First things first: If you haven't seen Wes Anderson's newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, by now, you're really missing out. The director's latest effort is beautiful, funny, quirky, and, best of all, involves food. Of course, it doesn't feature just any edible creation, but rather a pastry that blends simple confections with just the right amount of whimsy to be the type of fictional dessert that fits in perfectly with Anderson's one-of-a-kind world.
We've already showed you an adorable video recipe for making Mendl's courtesan au chocolat, but when we heard local pastry chef Country Velador would be making the confections to sell at her Scottsdale store we knew we had to get in the kitchen for a firsthand look at the baking process.
For those who have not seen the movie, or maybe weren't paying close enough attention, the Courtesan au Chocolat is a tiered-dessert made of three different sizes of chocolate cream-filled pastries. Each of the puffs, which are staggered in size, is coated in a different color glaze and then decorated with blue and white icings.
Velador, a pretty big Wes Anderson
nerd fan, started with the fictional Mendl's recipe that's been floating around the internet based on the video tutorial. It begins:
Mendl's Courtesan au Chocolat
The exact recipe for the Courtesan au chocolat has never been published or publicly disclosed as per the conditions of Herr Mendl's will. However, the following has been collated and adapted from several "pirate" sources in the Nebelsbad archives (including a 1963 recipe from the kitchen of the Grand Budapest Hotel using powdered eggs that was printed in the Lutz Daily Fact).
The first step is to make a choux pastry. For this portion of the recipe Velador uses the same proportions as are provided in the recipe:
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 cup fresh water
- 1/4 lb (1 stick) butter
- 4 eggs beaten in a bowl
- A pinch of salt
- A larger pinch of sugar
To make the pastry she combines the water, butter, and salt and brought to a boil. (Velador uses a convection burner, but home bakers can use a regular stove top.) Once the mixture has reached a boil, remove it quickly from the heat and mix it with sifted flour. Velador then returns the dough to the heat and cooks until it forms one lump.
You then remove the dough and allow it to cool before adding the eggs. Doing so prevents the eggs from cooking, so Velador says it's important to let it cool at least to the touch. She also recommends adding each egg one at a time with a wooden spoon or plastic spatula to be sure the dough doesn't become too runny to pipe. The correct number of eggs will differ depending on elevation and humidity, but ideally your dough should be about the same texture as cookie dough, soft enough to pipe but not so runny it doesn't keep its shape.
Once the dough is done Velador covers a tray in parchment and puts the dough into a pastry bag. You can also use a spoon if you don't have a bag. You'll need to pipe the same number of small, medium, and large pastry balls -- about the size of a tablespoon, teaspoon, and hazelnut, respectively. The smallest balls should be put on a separate sheet since they'll likely take less time to bake.
Velador recommends baking all three for 10 minutes at 400 degrees to "give them a nice rise" before lowering the temperature to about 350 degrees and baking for another 25 minutes. You'll want to keep an eye on the pastries since the bake time will also be affected by elevation and humidity.
Once the pastries are done remove them from the oven and cut small holes in the bottom to allow the steam to escape. Then let cool.
The second step will be to make the chocolate filling. Velador used the recipe below, taken from the original but with a few minor adjustments. When completed the filling should be about the same consistency as a thick pudding.
- 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- .5 oz cocoa powder
- .4 oz flour (optional)
- .4 oz cornstarch
Velador recommends heating the milk and chocolate over a double boiler to avoid getting lumps in the filling. Then premix the cornstarch, sugar, and cocoa prior to adding them to the three egg yolks. Velador says you can remove the flour from the recipe altogether and just use more cornstarch instead, which may also help cut down on lumps. Once the dry ingredients and eggs are mixed, slowly mix in half the hot chocolate then add the second half while the filling sits over a low very heat. Continue stirring until the filling comes to a bubble and it should thicken into a custard. Then remove from the heat, strain, and let chill.
Once the pastry and filling has cooled, pipe the filling to the cut holes in the bottom of the puffs. Velador chose not to fill the smallest pastries.
Then she makes the sugar icing by combining powdered sugar and milk. Velador does this by eye until the icing becomes the right consistency to work as a glaze. To be completely authentic to the movie, you'll want three colors: pale pink, light green, and very light lavender. Be sure to also save a small amount of white icing. Velador also used blue and white buttercreams, which can be made by whipping together butter and powdered sugar.
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She then dips the tops of the large pastries in the pink icing, the medium in the green, and the smallest in the lavender and decorates the tops of each with a swirl pattern of white icing. Velador then stacks the three pastries from largest to smallest using a small amount of blue buttercream in between each pastry. She finishes the decorating with a row of blue buttercream dots in between each pastry, a ruffle of white butter cream at the base, and a small piece of chocolate on the top -- though the original recipe calls for a cocoa bean.
If all that work sounds like too much for you (it was for us!) you'll be able to purchase courtesan au choclat at Super Chunk Sweets and Treats next Friday through Sunday, April 11-13. The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Velador says she plans to sell them for $6 each.
For more information visit the Super Chunk Sweets and Treats website or call (602) 736-2383.