Once again I make a fool of myself with another “learning experience,” a.k.a: a failed Daring Bakers Challenge. Lots of laughter and approximately two and a half tears. It was all going so well. I made a break-through in my annals of praline, discovered the ribbon stage of an egg, and then—I blew it on the final step. Runny, runny mousseline. I was having a fit when my husband came into the kitchen to ask what was the matter. It’s all wrong. Why? Look at the picture of what it is supposed to look like—and then KP couldn’t speak he was so overcome with the giggles because mine looked like a poorly peanut buttered bagel. I began to laugh/cry/dry heave in shame. And then we ate it all, because, again, deliciousness knows no proper shape.
This pastry has a cool story. Paris-Brest was developed in 1910 by Louis Durand, a pastry chef of Maisons-Lafitte, to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. The circular shape, made with pâte à choux, is representative of a wheel. The dessert is usually cut in half, filled with an almond and hazelnut flavored crème mousseline, decorated with slivered almond and powdered sugar. Mine looks like a wheel deflated and leaking peanut butter. Which it is, except the peanut butter is a sweet praline hazelnut almond butter that tastes like heaven. Maybe next time I won’t look like an incompetent Ruprick.
Paris-Worst, an attempt at Paris-Brest
Pâte à Choux Ingredients
1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons whole milk
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1/3 cup cold butter
¾ cup plus 4 teaspoons cake flour
3 medium eggs
two handfuls of slivered almonds
egg for the brushing
- Preheat oven to moderate 350°F and sift the flour.
- In a nonstick saucepan pour in the milk, water, sugar and salt. Add the butter in small pieces and put on medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. Add the flour in one shot to the boiling liquid. Stir vigorously with a wooden spatula. Cook on the stove on a very low heat for a few minutes, until the dough becomes firm, smooth and homogeneous. The dough must be dry and detach from the bottom of the pan easily.
- If you have a standup mixer pour the mixture into its bowl. With the K beater stir the mixture on low speed for a few minutes, until it cools down a little. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well on medium speed. Before adding the next egg make sure that everything is well blended. This way, the air will be incorporated into the dough and when baking it will make puff the Paris Brest which won’t deflate out of the oven.
- If you don’t have a standup mixer proceed mixing the eggs directly in the pan where you cooked the dough, after allowing it to cool down. Work the egg with the wooden spatula until all the egg is incorporated before adding the next one. The dough should be smooth, like a thick cream.
- Cover the baking sheets with baking paper. If you use baking paper you can trace some circles of 4¾ -inches to help you out piping the circles. To pipe the Paris-Brest use a pastry bag (or the crazy metal contraption which I think some farmer or 1950s machinist must have invented in his shop—which I found, of course, at Goodwill)
with a 3/8-inch plain nozzle and pipe two circles, the outer one of the diameter of the circle you drew.
Pipe a third circle on top, using the star-shaped nozzle. If you don’t have one use a fork to trace some lines on its surface, this will help the choux pastry to rise properly. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with slivered almonds.
- Bake in a moderate oven 350°F for about 23-25 minutes. To get rid of any moisture in the oven you can keep the door slightly open. This way the dough will dry out completely during baking. The Paris-Brest should be golden brown, with a uniform color. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing and piping with the crème mousseline. Mine deflated a little after I took them out of the oven, and that is because they weren’t quite cooked all the way through—needed perhaps another 5-10 minutes. Learning experience #1.
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
6 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon water
- Put the sugar into a non-stick pan, over medium heat. Add water and bring to a boil.
- When the sugar reaches 250°F (without thermometer you will need to reach the stage at which the sugar begins to boil and the syrup starts to become more and more dense), add the nuts all at once. Mix well with a wooden spoon to coat all the nuts in the sugar. At this point, the sugar will start to sand, i.e. crystallize again. Continue to stir. The sugar will melt a second time, this time caramelizing. This here was my breakthrough because in the past, I had always thought the “sand” phase was the end point in the praline game, but NO, what a miracle that there is yet a second melting point once the nuts have been introduced. Fascinating, and beautiful, beautiful result.
- Once all the nuts caramelize, remove the pan from the heat.
Pour the entire contents of the pan on a heat-resistant silicone mat or on a marble slab lightly oiled with vegetable oil.
- Let cool completely. Break into smaller pieces and grind until you have a thick paste.
Crème Mousseline Ingredients (here is my epic fail)
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
2 egg yolks
¼ cup caster (superfine) sugar
3 tablespoon cake flour, sieved
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter
3 oz praliné
1 vanilla pod, sliced open length wise
- In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod. Put aside and let cool for about 10 minutes. In a bowl whisk the eggs yolks and sugar until they become white. Note: this is absolutely stunning, by the way, I had NO idea that yolks would pale if beaten with air and sugar. I read about this further, and learned that this process is called Ribboning, or getting eggs to the ribbon stage. I’m not sure I completely did it correctly, but the point is for the eggs to not become granular when heated.
- Add the flour and whisk until all mixed through.
- Mix half of the milk in the egg, until all uniform. Pour into a small pan and put on medium heat. Cook until the cream thickens, stirring the cream continuously. When thick transfer into a bowl and cover with cling film touching the cream. Let cool. Now here I think was my error. I don’t think I got my cream “thick” enough—it sort of resembled the choux paste and was getting “granular” so I pulled it off the heat and it became again really really runny. At which point I thought it might coagulate when cooled. It did not. Then I thought it would thicken when I added the praline butter. It did not. Goo goo goo. DAMN!
- In a bowl mix the softened butter with the praliné. Add to the cooled cream until homogeneous. Discover that the paste is too runny and consider purchasing a toilet, like my parents recently did, entitled memoirs into which you can flush the last four hours of your day.
So, on the spectrum of Paris-Brest, I do understand this to be the “worst”—which, I have to Accept and Move On. Ready for the next challenge! says the Incompetent Idiot! I suppose this is fantastic training for the start of residency in a few months.