Have you ever heard people mentioning the fantastic Paris-Brest they had eaten but had absolutely no idea what it tasted like. Not even where to buy it? Depending on where you live, finding a Paris-Brest in a bakery can be a bit tricky. If you fit into this category then I’m here to tell you: no more missing out! We will make it from scratch so you can see for yourself what an amazing dessert it is!
What Is A Paris-Brest?
A Paris-Brest is a French dessert composed of choux pastry that is traditionally sprinkled with sliced almonds before baking. It is then cut in the middle and filled with a cream. The choice of filling is really a matter of personal taste. French buttercream (crème au beurre) can sometimes be used although it seems most pastry chefs nowadays are leaning towards the lighter mousseline cream, flavored with almond and hazelnut praline paste (praliné).
The shape of the Choux for the Paris-Brest
A characteristic trait of the Paris-Brest is its circular shape. The Paris-Brest was originally created to commemorate the bicycle race that ran from Paris to Brest. Traditionally, the choux pastry is piped in a circular fashion to mimic the bicycle wheels. Philippe Conticini retained the circular aspect but brought new life to it by piping several choux next to each other in a flower shape.
Piping the choux for a Paris-Brest
We already discussed how to pipe choux when learning how to make choux pastry. But let’s talk about the placement of the choux.
This Paris Brest is composed of 8 choux: 4 along 2 perpendicular lines and 4 in the gaps. If you aren’t great at eyeballing it, it is best to draw a template on the back of the parchment paper before piping.
Since I’m terrible at piping, I prefer using my dome-shaped silicone molds. You can fill them with choux pastry, and freeze them for later use. Once you need them, simply unmold the choux and thaw them at room temperature for 15-30 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. This also makes it much easier to place the choux correctly as you can just move them around for a few seconds (before they start to soften) until you are happy with the flower you made!
How close should the choux be?
How close you want the choux to be is up to you really. But let me tell you a few differences.
If they aren’t completely stuck to each other, they will probably not stay connected when you try to cut them. Is this a bad thing? I personally don’t think so. It gives you the freedom to rearrange your flower shape when it is on the serving platter and if you don’t like one of the choux, you can just replace it, assuming you made spare ones! It will also be easier to eat them as you don’t need to cut anything when you want to dig in!
If they are stuck to each other, the choux won’t have a fully round shape but will be a bit more elongated.
Philippe Conticini’s Paris-Brest is composed of several elements:
- The choux pastry
- The craquelin
- The almond and hazelnut praline paste (praliné)
- The praliné cream
We already discussed how to make the first three items in previous posts. Let’s talk about the cream today. But before we get to that, just a quick note on the craquelin.
Just before putting them in the oven, you will have to place your craquelin on top of each choux and press it very slightly so it sticks.
Regarding the size of the craquelin, it should be slightly smaller than the choux you piped. I wanted to make mine slightly bigger so the choux would be almost completely covered with craquelin but realized only too late that they wouldn’t comfortably fit. I ended up with some overlapping craquelin tops! Not a serious issue since they will soften during baking but worth a mention!
How To Make Praliné Cream
I kept going back and forth wondering if I should present the recipe with these proportions or not. Let me give you some context. The first time I made these, my choux came out of the oven looking huge and completely hollow in the center.
The amount of cream specified in the recipe was just enough. I had to squeeze everything out of the piping bag until the last drop. The second time I made them, my choux came out smaller and there was some leftover cream.
So depending on how big your choux are or how much they rise in the oven, you’ll have to make sure there is enough cream for all the choux when you are piping.
Normally I’m uneasy with these tight measurements and would recommend making more. But then I thought, since we are learning, it might be better to start with smaller amounts (less wastage) and then scale up once we know better what we are doing. What do you think? If you don’t agree, you can easily double the recipe.
You will need:
- 155 g of milk (I used whole milk, the recipe calls for semi-skimmed milk)
- 2 large egg yolks
- 30 g granulated sugar
- 15 g cornstarch
- 80 g almond hazelnut praline paste
- 70 g unsalted butter
- 1 gelatin leaf
Make sure your eggs are at room temperature so they mix properly with the other ingredients. It is easier to separate them while they are still cold and then cover them with cling film and bring them to room temperature.
Preparing the praliné cream
In the first part of the recipe, you are essentially making a pastry cream. If you made the strawberry tart from the tart calendar, then you already know how to make pastry cream. Let’s quickly go through the steps again.
Making pastry cream
- Soak the gelatin leaf in cold water (the picture below isn’t just an empty bowl!) This step is for the praliné cream, and is not part of the usual pastry cream.
- Boil the milk in a small saucepan.
- In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture slightly lightens in color.
- Add the cornflour and mix until combined. To avoid getting lumps, it’s best to sift the cornflour. And you can also mix it well with the sugar before adding it to the egg yolks.
