Gâteau Paris Brest… miam miam. The name alone conjures decadent childhood fantasies of praline flavored cakes I would indulge in on our annual visit to France. We always flew into Paris and stayed a few days before taking the TGV south to Marseille to see my uncles, aunts and cousins. My mother wanted to eat at her favorite restaurants and buy clothes while I craved sweets. Paris is an exciting city to wander through. The beautiful architecture and promenades often blur the lines between the centuries in way you can’t get in a younger country like America. The distinct French approach to style that oozes in everything they do. The highlight was ogling at all the Paris pastry and chocolate shops’ window displays crammed with multi colored displays of macarons, cakes, eclairs and tarts. It evoked the same giddy feeling I got standing outside Marshall Fields or FAO Schwarz at Christmas time.
Gâteau Paris Brest is as much part of my soul as duck confit, coq au vin or steak frites. As I age gracefully like an elegant Bordeaux my palate is returning to my simple French soul food roots. I never really developed a sweet tooth for American styled pastries, often they are too cloyingly sweet and gooey for me. I prefer a simple green salad and plate of cheeses to end a meal more than rice krispy treats, fudge or a German chocolate cake. Don’t worry I realize I am a Francophile and very biased.
Gâteau Paris Brest was invented by a Parisian pastry Chef to commemorate the famous bicycle race from Paris to Brest, Brittany that began in 1891. It’s a choux pastry, think round eclair, shaped like a bicycle wheel with toasted almonds and filled with a decadent praline butter cream. French pastries always seem more daunting than they really are. It’s composed of three easy stages, the pâte à choux, praline and the praline butter cream. Pour a big glass of wine and tackle this recipe.
- pâte à choux
1 cup water
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 egg beaten (for egg wash)
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
8 ounces sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 5 ounces hazelnuts
- 3 ounces almonds
praline butter cream
1-1/4 cups sugar
- ½ cup water
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 sticks butter (8 oz), room temperature
- 1 cup praline paste
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or buttered parchment paper.
- Place the water, sea salt and butter in a stainless steel pot and bring to a rapid boil.
- Using a wooden spoon stir in all the flour at once. Keep stirring till well incorporated and your arm is sore. Continue cooking till dough dries out slightly, about one minute.
- Let rest five minutes to cool down then add eggs one at a time till well incorporated or if you are feeling lazy use your food processor.
- Pipe two concentric circles about ten inches in diameter touching each other and then a third on top.
- Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sliced almonds and bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
- Turn oven down to 350 and bake for another 20 minutes.
- Turn oven off and let cake sit in oven for a final 20 minutes. Let cake cool off before filling.
- Put sugar and water into a sauce pot over medium heat and cook till it turns into a light brown caramel, about five minutes. Sugar burns are among the worst because molten sugar sticks to your skin and will continue to burn.
- Add nuts and pour out onto an oiled marble slab or an oiled cookie sheet.
- Let cool completely. Put in a food processor and grind into a paste. It will resemble peanut butter.
Praline butter cream
- Heat sugar and water to 249 degrees on a candy thermometer, about five minutes. In the old days pastry chefs would brush the insides of the sugar pot with water to prevent sugar crystals from forming. I found by covering the pot, steam will form and move in convection currents which form enough moisture to prevent crystals from forming.
- Beat 8 egg yolks on high speed till doubled in volume and creamy colored.
- Turn down to low speed and slowly pour hot syrup in a thin stream into yolks. When all the syrup is added crank the mixture back onto high speed and beat till cool, about ten minutes. You invariably will get sugar chunks which are the result of hot sugar meeting cold eggs. Have no fear they will melt away into the best butter cream you have ever tasted.
- Slowly add all the butter in than the praline paste.
- Fill your pastry bag equipped with star tip with butter cream.
- Cut cake in half and pipe the butter cream in.
- Top with cake and sprinkle with powdered sugar.