French Friday’s with Dorie
I generally try to avoid cream puffs. These creamy sweet desserts such as eclairs and other puffed dough balls filled with whipped cream have never been a particular favorite of mine. They remind me of overconfident Frenchmen who are obnoxious yet still win you over with their charm. I’ll explain later.
I’m not at all intimidated by the making of them. In fact, I honed my skills with the puffy medium over 20 years ago after foolishly deciding to make a croquembouch (for the first time ever) to be the staring attraction at my annual Christmas party. I was quite unpracticed with a pastry bag at the time yet the mere thought of such a grandstanding dessert trumped any fears I might have had. I suppose I made a hundred plus cream puffs just to get the 50 0r so I ended up using that day.
By the last batch I had pretty mastered the technique for making and working with the dough and baking them up to perfection. Just in time to never use it again.
Until now. The memories associated with this particular dessert are just too strong for me to say no.
My first Paris Brest pastry was served up by a former houseguest, Francois. You might recall Francois as the foreign visitor who showed up unexpectedly one summer long ago only to announce himself as my then boyfriend’s boyfriend. At the time I didn’t even know that my boyfriend had a boyfriend and apparently neither did Francois. This made for a rather interesting few weeks as you can imagine.
Being Parisian and coming from a restaurant family Francois certainly knew many things, including his way around a kitchen. You would think that given the circumstances I would hate him but I found it just too hard to muster any anger to throw in his direction. His continental good looks, thick accent, and a seemingly complete obliviousness to the havoc his presence had created just charmed the heck out of me.
It must have been rather surprising for my boyfriend to see how well we got on. And we got on very, very well.
As such, Francois ended up staying much longer than the week he had originally planned, much to my boyfriend’s chagrin. During this time he taught me many important life’s lessons such as how to make Céleri Rémoulade and what a complete disaster my relationship was.
He also made desserts and one night he treated us to his version of the Paris Brest pastry. I never forgot it. Or him.
Paris Brest Pastry
In case you were wondering this dessert gets its name from the Paris Brest bicycle race in France. The race started before the turn of the 19th century and the dessert was created not long after to commemorate it. (The dessert is to resemble a bicycle tire, naturally.)
Make the almonds an and the vanilla pastry cream a day or two in advance. Do not mix in the candied almonds until you are ready to assemble the pastry. If the pastry cream has been in the refrigerator for awhile it will need some 'refresh' with a vigorous blending anyway. The marscapone whipped cream is best made just before assembly as well. If it is too goopy you can refrigerate it for up to 30 minutes to firm it up. !For the marscapone chantilly cream: In a mixing bowl with a hand mixer combine the marscapone cheese and sugar and whip until well blended and just a bit 'frothy'. In another mixing bowl with clean beaters whip the cream until soft peaks are formed. Do not overheat. Fold in the marscapone mixture into the whipped cream and blend well either with the beaters or with a rubber spatula until well blended.
This is what you will need:
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter cut into bits
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 8 oz marscapone cheese
- 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
This is how you make it:
- Line a baking dish with parchment or silicone. Put the sugar and the water in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat swirling to dissolve the sugar.Let mixture come to a boil. When the mixture gets to be a medium dark brown add the almonds and stir constantly with a silicone spatula to cover. Continue stirring until the sugar gets a bit darker and then turn out mixture onto the lined backing dish.
- Spread out the mixture as best you can and let completely dry until hard. When dry, add nuts to a food process and pulse with a blade until chopped very fine. Nuts may be made 3 days in advance and kept in a dry container until used. Do not put in a refrigerator.
- In a small saucepan bring the milk and butter to a boil. Off heat when the boil starts.
- While the milk is heating you can whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Let the mixture get well blended. Add 1/4 cup of the hot milk and whisk it in to temper the mixture. Add the rest of the milk in a steady stream while constantly whisking, making sure to incorporate all the contents into the custard. Put the pan on a medium high heat and bring mixture to a boil all the while continue whisking. After one to two minutes the mixture will thicken up considerably. Pull pan from the heat.
- Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly and then let mixture cool for up to 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter until it is fully incorporated and the cream is smooth.
- Using a rubber scraper transfer the pastry cream to a bowl or container and cover with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the cream so that it doesn't form a skin.
- Let chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- When you are ready to assemble the Paris-Brest mix in the candied almonds.
The Paris Brest pastry is made with a simple cream puff dough called Pate a choux. Pipe it in little mounds to make cream puffs, long logs to make eclairs, etc. Here a 'pile' of 3 rings is piped to make the Paris-Brest.
This is what you will need:
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 4 large eggs + 1 egg lightly mixed with a fork for egg wash
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- Confectioners sugar for 'dusting'
This is how you make it:
- Bring water, milk butter, sugar and salt to a rapid boil in a medium heavy saucepan. Add the flour all at one time, lower the heat a tad, and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together into a clump. A light crust will form on the pan and this is ok. Keep stirring for a minute or two to cook out the flour taste. The dough will get very smooth.
- Scrape the dough into a mixing bowl and let cool for one or two minutes. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment blend the dough while adding the eggs one at a time. Do not add the next egg until the previous one is completely incorporated. By the time you get to the last egg the dough will be very thick and shiny. Use the dough immediately.
- Preheat your oven to 425. Using the saucepan lid or cake round that is 8", draw a circle on a piece of parchment. Turn it over and use it to line a baking pan.
- Add the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. I used an "808" which was approximately 2/3" wide at the opening.
- Holding the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet, pipe the dough slowly in the shape of the circle. Do not drag the dough, just let it fall from above. Starting in a new place so you don't have all your 'seams' in the same place on the ring, pipe a second ring of dough just inside the first one so that the edges touch. Again, starting at a new place, pipe a third ring of dough on top of the first two so that it sits just where they meet.
- With a pastry brush, lightly 'paint' some of the egg wash onto the rings. Using a fork, make small striations on the rings. While you do this you can use the fork to lightly adjust the shape of the ring if they are not as round as you would like.
- Sprinkle the almonds on top of the dough and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 and bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is puffed up and browned all over. The pastry should be firm. Do not open the oven until you are checking for doneness at the end. If you do you risk that the pastry will lose its shape. You want to wait until the exterior is nice and firm. (The inside will still stay soft.)
- When the pastry is done turn off the oven and open the door. Let the pastry stay in to cool for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let fully come down to room temperature.
- Pasty may be kept for up to 12 hours on a cooling rack lightly covered in tin foil unit ready to be assembled. Do not refrigerate or cover in plastic wrap as this will cause the pastry to get soft.
- On a cutting board use a long serrated knife to remove the top 1/3 of the pastry. Set the top aside.
- Spoon out the vanilla cream onto the bottom half of the pastry in one even layer. If some goes over the edge this is just fine.
- Transfer the marscapone chantilly cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and generously pipe the whipped cream on top of the pastry cream. Pipe it close to the outside edge of the dessert for maximum effect!
- Return the top lightly to the dessert. Transfer the pastry to a serving plate. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving to firm up the fillings so they cut nicely. Before serving lightly dust with the confectioners sugar.
- Cut dessert with a sharp serrated knife.
If you have extra cream puff dough left over make some small cream puffs to hold any extra fillings you have. These make nice treats to take to people who weren't there to see your triumphant dessert.