Religieuse a l’ancienne

Great British Bake Off 2015: Episode 8: Pâtissière

The quarter finals of the Great British Bake Off challenged the bakers in the realm of French pâtissière. And a challenge it was! The contestants had to take on cream horns, mokatines, and a show-stopping religieuse a l’ancienne. Most people know what a cream horn is, but the mokatines and religieuse are a little more elusive, especially here in America. Mokatines are intricate, coffee flavored petit fours. And the religieuse…

Well, let me break that one down for you. First you need to understand choux (pronounced “shoe”) pastry. It is a light pastry dough used to make profiteroles and éclairs (among other things like beignets and gougerés). Profiteroles and eclairs are both made of choux pastry and are typically filled with crème pâtissière, but as you probably know, the profiteroles (a.k.a. cream puffs) are round and the éclairs are oblong. Not only do the French give them different names according to shape, but they also create new names when certain combinations of these profiteroles/éclairs take form. When two profiteroles – one larger than the other – are stacked upon each other, it is called la religieuse. La religieuse means “nun” in French, so basically this stacked confection was thus named because it resembled a nun in her habit. Taking it even further we have la religieuse a l’ancienne, which is a tower of choux pastry – éclairs usually make up the mass of it, and a couple of profiteroles (la religieuse) adorn the top.

This is most definitely a show-stopper.  If you want to make jaws drop at your next party, then this might be a great option for you! When making every inch from scratch, it is quite tedious. But if you’re a decently skilled baker, it’s not as intimidating as it may seem. And if you’ve already had your hand at making cream puffs and/or èclairs, then you’re over halfway there! I had already tinkered with choux pastry, crème pâtissière, and shortcrust (just not altogether!), so this bake was not as daunting as I thought it would be. The most terrifying part was the assembly, as you can probably imagine!

Religieuse a l'ancienne | Arcadian Botanica

I will note that I took more care with construction rather than taste. For something this grand, you want to take all precautions to ensure that everything stays put. So, instead of nice and soft èclairs, I over-baked my pastry until it was past golden brown and rather hard, in hopes that it would be better suited for holding weight. Another adaptation I made was to make crème saint-honoré instead of crème pâtissière. This made for a lighter filling, which obviously lessened the overall weight. You may also want to wait to fill the pastry casings until the last minute to keep the pastry from getting soggy.

Religieuse a l'ancienne | Arcadian Botanica

It pains me to reveal this, but even though I took the aforementioned precautions, mine still did collapse – a short while after I took the pictures, thank goodness! I’m so ashamed, but I wanted to let you know, so that if it ever happens to you, you will hopefully not fret. Even on the Great British Bake Off most of the contestants’ towers had collapsed!! That made me feel loads better about my own catastrophe. And I at least got to hear all the “oohs” and ‘ahhs” from my family before it happened – that’s all that matters, right??

Recipes for la religieuse a l’ancienne are a bit hard to come by, so I decided to piece-meal bits here and there from my French cookbooks to create my own recipe and construction method.

Religieuse a l'ancienne | Arcadian Botanica

Cuisine: French
Occasion: Special
Personal Critique: A challenging, yet rewarding, bake to accomplish. For this, construction is valued over taste. A must try for any baker of medium proficiency.

Religieuse a l’ancienne


    Shortcrust Pastry
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 stick of butter, cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp. cold water
  • Choux Pastry
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup strong bread flour
  • 1 cup - 2 tbsp. whole milk
  • 1 cup - 2 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 11 tbsp. butter
  • 8 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Creme Saint-Honore
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups boiling milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 egg whites
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • Chocolate Fondant Icing
  • 14 oz. white pouring fondant (see recipe in notes)
  • 5 oz. dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Buttercream
  • 1-1/2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Hard Crack Sugar Glue
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water


