The Saint Honoré cake is a delicious French dessert that will surely impress your guests. Small choux buns dipped in caramel are placed along the edge of a crispy puff pastry base that is topped with cream.
I’ll be honest with you, this recipe takes time. If you are not comfortable making choux pastry and pastry cream, I’d recommend starting with filled choux buns instead of undertaking this dessert. On the other hand, if you are looking for a baking challenge, then you are in the right place!
Components and Make-Ahead Tips
There are several components in this recipe so it’s best to make it over several days. Let’s take a look at what we’ll have to prepare before I share some make-ahead tips and shortcuts.
- Choux pastry (with or without craquelin topping)
- Pastry cream
- Puff pastry
- Caramel to coat the choux and/or salted caramel sauce
- Sweetened whipped cream (Chantilly cream)
- Prepare the choux pastry and craquelin and freeze.
- Cook the pastry cream and chill it.
- Make the salted caramel sauce (optional).
- Bake the puff pastry and the frozen choux.
- Prepare the caramel (optional). Dip the choux (that have cooled down) in caramel.
- Let the caramel set on the choux then fill with pastry cream.
- Spoon the remaining pastry cream on the puff pastry and drizzle with caramel sauce. Place the filled choux all around the puff pastry edge then chill.
- Whip heavy cream with sugar and use this Chantilly to decorate the cake. Enjoy!
With a mold
We’ll start by preparing the choux pastry. It’s best to bake the choux buns the day you plan on serving them so they are crispy and fresh. I would recommend using small dome-shaped silicone molds, if available. You’ll be able to easily prepare the choux in advance and they will all be the same size. To do so:
- Prepare the choux pastry. In case you missed it, you can find all the tips and detailed instructions in the choux pastry tutorial.
- Pipe the dough in the cavities of a dome-shaped silicone mold.
- Run a spatula across the surface a few times to get rid of any air bubbles and to smooth the surface. Use the excess dough to fill more cavities.
- Freeze the choux pastry in the mold until easy to unmold. If desired, release from the molds. Transfer to a zip lock bag with the date written on it before returning to the freezer.
On the day you will serve the cake, place the frozen domes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Thaw at room temperature while you preheat the oven then top with a frozen craquelin disk (if using) just before baking.
If you don’t want to make craquelin, you can sift powdered sugar over the choux buns before baking.
Without a mold
If you don’t have a mold, you can pipe the choux pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about an hour or until the piped pastry is frozen. Transfer the choux pastry to a zip-lock bag and freeze for up to a month.
You can bake the choux buns straight away if you prefer. Once baked and cooled, store them in an airtight container at room temperature (or in the fridge if it’s a very warm day). On the day you plan on serving them, place them in the oven at 150°C/302°F, convection setting (or 170°C/338°F, conventional setting) for a few minutes so they become crispy again.
It’s best to slide a template under the parchment paper when piping to get evenly sized choux. You can grab your free templates below. Use the 2.5 cm/1 inch circle as a guide.
The traditional filling for a St Honoré cake is the chiboust cream. I prefer to use pastry cream for a speedier, more stable version. I’ve also made this cake with a diplomat cream (pastry cream with gelatin and whipped cream). But since we will be decorating the cake with whipped cream anyway, I found it easier to stick with pastry cream. There will also be a better distinction between the two layers of cream, in terms of color and texture (dense versus airy).
You can prepare the pastry cream the night before. Once it’s cooked, pour it into a large container to cool it down quickly. Press a piece of parchment paper on the surface then chill for at least 2 hours or until needed. In case you missed it, we discussed in detail how to make pastry cream.
Salted Caramel Sauce
The sauce is completely optional. But if you’re a caramel lover, you will really enjoy it! It’s that good! You can make just half a portion of my homemade caramel sauce. Since the quantity of sugar won’t be too large, you can prepare a dry caramel instead of a wet caramel to speed things up.
Simply pour half the sugar in a small saucepan. Wait until is has fully melted then sprinkle the remaining sugar over it. When all the sugar has caramelized and turned amber, you can add the heavy cream, butter and salt as explained in the recipe.
I piped mini choux buns, filled them with salted caramel sauce then hid them in the cream filling. Although it’s a wonderful addition to the St Honoré, it’s a bit time consuming. You might prefer to simply drizzle the sauce over the cream. Another option would be to serve it on the side as some people might prefer less caramel (or none at all) in their cake.
I use frozen, ready rolled puff pastry sheets. I thaw it in the fridge the day before I plan on using it. If the puff pastry you are using isn’t rolled out already, roll it out to a thickness of about 3 mm (1/8 inch).
