Cannelés de Bordeaux

It’s rugby season once again. Although I don’t like rugby, I do have a vested interest in a few matches due to a long standing bet between me and my French colleagues.

It all started about 6 years ago with my colleague Cecile. We decided whoever’s team lost would have to bake a cake for the office for Monday morning. We both had wins and losses over the years – she made a spectacular and very French Apple tart one year, I made a classic Victoria sponge another year.

When Cecile moved to another company another French colleague, Ludo, took on the mantle. However, his efforts have left a little to be desired at times, such as this quite delightful effort of a raspberry swissroll covered with squirty cream and tricolore balls.

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I think France may have had a bad year that year!

This year, as usual, I didn’t bother to watch the match – I can only cope with about 5 minutes at a time. I switched it on close to the end only to watch England lose in the final 2 minutes.

Never mind, at least it gave me something to bake and post about!

I decided to make a French classic – Cannelé de Bordeaux. These are little individual cakes baked in special moulds. The batter is similar to a pancake batter and the finished article is a spongy cake, with a chewy outside and an almost custard like interior.

As with all French patisserie recipes, you need to plan your time as these cannot be just whipped up last minute of course. You need to make the batter well in advance so it has plenty of time to chill.

I used a recipe from a French website (http://www.marmiton.org/recettes/recette_canneles-bordelais_11439.aspx). I’ll write the ingredients below in English for non-French speakers.

– 500 ml milk
– 1 pinch of salt
– 2 whole eggs
– 2 egg yolks
– 1/2 vanilla pod
– 1 soup spoon of rum
– 100 g plain flour
– 250 g caster sugar
– 50 g butter (+ 50 g to grease the moulds)

The method is quite simple. Simply boil the milk with the vanilla and butter. While you’re doing this, mix the flour and sugar together, then add all the eggs and mix together well – a bit like you were making a custard. Then pour in the boiling milk and mix gently until you you have a batter that is a similar consistency to pancake batter (i.e. it should coat the back of a wooden spoon). Leave to cool before adding the rum and then refrigerate for several hours (overnight if possible).

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When you are ready to cook your cannelés, preheat your oven to 270C (or as high as you can if, like mine, your oven doesn’t go up to this) and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up at the same time.

Now we have to turn our attention to the moulds. The secret to cannelés is really the shape. My advice if you don’t have the correct moulds is to make something else as they just won’t work.

I borrowed some silicon moulds from my friend Laura. One mould for small cannelés, and for normal size ones. I enthusiastically recommend silicon moulds for this. The traditional moulds are made of copper and need to be coated with beeswax and several layers of butter before use. The silicon moulds just need the butter. I melted the extra 50g butter and painted each mould with it. Then after it had cooled and hardened I did it again. I have no idea if my silicon moulds would have worked anyway without this, but I didn’t want to take the risk.

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The recipe states to fill the moulds no more than halfway with the batter. I was very careful to do this and found that my cannelés were a little on the short side, so I’d be tempted to fill them slightly fuller next time – but no more than 2/3 full.

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Remove your hot baking tray from the oven, place the moulds into it and put them into the very hot oven before the baking tray has had time to cool down.

Cook at this temperature for 5 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 180C and cook for an hour.

Don’t be tempted to open the door to look at or poke the cannelés. Just leave them alone for the whole hour – don’t worry they won’t burn even though they do go scarily dark – that’s a good thing.

After the hour remove from the oven, and press out of the moulds while still hot. Put onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

Your cannelé should have a very dark brown crust, but be soft, squishy and custard-like in the centre.

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Hope you enjoy making them!!

Pretty cupcakes

So, January has been and gone and we’re now into February – where does the time go – I’ve still got Christmas recipes I would like to blog about – but I think I’ll keep them till next December. No one wants to see a reindeer in February!!

Instead, I thought I would write about my new year’s resolution. This year my aim is to make my bakes look as pretty as possible. Anyone who has read any of my previous posts will know that my cakes and pastries don’t always turn out like the picture in the recipe book – even though they usually taste pretty much ok, they sometimes look like they’ve been dropped from a great height.

I decided to start my challenge with the quintessential pretty bake – the cupcake.

I made three different cupcakes – a carrot cake, a chocolate and beetroot cake and a basic lemon drizzle cake.

