Paris Brest – Saddling up for more trials with Choux

I have been wanting to do a Paris Brest for a while.  They look gorgeous in Patisseries and I am still not great with choux pastry, so a little practice was definitely on the cards.  I am very glad I did.  It is delicious, quite surprisingly light and well worth the effort.

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This little delight was created in 1910 by Louis Durand to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bike race – all 1200km of it – with the design celebrating the wheels of the bikes.  Supposedly it was also very popular with the riders due the energy boost it gave them – an early version of legal doping in the world of bicycle racing.

What makes this equally delicious is the praline creme mousselline that fills it. This artery clogging fluffy deliciousness involves making a praline with almonds and hazelnuts and blitzing it with oil to make a caramelised sweet nutty paste, and then adding that to vanilla creme mousseline. That gives the mousseline a gorgeous caramel back note with the nut flavour adding a subtle extra taste.

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The main reason for making this was to practice choux pastry which for some reason I struggle with.  Why?  Well I guess I am never quite sure whether I am doing it right.  The recipe books make it sound easy enough.  Cook the dough until it pulls away from the pan? Well it does straight away so that is not much use.  Add the eggs until you get a thick gloopy mixture that  is stiff enough to hold up when piped? Well I am still not sure I know exactly what is the right consistency.   Bake until golden brown? Well given you have to brush it with egg that is about as much use a chocolate teapot when it comes to judging if it is done.  Prick the buns to let out the steam ….hmmmmmmm.

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A few things I have learned though with choux

  • stiff is better than sloppy (no double-entendre intended)
  • use water not milk as this helps create a better rise (the steam is the thing that fluffs them up)
  • use bread flour as this is stronger and tends to hold in the steam better so you get a better rise
  • err on the side of over baking them though just right is always best

On this bake I got it about right.  They probably needed 3 minutes longer but given I was already 10 minutes over the recipe time I was getting a little panicky.  Next time  I need to trust my instincts better.

Now as to the other elements my research proved a little frustrating.  Many recipes talk about piping the choux circles but don’t give the size of nozzle or the diameter of the circles.  I went for 12 cm width circles, but I think 8-10cm would have been better as 12 cm makes for quite a hefty portion.

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How you pipe the circles also varies from recipe to recipe.  Some involve just a single thick circle, but most of the french websites propose the 3 circle method I have done here.  There are also some that involve piping balls of choux in a circle, and then putting a streusel topping on top which melts over the balls. This seems to be a cross over from that other French Choux bake, the Religieuse, and does look mighty delicious.

The fillings vary as well.  All use hazelnuts in some way but again it varies.  Many use Praline Paste (or Pâte de Praliné), but some just chop up hazelnuts and add them to the cream filling, which in my opinion would lack the intensity of flavour from the praline paste.  The recipes seem pretty equally divided between Creme Mousseline (Creme Patissiere with butter beaten into it) and French Buttercream (Creme au Beurre) which is made in a similar way to italian meringue by boiling a sugar and water mixture and then whisking it into a vast amount of egg yolks and adding butter.  A small minority go for Creme Diplomate which is lighter than the other 2 and involve folding whipped cream into Creme Patissiere.

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The Recipe

Ingredients

The Choux

  • 125g strong white flour
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 225ml water
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Praline Paste

  • 160g caster sugar
  • 125g hazelnuts (no skins)
  • 125g almonds (no skins)
  • 50ml water
  • 2tsp vegetable or nut oil

Praline Creme Mousseline

  • 375ml whole milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 30g cornflour
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 90g unsalted butter (for stage 1)
  • 150g praline paste
  • 135g unsalted butter

For the Decoration

  • flaked almonds
  • icing sugar

The Method

Preparation and Equipment

  • mark up pieces of baking parchment with circles the size you want
  • 2 piping bags
  • 1cm round piping nozzle
  • 1cm closed star piping nozzle
  • liquidiser or food processor
  • electric mixer

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Choux Pastry

  • heat the oven to 190C / 170C fan
  • put the water salt and butter in a pan
  • bring to the boil
  • sift the flour into a bowl
  • take the water off the boil and pour in the flour whisking all the time
  • cook the flour mixture on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until glossy and it comes away from the pan
  • take off the heat and put in a bowl
  • beat in the first 3 eggs one at a time using a spoon or paddle attachment on a mixer
  • check the texture to see if the choux is ready
  • whisk the last egg in a bowl
  • add 1/2 of the egg and beat in and check the texture again
  • carry on adding the egg a bit at a time
  • the mixture is at the right consistency when it drops off the spoon and leaves behind a triangle on the spoon (frankly google this and watch videos on the topic)
  • put the mixture into a piping bag
  • pipe one circle on the baking parchment
  • pipe a circle inside
  • then pipe a circle on top in between the others
  • continue until finished – 12 cm makes 5 Paris Brest
  • whisk an egg
  • brush the circles with the egg
  • sprinkle with flaked almonds
  • bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden brown
  • open the oven at 13 and 18 minutes  let the steam out
  • as they come out of the oven prick them in a few places with a skewer
  • allow to cool on a wire rack

Praline Paste

  • put a piece of baking parchment on the worktop
  • spread the nuts on a baking tray
  • roast for 5 – 8 minutes at 180C (you can do this while making the choux)
  • add the sugar and water to a thick based large pan
  • melt on a medium heat until it forms a caramel (never stir with a spoon just jiggle the pan from time to time)
  • as soon as the sugar is fully melted and caramel coloured, quickly add the nuts stirring fast
  • quickly tip the mixture onto the baking parchment
  • allow to cool completely
  • put the praline in a food processor
  • blitz until finely ground
  • continue until a paste forms (this takes a while)
  • the nuts may release enough oil to form the paste but if they don’t add 1 tsp of oil  ( a second if absolutely necessary)

     

Creme Mousseline

  • put the milk and vanilla extract in a pan and bring to just boiling
  • whisk the cornflour, sugar and egg yolks together
  • add some of the milk and whisk in
  • pour the egg and milk mixture back in the pan and whisk
  • bring back to the boil and cook until it starts to plop
  • add the stage 1 butter
  • press through a sieve into a bowl
  • cover with cling film touching the surface and allow to cool
  • allow the butter to come to room temperature
  • once the creme patissiere is at room temperature add the diced butter and praline paste to the creme patissiere
  • whisk until light and fluffy and put back in the fridge until gently firm (not too firm or it will not pipe)

Assembling the Paris Brest

  • cut the Paris Brest in half – do this carefully with a small knife working your way around)
  • put the creme mousseline in a piping bag with a closed star nozzle
  • pipe neatly on top of the bottom half in 2 layers of creme
  • place the the other half on top and dust in icing sugar
  • serve and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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