Once upon a time Dr Warren Austin, personal physician to the Duke of Windsor, married a Chicago heiress. Together they bought an island, and in 1969 set up a French camp for kids. As you do.
Canoe Island is a little scrap of paradise nestled in among the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state.
We went to family camp there last year and words can’t express how good for the soul this place is. The little wooded islet is small enough to walk around, with whimsical follies viewed between the trees. Everyone sleeps in canvas teepees, which are surprisingly civilised if you bring enough bedding and thermal underwear, and there’s a lovely clubhouse with a dining room, reading room, games room and swimming pool. Oh and did I mention the kayaking and sailing and archery and tennis courts? And there’s also a superb chef and a young patissiere who work miracles with the wonderful produce of the islands. Yep, the Garden of Eden has NOTHING on this.
Having fallen in love with this place last year, I couldn’t wait to return this year for a more grown up event – Patisserie by the Sea. In order to raise funds for the camp, two pastry chefs were flown in from France to teach a small group of us how to make exquisite patisserie, with plenty of scope for hands-on participation and eating the fruits of our labours afterwards.
In the first workshop we made ‘Le Saint Honore’ a la rose et aux framboises’ with master patissier Jean-Marc Vareil, who is currently a professor of patisserie at a school in Toulon and who has previously worked at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons in England and the Bristol and the Ritz in Paris.
The Saint Honore’ is a traditional French pastry, named apparently for the patron saint of pastry chefs. You can either make individual versions or one big one. I’m not going to give you all the individual recipes and instructions, otherwise we’ll be here until Christmas. Instead let’s just treat this as an excuse for a bit of serious food porn.
If you really want to try these at home search for ‘Gateau Saint Honore’ and you’ll find plenty of help, though I’m betting that when you see what’s involved you’ll understand why everyone in France just buys them in from the patisserie instead.
But don’t let me stop you. One day I’ll make these again too.
First make, roll out and cut your pate brisee (a shortcrust pastry made with eggs, but no sugar)
Then make choux pastry and pipe it round the edges of your uncooked pastry circles and into little blobs (see how blithely I dismiss hours of work in two sentences).
When your blobs and bases are perfectly cooked whip up a little raspberry pastry cream.
And some virulently red caramel. And then poke little individual holes in all the little individual blobs.
Dip all the little blobs into the incredibly hot caramel, taking care not to burn your fingers (I still have the scars). Pipe the raspberry pastry cream into each individual blob. Yes, you heard correctly.
Dip the bases into the hot caramel (I had retired hurt by this point), stick three little filled blobs on each one and when cool fill the bases with the raspberry cream.
Whip up a quick crème chantilly, coloured pale pink and flavoured with rose water and use it to decorate the Saint Honores.
Decorate with raspberries and blueberries, rinse and repeat.
Pose proudly with handiwork on a small island (please ignore deeply unflattering picture of me).
Place in gob.
These were DIVINE – crunchy yet creamy, soft,with a little bite to the choux pastry, fruity but not too sweet; with the rosewater adding an indefinable je ne sais quoi. It took Jean-Marc about three hours to whip up twenty five in a standard domestic kitchen with no special equipment. We really have no excuse, do we?
There will be more pics from chocolate afternoon at Patisserie Camp next week. It’s not clear whether they’ll be running another Patisserie Camp at Canoe Island, but if they do I suggest you sell one of your children to get there.