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.

Paris Brest

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.


The Blonde Duck said...

I'm too scared to try that! It's so elegant and pretty!

Martha said...

Looks really good -- I love European desserts --

Cathy said...

A very appealing dessert, Mary. It looks so festive and elegant. Love whipped cream.

Katherine Roberts Aucoin said...

Mary I agree, a very elegant dessert. I would hate to cut into it.

Allie said...

It looks amazing I could taste it now!

Maria said...

Amazing job!!The dessert looks perfect!

Catherine Wilkinson said...

Whoa! 'Peasant' shouldn't be in that title! That's a very regal dessert! Mary, great, great will become a favorite...and your grandchildren are exquisite! Lucky you!

Pam said...

OH MY! It's beautiful, elegant and so tasty. Excellent recipe Mary.

Birdie said...

The praline cream sounds absolutely wonderful!

Barbara said...

Mary, this dessert is very impressive. Would love to have a taste.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Thank you all! Catherine, I can't tell you how delighted I am that you've stopped by. I hope you'll visit often.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm brave enough to try that. :-) It looks fabulous!


Anonymous said...

Ahh.. this reminds me of Choux Cream in France and here in Tokyo... I LOVE chou cream... delish..

Anonymous said...

An ice cream scoop to make chou pastry???? You are my DIY hero. And making a Paris Brest is no small business either...

Becky said...

Mary, what a gorgeous dessert! I am definitely going to have to make this. And you can do the spun sugar. It's not nearly as hard as it looks.

Years ago Martha Stewart did a show where she melted the sugar in a small copper pot, then used a surprise utensil for dripping the melted sugar - a metal whisk. She used some wire cutters to cut the bottom curved part off of the whisk. Discard the cut off parts and the remaining part looks kind of like a broom. Then dip the ends of the broom/whisk in the melted sugar and move it about over whatever you want to cover in spun sugar.

That year was the first time I made croquembouche for New Year's and it was amazingly easy.

Mary Bergfeld said...

Becky, I'm so glad you feel well enough to visit. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I'll try to get steady my nerves and follow your instructions. I do appreciate your sharing them with me.

KC said...

I'm not a baker but I am tempted by your Paris Brest and I might make it for New Year's. It will be a great way to start 2009!

I too have never used the pastry bag, not even a zip loc bag with the point cut off. The ice cream scoop is a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Such a lot of work but I'm sure it was worth it! It looks perfect to me

Mary Bergfeld said...

Jude, it really is delicious! If done in stages, it really is not that hard to do.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That totally has me drooling! You are terrific and don't need a pastry bag!

Melissa and Zack said...

One of my all time favorite desserts!! I am drooling!

Becky said...

Mary, thank you so much! I made a Paris-Brest yesterday and have talked about it on my blog. Gave you credit. :-) Thanks again for posting about this. We absolutely loved it.


Mary Bergfeld said...

Becky, I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Happy New Year!

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