This Christmas, we were trying out new traditions. First, there was Husband’s amazing smoked turkey, definitely a keeper, and my bacon jam, seen here, which was delicious. But the crowning glory of any meal is the dessert, and while mine tasted pretty good, its creation was an epic disaster!
You see, I was reading through one of my Cooks Illustrated a few months back, and came across a creation I had never heard of before: a Paris Brest. Now before you start humming songs from Moulin Rouge, and dancing a cancan, the Paris Brest is named after the bicycle race it was created to commemorate. It’s a pastry made of inner and outer layers of pate choux — the same dough used for eclairs and cream puffs, made to resemble a bike tire, hence the title.
When I read the original article, the pastry sounded fancy, and perfect for a special dinner. I thought I’d make for Christmas. Turns out I should have read the recipe, too. It was intense.
First, you have to make caramel, with chopped nuts, and let that set. I followed the instructions carefully, and brought the sugar and water to a boil, just like it said, and then left it alone. Within seconds, it burned, and I had to start over. Things weren’t looking good. On the second try, I kept the heat low, and it all worked out.
I also had to toast my nuts, which I toasted just to the edge of burnt. It seemed to be a theme. After I mixed in my nuts, which I substituted pecan for the called-for hazelnuts to give my brest a Texas twist, I poured the caramel onto a baking sheet. Once the set, I broke it up into pieces, added it to my food processor with a bit of oil, and pulverized it to a praline paste. This, it turns out, can be made ahead of time, and sit in the fridge until needed. I wish I had read that before the 24th.
After I had the praline paste made, it was time to work on the dough. Talk about another feat. Turns out that pate choux isn’t your standard butter, water, and liquid, dough. No, it’s something you have to cook on the stove, and then pulse in food processor, before adding it back to the stove to cook a bit more! Ugh. Still, I did it. I measured, mixed, cooked, pulsed, added eggs, cooked again until, according to instructions, “tiny beads of fat begin to form on the bottom of the pan.” What?! I can only assume that I cooked it enough.
I then piped my dough onto paper-lined sheet pans, to create 8″ circles; one with a plain tip, and one larger one with a star tip.
Unfortunately, that star-tipped ring is supposed to be three layers, in pyramid form. I ran out of dough. By this time, it was getting late, and I hadn’t had enough wine to relax my brow. I cooked it all anyway, hoping it would rise. A lot.
It did turn out nice and golden, though.
Again, it turns out you can make this at least 24 hours in advance.
But we’re still only halfway through the process of this monster of a dessert. Really.
I still had to make the pastry cream.
To make the pastry cream, you have to separate 5 eggs, beat the egg yolks, bloom some gelatin, cook the eggs with butter and sugar, all while stirring constantly. Think of making non-instant pudding, or custard for ice cream. I wish I had a stool. Once the cream is all cooked, you have to strain it, and let it set up in the fridge. For at least three hours! Again, I should have read the recipe!
So once the cream has set up, you mix in the praline paste, and then whip up some heavy cream. This is then folded into the pastry cream to lighten it up, and this new concoction is put back into the fridge to firm up even more for another 45 minutes. Turns out that this can be made at least three days in advance. Doh.
To assemble the Paris Brest, you cut the fancy ring, pipe on a bit of cream, place the smaller ring on top, pipe on loads more cream, and finish off with the top piece of the fancy ring. It should look like this…
Image taken from here.
Mine did not. My outer ring was nowhere near large enough to slice sandwich style, so I improvised. I tore my rings up, dolloped cream on top, and stuck another ring slice on top.
Definitely not as pretty as the professional up there, but it did taste good. Imagine a pecan and praline cream puff, because that is what it tasted like. Would I make it again? No. It was too much of a head ache. Sure, I could reduce my headache by making the parts in advance, say the cream on one day, the praline another, and the pate choux the day of. But if I ever see this on a menu, where I don’t have to stand over the stove, furrowing my brow, and biting my nails, just praying it all turns out right, I’m so ordering it.
So moral of the story? The French are nuts about their cooking. Oh, and read recipes days in advance of making them.