I have a huge love affair with recipes that come with an origin story, recipes like Tarte Tatin invented by mistake by the Tatin sisters in France, or Pavlova a dish created in honour of the Russian ballerina created in either Australia or New Zealand sometime in the 1920’s. Fairly often these stories have just a hint of truth, more myth that historical fact but there is still something about these stories that holds my interest. With the Paris-Brest we have a slightly more accurate understanding of the origins. The classic of french baking, a round choux pastry filled with a praline creme mousseline was created in 1910 by pastry chef Pierre Giffard. He was a big fan of cycling and the name and shape of the pastry was to reflect the Paris to Brest race that passed close to his shop just outside of Paris. Traditionally made with an almond praline it is now more commonly made with a hazelnut praline and is now one of the classics of French patisserie.
The recipe below is based on the version in my book Patisserie Made Simple but over the years since I wrote the book I have slightly tweaked the recipe, although the changes are minimal so if you have the book the recipe in the book still works wonderfully.
Hazelnut Mousseline Cream
500ml whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
100g caster sugar
250g unsalted butter
150g praline paste
To make the Paris-Brest it’s best to start with the mousseline as it needs plenty of time to chill. Start by placing the milk in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium/high heat. Meanwhile place the egg yolks, vanilla, caster sugar and cornflour into a large bowl and whisking to combine into a thick paste (if it is too thick and the mixture wont combine add a small splash of the milk before its had a chance to heat up properly).
When the milk is at temperature pour into the egg mixture, whisking to prevent the eggs from overcooking. Pour the custard back into the pan and place back over the heat and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbling, then cook for a minute or so more to cook out the cornflour fully. Scrape into a bowl then mix in 50g of the butter then press a sheet of clingfilm onto the surface of the custard, to prevent a skin from forming, then refrigerate until needed, at least 2 hours. Leave the remaining butter to come to room temperature
To finish off the mousseline place the remaining butter into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, add the praline paste and mix to combine. If the butter is too cool and not at the right texture you run the risk of creating lumps in the finished mousseline so make sure the butter is nice and creamy before the next step.
Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and using a whisk beat until brought back to a smooth texture. When it comes out of the fridge it will be a solid dense mass but with a little manpower it will smooth out. Add the pastry cream to the praline mixture into 3 or so additions, beating until fully combined before adding more. This slow combination of the two mixtures is simply to prevent lumps. Once everything has been combined you should have a mixture that has a texture similar to buttercream but lighter and much less sweet. If the texture looks a little shiny and loose placing the bowl in the fridge for up to an hour will really help.
60ml whole milk
60g unsalted butter, diced
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
85g plain flour
2-3 large eggs
100g nibbed hazelnuts
To make the choux pastry place the water, milk, butter, sugar and salt into a large saucepan and place over medium/high heat cooking until the butter has melted and the whole mixture comes to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and in one go pour in the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until everything comes together to form a dough. Initially it will resemble scrambled eggs but with a little mixing it will form a uniform dough. Place the pan back on the heat and cook, whilst stirring, for about 2-3 minutes or until a thin film has formed on the base of the pan (the film wont happen if using a non-stick pan). Pour the dough into a large bowl and mix for about 30 seconds to cool slightly. You can use an electric mixer or a wooden spoon for this, but you'll be mixing a lot so a wooden spoon will be quite a workout. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated before adding more. With choux pastry the amount of egg is always a guide, you'll need to make it a few times to really get the feel for the recipe. The end result you are looking for is a pastry with a slight gloss and one that holds a v-shaped ribbon when the wooden spoon is lifted from the bowl. To get a better indication of what the finished dough should look like, give my YouTube video a look, it really helps to see the finished texture.
Line two baking trays with parchment paper and use an 8cm round cookie cutter, dipped in flour, to mark four circles as templates onto each piece of parchment. Place the choux pastry into a piping bag fitted with a french star tip and pipe rounds of pastry, using the templates as guides. Sprinkle liberally with the hazelnuts. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Turn off the oven and allow the pastries to dry out for about 10 minutes or so before removing and allowing to cool to room temperature.
To assemble the Paris-Brest use a serrated knife to cut the rings of pastry in half. Pipe a little extra praline paste into the base of each choux pastry and top with mousseline cream. The easiest way to do this is to place the cream into a piping bag with a french star tip and pipe peaks of the cream around the ring of pastry. Finish by placing the disk of pastry on top and dusting with a little icing sugar.
The elements can all be made ahead but once assembled these are best on the day made.