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Chocolate-Filled Paris Brest

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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Paris Brest
 
Author:
Serves: 8-10 people
Ingredients
  • DOUGH
  • 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
  • GARNISH
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. FOR THE DOUGH: Combine the milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Remove from the heat, add the flour in one stroke, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
  4. 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.
  5. Transfer the dough to a food processor and let cool for 10 minutes.
  6. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and mix them well with a fork.
  7. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg for use as a glaze.
  8. 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.
  9. Line a cookie sheet with a nonstick baking mat, or use a nonstick cookie sheet.
  10. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾-inch plain tip.
  11. Pipe a ring with an outside circumference of 8 to 8½ inches on the cookie sheet.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Brush the dough with the reserved tablespoon of egg.
  15. 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.
  16. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds. Bake for 20 minutes.
  17. 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.)
  18. 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.
  19. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before removing from the cookie
  20. sheet.
  21. FOR THE CHOCOLATE CREAM: Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  22. 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.
  23. Pour the boiling milk in on top of the egg yolk mixture and mix it in well with a whisk.
  24. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, mixing constantly with the whisk.
  25. Boil for about 10 seconds, then remove from the heat and add the chocolate.
  26. Stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted and is incorporated into the pastry cream.
  27. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
  28. FOR THE GARNISH: Whip the cream, rum, and sugar in a bowl until stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  29. TO FINISH THE CAKE: Use a sharp knife to remove a ½-inch-thick horizontal slice, or “lid,” from the top; set it aside.
  30. Using a spoon, spread the chocolate cream in the bottom of the pastry round, pushing it gently into the cavities of the pastry.
  31. 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.
  32. 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.
  33. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar.
  34. (The pastry can be assembled a few hours ahead and refrigerated.)
  35. 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.
 

Angelina’s Chocolat Africain

Come on….You know you want it. Even if you haven’t spent the last hour shoveling the driveway. Even if you hid the leftover pumpkin pie and ate it secretly over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Because this isn’t just any hot chocolate. This is Angelina’s chocolat l’Africain.

  This is why they line up in Paris across the Louvre at the eponymous cafe on the rue di Rivoli.
 The chocolate comes in its own pitcher with a generous helping of whipped cream.
 The room is elegant, but it’s not a stuffy atmosphere. Lots of folks – from ladies who lunch, to guys wearing hoodies and baseball caps – come in for the vast selection of goodies.
The big draw, of course, is the hot chocolate – and the chocolat africain is the signature drink.
 But fear not, there are pastries galore too.

 

 Including the Mont Blanc, made with puréed chestnuts – in both the traditional and the chocolate version.

 

 

 I have a weakness for Gateau St. Honoré however, named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. Can you see why? A circle of puff pastry provides the base for a generous serving of pastry cream. Small cream puffs covered in a crackly caramel sauce are affixed to the base and the whole concoction is decorated with whipped cream. Who could resist this?

 

 

Making gateau St. Honoré is a little advanced, but anyone can make the hot chocolate served at Angelina’s – including you.



Angelina’s Chocolat L’Africain.
From the cookbook “Hot Chocolate” by Michael Turback.
printable recipe here

Combine 3/4 cup whole milk, 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1 t. confectioners’
sugar and heat over med-high till bubbles appear around edges. Remove
from heat and add 4 oz Omanhene (or any other good brand) bittersweet chocolate (72%) that’s been
chopped. Stir till melted (you may need to return it to low heat). Serve
with whipped cream.

Flea Markets in Paris

I’m sure like many of you reading this post, anytime I’m in a new city, I’m likely to spend the bulk of my time perusing museums, partaking of restaurants, and patronizing music venues. But I can’t resist a good flea market either. So on my recent trip to Paris, I headed to two – one at St. Ouen, at the northern part of the city near the Clignancourt metro station, and one at Vanves, on the southern side near the metro station of the same name.

If flea markets bring to mind the pesky little creatures that sometimes torment dogs and their owners, let it be known that there were no shortage of dogs to be found at either of these two flea markets. I can’t guarantee there were no fleas. While their owners tried to peddle everything from chairs to chains, these doggies settled in for the day and made themselves comfortable.

 

 

Unlike the flea market at Vanves, where you find lots of mom and pop vendors getting rid of household bric-a-brac, most of the vendors at St. Ouen are professional antiques dealers with bargains few and far between.  Still, it’s a fun way to spend a few hours on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday and you never know what you might tote home with you from your day of scavenging.

 

Need a mahogany and marble fireplace or an ornate grandfather’s clock? You’ll find many here.

 

You could just as easily take a fancy to a ceramic vase with a scene from mythology.

 

Or perhaps more utilitarian, but still beautifully made, porcelain dinnerware.

 

 

And of course, you’ll need some silverware to go with that dinnerware, right? No shortage here.
Looking for lovely lace children’s frocks? You’ll encounter them in many stalls.

