How to Make a Paris-Brest: A Tutorial by Colette Christian
Photos via Kat Shaffer
Paris–Brest is a classic of international cuisine — a French dessert that was created in 1891 to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. The dessert, created by a pastry chef along the route, became an instant hit with both the cyclists and observers. It remains a classic of French pastry and it is absolutely delicious.
The components of the dessert are pâte à choux, pastry cream flavored with hazelnut paste, and a layer of Chantilly cream.
Classically, the pastry is piped in the shape of a bicycle wheel. Ours is piped in the shape of a heart in honor of Valentine’s Day. Make one for your Valentine – they will be delighted and the results are scrumptious.
Pâte à choux for Paris-Brest base
Yield: one Paris-Brest (serves 6)
- 8 ounces (227g) water
- 4 ounces (113g) butter, cut into cubes
- ½ ounce sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 5 ounces (142 g) all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 egg whisked smooth for egg wash
- 2 to 4 ounces sliced natural almonds
- Stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment
- Medium sized saucepan
- Wooden spoon
- Piping bag
- Plain tip (Ateco 806)
- Baking sheet lined with parchment with the heart stencil taped underneath
Bring water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer.
Add flour all at once.
Stir over heat and cook until there is a film of starch on the bottom of the pot — this takes 2-3 minutes — keep stirring vigorously with a spatula or a wooden spoon.
Place in mixer with the paddle attachment and turn on low speed until steam dissipates and the bottom of the bowl is no longer hot.
Add eggs one at a time until each is fully incorporated.
Once the all the eggs are added do the “string” test. Pinch the dough between your thumb and forefinger. It should look like the photo below — if not you may have to add an additional egg.
Pipe into heart shape.
Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with almonds.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Then, reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and continue to bake an additional 10-15 minutes.
The pâte à choux should be a light golden brown color overall, not just on the surface but in the cracks too.
Pastry cream for Paris-Brest
Yield: 20 ounces pastry cream
- 13 ounces (369g) of whole milk
- 2 ounces (57 g) sugar (sugar #1)
- ½ vanilla bean, 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 ounces (57 g) sugar (sugar #2)
- 3 ½ tablespoons (36 g) cornstarch
- 3 ounces (85 g) milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 ounce (28 g) unsalted butter
- 3 ounces hazelnut paste or butter
- 2 medium bowls
- 2 spatulas
- Strainer (only needed if pastry cream appears lumpy after cooking)
- Baking sheet lined with plastic wrap or bowl of ice water for cooling down the pastry cream
- Paring knife, if using the vanilla bean
Pour the 13 ounces milk into a saucepan. Add the first sugar (2 ounces).
If using the vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise with a paring knife, carefully scrape the seeds into the saucepan with the milk and first sugar. If using the vanilla bean paste add 2 teaspoons to the milk and the first sugar in the saucepan. If using vanilla extract add 2 teaspoons after the pastry cream is removed from the heat at the end of cooking
Place the saucepan on medium heat and bring to a low boil.
While the milk is heating, in a separate bowl combine the cornstarch to the remaining vanilla sugar. Stir until well combined. It should look like a fine dust
Add the 3 ounces of milk and the egg yolks to the sugar and cornstarch mixture.
Pour half of the boiling milk into the cornstarch mixture, and then quickly pour the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Note: It is important to bring the egg mixture up to the temperature of the milk so that the eggs don’t scramble.
Using the whisk, gently stir the egg-milk mixture over medium heat as it thickens, then whisk briskly until smooth. Cook for 1 minute once the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat.
Add the butter, vanilla extract and hazelnut paste or butter.
The mixture should look smooth, but if you see any sign of lumps, strain the mixture.
Pour the pastry cream onto the baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. Spread the pastry cream flat with a spatula and cover the entire surface with another piece of plastic. The pastry cream will form a skin if the plastic wrap is not against the surface. Immediately, place the pastry cream in the refrigerator.
Alternately, the pastry cream can be poured into a clean bowl and placed over an ice water bath. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the surface and stir often.
Pastry cream must be refrigerated. It has a shelf life of 2-3 days.
Chantilly cream for Paris-Brest
- 1¼ cups (227 g) heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons (57g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Stand mixer with whisk attachment.
- Handheld mixer with whisk or regular beaters
- Large bowl and balloon whisk
Make sure all the ingredients and the equipment are chilled. Whip the cream by hand or machine until it is the consistency of Greek yogurt.
Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla.
Continue to whip the cream until it is smooth but not grainy. Be careful to not over-whip or the cream will become grainy and separate.
How to assemble the Paris-Brest
Cut the Paris-Brest in half with a serrated knife. Separate the halves.
Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (I used Ateco 806) with the hazelnut pastry cream.
Pipe the hazelnut pastry cream into the base.
Fill another pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (I used Ateco 824) with the Chantilly cream.
Pipe the cream over the hazelnut pastry cream. Any pretty design is fine – rosettes or shells work well.
Sift powdered sugar over the top half of the Paris-Brest and place the top on the base.
Paris-Brest is best served the day it is made, and should be refrigerated until ready to serve.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
About Colette Christian
Colette is a graduate of the the Art Institute of Chicago and the New England Culinary Institute. She has extensive training in baking and pastry and is a CEPC, certified executive pastry chef. Today, Colette lives in LA and teaches at several area schools: Art Institute Hollywood, AI Santa Monica and Great News in San Diego. She also taught at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena for many years. Although she thoroughly enjoys working in professional kitchens, what really makes her heart sing is teaching cooking and baking to others.