Paris-Brest (Almond Choux Pastry with Crème Mousseline)
The Paris-Brest-Paris was a long-distance cycling event (1200km) that was first organised in 1891 by a French Journalist by the name of Pierre Giffard in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, as a circulation aid for parisian newspapers. It was Pierre Giffard, who requested that Louis Durand, the pâtissier of Maisons-Laffitte in Yvelines, create a pastry to commemorate the start of the Paris-Brest-Paris race. This pastry was soon to become known as the Paris-Brest, and consisted of a circular choux pastry ring with an almond cream filling, topping with toasted almonds, which represented the wheel of a bicycle. The pastry gained popularity among cyclist very quickly due to its high calorific value and is now available all across France.
Paris-brest is made from Choux pastry (pâte à choux), which is a dough made with butter, water, flour and eggs. This is unusual compared to most french pastry dough as it does not contain sugar or any rising agents. Instead, it uses the high amount of moisture in the dough from water and eggs to cause to pastry to rise. During baking, the steam released from the dough is trapped inside the dough and causes the pastry to puff up, similar to yorkshire puddings. Choux pastry is the same pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs.
The main filling traditionally used in Paris-brest is crème mousseline, which is a derivative of pastry cream (crème pâtissière) made by the addition of butter and praline paste. Crème pâtissière is prepared by whisking hot milk with a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch, before cooking it on the stove top. The milk used in crème pâtissière is usually flavoured with cointreau or vanilla and can be flavoured to your personal taste (some people even add coffee). To make crème mousseline, butter and praline paste is then whisked hard into crème pâtissière until a fluffy smooth consistency is achieved. The crème mousseline is then chilled until it is ready to be piped.
Modern interpretations of Paris-brest include much smaller versions of it that no longer include the famous hole in the middle that symbolises a bicycle wheel. Furthermore, a version of Paris-brest made using hazelnut paste and topped with toasted hazelnuts have become increasingly popular (instead of the traditional almonds). All in all, the main appeal of the Paris brest has been the crunchy outer texture from the choux pastry and toasted nuts, paired with the rich nutty and creamy filling on the inside.
- 150g flour
- 140ml water
- 90ml milk
- 90g butter
- 4g salt
- 4-5 eggs
- sliced almonds/nibbed hazelnuts (for topping)
- Icing sugar (for dusting)
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F)
- Add the butter, water and salt into a pan and melt together on high heat.
- Once completely mixed together, add in all the flour in one go and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to form a thick paste (panada).
- Cook the panada on low heat for 2-3 minutes, constantly stirring.
- Take the panada off the heat and add a single whole egg to it. Mix very vigorously with the wooden spoon until the dough becomes smooth.
- Continue adding eggs and mixing one at time until the pastry is slightly glossy and hangs down like a v-shape from the wooden spoon. The amount of eggs required is not fixed and serves more as a guide.
- Fill a piping bag equipped with a round nozzle with the choux pastry
- Draw a 20 cm circle on parchment paper on top of a baking trap and pipe the choux pastry following the 20cm ring.
- Pipe another ring inside the first ring, with both rings sticking to each other.
- Pipe a final ring resting on top and in between the bottom two rings.
- Brush the choux pastry with egg wash and sprinkle on the almonds/hazelnuts.
- Bake for 28-30 minutes (the pastry should be firm and golden).
- Immediately after baking, slice the ring horizontally into two layers before allowing it to cool.
Pastry Cream (crème pâtissière):
- 70g sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 25g flour
- 25g cornstarch/cornflour (or replace with more flour)
- 450ml milk
- 1 vanilla bean/1 teaspoon of vanilla essence.
- Pour milk into a pan and add in the vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod by scraping out the seeds using a pairing knife. Bring the milk to boil.
- Beat the egg yolks and sugar mixture until the egg yolks are pale, light and fluffy.
- Whisk in the flour and cornstarch into the egg mixture.
- While constantly whisking the egg mixture, pour in half the hot milk in, all the while mixing well.
- Pour the egg mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk (all the whole mixing continuously).
- Turn on the heat and continue whisking the mixture until it starts to thicken to your desired consistency. At this point, the pastry cream is done and should be refrigerated until cool enough to use.
Mousseline Cream (crème mousseline):
- Pastry Cream
- 250g unsalted butter
- 150g praline paste
- If the butter comes straight from the fridge, cut the butter into small cubes and place into a pan.
- On medium heat, gently heat the butter until just under a quarter of the butter is melted.
- Immediately take off the heat and whisk the butter heavily so that the melted butter combines with the remaining unmelted butter to give you soft butter.
- Alternatively, use room temperature butter.
- Whisk the butter vigorously into the pastry cream, before adding the praline paste into the mixture and continue whisking.
- Once whisked until soft and fluffy, the mousseline cream is ready to be used and can be filled into a pastry bag equipped with a star-tipped nozzle.
- To assemble to Paris-Brest, pipe some mousseline cream into the bottom layer of the choux pastry before piping the cream in a uniform pattern all around the bottom layer of the choux pastry.
- Gently place the top layer of the choux pastry on top of the mousseline cream and dust the Paris-Brest with icing sugar. Chill before serving.
- Remember to mix the flour/cornstarch into the pastry cream and choux pastry well and vigorously to prevent lumps from forming.
- Similarly, whisk the choux pastry well when cooking it on the stove top to prevent the bottom from burning. Boiling the milk for pastry cream also runs to risk of the bottom of the pot scorching so remember to mix well.
- Pastry cream can be flavoured with chocolate or coffee if you don’t like the taste of praline.
- If you’re mousseline cream is lumpy after the addition of the butter, it means that the butter was too cold when you added it in. You can fix this by letting the mixture warm up a bit, or even slightly heating it up over a bain-marie.
- A wooden spoon for mixing the choux pastry is better than using a whisk as the mixture is extremely sticky.
- The panada for the choux pastry is cooked in order to allow it to better absorb the eggs.
- A lot of mixing is required to incorporate the eggs into the panada so don’t give up if the dough looks split.
- Adding eggs one at a time allows you to control the final texture of the choux pastry, remember- the pastry should be glossy and hang down like a v-shape from the wooden spoon.
- The choux pastry ring should be cut immediately after baking as it is the easiest to cut whist it is still hot. Cutting it immediately also releases steam and allows it to cool down faster.
- After adding the vanilla seeds to the milk, don’t throw away the pod! You can boil the pod with the milk or add the pod to you sugar jar to make vanilla sugar.
- The pastry cream recipe can be used already after chilled if you do not intend to make mousseline cream.
- You can gentle soften the butter for mousseline cream in a microwave as well.
- The mousseline cream can also be chilled in the fridge before use but should be clingfilmed to prevent a skin from forming on it.
- Remember to whisk the mousseline cream again before use if making the day before.