Ambivalence. Dread. Fascination. Resignation. I’ll admit to a full range of emotions about this week’s selection for French Fridays with Dorie: Paris-Brest. What is a Paris-Brest, you ask? It’s a special pastry that was created in honor of a bicycle race. How French! Every four years, the bicycle race is held between Paris and, you guessed it, Brest, a city in Brittany, in northwestern France. OK, that’s the etymology, but what is it? Reminiscent of a bicycle wheel, it’s a ring of choux pastry (the same dough as cream puffs) filled with an almondy pastry cream.
So why the emotional range? Well, even though I’ve made it before, and it’s challenging, but doable, pate a choux is not my favorite dough. Pastry cream? A little intimidating to make, though I think we’ve made it before for FFwD (éclairs?) Not my favorite, loads of calories, and Howard showed no interest in sharing. One concession was to “minify” (nod to Mardi). At her suggestion, I planned to make one small ring for me, form the remaining dough into cream puffs to freeze and save for later. I was further inspired when I saw Christy’s mini rings on Instagram, piped into and baked in mini-tart pans. I had a plan.
First, I set out to make the caramelized almonds that flavor the pastry cream. I didn’t have any whole blanched almonds, only slivered, which have a whole lot more surface area than whole ones. I decided to double the caramel to be sure to have enough coating. It worked out perfectly. Wow! Those caramelized almonds were delicious. We, Howard and I, could have nibbled on the whole batch. The almonds even sparked his interest enough that I varied my plan and made two rings so Howard could try Paris-Brest too.
I didn’t have the right kind of pastry tip, so for piping my rings, I made do with a ziplock bag and scissors to cut off its corner. It worked great.
The mini pastry rings were so cute. The center of bottom filled in, but when I sliced it in half to fill, the top still had its hole. I removed most of the dough in the bottom half of the pastry ring, filled it with the pulverized caramelized almonds mixed into pastry cream, and put the other half on top. Then, we waited an hour for the Paris-Brest to chill. A sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar to dress it up before serving, and we had dessert.
I will say that this is a gorgeous dessert. Certainly, it looked like it came from the closest patisserie, not my kitchen. As for how it tasted? It was as good as it looked, if you like this kind of thing. No matter how I try to spin it, custard just isn’t at the top of my list. However, it was a worthwhile experiment, and I impressed myself with a professional looking treat.