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.
So I decided to join the Daring Bakers, a monthly baking challenge, as I thought that it would encourage me to try baking things that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. I was right! My first challenge was Paris Brest, a choux pastry dessert filled with a praline cream. It was invented to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race and the circular shape, made with pâte à choux, is meant to resemble a bicycle wheel. I would have thought to make other choux pastry desserts, but most likely eclairs or profiteroles, not Paris Brest, so this was a good challenge for me.
They were worth making for the filling alone! I made a praline crème légère, which was quite possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted….A crème légère consists of a thick crème pâtissière with whipped cream folded in to lighten it, and in this case, praline paste. To make the praline you start by making caramel, to which you add nuts, I used a mixture of almonds and hazelnuts but you can use whatever type you like, I think it would taste pretty amazing with pecans… Once the nuts are mixed in to the caramel you spread it out on some greaseproof paper to cool, then blitz it in a food processor until it forms a paste. This takes quite a while and at first I thought it wasn’t going to work, but just keep the machine running and it will get there eventually. It is a bit like making peanut butter, the nuts are ground to a powder at first, but if you keep on blending the oils will be released and the powder will turn into a paste.
I wont pretend that these aren’t time consuming as there are several separate elements to prepare, but you can make the filling a day in advance and keep it in the fridge to split up the workload if you like. And they are well worth the effort, the crisp pastry oozing with silky smooth praline crème légère is delicious. I made them when I was visiting my family and they were all devoured within minutes and very highly praised. I will definitely be making the filling again, it was so good that it deserves to be used, possibly in a raspberry and hazelnut tart…
Choux pastry is a little daunting and can be tricky to get right, the main thing is to make sure that you get it really crisp when it is baked, this can take a while depending on your oven, but just follow the instructions in the recipe and they should turn out fine. The pastry softens after it has been filled so it is best to assemble them shortly before serving, although everything can be prepared in advance. I baked my choux buns the day before serving and found that they went a little soft overnight so just before I served them I popped them in a medium-high oven for five minutes and they crisped up again nicely (let them cool before adding the filling).
All in all this was a fun and worthwhile challenge and I am thoroughly looking forward to finding out what next months one will be.
Mini Paris Brest
(Please note: although I have provided a conversion from grams to US cup measurements I cannot guarantee the accuracy as I do not bake using cups, I thoroughly recommend investing in a digital metric scale, it is far more accurate.)
- 80ml (1/3 cup) water
- 100ml (6 tbsp plus 2 tsp) full-fat milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
- 100g (3/4 cup plus 4tsp) plain flour
- 3 medium eggs
- 75g (3oz) mix of almonds and hazelnuts (or nuts of your choice)
- 75g (6 tbsp) caster (superfine) sugar
- 45ml (3 tbsp) water
- 290ml (1 and a scant 1/4 cups) full fat milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar
- 20g (2tbsp) plain flour
- 20g (2tbsp) cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla paste/extract
- 150ml (2/3 cup) double (heavy) cream
Start by making the choux pastry. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Sift the flour. Put the water, milk, salt, sugar and butter into a medium pan, stir, and bring to the boil until the butter is completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and add all of the flour in one shot, stir vigorously until the flour is fully incorporated.
Return the pan to a medium-low heat and stir for a few minutes until the dough comes away from the edges of the saucepan, remove from the heat and beat the mixture for a few minutes until it has cooled slightly, use a stand mixer if you have one.
Beat the eggs together in a jug. Add the egg gradually to the dough, a little at a time, beating well and making sure that each addition is fully incorporated before adding more. You may not need to add all of the egg – check the consistency of the paste by picking some up with a spatula. The pastry should slide down and form a peak still attached to the spatula and should be smooth and glossy.
Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and draw six 12cm (4¾ -in) circles, slightly spaced apart, flip the paper over and use a little of the choux paste in each corner to stick it to the baking sheet – this helps to keep it still when piping. Fit a piping bag with a 10mm (3/8-inch) plain or star nozzle and fill the bag with the choux paste. Carefully pipe a ring following the template, pipe a second ring inside of the first, then a third on top of the first two. Repeat with the remaining five templates. If you like you can sprinkle the tops with flaked almonds.
Place a small dish of water in the bottom of the oven – the steam helps the choux to rise, and bake for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 20 minutes, don’t open the oven door during this time. Remove from the oven and poke a couple of slits in the side of each ring, return to the oven for five minutes to dry out, leaving the door slightly ajar. The pastries should be risen, deep golden and sound hollow when tapped. If they are still soft, turn the oven down to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 and continue to bake with the door ajar, checking every five minutes, until they are crisp. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
To make the praline: Line a (heatproof) tray with some baking parchment. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and swirl the pan (don’t stir) until the sugar dissolves. Keep cooking until the caramel turns an amber colour. Remove from the heat and tip in the nuts, stir until they are covered in the caramel. Pour the praline on to the prepared tray and let it cool completely. Break the praline into small pieces and blitz in a food processor until it becomes a paste. This will take quite a while! (5-10 minutes) it should have a similar consistency to smooth peanut butter.
Make the crème pâtissière: Heat the milk in a pan to just below boiling point. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl, whisk in about a tablespoon of the hot milk, then whisk in the flour and cornflour. Gradually whisk in the remaining milk. Pour into a clean pan, place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick. Scrape it through a sieve into a clean bowl and cover with clingfilm, pressing the clingfilm directly on to the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely cold.
Whip the double cream until soft peaks form. Beat the cooled crème pâtissière until smooth, then beat in the praline paste and fold in the whipped cream, this is your finished crème légère.
To assemble, slice each of the choux buns in half horizontally, if there is any raw choux paste inside, remove it. Put the crème légère into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle and generously pipe the cream on the bottom half of the choux. Replace the top half and dust with icing sugar. They are best eaten soon after filling.
(Recipe adapted from: http://riseofthesourdoughpreacher.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/db-paris-brest/#more-2801)