- Preheat the oven to 170°C/338°F, convection setting (or 190°C/374°F, conventional setting). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Carefully unroll the puff pastry and place it on the parchment paper. If needed, gently roll it out with a rolling pin to flatten it evenly. Tip: If the puff pastry starts to crack, it’s probably too cold. Let it warm up at room temperature a little before using it. If it is sticky and hard to handle at any point, return it to the refrigerator.
- Using a 20 cm (8 inch) cake pan as a guide, cut a circle with a sharp knife. Remove the excess dough and save it for another use. Note: The final cake size will be smaller than 20 cm (8 inch) as the puff pastry might shrink during baking.
- Prick the dough with a fork so it doesn’t puff up too much during baking.
- Sprinkle a little bit of coarse sugar (or desired sugar) on the dough.
- Top with another piece of parchment paper. Place a baking sheet on top to weigh down the dough and prevent it from puffing up. The heat from the baking sheet will also help caramelize the sugar. Note: You can bake the dough without weight if you prefer.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper and continue baking until golden, 2-5 more minutes.
- Remove from the oven and cool down completely on a wire rack at room temperature. Note: The puff pastry shown below was baked without using weights.
When dipping the choux in caramel, you’ll have to move fast. The caramel will quickly thicken making it hard to dip the choux in. You’ll have to reheat it over very low heat until it has the right consistency again. Be sure to prepare everything you will need before starting: a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process, a silicone mat (or lightly oiled parchment paper), kitchen tongs, the choux buns and an ice pack in case you burn yourself.
Most people dip the choux in caramel using their fingers. I would not recommend doing that as you are likely to burn your fingers at some point (speaking from experience)! I like to use kitchen tongs instead to hold onto the choux. You can also try inserting a knife (slightly tilted) in the base of the choux or a fork but this won’t work well if your choux are very crispy (they’ll crack).
- Prepare a bowl of cold water that is larger than the saucepan you’ll be using. You might need to dip the saucepan in to stop the cooking process quickly.
- Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat (or lightly oiled parchment paper) and set aside.
Cooking the caramel
- Pour the water into a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan then slowly add the sugar towards the center of the saucepan. Gently shake the saucepan to spread the sugar and cover it with water. Be careful not to splatter any sugar onto the sides of the pan. It’s best not to stir, to avoid introducing impurities from the spatula.
- Cook over medium heat, swirling occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Tip: If it starts to boil before the sugar has fully dissolved, lower the heat a little. Undissolved sugar crystals may rise to the surface during boiling forming clumps.
- When it starts to boil, place a lid on the saucepan and keep covered for 2 minutes. Tip: The trapped steam will condense and wash off the sides of the saucepan, getting rid of any stray sugar crystals that could cause crystallization. You can also use a wet pastry brush if needed, to wash down the sides of the saucepan whenever you see sugar crystals on it.
- Remove the lid and add a few drops of lemon juice (4-5 drops) if desired, to prevent crystallization.
- Keep heating until the sugar has caramelized and reaches a light amber color or is slightly lighter than desired color. It will continue cooking and darken when you remove it from the heat. A light colored caramel will be sweeter than a darker one. The more you cook the caramel, the deeper the flavor and the more bitter it will become. Tip: It’s best to lower the heat to medium-low when the color starts changing. This will give you more control over the degree of caramelization. If you notice patches of darker color, swirl the saucepan around to even out the cooking.
- Remove the caramel from the heat. Let it sit briefly (a few seconds) until the bubbles subside and the caramel thickens slightly. Tip: If you cooked it slightly longer than needed, dip the bottom of the saucepan in the bowl of cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. It will thicken quickly though so you’ll have to move fast.
Dipping the choux in caramel
- Grab the choux bun with kitchen tongs and briefly dip in the caramel to coat the surface. Slightly tilt the pan if needed. Let the excess drip into the saucepan, carefully twisting the choux bun then place on the silicone mat. Tip: If you’d like a thin layer of caramel, place the choux bun caramel side up. For a flat, smooth layer (like in the featured image), place the choux caramel side down.
- Repeat with the remaining choux, moving quickly before the caramel hardens. Tip: If the caramel is too runny and won’t coat the choux properly, let it cool down slightly. If you’re getting a thick layer of caramel on the choux or have trouble removing it from the caramel, reheat the caramel over very low heat until fluid enough.
Assembling the St Honoré Cake
Some people prefer filling the choux before dipping them in caramel. I find it much easier to dip the empty choux in caramel then fill them. Up to you to decide what you find more convenient.
