Paris Brest for the Daring Baker’s Challenge

It was inevitable. I had to come face to face with my nemesis one day. And that day was here. This month two of the baking groups that I bake along with chose recipes that had one thing in common- choux pastry! It was Paris Brest for the Daring Baker’s Challenge and Chocolate Eclairs for the Avid Baker’s Challenge.

paris brest cover

Thrilled with the choux…..not so with the mousseline

Choux (pronounced ‘shoo’) pastry or pâte à choux (paht ah shoo) seems simple enough to make. It has the usual cast of characters- flour, butter, water and eggs. Yet it was enough to strike fear in my heart. Not that I had ever made it before, it just seemed…..scary!!

But I am so happy that I was pushed into making it. It really was easy.

Choux is a very versatile dough and is used to make many French sweet and savory delicacies like eclairs, profiteroles, croquembouche, Paris Brest and gougères (cheese puffs).

The Paris Brest (pronounced Pa-ree Brehst) is a delicate French dessert which was created by pastry chef Louis Durand in 1910 for the organizers of the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. It’s an amateur cycling event between the cities of Paris and Brest.

The November Daring Baker’s challenge took us for a ride! Luisa from Rise of the Sourdough Preacher challenged us to make Paris-Brest, a beautiful pastry celebrating the Paris-Brest bicycle race.

The pastry is designed to resemble the wheel of the bicycle.

Choux pastry is piped out into three concentric circles, two side by side and one on top in the center of the two bottom circles. (I traced a 4″ circle on a parchment paper, inverted it and used it as a guide to pipe out the dough).

piped circles CollageDon’t start all the circles from the same point. Let the joints be at different places.

This is then baked and after it cools, it is slit into two halves and filled with a praline-mousseline cream.

Since one of the most important ingredient is butter, it is recommended to use a high fat, good quality butter.

I followed the choux recipe from the King Arthur Flour website but halved it to make two pastries and four 3″ long eclairs.

Take care to cool the dough sufficiently before adding the eggs to prevent the eggs from being cooked.

It is also important to add the eggs one at a time so that you have control over the consistency and the dough does not become runny. This way you incorporate only as much egg as required.

The resulting dough should be paste-like, shiny, glossy and of a ‘reluctant dropping consistency’.

I made the pastry cream and praline a couple days ahead and the mousseline the day I baked the choux. The amount of praline mousseline was enough for one Paris Brest and four eclairs.

When making the mousseline, ensure that the butter and pastry cream are at the same temperature (neither too hot nor too cold) otherwise it will become runny or lumpy.

The weather in Mumbai right now is quite hot and humid (temperature today was around 32C and humidity nearly 40%). So the mousseline was wetter than it should have been. It’s definitely not the result I was looking for.

Thankfully I have one pastry in the freezer which I will thaw and use once the weather improves.

Thank you Luisa, you helped me conquer my fear.

Paris Brest for the Daring Baker’s Challenge

Paris Brest for the Daring Baker’s Challenge

For the Pâte à Choux:
113 ml water
56 gms unsalted butter
A pinch salt
75 gms all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
A handful of slivered almonds
egg or milk for the brushing
For the praline:
15 gms whole almonds
15 gms whole hazelnuts
20 gms caster sugar
1 tsp water
For the crème mousseline:
1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk
1 egg yolk
28 gms caster (superfine) sugar
5 gms plain flour + 5 gms cornflour
10 gms cake flour, sieved
60 gms European-style butter, made from cream, with 83% fat content
(I used Amul unsalted butter which has 80% fat content)
40 gms praliné
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla pod, sliced open length wise
To make Pâte à Choux:
Preheat oven to 350°F/180° C.
Lightly grease or line a baking tray with parchment. (Draw the circles on one side, reverse and use these as the guide while piping).
In a large pan pour in the water, sugar and salt and heat till the butter melts.
Bring to a rolling boil and remove from heat.
Add the flour in all at once stirring briskly to ensure no lumps form.
Return pan to heat and cook over medium heat, stirring all the time until the mixture smoothens and follows the spoon. A thin film will form at the bottom, do not scrape and try to incorporate into the dough.
Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for 5-10 minutes. If you have a thermometer, the temperature should read below 50C/125F, or you should be able to hold a finger in it for a few seconds.
Using your stand mixer or hand held mixer, beat in eggs one at a time. It may look curdled but when you add the last egg the dough will turn smooth.
Beat another 2 minutes after you add the last egg.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a 3/8-inch (10 mm) plain nozzle with the choux. Pipe one circle on the diameter that you drew and the other inside, touching the first.
Pipe a third circle on top, using the star-shaped nozzle. If you don't have one use a fork to trace some lines on its surface, this will help the choux pastry to rise properly.
Brush the top with egg/milk and sprinkle the slivered almonds on top.
Bake the pastries for 15 minutes, the reduce the oven temperature to 175C/350F and bake for another 20-25 minutes till pastries are medium brown. (I baked for 20 minutes).
Don't open the oven door while the pastries are baking.
Remove pastries from oven, make a small slit on top of each and return to oven for another 5 minutes. This allows the steam to escape.
Place on wire rack to cool. (I cooled them in an air conditioned room since I did not want them to turn soggy).
When they are cool, split into halves and remove any soft dough from inside.
Unfilled choux pastry can be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer for a month. Defrost them by heating them up in a 180C/350f oven for about 5-7 minutes before filling them.
Once filled, they should be stored in the fridge and finished within 2-3 days.
They are best eaten on the day that they are being filled, after which, they will begin to soften the longer you keep them.
To make praline:
Place the sugar and water in a heavy bottom pan and bring to a boil.
When the syrup becomes dense, remove from fire and add all the nuts at once.
Stir with a wooden spoon, coating the nuts with the syrup till sugar crystallizes and becomes opaque and granular.
Now place the pan back on the heat and and keep stirring the nuts over low heat until the sugar melts and turns to a golden caramel colour.
Take the pan off the heat place the contents on a silpat or baking paper to cool.
After they cool completely, break into smaller pieces and then grind them to a paste in the mixer.
*you can store the caramalized nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several weeks.
To make praline mousseline:
Heat the milk in a pan with the vanilla pod and bring it to a boil.
Remove from heat and cool for 10-15 minutes.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and sugar till it becomes white.
Add the flour and whisk well.
Mix half the milk into the egg until uniform.
Pour this into the rest of the milk and return to heat.
Stir continuos land cook till cream thickens.
Transfer to a bowl and cover with cling film touching the cream.
Leave to cool.
Soften butter in a bowl and mix in the praline. Add the cooled cream and mix well till well blended and homogeneous.
To assemble:
Cut the cooled pastry in half horizontally and remove any soft bits of dough.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with the praline-mousseline and pipe swirls on the bottom half of the pastry.
Let the swirls come to the edge of the shell.
Place other part on top.
Sift some icing sugar on top and serve.
*Once filled with crème patisserie, they should be stored in the fridge and finished within 2-3 days. They are best eaten on the day that they are being filled, after which, they will begin to soften the longer you keep them.