I love a classic Paris-Brest and I have to say, if I ain’t making it, I am usually enjoying it in a Parisian café. I think this is because home bakers think it is too complicated to attempt, and really, as Bernard Laurance shows us, it is a matter of classic technique and attention to detail, but is not actually difficult. Pate a choux is not hard to make, and it forms the basis for this recipe. You do need praline paste, which can be purchased at specialty stores or online. This recipe, and the Brazilian Tapioca Crêpes, are both from Laurence’s Baklava to Tarte Tatin: A World Tour in 110 Dessert Recipes. The title says it all! You get a huge variety of sweets; a tour of the world through recipes, in one book.
From Baklava to Tarte Tatin: A World Tour in 110 Dessert Recipes, by Bernard Laurance. © Flammarion, S.A., Paris, 2015. Recipe Photography by Amélie Roche
I spent months hunting for the recipe for this classic French dessert. And by “the” recipe, I mean one I really like! Because in France there are as many types of Paris-Brest as there are pastry chefs who prepare it. I tried several recipes, to no avail. I made a martyr of myself, tasting a wide range of Paris-Brest cakes, until I understood exactly what I was looking for. All that remained was to draw up the recipe that corresponded. I did it all instinctively, jotting down the proportions and quantities as I worked. The result of my labors is a rich and unctuous Paris-Brest cream filling. It is, in fact, a mousseline cream (a buttercream to which pastry cream has been added), but with modified proportions of ingredients. For the base, I use a vanilla custard but add no Italian meringue, as is traditionally done. This creates a wonderful cream with a fine texture that holds so well you can even have fun piping out patterns.
It’s important to prepare the rounds of choux pastry a day ahead so that they can firm up a little before being filled; they’ll be easier to cut in half. You can also prepare the pastry cream and praline filling a day ahead and assemble the cakes just before serving.
Preparation time: 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours
Cooking time: 30 minutes plus 20 to 30 minutes for baking
Special equipment: a candy thermometer
- ½ cup (125 ml) milk
- ½ cup (125 ml) water
- 1 ¼ teaspoons (5 g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
- 7 tablespoons (3 ½ oz./100 g) butter
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (5 oz./140 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 ml) eggs, lightly beaten (about 5 eggs)
- Peeled and chopped almonds or hazelnuts for sprinkling
- 2 vanilla beans
- Generous ⅓ cup (3 ½ oz./100 g) egg yolks
- ⅓ cup (1 ¾ oz./50 g) cornstarch
- ⅔ cup (4 ½ oz./125 g) sugar, divided
- 2 cups (500 ml) low-fat milk
- 3 tablespoons (2 oz./50 g) unsalted butter
- Scant ⅓ cup (3 oz./80 g) egg yolks
- ½ cup (3 ½ oz./100 g) sugar, divided
- Scant ½ cup (100 ml) whole milk
- 3 ¾ sticks (15 oz./420 g) butter, room temperature
- 1 lb. (450 g) praline paste
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Pour the milk and water into a heavy saucepan over low heat and stir in the sugar and salt. Add the butter. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.
- Pour in all the flour and mix energetically with a wooden spoon to combine.
- Return to low heat briefly, stirring constantly, to dry the batter out. Continue until the batter pulls away from the bottom of the saucepan.
- Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until the mixture is smooth and holds soft peaks.
- Draw 3 to 3 ½ inch (7 to 8 cm) diameter circles on 2 sheets of parchment paper. Place the sheets, drawing side down, on 2 baking sheets. Spoon the choux batter into a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch (16-mm) plain or star tip. Pipe circles of batter into the traced circles and sprinkle the tops with the chopped nuts.
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, keeping a careful eye on the choux. They must be golden, nicely puffed up, and firm to the touch. If you remove them too soon, they will deflate.
- Place the baked choux rounds on a cooling rack and leave for 12 hours or overnight.
- To make the pastry cream, slit the vanilla beans lengthwise with a small knife and scrape the seeds into a mixing bowl. (You’ll need the pods for the next step.) Add the egg yolks, cornstarch, and half the sugar, and whisk together until the sugar has dissolved.
- In a heavy saucepan over low heat, bring the milk to a boil with the remaining sugar, butter, and the empty vanilla bean pods.
- Slowly pour the boiling milk over the egg yolk mixture, stirring well, and then return the mixture to the saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
- Pour the pastry cream into a heatproof dish or bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in the refrigerator until the next day.
- Following the recipe on page 18, prepare the praline paste, setting aside about 50 whole caramelized almonds for garnish. Store them in an airtight container.
- For the custard-based buttercream, whisk the egg yolks and half the sugar until pale and thick.
- In a heavy saucepan over low heat, bring the milk to a boil with the remaining sugar. Pour it gradually over the egg yolk-sugar mixture, stirring constantly.
- Return the liquid to the saucepan over low heat. Whisking constantly, heat the custard to 187°F (86°C).
- Pour the custard into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium speed until the custard has cooled completely. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use an electric beater or whisk by hand. Transfer the custard to another mixing bowl. It should be the same temperature as the butter when you combine the two.
- Clean the bowl you have just used and place the butter in it. Whisk at high speed for 5 minutes, until the butter is light and fluffy.
- Pour the custard over the butter, and whisk until completely combined.
- Now add the praline paste and whisk for 1 or 2 minutes further, until combined. Chill the cream for 1 hour.
- Whisk the chilled praline buttercream to aerate it again.
- Remove the vanilla beans from the chilled pastry cream and weigh out 1 ¼ lb. (500 g). Whisk it briefly to ensure that it is smooth again. Transfer it to the bowl of the stand mixer with the whisked praline buttercream and beat together until completely combined.
- To assemble, cut the rounds of choux pastry in half horizontally.
- Spoon the filling into a piping bag fitted with a tip of your choice (plain or star tip), and pipe out a first circle of cream over the lower halves of the choux pastry. Add more cream, filling generously. Place 5 or 6 caramelized almonds evenly on the cream. Set the top half of the choux pastry over the cream and chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
- Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar before serving.