Have you eaten a Paris Brest? It’s a delectable cream puff pastry commemorating a bicycle race that took place in 1891 between Paris and Brest, a city in Northwest France (hence the circular shape.) I ate individual ones recently at a great bakery not in Paris, but in Prague, Czech Republic. (shout out to Pekárna Nostress Bakery on Vezenská 8, Prague – a place that became a daily obsession.) One was made with a vanilla pastry cream and berries, the other with the traditional praline filling. Both were sensational.
I knew I had to make this dessert for my book group, who met this week for a French dinner and discussion of “Babette’s Feast” (actually a short story) by Isak Dineson. I wanted to make it filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, but since I seem to have missed strawberry season in New Jersey, I decided on this chocolate and whipped cream version by well-known French chef Jacques Pepin. Like all his recipes, this one did not disappoint, although it is a bit tricky to make if you’re a novice in the kitchen. I’ll take you through the various steps.
First you have to make the pate a choux – or cream puff pastry. You cook the milk, flour and butter until it starts to pull away from the pan. It’s kind of hard to keep stirring because it really gets dry and lumpy. But that’s ok. It will smooth out later in the food processor.
Let it cool for 1/2 hour, then break it into bits and put it in the food processor and add the eggs one at a time. The recipe says to whir it for about 20 to 30 seconds, but that wasn’t long enough to attain a smooth dough. I’m sure I processed it for at least a couple of minutes.
Here’s what it looked like after the eggs were incorporated. It’s a very smooth, sticky dough.
Next you’ll want to pipe it, using a piping bag. I always fill the bag after placing it into a tall glass. It’s much easier than trying to hold it in one hand, while filling with the other.
I didn’t even use a piping tip. You don’t need one. Just cut a hole at the bottom of the bag that’s about 3/4 inch wide in circumference.
Pipe a circle onto the silicone mat about 8 inches in diameter, as shown below. You can use parchment paper if you don’t have a silicone mat. Then pipe another circle inside the first one, and a third circle on the top of the first two (sorry I forgot to take a photo of all three circles).
Before you pipe the second circle and the third circle, press the filling in the bag toward the tip so it doesn’t squirt out the top. The recipe makes EXACTLY the right amount of dough with no extra, so if you lose some out the top, you’ll come up short when piping the circles.
Brush the circles with beaten egg, then sprinkle slivered almonds over everything. Brush off the excess almonds.
While the dough is baking, make the chocolate filling. No need to buy expensive chocolate. Hershey’s Special Dark works great, and came out number one in a blind taste-testing on America’s Test Kitchen several years ago. It’s what I always use in baking. Whip the cream and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Here’s what the ring looks like right out of the oven. It rose a bit, but isn’t as huge as you’d expect. But that’s ok because the filling increases the height at least double!
Slice it in half and separate the two halves.
Here’s a great tip from Jacques Pepin to avoid a mess when you serve it. Take the top part and slice it into 8 to 10 pieces. Keep them in order for when you assemble, and they will give you a good guide when slicing through with a knife, without crushing your beautiful concoction.
Spread the chocolate filling evenly over the ring.
Then pipe the whipped cream over the chocolate (or just spread it with a spoon but the piping does give it a more polished look).
Place the sliced top pieces over the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
All that’s left to do is to serve it and eat it. Best served within two or three hours of making it, but be prepared for no leftovers.
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- ¾ cup milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
- CHOCOLATE CREAM
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- FOR THE DOUGH: Combine the milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Remove from the heat, add the flour in one stroke, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Then place back over the heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 15 to 20 seconds, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan.
- Transfer the dough to a food processor and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl and mix them well with a fork.
- Set aside 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg for use as a glaze.
- Pour the remaining eggs into the processor bowl and process for 20 to 30 seconds, until the eggs are well incorporated and the dough is smooth.
- Line a cookie sheet with a nonstick baking mat, or use a nonstick cookie sheet.
- Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾-inch plain tip.
- Pipe a ring with an outside circumference of 8 to 8½ inches on the cookie sheet.
- Pipe another circle of dough inside and another on top of the rings until you have used all the dough and have a circle that is 1½ to 1¾ inches high with a hole in the center that measures about 5 inches across.
- Do not start and end the dough circles in the same spot, since this can cause the pastry to open at the seam during baking.
- Brush the dough with the reserved tablespoon of egg.
- Using a fork, mark the surface and sides of the dough, running the tines of the fork gently around the circle to create a crosshatch effect.
- Sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35 minutes, or until browned. (If the pastry begins to brown excessively, cover it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.)
- Turn the oven off and let the pastry remain in the oven for 30 minutes with the door partially open to evaporate some of the moisture.
- Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before removing from the cookie
- FOR THE CHOCOLATE CREAM: Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.
- Meanwhile, combine the yolks and sugar in a bowl, mixing them with a whisk for about 30 seconds. Add the 1½ tablespoons flour and mix it in with the whisk.
- Pour the boiling milk in on top of the egg yolk mixture and mix it in well with a whisk.
- Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, mixing constantly with the whisk.
- Boil for about 10 seconds, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate.
- Stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted and is incorporated into the pastry cream.
- Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
- FOR THE GARNISH: Whip the cream, rum, and sugar in a bowl until stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- TO FINISH THE CAKE: Use a sharp knife to remove a ½-inch-thick horizontal slice, or “lid,” from the top; set it aside.
- Using a spoon, spread the chocolate cream in the bottom of the pastry round, pushing it gently into the cavities of the pastry.
- Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch star tip, and pipe the cream on top of the chocolate cream. It should come at least 1 inch above the rim of the cake.
- Cut the pastry lid into 8 to 10 equal pieces, and reassemble them in order on top of the pastry to make it easy to cut into portions.
- Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar.
- (The pastry can be assembled a few hours ahead and refrigerated.)
- At serving time, using the separations on the lid as guides, cut through the bottom half of the pastry, and arrange on individual dessert plates.