- From this point onward, you have to be a bit more careful. You will temper the eggs with the hot milk. What this means is that you will very (very) slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture to raise the temperature of the eggs without cooking them. You don’t want to scramble your eggs. Keep whisking while you are doing that. If your bowl keeps moving, place a kitchen towel under it.
- Pour the mixture back into your pot. Mine looks quite foamy at this point as pictured below.
- Return your mixture to the stove and gently heat it (heat 4-5 out of 9) until it thickens. Keep stirring so nothing sticks to the pan! You will notice that the foam will slowly start to subside and give way to a pale yellow color. Let it boil for about a minute before removing it from the heat, to get rid of any starchy taste.
Don’t crank up the heat or you’ll suddenly end up with a thick, rubbery and lumpy cream. Another thing you should take into account is the size of your pot. The less your mixture fills the pot, the faster it will heat up and you will be caught off guard. So don’t use a large pot for a small portion for example.
From pastry cream to praliné cream
- Off the heat, whisk in the strained gelatin. You can just use your hand to squeeze out the water from the gelatin before adding it to the cream.
- Strain the cream if there are any lumps. Or simply transfer into a small bowl and add the praliné and whisk.
- Once the temperature of the cream is at around 35-40°C (95-104°F), or very slightly warm to the touch, add the cold butter. Using an immersion blender, mix until fully combined.
- Normally at this point I would suggest pouring the cream in a shallow container so the cream cools down quickly (to decrease the risk of bacterial contamination). But the amount is quite small and adding the praliné and the cold butter already brings down the temperature of the cream. So I went the lazy route the second time I made this dessert and just kept it in the bowl I was using (less dishes to wash, woohoo!).
- Cover with cling film or parchment paper (directly on the surface of the cream) to prevent a skin from forming on the cream. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Okay, if you are anything like me you might be thinking right now, that’s all there is of the cream?! How will I fill 8 choux with it?! Well, it’s not done yet. It will go through the magic of whipping!
Whipping the praliné cream
Take your cream out of the fridge. It will look quite dense. In the bowl of your stand-mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, start whipping on medium speed for 3 minutes. It should look creamy and smooth.
What happens when you whip the cream? When you whip the cream, you are incorporating air bubbles which will increase the volume of the cream. The gelatin used will stabilize those air bubbles and you will end up with a cream that is light and airy and melts in your mouth.
Hopefully, you won’t have any issues making this cream. But if you do, you can find some troubleshooting tips in the pastry cream post.
Assembling The Paris-Brest
The Paris-Brest is made up of 3 parts: The choux pastry with craquelin, the praliné cream and the praliné insert.
- The first thing you need to do is cut the choux horizontally in half. Place the top right next to the corresponding choux so you don’t end up playing a puzzle, trying to see which one fits (been there, done that)! I tried keeping the top slightly connected to the base but found it too cumbersome while piping and the shape of the cream got ruined when I just flipped the top onto the cream. Another thing to mention is that cutting the choux is a messy process: some of the craquelin will fall off. So it’s better if you don’t use your serving dish immediately like I did. Prepare your choux and then transfer them to the final dish (being careful not to touch the cream when holding the choux).
- Pipe a little bit of praliné cream into each choux. You will pipe some more later so don’t finish all the cream!
- Place your frozen praliné insert in the center of the cream (or pipe the praliné as explained below).
- Pipe some more cream to cover the praliné.
- Put the top of the choux back on and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
Below are 2 piping ideas. I’m pretty sure you can do better than me but this is just to get you going. You can also pipe one large dollop of cream which is what I normally do but my choux were too small this time and the praliné took up most of the space!
The praliné insert
You have a few options for the praliné insert:
- Silicone molds (my preferred option)
- Ice cube tray
- Piping (my least favorite)
The easiest thing to do is to fill dome-shaped silicone molds (the same size as those used for the choux pastry, which gets bigger in the oven) with praliné and freeze them. They are very easy to unmold and you just place the frozen praliné dome in your choux, no mess. Each dome of praliné from a 3.8cm silicone mold weighed about 16 g.
If you don’t have silicone molds, you can simply use ice cube trays. It is slightly harder to remove the praliné. I used a knife and gently pushed the praliné out.
And my least preferred option is piping.
You can insert the piping bag directly into the cream and start piping until the cream “swells”. But if your praliné is too runny like mine was (mixed for too long), it might drip everywhere. It is also hard to tell how much you have put in each choux.
Once you’ve assembled the Paris-Brest, refrigerate it for at least 45 minutes before serving it. This is especially important if you are using the frozen insert. You want to make sure it has fully defrosted before attempting to eat the Paris-Brest!
And you’re done! Well, almost! Just sift some icing sugar on top of the choux before serving and they are ready to be eaten!