This exquisite lady of classic French pastry is a dream. If I’m honest, she isn’t easy to make. If you have experience in baking and pastry, you will be fine, but if not, it will take you a few times to nail this dessert down. I tell you this not to scare you away from making a Paris Brest, but to encourage you to learn and understand the various techniques.
So, some history on the Paris Brest: It is pronounced Pah-ree Breast. The “Brest” is in commemoration of the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race that began in 1891. Chef Louis Durrand created the Paris Brest in 1910, a pate-choux pastry “wheel” filled with a hazelnut-almond praline mousseline. It is light yet creamy, beautiful, and the most classic “non chocolate” dessert in the grand dame of a dessert line up. The French love this, and I hope you will too.
The steps, generally:
Roasting and peeling the hazelnuts
Caramelizing sugar, and making a hard candy praline with the roasted hazelnuts and almonds
Processing the praline into “praline paste”
Make a basic crème pâtissière then into a praline-mousseline.
Make pâte à choux pastry, form a “wheel,” and bake
Got it? Let’s go!
The Praline Paste
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 cup whole hazelnut
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and make ready a small baking sheet to pour the HOT praline mixture out on. Add the whole almonds and hazelnuts to a shallow dish for roasting. Roast 15 minutes until golden and fragrant, remove from the oven.
Pace the nuts in the center of a dishtowel. Ball up the roasted nuts, cinch the top of the dishtowel with your hand and roll the balled up portion around in your other hand. This action rubs the hazelnut and almonds to gather peeling off the paper-thin skin.
Unravel the towel, and remove the peeled nuts to a bowl and set aside. Discard the spent nut skins.
In a heavy bottom saucepot, add the sugar, and the water. I typically add lemon juice, a trick I learned from a pastry chef, to prevent crystallization of the sugar. Mostly because I have no patience to continuously brush down the inside of the pot to prevent sugar crystals from falling back into the caramel and crystallizing. Add the lemon juice and mix to a “wet sand” like mixture.
Begin to heat the sugar and allow it to liquefy. No need to continually stir, but I do gently swirl the pot from time to time. Cook the sugar and let it turn a golden/amber brown. You may also use a candy thermometer.
Once the sugar starts turning amber, remove from the heat, and gently swirl. It will continue cooking and caramelizing.
Add the roasted nuts all in at once and swirl in. If you need a spoon, then use a wooden spoon.
Immediately put the praline mixture out onto the small baking pan. This will harden fast, so be diligent and precise. Spread the praline out into n even layer, spreading the nuts out evenly.
Allow the praline to cool and harden. Break up the hard candy praline into pieces. Add the pieces to a food processor. Process the praying into a smooth praline paste. This will take some time, so have patience.
Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom and keep processing to a mixture that is in-between “brown sugar” and “peanut butter”. Add to a clean bowl, cover, and set aside.
The Praline Mousseline: Think of this as a pastry cream/buttercream mousse.
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks, room temp
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup praline paste
2/3 cups (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temp
In a mixing bowl, add the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch. Mix into a smooth, pale yellow, slurry.
In a saucepan, begin to gently simmer the milk. Do this carefully so that you do not scorch (burn) the bottom of the pot. Temper the hot milk into the egg yolks; adding a little of the hot milk into the egg yolks and mixing, until all of the milk is in the eggs.
Pour the tempered custard back into the pot and gently heat. Cook and continuously stir until the custard thickens into the pastry cream.
Pour the cooked pastry cream through a fine-mesh strainer, into a clean bowl, to collect any cooked (scrambled) bits. Scrape the bottom of the strainer to collect all of the cooked cream.
Smooth the cream out evenly in the bowl. Add plastic wrap to the surface of the pastry cream, to prevent a “skin” forming. Allow the cream to cool, and place in the refrigerator to chill. (You may also place over a bowl of ice and continuously stir until chilled if
Once the pastry cream has chilled, it’s time to make the praline mousseline: In a mixing bowl, add the pastry cream. Using a hand mixer or in your stand mixer with a whisk attachment, begin to mix the pastry cream.
In small portions, not all at once, add the 1 1/4 cups of praline paste and mix into the pastry cream. Mix until all of the praline paste has been added.
Again in small portions, add the 2/3 cups softened butter; 2 tablespoons at a time. The idea is to blend the soft butter into the cream evenly and build volume and texture. Scrape your bowl down occasionally to make sure everything is mixed evenly. Mix in all of the butter until your smooth, fluffy mousseline has been created. Cover and refrigerate.
Pâte à Choux and the “Wheel”
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
4 large eggs
Egg wash (1 egg, 1 tablespoon water mixed)
3-4 tablespoons sliced almonds
Make the choux: In a sauce-pot, add the water, butter, sugar, and salt. Heat to a simmer, allowing the butter to melt.
All at once, add the flour and begin to mix with a wooden spoon vigorously. Keep the pan on the stove, continuously stirring, “cooking” the choux, and allowing it to dry out a bit. Once the choux is smooth and is pulling away from the sides of the pot, remove from the heat.
Now, I cheat when it comes to mixing… I use a mixer to mix in the eggs instead of the TV way of using a wooden spoon. If you have never made choux pastry before, this part of the recipe will seem confusing and probably defeating. The trick is to stick with it… the choux pastry will come together. Eventually.
Place the hot choux dough in the bowl of your stand mixer. With the whisk attachment mix the dough and break it up so that it cools a bit. Mix for 5 minutes. With the mixer running, add one egg at a time to the dough. The dough will break up and look as if it is curdling… just keep mixing until it is blended in and becomes smooth.
Add another egg and continue the process. After the dough becomes smooth, continue on with the remaining eggs and repeat the process. Make sure you scrape down the bowl in between to ensure even mixing.
Once all the eggs are in, the choux batter is smooth, it’s time to make the ring: Preheat your oven (convection) to 400 degrees. Trace a 9” round form on one side of parchment paper. Flip the parchment paper over, so the reverse side is face up.
Place the parchment paper on a flat baking/cookie sheet; obviously large enough to hold the wheel. Fill a pastry bag (with a large round pastry tip) with the choux pastry dough. In a continuous line, pipe out the dough along the traced circle. Continue with a smaller concentric ring on the inside of the larger ring. Basically, pipe the large ring, then on the inside of the large ring pipe another smaller ring. On top of the two rings, pipe a third ring.
Brush the rings with the egg wash all over. Sprinkle the sliced almonds, generously, all over the rings. Place the sheet pan in the preheated oven and bake 23-25 minutes until golden brown.
Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake the wheel an additional 25 minutes until golden brown and dried out. Remove from the oven and cool.
Building the Paris-Brest
Slice the wheel in half, horizontally, creating a top and bottom layer.
Using a large pastry bag with a star tip, fill it halfway full with the chilled praline mousseline. Pipe the inside bottom layer of the wheel with the mousseline… preferably decoratively. Pipe it fully, pipe it tall, pipe it pretty.
Place the top layer on top of the mousseline, sandwiching the two layers. Dust the top with powdered sugar and chill until ready to serve.
I mean, this was the easiest part, right? If you have made it all the way to the end, congratulations. Now, go and enjoy your Paris Brest you did an excellent job! Enjoy!