missed the post on choux pastry, it’s best to read it first. You’ll find detailed instructions and troubleshooting tips.
Preparing the choux pastry
- Preheat the oven to 170°C (338°F), convection setting (or 190°C/374°F conventional setting). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Heat the water with the butter, sugar and salt in a small pot over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar and salt have dissolved. Once the butter melts completely, increase the heat to medium-high and continue heating until the first bubbles appear.
- Making the panade: Remove from the heat and add the sifted flour all at once. Stir to combine fully. Once there are no longer traces of flour, return the dough to the heat.
- Keep stirring the dough for 2-3 minutes or until it no longer sticks to the pot and a film forms in the bottom of the pot (this won’t be visible in non-stick pots).
- Cooling the panade: Transfer the dough to a medium bowl or to the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix for a few minutes on the lowest setting or by hand using a wooden spoon. Steam will come out of the dough.
- When the dough cools down to about 60°C (140°F), or when your bowl doesn’t feel extremely hot and there is no more steam coming out, start adding the eggs very slowly. If you haven’t done it already, slightly beat the eggs with a fork before adding them to the dough. Add a third to begin with and mix until fully incorporated. The dough will initially look curdled but will come together with mixing.
- Add the remaining eggs little by little – mixing well between each addition – until the dough looks smooth and glossy. If you hold the paddle or spoon up, the dough should hold onto it for a few seconds before falling back into the bowl. If it doesn’t fall, it’s too dry. Keep adding more egg. Note: You might not need to add all of the egg.
- Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large open tip (or a French star tip). Get rid of any air bubbles in the bag. You can just use a big spoon if you don’t want to pipe the dough.
Piping choux for a religieuse
The choux will have to be of 2 different sizes: one for the head, about 2.5 cm (1 inch) and one for the body, about 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inch). You can make the choux any size you want really, as long as they are not the same size. Note that the smaller you make them, the harder it will be to hold them and dip them in the fondant/ganache.
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.
To pipe evenly sized choux, the easiest thing to do is to use templates. Just slide them under the parchment paper then pipe away! You can grab your free printable templates below.
- Hold the piping bag perpendicular (90° angle) to the piping surface (parchment paper, silicone mat etc.) with the tip about 2 cm (3/4 inch) above it. Pipe 6 large choux for the body, about 4.5 cm (1 3/4 inch) and 6 small ones for the head of about 2.5 cm (1 inch). You can then use the leftover dough to pipe more choux, if desired. Top with craquelin, if using. Alternatively, brush with egg wash. Leave a space of about 4 cm (1.6 inches) between the choux. It is best to pipe the choux in staggered rows to ensure they won’t stick together when they puff up and to allow for proper heat distribution.
Baking the choux
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until they look puffy and set. Change the convection to a conventional setting (or reduce the temperature to 170°C/338°F in a conventional oven) and keep baking for about 15 more minutes for the small choux and 25 for the large ones, or until completely golden. There should be no white traces remaining in the pastry. If you piped more choux than needed, you can cut one open to test for doneness.
- Transfer the choux to a wire rack and cool completely at room temperature.
Filling the choux with pastry cream
- Using a knife, cut a small hole at the bottom of the choux (in the middle).
- Remove the chocolate pastry cream from the fridge and whisk it to loosen it a little.
- Fit a pastry bag with a long thin nozzle (or a small pastry tip) and fill it 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 it completely. I used about 50 g (1.8 oz.) of cream for the large choux and 18 g (0.6 oz.) for the small ones. If the choux feels heavy, you probably filled it too much!
- Remove the nozzle and wipe off the excess cream from the choux with a clean finger or a knife.
- Refrigerate the filled choux while preparing the chocolate ganache.
Preparing the ganache
- Heat together the powdered sugar and heavy cream, stirring occasionally, until hot (not boiling).
- In the meantime, place the chocolate in a small (microwable) bowl that is just wide enough to dip the choux later on. If it’s too wide, the ganache will be too shallow to dip the choux comfortably and you’ll have to transfer the ganache to another bowl. Heat the chocolate in the microwave in 10-20 second increments, stirring in-between, until the chocolate has fully melted.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate in 3-4 additions, stirring with a spoon until fully combined. Try not to use a whisk or something that will incorporate air bubbles.
Tip: You can strain the chocolate ganache through a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl to get rid of any lumps or bubbles.
Coating the choux
- While the ganache is still warm and pourable, carefully dip your choux. Keep them upside down for a few seconds to get rid of any drips. If needed, use a clean finger to remove any excess chocolate.
- Place a small choux over a large one while the ganache is still wet (they will stick). Alternatively, keep them separate and then stick them together with the cream you will use to decorate them later on. Refrigerate until completely cold before decorating with leftover pastry cream or whipped cream. Tip: Make sure your choux aren’t lopsided or your top choux will slide off. This shouldn’t be an issue if you topped the choux with craquelin.
Tip: Try not to use a deep container to store the religieuses before the ganache has set or you might bump them against the edges and ruin the ganache. You can use a flat cake plate with a dome cover before chilling.
Coating the choux: The ganache (or fondant) will firm up as it cools down. Use it while it’s still warm and pourable. If the ganache is too firm or the container is too shallow, you’ll have trouble coating the choux. The craquelin will also have a tendency to stick to the firm ganache in the bowl and fall apart. Gently reheat the ganache to thin it out again. If you used chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage, add more hot heavy cream. If the ganache is too thin on the other hand, it will drip over the sides and won’t coat the choux properly. Add more melted chocolate (or fondant) to thicken it.
- Decorate as desired. Serve or refrigerate for a few hours. The filled choux will get soggy with time.
Decorating The Religieuse
The traditional cream used to pipe between the two choux is the French buttercream (crème au beurre). To avoid making more preparations, I simply used the chocolate pastry cream in the featured image (at the top of the post). I left the small choux empty and piped the cream on top instead of inside. Then I placed it inverted (craquelin side down) on the large choux. I also piped stars where the two choux buns meet, creating a “collar” for the religieuse. When using chocolate ganache (pictured above), I simply placed one choux on top of the other, craquelin side facing up.
You could use sweetened whipped cream instead of pastry cream, to decorate the religieuse pastry or simply skip the piping altogether.
We previously discussed how to make poured fondant for choux pastry from scratch. You can use it to coat the choux instead of the chocolate ganache. For a chocolate coating, simply add a little bit of cocoa powder as explained below.
- Place the fondant in the top pot of a double-boiler.
- Sift the cocoa powder through a fine mesh sieve placed over the fondant.
- Fill the bottom pot of the double-boiler with water (about 2.5 cm/1 inch) 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).
Don’t add too much water to the fondant or the coating will be very thin and will drip everywhere.
The fondant will lose its shine if it’s heated beyond 37°C (98.6°F). It’s best to check the temperature using a thermometer. Alternatively, dip a clean finger in the fondant. It should feel neither hot nor cold (since it’s the body temperature). If you exceed 37°C (98.6°F), add a little bit of cold fondant.
- Transfer the fondant to a narrow bowl and dip as explained when using chocolate ganache. 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).
This post was originally published on January 23, 2021. I updated it with new pictures and more information.