Honeymoon part 1: Paris
... and the Paris Brest
Laura and I got married back in April, and as June rolled around it was finally time to take our honeymoon.
The journey started on the 14th, and took us from London to Paris, where we spent 3 days before moving to Lyon. After 2 nights in Lyon we flew to St. Emilion for the final part of our journey.
It was an unforgettable experience, and I thought I'd take a memory from each leg of the trip and try to re-create it at home.
While in Paris, we set out to visit as many pâtisseries as we could. One of the places I really wanted to see was La Pâtisserie des Rêves. It's an amazing place, and it was pretty hard not to try and buy everything in sight.
One of PdR's most popular pastries is their version of a Paris Brest. This light choux bun, filled with praline cream, is unbelievably good. The Paris Brest was invented in 1891 to commemorate a cycle race of the same name (which is why it's the shape of a wheel), and was said to find favour with the competitors due to its high calorie content. It stuck out from the rest as it's not something we often see in England.
We bought a lot of food that day, but chose to sit in the Tuileries Garden and share the Paris Brest in 30 degree heat with an espresso. True the hype, it was delicious - and inspired me to be the Parisian pastry I'd write about in the first of 3 France-related blogs.
The recipe below does take a bit of effort, but the end result is worth it for a pastry you're unlikely to find outside France.
Ingredients (makes 5 to 6 individual pastries depending on how large you pipe them)
- 55g Strong white flour
- 55g Golden caster sugar
- 45g Unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
- 80g Strong white flour
- 20g Plain flour
- 65ml Water
- 65ml Whole milk
- 55g Unsalted butter
- 5g Caster sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 3 Large eggs
- 80g Shelled hazelnuts
- 45g Blanched almonds
- 100g Caster sugar
- 350ml whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 75g Caster sugar
- 15g Plain flour
- 15g Cornflour
- 3 Large egg yolks
- 100g Unsalted butter at room temperature
Step 1: Crumble
The first thing to make is the crumble topping, which is going to sit on top of our choux. It's a really important step that traps the steam inside the choux, allowing for a much better "puff". It also adds texture to the top of our end pastry.
To make, simply blend all the ingredients in a food processor until you see a fine crumb texture. You really should use a processor for this stage, as you want to ensure a totally even distribution of ingredients throughout the mix. Lay a sheet of cling film out on your work surface, then pour the crumble on top and lay another sheet of cling on top of that. Take a rolling pin and gently roll the mix until it's 1 to 2 mm thick. Take this flattened mix, place on a tray and put it in your freezer for at least 45 minutes.
Step 2: Choux
This next step takes about 20 minutes, so make sure your crumble is nearly frozen before starting.
Set your oven to 180 degrees C, and place a shallow baking tray in the bottom. Fill your kettle and boil, then sift the two flours together and set aside.
Put the water, milk, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan and heat until it reaches boiling point. Quickly take it off the heat, drop in your sifted flour, and quickly mix together with a wooden spoon until combined. Put this back on the heat, and cook - always stirring with the spoon - for about another 60 seconds. Tip this out into a bowl and leave for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.
When you're ready, take your 3 large eggs and crack them into a bowl. Beat together with a fork. This next step can be done by hand with the spoon, or you can put your choux base into the bowl of a stand mixer with the beater attachment. Pour in 1/3 of the beaten egg, and mix with the choux base. It's going to look like the mix splits almost immediately, but keep on going and that egg will eventually force its way into the flour mix! Repeat twice more so that all three eggs are combined.
A note about egg sizing at this point - this recipe calls for "3 large eggs" and often you'll see "4 medium eggs" in choux recipes. It's hard to judge, but I often find that there's some egg left over with 4 medium eggs. In any case, the key here is that the end choux should be of a dropping consistency - that is to say the mix will slowly drop from a spoon when picked up. You need to do this by eye - but 3 UK Large-size eggs does the trick for me.
Now you've made the paste, put a 1 cm piping nozzle into a disposable bag, and fill it with the choux. Take your frozen crumble out of the freezer, and find a cutter that's about 2cm diameter (bottle tops from drinks are quite a good size if you don't have anything else to hand). Cut 6 circles of crumble per Paris Brest - remember to peel off any cling film you might have cut out.
