Get ready. You are about to experience an overload of pictures and an immense desire for chocolate and pastry cream. Or maybe that’s just me.
Meet the Paris-Brest.
I am so excited to tell you about this dessert. The Paris-Brest is a famous french pastry named after the cycling race, the Paris-Brest-Paris. One of the oldest cycling races still riden, the Paris-Brest-Paris is a 1200 km ride from Paris to Brest, on the coast of France, back to Paris. Not only is it crazy long, but cyclists have only 90 hours to complete the long distance race, meaning many of them sleep for only 2-3 hours at a time while they are on the course. The Paris-Brest pastry was created by a French pastry chef in honor of the race. It’s circular shape represents the shape of a bicycle tire and, with all of the biking, racers have a good excuse to eat the extra calories ;)
Typically, this ring of choux pastry is filled with praline pastry cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar. We’re taking it a step (or three) further and making caramel pastry cream, adding dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut praline. Decadent and delicious.
The race occurs only every four years and while the pastry is absolutely divine, I am most excited about this dessert because we are close with someone who completed the race just last week! We followed along on our computers here in the US as he and his biking friend clocked their cards at each checkpoint. Sunday through early Thursday, we refreshed the browser, checked to see how they were doing, kept up with their paces. It was exciting and scary at the same time.
Now that they successfully completed the race (crazy!), I excitedly share this pastry with you! The Paris-Brest looks difficult, and I will admit there are a lot of parts, but don’t be afraid! It can easily be spread apart over a few days or made in just one, whatever you have the time for. I made the hazelnut praline a few days before I made everything else, and made the pastry cream the night before I made the choux.
Mmmm, and then there is the ganache. So easy, so delicious. That is the rule for most of the steps in this dessert. They may take some time, but most steps have few ingredients and are fairly easy. If those cyclists can bike 1200 km in 90 hours, you can make this pastry! I believe in you! :) Praline, pastry cream, choux, ganache. Top it off with some powdered sugar and there you have it. Easy peasey!
I got a bit carried away with the extra choux pastry :)
Most Paris-Brest recipes pipe the choux into one circle. I strayed from that just slightly and piped two rows of puffs that were close enough to touch each other. The golden boules provided extra texture and created perfect places to cut it into portions when we served it.
And a sprinkle (or seven) of powdered sugar for good measure. It kind of resembles snow-capped mountains to me. Delicious snow-capped mountains.
This is one of the best desserts I have ever made. Once you get the parts down, you can impress a crowd with this Paris-Brest pastry. So, allons-y et bonne chance!
Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Paris-Brest
Salted Caramel Pastry Cream
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream, to lighten the pastry cream (optional)
1 cup hazelnuts
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup butter (unsalted), cut into small pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs (5 if you are in a humid environment)
8 ounces chocolate (I used dark chocolate), coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons butter
powdered sugar, for dusting
Salted Caramel Pastry Cream
Combine the sugar with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup water in a large, heavy saucepan. Stir together over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar dissolves, stop stirring and continue to cook until the sugar turns a medium amber.
Remove from the heat and immediately pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble vigorously – just watch it until it calms down. Stir the cream into the sugar until the mixture is fully mixed and uniform. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the milk, egg yolks, cornstarch, vanilla and salt. While whisking on medium speed, slowly pour the hot sugar-cream mixture down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg mixture. Mix until smooth. Pouring the hot mixture down the bowl gives it a chance to cool off before it hits the eggs and pour it slowly helps to ensure the eggs don’t cook in the hot liquid.
Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise and the whisk leaves streams behind it in the mixture (you will understand that when you do it).
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours. If you are in a hurry, spread out the pastry cream on a large baking pan (so there is more surface area to capture the cold air), cover with plastic wrap as before, and refrigerate until cool or flash freeze for a few minutes. Be careful not to actually freeze the cream if you are attempting to cool it down quickly though.
Pastry cream can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. It will become more stiff in the fridge, just whip it when you are ready to use it.
To lighten the pastry cream, whip 1 cup of whipping cream in an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks and is the consistency of whipped cream. Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream and chill.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil (about 3 cups of water). To the boiling water, add 2 teaspoons of baking soda and the hazelnuts. The water will turn black. Do not be alarmed. (It’s actually kind of cool :) ) While the nuts boil, fill a medium bowl with ice water and set aside. After about 5 minutes of boiling, drain the water and pour the hazelnuts into the ice water. With your fingers, slip the skin off each hazelnut.
Line a rimmed baking tray with Silpat or spray very well with non-stick spray. Place the skinned hazelnuts on the pan in a single layer.
In a medium nonstick saucepan, combine the sugar and the lemon juice. Once the sugar dissolves, continue to cook the mixture over medium heat until it is amber, without stirring! You can swirl the pan a few times halfway through but DO NOT STIR. As tempting as it is to continue to stir the mixture, don’t! Despite your good intentions, you might end up with a rock hard clump of sugar. This is almost the same process as when you made the caramel base of the pastry cream above. While the sugar cooks you can brush the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming.
Pour the melted mixture directly onto the nuts and allow to cool. Once cool, break the praline into pieces for decoration. You can make the hazelnut praline ahead of time and store the praline pieces in an airtight container for a few days.
While the pastry cream cools, make the choux pastry. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
In a small nonstick saucepan, bring the butter and 1 1/4 cups water to a boil. Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the boiling mixture all at once and immediately stir it quickly until a thick paste forms and the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Continue stirring for 2 to 3 minutes to allow more water to evaporate. If you are in a humid environment, you may need to stir even longer to ensure that there is even less moisture in your final product since there is already so much in the air.
Transfer the choux paste into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Add the eggs and mix until incorporated. Do not mix on high – you don’t want extra air to leaven the pastries, the steam will already do that. The finished mixture should be a soft paste but still stiff enough to hold its shape when you pipe it.
Place the choux paste into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain tip and pipe 1-1 1/2 inch balls touching each other in about a 10-inch circle. I had enough pastry to pipe an inner circle as well. Bake the dough for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven teperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking 30-40 more minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.
Remove the pastry from the oven and let it cool just until you can easily handle it. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut one of the puffs in half across the middle. If the center of the puff feels soft, return the pan to the oven for a few more minutes. Otherwise, set aside to cool completely.
Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring cream to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes. Add the butter and whisk the mixture until it is smooth and all of the butter and chocolate has melted. Make sure you incorporate any chocolate on the bottom and sides of the bowl (it is easier to do this with a rubber spatula).
With a serrated knife, cut horizontally through the center of the pastry puffs. Place the pastry cream into a piping bag fitted with a large tip. Lift the tops of the choux pastry and pipe the pastry cream between the layers. Drizzle the chocolate ganache on top and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cooled hazelnut praline.
This dessert is best eaten soon after it is assembled so the pastry cream does not make the pastry soggy.
Hazelnut praline slightly adapted from Martha Stewart. Salted caramel pastry cream and choux pastry slightly adapted from Gesine Bullock-Prado’s Let Them Eat Cake.