Last Friday I was tasked with a special job. Make an out of this world birthday celebration dessert for a dear friend. What to make, what to make. It definitely needed to be a dessert that had some panache, and was worthy enough of my fabulous friend Kim.
In my never ending quest to perfect the perfect pate a choux, (I'm not there yet) I began to think about this beauty, the Paris-Brest. Have you heard of it? Light fluffy layers of choux, filled with a hazelnut and almond praline creme. Gah. Gorgeousness, deliciousness all on a plate. If ever there was a pastry that should be as decadent as this, I've yet to find it.
This dessert is not one to take on when you are short on time. This is one that requires, no demands a good amount of time in the kitchen, however the end result will definitely be worth it. It is also, unlike many other Paris-Brest recipes I've come across as it includes the addition of praline paste as a primary component of it's filling. And by the way, praline paste?? It will completely change your life. You will wonder why you've never had it before and why it is not commercially available here in the U.S. You will also feel more than a little robbed that you've not known about it before and almost giddy that you do now.
What is praline paste exactly? Well it's simple yet profound. It's toasted hazelnuts and almonds, covered in caramelized sugar, cooled then whizzed around in the food processor to create the most luscious nut butter you've ever, ever eaten. More gah.
This is the good stuff. Praline Paste. Right here people. Look quickly because it's about to disappear. The recipe makes way more than this, this is just all I happen to have left after I may or may not have eaten most of it.
The Paris-Brest pastry was created in 1910 to celebrate the Paris-Brest 1200km bicycle race that began in 1891. Today the Paris-Brest race is run every 4 years, with the next one occurring August 2015. I can only imagine the flurry of Paris-Brest making that will occur when that day arrives.
There have been exhaustive words written about how to prepare this delightful recipe and rather than rehash them here I will link you to Joe Pastry, for an excellent tutorial and recipe. I have used his recipe for the praline paste, and if you get a chance to check out the rest of his blog please do so. It's simply fantastic.
If you are not feeling up to the challenge of a 1200km bike race, (and if you are, I'd like to shake your hand) I'd strongly encourage you to take on the challenge of making the Paris-Brest. Kim loved the dessert, friends fought over seconds and I had the lovely satisfaction of knowing everyone was in raptures.
For the Praline Paste
8 oz. Sugar
1/4 C. Water
4 oz. Blanched Almonds, toasted
4 oz. Peeled or partially peeled hazlenuts, toasted
2-4 T. Hazelnut or vegetable oil
Place the nuts on a Silpat or parchment covered baking sheet, close together but not piled on top of each other. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat combine the sugar and water. Swirl the pan frequently to combine the ingredients, but DO NOT stir them as crystallization will occur, and that's bad, very bad. Once the syrup has reached a dark brown color, remove from heat and pour immediately over the nuts. Set aside to harden and cool completely.
Once cooled, break in to pieces and place in a food processor. Process to a fine crumb. Add 1 T. of oil at time through the feed tube. Add oil just until a smooth paste begins to form. You may not need all of the oil so check after each addition to see if a paste is forming. It should look like "natural peanut butter" in texture when you are done.
Place in the refrigerator if you are not using immediately, but allow to come to room temperature if making the filling for the Paris-Brest at a later date.
For the Pastry: Get your scale and metric measuring cup for this one.
140 ml water
90 ml milk
90 g. butter
150 g. all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. salt
1 additional egg, whisked
handful of sliced almonds
confectioners sugar for garnish
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan combine the water, milk, salt and butter and bring to a simmer. Add the flour all in one go and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until completely combined. Cook the mixture over low heat for 4 minutes. The purpose of doing this is to dry the dough a bit and remove excess moisture. Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time until the mixture is fully incorporated and fluffy.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Draw an 8" circle on a piece of parchment, using a lid or cake pan as a guide. Flip the paper over and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the dough to a large pastry bag that tip is snipped to create a 1" hole. Carefully pipe the mixture on top of the circle. Make another circle on the inside of the first piped circle. Pipe a third circle on top of the two where they touch. Again, pop over to Joe Pastry for the visuals if you need to.
Brush the dough all over with the beaten egg, then use the back of a fork to lightly score long lines in the pastry to promote even rising. Sprinkle with the almonds.
Place the pastry in the oven and bake for 15, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30- 35 additional minutes. Five minutes prior to completion of the bake time, poke a hole with a sharp knife in several places around the base of the pastry. Once the pastry is sufficiently brown, turn off the oven, prop open the door and allow it too cool completely.
Set aside and prepare the cream filling.
For the filling:
5 egg yolks
80 g. sugar
40 g. flour, sifted
60 g. praline paste
350 ml. whole milk
2 tsp. espresso powder
150 g. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt
In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk and espresso powder. Simmer over low heat until warmed through and the coffee granules have dissolved. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour and combine thoroughly. Slowly add the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Once incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium low, whisking until the mixture thickens. Place the mixture in the refrigerator until completely cold and chilled through. This is a very important step. If you skip it the filling will be too soft and not hold it's shape while piping. Also, avoid making this on a hot, hot day for the same reason.
Stir in the butter and praline, alternating, until a fluffy light cream has been achieved. Place the cream in a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
Slice the top third of the cooled pate a choux ring and set aside. Pipe the cream in circles or large shells, on the bottom 2/3rds of the pastry. If the mixture gets too soft while piping, feel free to pop it back in the refrigerator to firm it up.
Gently place the top of the pastry on top of the filling, and sprinkle lightly with confectioners sugar.
Refrigerate until 1 hour prior to serving.