Carrot cake

I started with the carrot cake. I got the recipe from the BBC Goodfood website. I had already tried these at my sister-in-law’s baby shower. Her sister made them perfectly and they were amazing – so I thought I would give them a go. The recipe for the cakes is quite straightforward. You can find the list of ingredients and a detailed method by following the link, but basically you combine the dry ingredients, then whisk the eggs and oil together until light, add to the dry ingredients and add the grated carrots. So far, so simple!

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It makes quite a thick mixture, which surprised me, but fill some cupcake cases and pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes and you get a lovely moist cake, full of flavour from the dark muscovado sugar (which collected in little lumps in my cakes so you got a lovely sugary surprise every few mouthfuls).

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Then for the topping and the beautification of the cake. The method for the icing also seemed quite straightforward – simply beat the butter till soft, then add cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla extract.

But it all started going a bit wrong from here. I beat the butter to what I considered to be a soft consistency, then added the other ingredients – the result, a sloppy, lumpy mess – not very pretty at all! I whisked some more, and then some more – no change. Then I decided to sieve the mixture to get rid of the lumps of butter floating in the mess. This did work – so I was then just left with a sloppy mess – but no lumps! I added more icing sugar (almost half the required amount extra), kept whisking – all to no avail. My plan to make a pretty cupcake had suffered a major setback. I just drizzled the icing onto the carrot cakes – they did not look great, and after a 20 minute journey in a box they looked even worse. They did taste amazing though – even the crazy icing – very moist and rich. Next time I will beat the butter until softer, and make sure the cream cheese is very chilled, and hopefully I’ll have more success.

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Beetroot and chocolate cupcakes

So I moved onto my next cupcake with a determination to get this one to look great. It was a fabulous recipe to make – again, quite simple as you really just mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients – but you will need a food processor to blend the beetroot – I suppose you could finely dice then purée them – but I wouldn’t recommend it! You can find the full ingredients and recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, which surely everyone on the world now has – if not, your next door neighbour probably has.

If your supermarket is sensible it will have a pack of pre-cooked, ready peeled, vacuum packed beetroot available to buy. If your supermarket is not sensible (Asda in Beddington, South London – ahem!) they will only have raw beetroot and so you’ll have to cook and peel them yourself. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, you simply boil them for a few hours, but it did add an unexpected couple of hours to my cooking time and made the kitchen smell quite earthy for a while. I also had to find some disposable gloves before peeling them so I didn’t stain my hands bright pink.

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So, with the beetroot puréed, and the other wet ingredients added and blended together to make the most amazing pink goop,

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it was then just a question of adding the goop to the dry ingredients and mixing with an electric mixer for a few minutes. Then into the oven for about 20 minutes, and you have the most amazing moist (dark pink) chocolate cakes. I was really surprised with how well these turned out. They are not the most chocolate-y cupcakes, but they are light, moist and very more-ish.

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The cookbook recommends a cream cheese icing for these, but as I’d just had a disaster with the carrot cakes, I decided to stay simple and make a basic vanilla buttercream (exactly the same as I’ve made in other posts). I think this is actually a brilliant complement to the chocolate. As I could actually pipe this icing I decided to try out my icing skills using my Christmas present – an icing nozzle set. After a lot of you-tubing to see how everyone else did it, I tried to make a rose, piping a small bud at the centre of the cake and then spiralling out to the edges. By the 16th cake they were starting to look almost like roses – but I think I need a bit more practice! What a good excuse to make more cupcakes!

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Lemon drizzle cupcakes

Following on from the slight improvement in presentation with the beetroot and chocolate cakes (although anything would have been an improvement on the carrot cakes to be honest) I decided that as my piping skills are not top notch, perhaps I should make some sort of decoration to go on top.

After a quick visit to Lakeland Limited I was soon the proud owner of a sunflower icing stamp and could try out my own cake toppers.

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If you have ever seen these in the supermarkets you would imagine they are the most difficult thing in the world as they cost an arm and a leg. But it really was as simple as rolling the fondant icing out quite thin and stamping the flower shape out. You then press the plunger to leave patterns on the petals. I finished off my flowers by colouring a small amount of fondant yellow and cutting out circles for the centres of the flowers, which I stuck on with a little water. I then put them onto some grease proof paper to dry while I made the cakes.