Take a baking tray, and either cover it with greaseproof paper or use a silicone mat if you have one. Pipe your first choux - it should be about 2.5cm wide and about the same height at the peak. What we're going for here is a hexagonal type shape, so the easiest thing to do in order to guide you is pipe another identical round, in a straight line, about 3 cm across from the first. That's the guide done, so now pipe the two upper parts of the hexagon to connect them, then the two lower parts. Now that you've piped the shape, take your crumble cut-outs and place one on the top of each choux round. Press them down very gently so that they all sit at approximately the same height. Repeat this process with your remaining choux paste and crumble pieces.
When ready to bake, put about a wine glass full of boiling water in the tray at the bottom of your oven, put the tray of choux in as well, and bake for 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, open the door of the oven briefly; the steam should mostly be dispersed at this point, and your choux risen. Close the door and bake for a further 10 minutes.
After the full 20 minutes has passed, take out the tray - the choux should easily come away from the silicone mat / greaseproof paper. Leave on a wire rack to completely cool. Leave the oven switched on for the next stage.
Step 3: Praline paste
Here in the UK, it's quite hard / costly to find praline paste. In any case, it's quicker to make your own out of things you might even have in your cupboard already. Take the hazelnuts and almonds, spreading them out on a tray. Place in a preheated oven at 180, and roast off for about 5 minutes. The amount of time you leave the nuts in your oven depends on how deep you want the flavour to be - less long for a less nutty praline, longer for stronger ... though obviously if you leave them in too long they'll burn, so keep an eye on them.
Once you've roasted the nuts, remove from the oven and spread out onto a silicone mat (or, again, greaseproof paper). Place the matt or paper onto a cooling rack so that it's not directly on your work surface.
Add the sugar to a heavy bottomed pan, and heat. We want a pretty deep amber colour caramel - so at the point you see the caramel start to smoke, it should be there. Pour the caramel over the nuts and leave to completely set.
Once cool, use a rolling pin to gently break up the caramel into smaller chunks. Take the whole lot and carefully put it into your food processor. When you blend it initially, it will just look like dust - but carry on blitzing, and eventually the oils will be released from the nuts, and the consistency will turn to something resembling butter. This is your praline paste; you'll probably need about half for this recipe. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so.
Step 4: Crème pâtissière
Crack the egg yolks into a bowl, and add the sugar. Whisk until the yolks turn a pale colour, then sift in the flour and whisk again. Heat the milk and vanilla paste in a heavy bottomed saucepan until it boils. Remove from the heat, then pour a little of the hot milk on the yolk mixture to temper it, whisking constantly. Continue to add more of the milk mixture, whisking all the time. Eventually you should have mixed all of the hot milk with the yolk mixture - now transfer the whole lot back into the pan and place over a medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to continually stir, making sure you get right to the bottom of the pan. Your custard should thicken very quickly - but keep cooking until it's totally smooth and thick (it should take about 60 seconds). When ready, pour the custard into a clean bowl and put some cling film over the surface to stop a skin forming. I find cling is better than the icing sugar / cornflour dusting method, but normally pull one corner away from the custard to let heat escape.
Step 5: Praline cream and assembly
Place the 100g of butter in a stand mixer with the beater attachment fitted, and whip on a high speed until soft. Reduce the speed, and add half of your praline paste, making sure it blends completely (you'll want to scrape down the bowl). Keep the mixer running, and mix in the crème pâtissière. When the whole thing is amalgamated, taste the cream to see if it needs more praline paste or more sugar and adjust accordingly. Once happy, place a 1cm piping nozzle into a disposable piping bag and add the praline cream to it. Place this in the fridge to firm up. While you wait for this, go back to your cooled choux shells and carefully cut them in half horizontally. You may find that some of the individual shells come away from eachother during this process - but don't worry; they will all stick back together when you pipe the praline cream into the hollow shells. When the cream is firm, pipe enough into each of the 6 shells to fill it and come out half as high again.
Carefully place the shells back on top of the cream and push down slightly to settle. If you're not serving straight away, place them back in the fridge.
When ready to serve, dust with icing sugar and enjoy.
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