Remember my adventures with making chocolate éclairs? No? Well, I sure do. I had to go about making the pâte à choux twice because they just wouldn't rise in the oven. My aunt Mimi had whipped out her recipe and they were perfect in a flash.
That's why I thought a Paris-Brest would be extra easy. I was wrong.
This time around, I had the perfect pâte à choux recipe from last time and a nice-looking recipe for the filling. Simply put, a Paris-Brest is a classic French dessert. You start by making a ring with the dough, which you then bake until puffy and golden. Believe me, puffy may be a cute word, but it becomes terribly mean and sly at times. Anyway, you slice the ring in half and fill it with a mix of crème patissière and buttercream, flavored with pralin, a blend of sugar, ground hazelnuts and ground almonds. Sounds good, right? Trust me, it is. Or it should be, anyway.
I was totally excited about baking a Paris-Brest. I couldn't walk by a pastry shop without peeking in to take a look at theirs. It goes without saying that I won't be playing "Show me yours, I'll show you mine" with a Paris-Brest and pastry shops anytime soon. Oh, those golden, slivered-almond-topped cakes, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar... I knew mine would be just like them. I just know it. How couldn't it, given my great pâte à choux recipe?
I went ahead and got started on my Paris-Brest. Everything was going well, and my ring looked great even before baking, even though I couldn't find slivered almonds anywhere and sprinkled almond powder on top. I should have taken it as a sign to stop right there and come up with something else, but I kept going. In the oven, it looked wonderful. "Make sure you don't open the oven door", my aunt said. So I didn't open the door, and when my ring was nice and golden, I turned the oven off. I opened the door just slightly...and down it went. Pfiou, as the French say.
Pfiou, plop, wiz, whatever you want to call it, I was mad. Good thing I had a lot of pâte à choux left, and proceeded to start over again, using the leftovers to pipe tiny chouquettes onto a baking sheet alongside my new and, hoperfully, improved Paris-Brest ring. This time around, I settled on leaving the oven door closed and letting them cool little by little. Golden and puffy, everything looked amazing. I switched the oven off and waited. Ten minutes later...
On the plus side, the filling I prepared while I watched the oven was great. Sweet, a little crunchy, and definitely tasty. Also, my Paris-Brest ring was a mess, but the chouquettes were a success. So I piped the cream into my floppy ring, just to say I actually did make that Paris-Brest, and piped the leftovers into a few chouquettes.
The Paris-Brest was alright--crème au praliné on five-day-old bread would probably taste good too--but I had just discovered something even better. Chouquettes au praliné. Who needs a Paris-Brest when you can have bite-sized tastes of heaven?
Yes, my Paris-Brest looked terrible. But isn't the best part of messing up discovering the little surprises hidden behind each failure?
Mimi's Pâte à Choux
Note: This makes a completely neutral dough--add some sugar or vanilla extract if you want it to be sweet
25cl water (I did half water, half milk)
Bring water (or water + milk) to a boil in a saucepan.
Add butter and salt.
Sprinkle flour into saucepan, beating vigorously. On low heat, "dry" the dough out by beating it until it stops sticking to the pan. Remove from heat and add eggs one by one, mixing until well incorporated before adding the next one.
Pâte à choux (approx. 1/4 of the recipe above, though I've never tried cutting it down)
1 egg yolk
40g softened butter
20g granulated sugar
40g powdered pralin
Bring milk to a boil. In a small bowl, beat yolk and sugar until light in color.
Add cornstarch, mix, and pour milk while beating everything together. Place in a saucepan over medium heat, beating until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and let cool.
Beat butter until fluffy. Add crème pâtissière (which you just made above), pralin, and beat on high if using a mixer.
Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pipe pâte à choux, making 1 ring, then another right around it. Finally, pipe a ring on top of the last two. Decorate with slivered almonds. Bake 30 minutes until golden, and let cool with the oven turned off, door left slightly open. (Well, that's supposed to work...)
Once the ring has cooled, slice it in half and pipe praline cream onto the bottom half. Cover with top half, and sprinkle powdered sugar on top.
Alternative: Make as many chouquettes as you want by piping small (about 2cm in diameter) balls of dough onto a baking sheet. Decorate with pearl sugar or slivered almonds. Bake 20 minutes at 180°C, or until golden. Cool using the same method as above.
Using a serrated knife, slice the chouquettes open halfway and pipe as much cream as you want inside.
Eat and enjoy!