Perhaps it wasn’t quite as simple as I make it sound. It was quite fiddly, I needed to use a lot of icing sugar to stop them sticking – a palette knife is essential to prise them from the worktop. But all in all it wasn’t too bad.

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The lemon drizzle cakes were made with a basic 2 egg sponge mixture, with an extra splash of milk to make the mixture a little looser (I find this helps keep cupcakes moist). I added some finely grated lemon zest to the mixture at the end. While the cakes were in the oven I made the drizzle by juicing the dezested lemon and putting it into a saucepan with a generous amount of caster sugar and heating gently until the sugar had dissolved. Once fully dissolved, it comes off the heat and is left to cool.

As soon as the cakes came out of the oven, I skewered them all over with a cocktail stick and spooned over the drizzle. Be generous and use it all up – don’t worry about drowning the cakes – you won’t with this amount of juice. Then I left them to cool while I made my buttercream.

Again, I made a simple buttercream (I’m not sure I’ll be brave enough to make anything else ever again) but this time I flavoured it with lemon extract instead of vanilla and added a few drops of yellow food colouring. I piped a swirl on each cake – keeping it quite flat, and then topped each one off with a flower.

Success!!

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I think these are my best looking cupcakes yet. I was really happy with them. So I think the secret is to keep making toppers to hide my dodgy icing skills until I get better.

Christmas cake – part 2 – decoration

I know Christmas is over and done with, and I should have posted this before Christmas, but, as ever, I just ran out of time. And so, a whole month after Christmas, here is my post about the decoration of my Christmas cake – hopefully it will be useful next year!

I’ve made a Christmas each year for the past 6 years or so, and every year I try a different design. A few examples of which are:

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I usually ice my cakes with soft fondant icing. It’s nice and easy to do, and looks clean and effective. You can see a post about how I do this in my celebration cake post from May (Celebration cake).

However, this year I decided to tackle royal icing. This is the icing I remember from childhood, but I had never actually attempted it myself.

As with fondant icing, you have to start by covering the cake with a good layer of marzipan. Place the cake in the centre of a cake board. Heat some sieved apricot jam until boiling, then brush over the cake. Place the rolled out marzipan over the cake, press into the sides and smooth with your hands, or a cake smoother if you have one. Leave to dry out overnight.

Once all the preparation is complete, it’s time for the icing. The recipe I used was from Mich Turner’s Cake Masterclass.

Ingredients

1 large egg white
450g icing sugar (approx), sifted
1/2 lemon
1 tsp glycerine

As I was using this to cover a cake I added the glycerine. This stops the icing becoming crumbly and keeps it slightly flexible when you cut through the cake. If you are piping the icing, don’t add the glycerine.

Whisk the egg white on full speed until it reaches the soft peak stage. Add two thirds of the icing sugar, whisk slowly at first (or risk getting covered in icing sugar) and then on full speed for 2 minutes. Then continue to add the sugar until it resembles whipped double cream. It should be mallowy, like meringue. I added a little too much on my first attempt and it went a little dry. However, after adding the lemon juice (through a tea strainer) and glycerine I got the desired consistency. Whisk for another minute.

You are then ready to cover the cake.

I don’t have any particular trick to this. I simply dropped the icing onto the cake and spread it round using a palette knife.

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I then kept adding more icing and smoothing around. When I had a good coat and the sides were reasonably smooth, I flicked up the icing on the top to make small peaks for my snowy scene.

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Then leave the cake to dry overnight – this is important (see the end of this post to find out why).

To decorate the cake I made some little candy canes from fondant icing. I made two sausages from some fondant icing – one red and one white.

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I then wrapped the sausages around one another and rolled until they combined.

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After a bit more rolling, until I got the correct thickness, I cut out lengths of the fondant icing and shaped them into candy cane shapes.

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Leave the candy canes out to dry overnight (again an important step!).

Once everything is dry, you can assemble the cake, attaching the decorations with a little reserved royal icing and tying a ribbon around the cake.

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I made large and small individual cakes exactly like this and for the most part they were successful. The cake was moist, and the royal icing turned our surprisingly well for my first attempt. Where I went wrong was by not allowing everything to dry thoroughly before assembling the cake. The red fondant from the candy canes ran into the snowy scene and it all looked a little gruesome! So next time I will have to be a little more patient and leave everything to dry properly.

