A Gateau Paris-Brest is a little French pastry made up of a ring-shaped choux pastry filled with praline flavoured crème patissière/mousseline. I know this sounds quite simple but words cannot properly describe how good it tastes. Traditionally, it would be made as one large cake/dessert which is then apportioned out in single servings.
The dessert was first created in the early 20th century to commemorate the Paris to Brest bicycle race which was first held in 1891. It remains one of the most popular French pastries to this day and it’s not hard to see why; it’s rich tasting but with a wonderfully light texture and the crisp choux pastry is perfect against the creamy sweet mousseline filling.
Many people find choux pastry a little daunting to make, but trust me… once you get the hang of it you will be making all manner of delicious pastries and desserts such as éclairs, profiteroles and gougères (little savoury cheese puffs). I have been making choux pastry for years, so I would feel quite confident and really I think that with most cooking and baking, confidence is the key to success. It is only fairly recently that I have started using bread/strong flour when making choux pastry because I do think it gives a slightly crisper finish, but you will still get good results using only plain flour.
Some recipes for Paris-Brest suggest filling the choux rings with coffee flavoured mousseline, which is also very tasty, but my favourite is definitely hazelnut mousseline. The mousseline is made up of a hazelnut crème patissière which is enriched with extra butter when cooled – this stuff is ADDICTIVE and could also be used to sandwich a layer cake together. I have been toying with the idea of making a chocolate and hazelnut bûche de Noël, using this mousseline, for Christmas and will of course post the recipe at a later date. This recipe makes more mousseline than you will need... so a wonderful excuse to experiment and try using it in other recipes as a filling etc. (N.B. if covered and refrigerated, the finished mousseline will keep for up to a week).
This recipe is based on one given by Edd Kimber - the first ever winner of the Great British Bake Off - in his book Patisserie Made Simple. For anyone who loves baking and in particular loves patisserie, this book is an absolute must and I have no hesitation in recommending it! Edd also has a great blog/website called the The Boy Who Bakes where he shares a lot of his recipes gives great baking hints and loads of step-by-step instructions, so do check it out if you get the chance.
The finished pastries can either be served as a delightful and delicious treat to be enjoyed with a good cup of tea or coffee, but they also work well served as a dessert – the choice is up to you. To be honest, I think they are absolutely delicious and would have no problem eating them for breakfast if they were put in front of me! I used hazelnut praline paste which I purchased from an online special catering supplies shop, but you can try making it yourself. Don't be afraid to have a go and I promise you that you will be rewarded with one of the yummiest pastries you will ever eat!
2tsp vanilla paste/extract
2 large eggs
4 egg yolks
175g caster sugar
250g butter, softened
75g hazelnut praline paste
60g butter, cubed
50g strong white flour
25g plain flour
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
30g flaked almonds for sprinkling on the choux rings
A little icing sugar for dusting
1. Pour the milk and cream into a medium sized saucepan and add the vanilla paste/extract. Bring the mixture up to the boil, over a moderate heat. Separately, place the eggs, yolks, caster sugar and cornflour into a bowl and whisk together until smooth and everything is completely mixed together. Slowly pour in the boiling milk, whisking all the time.
2. Return the mixture to the saucepan (over a moderate heat again) and whisking all the time, allow to cook until the mixture thickens and becomes very stiff. This should take 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 125g butter, whisking it in so that it is fully incorporated.
3. Pour the mixture into a clean bowl and cover the surface directly with some cling-film to prevent a skin forming. Allow to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least an hour.
5. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment, onto which you have drawn 8 x 10cm circles, and set aside.
6. Place water and butter in a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Allow the butter to melt and just come up to the boil. Remove from the heat and immediately add all the flour to the saucepan and using a wooden spoon beat well until well combined.
7. Place the saucepan over a low heat and allow to cook, beating constantly until the mixture begins to form a ball and come away from the sides of the saucepan. This will take approximately 60-90 seconds. Remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
8. Add the eggs gradually to the flour mixture, beating vigorously so that it is well incorporated. (You may not need all the egg, so do add bit-by-bit). The mixture should fall from the spoon, but still be relatively stiff and still hold its shape.
9. Place the mixture into a disposable piping bag filled with a 1cm star nozzle. Using the circles you previously drew on the baking parchment as a guide, pipe out rings of the choux pastry. Using a pastry brush lightly brush the choux rings with a little extra beaten egg and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
10. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes and then turn off the oven but do not remove the choux rings. Let cool in the oven for a further 30 minutes and then remove and allow to finish cooling completely.
11. Remove the mousseline from the fridge. Using a hand held electric mixer beat the remaining 125g butter in a mixing bowl until softened. Gradually add the chilled mousseline mixture, making sure that it is fully combined. Add the praline paste and also mix this in well.
12. Place a quarter of the mixture into a disposable piping bag filled with a 1cm star nozzle. Separately, slice the choux rings horizontally in half and then pipe some of the mousseline on the bottom half of each ring. Replace the top half of each ring on top of the mousseline and lightly dust with icing sugar.