Paris–Brest is a classic international dessert. Created in 1891 by a pastry chef along the route of the Paris-Brest bicycle race, the commemorative treat became an instant hit with both cyclists and spectators. And while it’s been around for quite some time, it isn’t dated in the least — the flaky French pastry still draws a crowd thanks to the delicious pâte à choux, a pastry cream flavored with hazelnut paste, and a rich layer of Chantilly cream.
Traditionally, Paris-Brest is piped in the shape of a bicycle wheel, but choose any shape that calls to you. (We went with a heart in honor of Valentine’s Day.) Make one for your special someone, or treat yourself to a dessert that’s downright delicious.
Pâte à Choux for Paris-Brest Base
Yield: One Paris-Brest (serves 6)
What You Need
1. Bring water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer.
2. Add flour all at once. Stir over heat and cook until there is a film of starch on the bottom of the pot (about 2-3 minutes). Keep stirring vigorously with a spatula or a wooden spoon.
3. Place in mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn on low speed until steam dissipates and the bottom of the bowl is no longer hot.
4. Add eggs one at a time until each is fully incorporated.
5. Once the all the eggs are added, pinch the dough between your thumb and forefinger for a “string test.” It should look like the photo above. If it doesn’t, you may have to add an additional egg.
6. Transfer your pâte à choux into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe into a heart shape on your parchment paper.
7. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with almonds.
8. Bake at 375 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 all over.
Pastry Cream for Paris-Brest
Yield: 20 ounces
What You Need
1. Pour the 13 ounces of milk into a saucepan. Add the first portion of sugar (2 ounces).
If using the vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise with a paring knife and carefully scrape the seeds into the saucepan with the milk and sugar. If using the vanilla bean paste, add directly to the saucepan. If using vanilla extract, hold off on adding until after the pastry cream is removed from the heat at the end of cooking.
2. Place the saucepan on medium heat and bring to a low boil.
3. While the milk is heating, in a separate bowl combine the cornstarch to the remaining sugar. Stir until well combined (it should look like a fine dust).
4. 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, then quickly pour the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan. Bring the egg mixture up to the temperature of the milk so the eggs don’t scramble.
5. Using a 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.
6. Add the butter, vanilla extract and hazelnut paste or butter. The mixture should look smooth, but if you see any lumps, strain the mixture.
7. Pour the pastry cream onto the baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. Spread it 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.
Good to Know: Pastry cream must stay refrigerated, and has a shelf life of 2-3 days.
Chantilly Cream for Paris-Brest
What You Need
1. Before starting, make sure all the ingredients and the equipment are chilled.
2. 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).
Pro Tip: Be careful not to over-whip, or the cream will become grainy and separate.
How to Assemble the Paris-Brest
1. Cut the Paris-Brest in half with a serrated knife. Separate the halves.
2. Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (we used Ateco 806) with the hazelnut pastry cream. Pipe into the base.
3. Fill another pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (we used Ateco 824) with the Chantilly cream. Pipe the cream over the hazelnut pastry cream in any design you like — rosettes or shells work particularly well.
4. Place the top half of the Paris-Brest on top of the base. Sift powdered sugar over the top.
Pro Tip: Paris-Brest is best served the day it is made, and should be refrigerated until ready to serve.