Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Peasant's Paris Brest
If you could have just one cookbook, which one would you choose? I'd probably keep my copy of The New York Times Menu Cook Book. My old friend is a bit worn, her spine sags and her pages have come unglued, but for sheer breadth it's hard to beat the recipes she holds. Today's recipe for Paris Brest is tucked between her covers and it's been a part of our holiday table for over forty years. Food lore tells us that this lovely French dessert was created by a pastry chef in honor of a bicycle race between Paris and Brest. It consists of a baked almond-topped chou paste ring (patterned after a bicycle tire) that is split and filled with a praline-flavored buttercream and then topped with a whipped cream. Paris Brest is not hard to make but there are several steps required to assemble it. The components can be made ahead of time and then combined and assembled just before serving. Some folks go so far as to enclose the pastry in a cage of spun sugar. I think that's beautiful but I'd probably be dangerous - to myself and others - if I started flinging sugar syrup through the air and I can't begin to imagine how I'd clean my floors when done. You'll notice that I've called this Peasant's Paris Brest. That's because I've never mastered the use of a pastry bag and, rather than fuss, I use an ice cream scoop to form the pastry ring. My version lacks the perfection of one prepared by a pastry chef but it works for me and I think it will work for you as well. Do try this! You won't be sorry.
Ingredients: Pate a Chou
1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
4 eggs + 1 egg for glaze
1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
Directions: Pate a Chou
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease and flour a cookie sheet and lightly mark a circle with an 8-inch layer cake pan.
2) Place water and butter in a pan and bring to a boil.
3) Add salt and flour all at once. Stir vigorously. Cook until mixture forms a ball and leaves sides of pan. Remove from heat.
4) Beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, until each is well incorporated.
5) Using circle line as a guide and an an ice cream scoop to drop dough, create a ring of chou paste, about 1-inch high and 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, on inside of line. Use damp fingers or a spatula to connect and smooth ring.
6) Beat reserved egg; brush onto ring, sprinkle with almonds, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until well puffed. Lower heat to 350 degrees F. and bake for 15 minutes longer.
7) With point of a sharp knife, pierce edge of ring in half a dozen places to allow steam to escape. Bake for about 15 minutes longer, or until shell is well browned and dry inside. Cool on a rack.
Ingredients: Praline Candy
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup blanched almonds
Directions: Praline Candy
1) Combine ingredients in a heavy pan. Heat while stirring until sugar dissolves.
2) Continue to heat without stirring until mixture turns color of maple syrup. To avoid overbrowning almonds, pan may be shaken gently once or twice.
3) Pour immediately onto a buttered cookie sheet. Allow to cool before using. To crush, place a little at a time in a blender and blend on high speed for fifteen seconds. Praline may be kept in an air-tight container for several days.
Ingredients: Praline Butter Cream
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely crushed Praline candy
Directions: Praline Butter Cream
1) Place sugar, water and cream of tartar in a small pan. Bring to a boil and boil without stirring until syrup spins a long thread when dropped into cold water, or registers 240 degrees F. on a candy thermometer.
2) Pour syrup gradually onto eggs, beating constantly until mixture is very thick. Beat in butter a little at a time. Stir in the vanilla and crushed praline.
Ingredients: Final Assembly
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Directions: Final Assembly
1) Combine cream and confectioners' sugar in a chilled bowl. Beat until cream holds its shape.
2) Split pastry ring crosswise; fill lower half with praline butter cream. Top with whipped cream. Put halves together. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Yield: 8 to 10 small servings.
Recipe adapted from The New York Times Menu Cookbook 1966.