By Bebe Leone
A Wes Anderson movie never stops when leaving the cinema..It’s always the start of wanting to know more about all the visual impulses you’ve just experienced..
The Story of Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat
Settings: Republic of Zubrowka, during the glamorous 1930s and the postwar decline in the ’60s.
Leading carachter: The Courtesan au Chocolat is the irresistible little tower of cream-filled pastries topped with mint green and bright pink frosting created by baker Herr Mendl, treat for the staff and the clients of the Grand Budapest Hotel.
Plot: Wes Anderson does not only create beautiful stories. He creates a whole new world of scrupulously designed, pastels tinged, ‘props’ which discreetely become part of the real world, as if they had always existed in it. That is the case of Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat which is, in and of itself, one of the Grand Budapest Hotel’s characters. The luscious pastry was created by Gorlitz based pastry chef Anemone Muller-Grossman, because Anderson wanted local craftsmen from the town where they filmed to create pieces whenever possible. Film’s props master Robin Miller told Papermag that Anderson “is an absolute part of every step. You have to come up with what he has in his imagination and believe me, it is quite a process. Everything has his touch.” What a touch.
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 a 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).
Make a choux pastry of flour, water, butter and eggs. Though correct proportions may vary depending on one’s elevation and humidity, we recommend:
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
Bring the water, butter salt and sugar to a boil. Remove from the fire and quickly mix in the sifted flour. Return to heat for a few minutes, stirring, and cook until the dough forms a single lump. Allow to cool just enough to keep the eggs from cooking and stir in very gradually with a strong wooden spoon.
Cover your tray in parchment and pipe the dough into spoon size dollops. You will need small, medium, and large size pastry balls (large tablespoon, teaspoon and hazelnut size dollops) to make a courtesan. Bake in the oven at 350F(180 C) for about 25-35 minutes. The smaller pastries are best put on a separate tray as they will cook more quickly.
Remove from the oven and discreetly make a small piercing in the choux to allow the steam to escape.
Once cooled, the large and medium choux should be filled with a crème pâtissière of chocolate, egg yolks, and sugar.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Several large pieces semi-sweet chocolate
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 spoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon flour
Cornstarch to thicken
Heat the milk gently and add chocolate, stirring to melt into a rich, almost-steaming chocolate milk. Whisk egg yolks, flour, sugar, cocoa and a few spoons of cornstarch into a smooth mixture. Add half of the hot chocolate milk to the bowl, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Then add this mixture back into the rest of the hot milk, stirring over gentle heat for a few minutes until the mixture thickens to a custard. Remove from heat and chill.
Once cooled, spoon the chocolate crème into a pastry bag and pipe into the large and medium pastry balls.
Prepare sugar icing of confectioner’s sugar, a dash of vanilla and enough milk to achieve the desired consistency. Separate into 3 small bowls and add food coloring to each – one pink, on lavender, one pale green. Reserve a small amount of white icing.
To assemble a Courtesan, dip a large ball of filled pastry in the pink icing (to the midline) and place icing side up on a small tray. Repeat with a medium pastry into the lavender icing, and place it, iced side up, atop the first ball. Press it gently so it sticks in place. Repeat with the smallest pastry in the green icing. Decorate with filigree of white icing as desired. Place a cocoa bean atop the tower as a garnish.