Christmas biscotti

The next stage in my Christmas baking is making gifts for friends and family. I’ve tried lots of recipes over the last few years – some more successful than others – I’m never making chocolate truffles again after one disastrous attempt when they all congealed in their gift bags, a fact I only discovered 5 minutes before I was due to give them to my family.

But one recipe that has never let me down is this one for fruity Christmas biscotti. They are reasonably easy to make, keep for a few weeks (so you don’t have to make them at the last minute), one batch makes enough for 10 gifts (plus a few tasters), and they look authentic!

Ingredients (taken from BBC Good Food website)

350g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
250g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
coarsely grated zest 1 orange
85g raisins
85g dried cherries
50g blanched almonds
50g shelled pistachios

The fruit and nuts in the ingredients list are simply examples of what you can add, as long as you keep the quantities the same you can use what ever you like. I love the cherries, but cranberries also work really well, and pecans are lovely as well.

The first part of the recipe is really simple. Put the flour, baking powder, spice and sugar into a large bowl, add the eggs and mix until you get a firm dough.

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This will seem impossible when you start, but keep mixing, get your hands in and push the mixture together and it will soon form a ball.

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Add all the fruit and nuts and press into the dough making sure they are reasonably evenly distributed. Divide the dough into four equal pieces.

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Roll each piece out into a sausage shape approx. 30 cm long. Place the sausages on two baking trays.

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Put the baking trays into an oven preheated to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4 and bake for 25-30 mins until the mixture has risen and spread (they will look like little loaves of bread). They should still be quite pale. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Reduce the oven temperature to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1.

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When the little loaves are cool enough to handle, use a bread knife to cut them into slices. To get the best sizes cut them at a diagonal.

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It takes a bit of patience, especially to slice through the nuts, but it’s not too difficult. If you slice thinly enough you should get about 70 slices.

Place the slices back on the baking tray and put back in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the slices onto the other side and bake for a further 15 minutes. Then remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

The biscotti will keep for up to a month in an airtight tin. I divide the biscotti between cellophane bags and decorate with ribbon for a lovely homemade gift.

Christmas cake

First thing on the list of Christmas baking is always the Christmas cake. It usually needs to be made a good few weeks before Christmas as it needs to be “fed” with extra booze and mature. However, I don’t make an absolutely traditional Christmas cake. It has all the same ingredients and it looks like a traditional cake, but it’s a little lighter and can therefore be made just before Christmas and still be just as delicious. It can also be made into smaller cakes if you want to make individual Christmas cakes as gifts. I usually do this, and they do make amazing very personal presents.

The principal ingredient is ginger, which is a very Christmassy flavour, and it appears in ground, fresh and alcoholic form!

Ingredients

350g raisins
125g currants
125g sultanas
200ml ginger wine, plus 4tbsp
200g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g dark muscovado sugar
4 eggs
200g plain flour
50g ground almonds
½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly grated root ginger
1 tbsp treacle

This is a nice easy cake to make. The only “difficult” thing is remembering that you have to soak the dried fruit in the ginger wine overnight. I always forget to do it so they usually only have a few hours, but if you can leave them overnight then do – they become much juicier and plumper!

When you come to make the cake it starts in the same way as a traditional sponge cake – you simply cream the butter and sugar for a few minutes until a pale golden colour. Then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Then stir in the flour, almonds and dry spices. Finally, add the soaked fruit, as well as any remaining liquid, the root ginger, and the treacle.

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One trick I learned for adding treacle is to warm the spoon in a cup of hot water before putting it into the treacle tin – it should slide right off!!

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If you are making a full-sized cake double line your tin (this recipe will fill a 20cm tin). This means you put a circle of paper on the bottom of the tin, then two layers around the sides, followed by a second bottom layer on top. I made small individual cakes using a silicon muffin tin.

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For a large cake bake for 30 mins in an oven preheated to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3, then reduce the oven temperature to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2 and bake for a further 2 hours, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Smaller cakes will obviously take less time. Set the oven between the two temperatures and bake for about 30 minutes, but check them after 20 as times will vary according to their size.

