We are film lovers through and through so each year we tally up the Oscar nominees. We try not to play favorites but this year, if there's just one film to root for, Team Salt & Wind is 100% behind The Grand Budapest Hotel. First of all it's a Wes Anderson film and we adore his quirky creativity. Then it's set in the darling fictional Republic of Zubrowka, to which we'd gladly accept an invite to visit were it, in fact, a place.
But our favorite part of all? The stunning tower of cream puff pastries they coin the Courtesan au Chocolat. Rather than try and make an exact replica, we made my own version with a Meyer Lemon cream filling and the result is something we imagine would exist where the Grand Budapest Hotel to open a sister property in California.
plus 2 tablespoons
and zest of one Meyer lemon
For the curd: Combine the 6 egg yolks, 2/3 cup of the sugar, zest, juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt in a medium saucepan and whisk until evenly combined. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. When you draw your finger across the spoon, it should make a mark through the custard, which should not run back in on itself. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and stir in 8 tablespoons of the butter, bit by bit, until. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour. Once the curd is cool, whip the heavy cream to medium peaks then fold into the curd mixture to lighten it.
Curd can be made up to 2 days ahead of time and stored refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use. If you can't find Meyer lemons, you a mixture of half lemon and half orange juice instead.
For the pate au choux: Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange oven racks in the upper third and lower third. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Combine remaining 8 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of sugar, water, and remaining salt in a large saucepan, and add water. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add flour all at once and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. Continue to cook for 1 minute to dry out dough. Transfer dough to a bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Beat in remaining 4 whole eggs one at a time, beating until dough is smooth and glossy before adding the next egg.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip (or a plastic storage bag with one corner snipped off), pipe the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. You will need small, medium, and large size pastry balls (large tablespoon, teaspoon and hazelnut size dollops). Combine 1 egg with water and whisk until smooth then brush each pastry with the egg wash. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown and dry to the touch, about 25 to 30 minutes for the smallest rounds and up to 35 minutes for the largest rounds. Set aside to cool slightly, at least 10 minutes.
Filling and Icing: Spoon the Meyer lemon curd into a pastry bag, poke small holes in the bottom of the large and medium pastry balls, and fill with the Meyer lemon curd. Prepare icing by whisking together powdered sugar and enough water until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and does not drip off. Divide the icing into two small bowls and add food coloring to each – I did one pale orange and one lavender but do any colors you please. Reserve a small amount of white icing.
Assembly: Dip a large ball of filled pastry in the icing and place icing side up on a flat surface. Repeat with medium and small pastries and stack them so you have a snowman-like tower of a large, medium, and small pastry. If desired, decorate with the white icing. Sprinkle sanding sugar on top to garnish, if desired and serve.
Depending on the shape of your cream puffs, you may need to trim the tops with a serrated knife so that they stack evenly.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp