[Photographs: Debbie Wee]
The Paris–Brest is a classic French pastry, featuring a crisp, almond-studded baked ring of pâte à choux that’s split in half horizontally, liberally filled with praline crème mousseline—a heady mixture of vanilla pastry cream, nutty praline paste, and whipped butter—and finished with a dusting of powdered sugar.
This bakery staple was created in 1910 by pastry chef Louis Durand, as an homage to the long-distance Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race (the pastry’s circular shape is meant to evoke that of a bicycle wheel). Pâtisserie Durand, which is still owned and operated by the Durand family, claims to have the original recipe, but fortunately this hasn’t prevented pastry chefs around the world from putting forth their own spins on the dessert.
Our recipe keeps things classic. The praline paste starts as a scaled-down batch of Stella’s hazelnut brittle—a mix of water, sugar, corn syrup, hazelnuts, almonds, and salt cooked to a tawny brown and cooled on a greased baking sheet. Adding baking soda partway through the process alkalizes the candy, both deepening its flavor and making it easier to grind into a nut butter–like paste in a food processor.
For the choux ring, we follow our foolproof technique. A 50/50 mix of milk and water for the liquid component of the dough yields a crisp and well-browned shell when baked, while adding a touch of sugar to the choux base lends it subtle sweetness that complements the creamy hazelnut filling.
Piping the choux ring requires a steady hand and a bit of patience. It consists of piping three individual rings—two concentric circles touching each other, and a third piped on top to overlap them. When baked, the three choux rings fuse together to form the pastry’s characteristic bicycle-tire shape (it’s crucial that the rings are all touching, otherwise you’ll end up with distinct rings). If piping isn’t your strong suit, don’t fret; if you make a mistake, you can always start over by scraping any piped batter back into the pastry bag. We lightly brush the ring with egg wash and sprinkle it with sliced almonds before transferring it to the oven to bake.
Now it’s time to whip up the crème mousseline. Crème mousseline often goes by another name: German buttercream, or, as Stella calls it, “whipped vanilla custard frosting.” We begin by beating softened butter with the paddle attachment in a stand mixer until it’s creamy and smooth, and then incorporate the prepared praline paste, beating in a few tablespoons of the pastry cream at a time until smooth. The final step is aerating the crème mousseline. To accomplish this, switch to the whisk attachment and whip until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Assembling the Paris–Brest may seem like the most intimidating part, as photo-worthy renditions require a skilled piping hand. But don’t let inexperience stop you, since there’s no wrong way to do it as long as the filling sits tall inside the bottom half. With practice (or maybe a bit of luck), it’ll be a showstopper, but no matter how professional the filling looks, we promise it’ll be no less delicious.
Why It Works
- Caramelizing the nuts and sugar together infuses the praline with a nutty caramel flavor, while the addition of baking soda makes it easier to grind into a paste and deepens its overall flavor.
- The combination of milk and water in the dough browns the choux ring and ensures a crisp shell.
- Egg wash helps the almonds adhere to the surface of the choux ring.
- Using pastry cream and butter at the correct temperature will produce a soft, fluffy crème mousseline.
- For the Praline Paste:
- 1 1/2 ounces (45ml) water
- 2 1/2 ounces (6 tablespoons; 70g) sugar
- 2 ounces (about 3 tablespoons; 60g) light corn syrup
- 2 ounces (heaping 1/3 cup; 60g) toasted blanched hazelnuts (see note)
- 2 ounces (1/2 cup; 60g) toasted sliced almonds
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- For the Choux:
- 1/2 recipe Choux Pastry (made with a combination of milk and water, and the optional sugar), transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round or star tip (see note)
- 1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
- Raw sliced almonds, for decorating
- For the Crème Mousseline:
- 8 ounces (2 sticks; 225g) unsalted butter, softened to about 68°F (20°C)
- One recipe vanilla pastry cream, at room temperature, about 68°F (20°C)
- For Assembling the Paris–Brest:
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
For the Praline Paste: Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet (quarter-size is ideal, but half-size will also work) and set aside. In a 2-quart stainless steel saucepan or saucier, combine water, sugar, corn syrup, hazelnuts, almonds, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with a heat-resistant spatula to ensure sugar dissolves and doesn’t scorch, until mixture darkens to a tawny brown, and registers 320°F (160°C) on a clip-on digital thermometer, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, then immediately stir in baking soda, folding with the heat-resistant spatula until the candy is evenly foamy, then pour onto prepared baking sheet. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then proceed immediately to the next step (if praline is allowed to sit out for an extended period of time after cooling, it will turn tacky and soft).
Break praline into pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to pulverize the candy, then let food processor run continuously until the praline transforms into a thick, peanut butter–like paste, about 3 minutes. Transfer paste to a small bowl, cover, and set aside.
For the Choux: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 375°F (190°C). Using a pen or pencil, trace an 8-inch circle in the center of a 12 by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper. Flip parchment over so that drawn ring is on underside and set in a rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Pipe a small amount of choux paste under each corner of parchment paper lining the baking sheet (the dough acts as a glue and keeps the paper in place as you pipe).
Holding filled pastry bag at a 90° angle, apply steady downward pressure and slowly pipe the first ring of choux along the traced circle. To stop piping, cease applying pressure and swirl the pastry tip away from the piped ring. Pipe a second ring of choux just inside the first ring, making sure that the two rings are touching one another. Pipe a third, final ring of choux on top of, and nestling in the groove between, the two piped rings. To smooth out the surface of the dough, dip a finger into cold water and gently pat down any bumps.
Using a pastry brush, gently brush a light layer of egg wash over surface of choux dough, being careful not to let excess egg wash drip down onto the parchment. Sprinkle sliced almonds in an even layer over top.
Bake until choux ring is puffed, deeply golden brown, and feels hollow when carefully lifted from parchment with a spatula, about 35 minutes. Turn off oven, crack the door partially open, and let stand for 30 minutes to allow choux ring to dry and fully set. Remove from oven and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
For the Crème Mousseline: Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat softened butter on medium speed until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. Scrape down bowl and beater with a flexible spatula. Add prepared praline paste and beat on medium speed until well combined, about 3 minutes.
With mixer running at medium speed, add pastry cream, a few tablespoons at a time, pausing to scrape down bowl and paddle as needed, until thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Switch to whisk attachment and whip mixture on medium speed until crème mousseline is soft and airy, about 3 minutes (see note). Transfer crème mousseline to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4-inch star tip.
To Assemble the Paris–Brest: Transfer cooled choux ring to a large cutting board. Holding a serrated knife parallel to the board, make a small cut from the outside and slide it all the way through so that the tip comes out the inside of the ring. Gently slice the ring in half horizontally, using a sawing motion while simultaneously rotating the choux ring, to yield a top and bottom half. Carefully lift off the top half and place it next to the bottom half.
Pipe the crème mousseline in an even 2-inch-high layer onto the cut side of bottom half of the choux ring, making sure to apply steady pressure while piping. Place top half of choux ring over piped filling, and dust top evenly with powdered sugar. Slice into portions with serrated knife, and serve.
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