    For the Shortcrust Pastry
  1. Using a food processor, put the flour, butter and salt in the food processor and pulse until the fat is rubbed into the flour.
  2. With the motor running, gradually add the water through the funnel until the dough comes together. Only add enough water to bind it and then stop.
  3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for 10-15 minutes before using.
  4. Set the oven to 350F.
  5. Roll out the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper until it becomes 1/2 inch thick.
  6. Using plates or marked parchment, cut out 1 circle that is 9 inches in diameter. Cut another circle that is 8 inches in diameter. Cut a third circle that is 4-1/2 inches in diameter.
  7. Place all three circles on a large baking sheet lined with parchment. Prick holes using a fork.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and completely dry.
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Can be stored, covered, in refrigerator until needed.
  10. For the Choux Pastry
  11. Sift the flour. In a saucepan, bring the milk, water, sugar, salt, and butter to a boil. Remove from heat. Incorporate the sifted flour into the hot liquid, mixing energetically with a spatula until homogenous.
  12. Return the saucepan to low heat and stir vigorously for 1 minute to pull out the moisture from the batter, so that it forms a mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
  13. Transfer batter to a large bowl and allow to cool. Lightly beat the eggs. Add small portions of egg mixture at a time, carefully incorporating each into the batter with a spatula. Mix in the vanilla extract. When prepared correctly, the batter should form a "V" when the spatula is lifted up. This ensures that there are enough eggs.
  14. Set the oven to 420F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  15. Scoop batter into a large piping bag fitted with a 12mm star nozzle. On the baking sheet, pipe sausage shapes that are 5 inches long and set 3 inches apart. Pipe 2 spheres, one that is 3 inches across and another that is 2 inches across.
  16. Place in the oven with spoon, leaving oven door ajar. This releases steam. Bake at 420F for 10 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for another 20 minutes or until well done.
  17. Remove from oven. Immediately use a knife to make a couple of small slits in the bases of each one to allow steam to escape. Mix water and a pinch of salt with the remnants of the beaten eggs to create an egg wash. Brush this wash onto the tops of all of them.
  18. Allow to cool completely before filling.
  19. For the Creme Saint-Honore
  20. Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks and continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon.
  21. Beat in the flour.
  22. Beating the yolk mixture, gradually pour on the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets.
  23. Pour into a saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir with a wire whip, reaching all over bottom of pan. As sauce comes to the boil it will get lumpy, but will smooth out as you beat it. When boil is reached, beat over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the flour. Be careful not to burn the bottom.
  24. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
  25. Beat the egg whites and salt together until soft peaks form.
  26. Sprinkle on the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks are formed.
  27. Stir one quarter of the egg whites into the hot custard, then fold in the rest. Place in refrigerator to chill.
  28. Once chilled, scoop creme into a large piping bag fitted with a filling nozzle. Pipe creme into pastry casings through the bottom or ends.
  29. Set in refrigerator if pastry gets too warm before construction takes place.
  30. For the Chocolate Fondant Icing
  31. Place the pouring fondant in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally to soften.
  32. Meanwhile, using a knife, chop the chocolate on a cutting board and place in another heatproof bowl. When the fondant is lukewarm, remove from heat and put the bowl of chocolate over the simmering water in its place to melt.
  33. In a saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil to obtain a syrup.
  34. Mix the melted chocolate into the softened fondant. Add the syrup and stir until smooth.
  35. Dip the tops of the pastries into this preparation to glaze and allow to cool.
  36. For the Buttercream
  37. Cream the butter and sugar together until blended.
  38. Add in cream and vanilla. Continue beating for another 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
  39. Place in piping bag fitted with decorative nozzle.
  40. For the Sugar Glue
  41. Boil the sugar and water in a saucepan until a candy thermometer reads 300F/150C "hard crack" stage. Adjust cooktop temperature as needed to keep sugar at 300F while assembling the tower.
  43. Ready a decorative plate or cake stand for the tower.
  44. Smooth a thin layer of buttercream on the bottom of the biggest (9") shortcrust disc. Place the frosted end on the plate/stand. This will act as a glue to keep the disc from sliding.
  45. With your sugar glue ready, dip one end of an eclair in the sugar about 1/2 - 1 inch high (be careful not to burn fingers). Place upright on the edge of the shortcrust disc. Hold in place until the sugar hardens or use a bowl to keep it steady. Continue this process, packing them as tightly as possible, until the eclairs create a full ring. Add sugar between any gaps to hold the eclairs together.
  46. Take the second (8") disc. With the sugar, create a rim of "glue" on the bottom of this disc. Attach this disc atop the first ring of eclairs.
  47. Begin your second ring of eclairs on this disc, but place them about 1 inch in from the edge.
  48. Create a rim of sugar glue on your last (4-1/2") disc and attach to the second ring of eclairs.
  49. Begin your third ring of eclairs on this disc.
  50. Take your larger of the two cream puffs. Coat the bottom with sugar and set atop the third ring of eclairs. Do the same to the smaller cream puff and set upon the larger.
  51. Pipe the buttercream around the exposed shortcrust pastry discs.


To make a pouring fondant: Put 2-1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup, and 1/4 cup corn syrup into a saucepan. Give it a quick stir and heat the mixture to the "soft ball" stage - 238F/114C. Once that temperature is reached, remove mixture from heat and carefully pour into stand mixer bowl with paddle attachment. Leave to cool until the mixture reaches 140F/60C. At that time, beat the mixture on low/medium speed until it becomes a white, creamy paste. Do not leave unattended because mixture can harden quickly. Once it reaches the desired consistency, place in a plastic bag or cling film. Let it rest in a cool, dry place for at least 24 hours before using.

4 thoughts on “Religieuse a l’ancienne

  1. Wow well done on putting this together, a very impressive bake!!

    • Ashlyn Morgan

      Thanks so much Kat! It was a monster to take on as you can imagine! 🙂

  2. It looks amazing, well done! I baked a smaller religieuse, but I cheated and filled the middle with choux 😀

  3. Angie

    That looks divine Ashlyn. Congratulations on your win!

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