- Transfer the cold pastry cream to a mixing bowl and mix for a few minutes until smooth. Note that if you mix it for too long it won’t be as firm.
- Fit a piping bag with a small round piping tip and fill with pastry cream. Fill another piping bag (without tip) with salted caramel sauce, if using.
- Using a dented piping tip, make a small hole on the bottom of the choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream. If you made mini choux you can fill them with salted caramel sauce (or pastry cream). Tip: Try placing the choux around the edge of the puff pastry base to see how many you’ll need to fill. Don’t forget to count the one in the middle, if using. I’m using 13 choux.
- Spread the remaining cream on the puff pastry base, leaving a gap of about 1 cm (0.4 inch) around the edge.
- Place the filled choux around the edge of the base by gently pushing them into the cream so they stay in place. Place mini choux in the cream layer if desired and lightly push down.
- Top with Chantilly cream and enjoy!
This recipe can be a bit tricky to make. Hopefully the tips and step-by-step instructions were detailed enough for you. But just in case, let’s talk about some issues you might encounter when coating the choux with caramel and with the puff pastry. Feel free to head over to the choux pastry and pastry cream tutorials for even more troubleshooting tips.
The caramel is too sweet
- Undercooked: The sweetness will decrease the more you cook the caramel and the darker it becomes. If the caramel is light in color, it will tend to be cloyingly sweet. If cooked for too long however, it will start to taste bitter. Aim for a medium amber color.
- Thick layer of caramel: Try to cover the choux with a thin layer of caramel so that it’s not overly sweet.
If you still find the caramel too sweet, you could try skipping it (or the craquelin).
The layer of caramel is too thick or too thin
- Incorrect temperature: This will depend on the temperature and consistency of the caramel. If the caramel is too hot, it will tend to be runny and you’ll end up with a thin layer of caramel. When it starts to cool down, it will thicken and will stick to the the choux, forming a thick layer. The caramel should be just runny enough to easily dip the choux in without them sticking. You will need to warm up the caramel again over very low heat (to avoid cooking it) until thin enough.
- Excess caramel: Keep the choux upside down for a few seconds over the saucepan to get rid of excess caramel. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a thick layer when you place the choux on the parchment paper.
The caramel is too hard
- Too cold: If the caramel becomes hard when you are trying to coat the choux, it’s probably too cold. Warm it up over very low heat until it thins out again.
- Overcooked: If you almost chip a tooth while eating the choux coated in caramel, you probably overcooked the caramel! Try cooking it at a lower temperature or for less time.
- Too thick: Try coating the choux with a thinner layer of caramel next time (see previous section).
- High humidity: The caramel won’t keep well if it is very humid where you are or if you chilled the assembled cake for too long. It will become sticky as it absorbs moisture. Try making it shortly before serving.
The choux pastry/puff pastry is soggy
- Filled too early: It’s best to assemble the St Honoré cake shortly before serving. Once you put the cream, the choux buns and puff pastry will start to soften. You can have all the components ready in advance then assemble when you are ready to serve.
- Undercooked choux: Make sure the choux are fully cooked through. They should have an even golden color throughout with no white spots. Try slicing one open after baking to check the inside. It should be dry or very slightly moist. Transfer the baked choux to a wire rack to cool down completely. If you keep them on the parchment paper, the condensation will make them soggy.
- Components are too warm: Wait for all the components to have cooled down completely before assembling the cake. Don’t fill choux buns with warm pastry cream for example.
- Baked without craquelin: The craquelin will give the choux a nice crispy texture that keeps for longer. Try topping your choux with craquelin next time if you haven’t done this already.
The puff pastry rose too much
- High oven temperature: If the puff pastry rose too much or unevenly, the oven temperature was probably too high. Try baking at a slightly lower temperature next time.
- Pastry not docked: Prick the pastry with a fork before baking for the steam to escape.
- Baked without weights: Try baking with weights if you haven’t done this already. Place the puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper then cover with another piece of parchment paper. Top with one or two baking sheets to weigh down the dough. This will give you a flat, crisp puff pastry sheet.
The puff pastry didn’t rise
We don’t want the puff pastry to rise too much when making a St Honoré. But if it didn’t rise at all then these tips might help:
- Low oven temperature: Make sure your oven is properly preheated before baking the puff pastry. You could also try baking at a higher temperature or with the convection setting next time.
- Warm puff pastry: If the pastry gets too warm, the butter will melt causing the layers to stick together. Try to keep the dough cold at all times. Chill it once more while preheating the oven.