When cooked, skewer the cake(s) all over and spoon over the extra 4tbsp of ginger wine. Once cooled slightly, place the cake on a wire rack to cool completely. Then wrap in baking parchment and tin foil until ready to decorate. If you want to, you can “feed” the cake once a week with a little ginger wine for added flavour.

Next step…….decoration!

Puff pastry

This is something I have never made from scratch – I’ve always just bought it ready made. If you haven’t got an entire day to devote to it – just buy ready made too! But if it’s a rainy Sunday and you’ve got nowhere else go – give it a go!

I took the recipe from my copy of Larousse Gastronomique (the English translation) as I thought I should trust a classic recipe for a classic piece of French patisserie. It’s not the most complicated recipe and only contains four ingredients, but it does take a long time.

Ingredients

500g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
300ml water
500g butter (softened)

Put the flour on your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the salt and water to this well and mx and knead the dough until smooth.

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Leave the dough to stand for 25 minutes. Then, roll the dough into a square, mark a cross on the top and roll out the wedges to form a cross shape. This seemed very strange, but it did work!

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Put the butter (which I roll between sheets of baking parchment to make the correct sized square) at the centre of the cross then fold the dough over the butter so it is completely enclosed.

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Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up. Then, roll out the dough to make a rectangle 60cm long, 20cm wide and 1.5cm thick. Fold the rectangle into 3, turn the dough by a quarter and roll it out again to the same size. Fold it into 3 again and then put into the fridge for 15 minutes.

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Repeat the sequence of rolling, turning by a quarter, folding into 3 and chilling a further 4 times.

After this, you have your very own homemade puff pastry to use in the recipe of your choice! I used it to make a Gateau St. Honoré and some millefeuilles.

Challenge of the month – October/November – Gateau St. Honoré

As usual I’m a little late with posting my challenge of the month. But never mind, here it is, better late than never!

I decided to try something really difficult this month, in fact several difficult things all combined into one cake – a Gateau St. Honoré! This amazing French concoction is a combination of puff pastry, profiteroles, crème patissière, chantilly cream and caramel – all of which come with their own challenges.

As I’ve already tackled puff pastry and choux pastry on this blog I won’t repeat the recipes.

You simply cut out a circle of puff pastry the pipe a swirl of choux pastry onto the circle.

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20131208-200137.jpg Use the remaining choux pastry to make profiteroles. Put both things into an oven preheated to 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes or until fully cooked.

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Whilst the pastry items cool, make a batch of crème patissière.

Ingredients

4 medium free-range egg yolks (preferably organic)
65g/2½oz caster sugar
15g/½oz plain flour
15g/½oz cornflour
350ml/12fl oz whole milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale. Whisk in the flours. Heat the milk and vanilla extract until a gentle simmer, then take off the heat and leave to cool for 30 seconds. Slowly pour half of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the time, then add to the remaining milk in the pan. Bring back to the boil and stir or whisk constantly until the mixture is thick. Then set aside to cool completely. When cooled, fill the profiteroles with the crème patissière.

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Next on the list is to make some caramel. Put 200g caster sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and add a few tablespoons of water. Heat until a deep amber colour. Don’t stir the caramel, just swirl it in the pan to stop it sticking. Have a bowl of water standing by and when the caramel is the right colour, plunge the bottom of the saucepan in the water to stop it cooking any more.

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Dip the top of each profiterole into the warm caramel then place on some baking parchment to set.

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Now, make some chantilly cream by whisking some double cream with a few tablespoons of icing sugar until thick and pipeable.

You should now have all the elements necessary to construct your gateau: puff pastry/choux pastry base, profiteroles, caramel, crème patissière and chantilly cream.

Start by fixing the profiteroles to the base with the caramel (you may need to warm the caramel up again). Dip the bottom of each profiterole in the caramel and stick to the base.

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You should leave gaps between each profiterole.
Next, pipe the crème patissière in the centre of the base.
Finally, pipe the chantilly cream into a pretty pattern on top of the crème patissière as well as between each profiterole.

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If you are feeling especially adventurous, you can use the remaining caramel to make some decorations or spun sugar – be aware though, you cannot put the gateau in the fridge with spun sugar on top, it dissolves and leaves your cake in a mess – believe me!

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This is an absolutely amazing cake, with definite wow factor. It does take a little time to prepare, but in my opinion it was well worth it!