 

 

As well as plenty of colorful 18th century frippery.

 

How about a crown to go with your regalia? You say you want rubies and emeralds? No problem.

 

There’s even something for brides-to-be, or other fashionistas.
If art is your passion, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your urge, like this wooden medieval sculpture of a madonna and child.

 

 

You’ll also find paintings of all styles, including this Cezanne-inspired one.

 

 

You’ll need some sustenance to keep plowing through the 17 acres and thousands (yes thousands) of dealers’ stalls. There are cafes and bistros scattered here and there amid the vast expanse.

 

Nothing like a cafe creme and freshly baked croissant to rev you up for the next flea market.

 

This is the scene at the Vanves flea market, also held on weekends and right off the bat, you can tell it’s got a more relaxed feel. There are no permanent stalls, just tables set outside. It’s also smaller and easier to navigate in its entirety in just a couple of hours. The vibe is more like what your next-door neighbor might sell at a garage sale, but that’s not to say that some real treasures can’t be found.

 

 

Including this beautiful set of dinnerware.

 

Or hand-embroidered napkins. Oh, that my name were Linda Lincoln, Mary Thomas, or Beverly Vanderbilt. I’d have swooped them up in a second.
Somewhere in the crowd there’s a shoemaker-in-training just waiting to emerge.
Or maybe a blacksmith or carpenter.
There’s some lovely artwork to be found too, whether you like prints…

 

 

Or original oil paintings.

 

 

Hey, this one looks familiar. But I don’t think it’s an original.

 

 

It’s a copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Lady with an ermine.” While it’s normally on display in a museum in Krakow, Poland, I had seen it a few days earlier in London at the National Gallery, in a special exhibit of paintings created by Leonardo while he was in Milan.
I found a few trinkets to tuck inside my suitcase, but one of the most enjoyable treats came not from a flea market, but from my metro ride home from Vanves, when I sat across from this petite tresor. There was something about her that made me smile then and still does now. It wasn’t just her spiffy red glasses and matching clothes, nor her jaunty cap. It was also her natural charm and enchanting gaze as she chatted away next to her proud grandmother. She reminded me of a more polished version of Pippi Longstocking, without the braids. I hope she has the same effect on you.

 

Leek and Potato Soup

 If you’re in Paris and your pocketbook allows, I’d be among the first to say treat yourself to an evening of haute cuisine at one of the city’s top restaurants.  Indulge in dinner at Hotel Meurice’s dining room, for instance, and you’ll feel like you’re among the privileged in 17th century Versailles, complete with rococo decor and waiters who gather at your table to ceremoniously release the silver domes atop your plates in a synchronized flourish. It’s an experience that will stay with you forever.
But when you want a simple meal to nourish the soul and stomach, especially at lunchtime, there are a plethora of places to pop in for a quick bite. Paris is loaded with quaint bistros offering traditional fare at a reasonable price. Typical of them is the leek and potato soup I ate at one place in Montmartre. It wasn’t quite enough though, so I ordered a platter of bleu cheese accompanied by a small salad and bread.
Savory tartes, or quiches are everywhere, such as this tarte with three cheese I ate at the pavillion in the Luxembourg gardens:

 

 

And that was after a little snack of roasted chestnuts at the entrance to the gardens.

 

 

By now, you know I’ve got a sweet tooth that longs to be satisfied, so I gave in every day. This cup of tea and berry-topped mini charlotte was obviously meant for me.

 

 

This small oval treat of tender chocolate cake, filled with cream and cherries, topped with a luscious chocolate ganache, just melted in the mouth.

 

 

After the overload of desserts, I took a pause from sweets when I got home and made the leek and potato soup instead, using a recipe I adapted from Debby of Foodie Wife.  Besides, I don’t think I could ever duplicate that chocolate treat. But I have to admit, the leek and potato soup made chez moi was even better than the version I ate in Paris.

Leek and Potato Soup

Printable Recipe

1 T. unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil
2 leeks, thinly sliced and washed free of debris
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 quart chicken stock
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt, pepper to taste

Put the butter and olive oil into a large, heavy pan and saute the leeks, onion and garlic until translucent. Add the potatoes, white wine, chicken stock, salt and pepper and cook at a low simmer, with the lid askew, for about 1/2 hour, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Remove the stems of the fresh thyme. At this point, I put the mixture into the blender, a small amount at a time. Be careful though, because it can easily splatter all over you and the kitchen. Instead of using the lid in its entirety, I remove the little plug that’s in the center of the lid, and cover it with paper towel while the blender is going. It gives the hot liquid a way to release the steam without “blowing” off the lid. Some people like to use a stick blender, but I prefer a counter-top blender – your choice.

Put the soup back in the pot and add the heavy cream and parmesan cheese. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with a garnish of caramelized onions and snippets of fresh chives and parmesan cheese toasts.

 

garnish
2 large onions, sliced and slowly sauteed in 2 T. butter until golden brown
fresh chives