Taste of heaven (and hell)

One of my (many) favourite French cakes is a Paris-Brest first created in 1891 to commemorate the race of the same name. No one knows exactly who first created the confection but evidently, on seeing the first race, he was so inspired that he made this tyre-shaped choux pastry filled with
praline crème patissiere and crème chantilly, mimicking the newly invented inner tubes of the day and topped with roasted almonds and icing sugar to represent the dust from the road.

Last Sunday, 5,225 (fool) hardy souls set off to ride 1,200kms from Paris to Brest and back again; a gruelling challenge of one’s cycling stamina and competence. Paris-Brest-Paris is run every four years by the Audax Club Parisien and it’s the oldest event still run on a regular basis on the open road. Participants prove their ability to complete P-B-P by taking part in a series of 4 lengthy qualifying events. If successful, they’re to complete the 1,200kms course within 90 hours, whatever the climatic conditions, ensuring only the (fool)hardiest randonneurs earn the prestigious P-B-P finisher’s medal and have their names entered into the event’s annals.

I thought it therefore only fitting to supply you with a very indulgent  recipe for this uber-delicious confection.

A little slice of heaven

(The recipe makes 15–16 individual cakes)

For the choux pastry

125ml water
125ml milk
125g unsalted butter,
12g caster sugar
160g plain flour, sifted
2g salt
250g whole eggs, beaten
Egg wash
100g flaked almonds




For the praline crème

225ml whipping cream
100ml milk
80g egg yolks
30g caster sugar
180g fine dark 65% chocolate, chopped
75g Gianduja chopped
75g Praline paste
25g unsalted butter, softened

For the chocolate pastry cream

500ml milk
1/2 vanilla pod, split
120g egg yolks
100g caster sugar
40g plain flour, sifted
40g cocoa powder
50g fine dark 70% chocolate

For the crème chantilly

250g whipping cream
250g double cream
1/2 vanilla pod
35g icing sugar

To finish

80g hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and chopped

1. First, make the choux pastry:

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C for fan assisted). Heat the water, milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan. Bring up to the boil. Take the pan off the heat, and add the flour and salt. Stir until completely combined. Return to the hob, reduce the heat to low and continue stirring until the dough leaves the sides of the pan. Take off the heat and leave the dough to cool, for 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gradually add the eggs into the dough and mix until smooth. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 14mm plain nozzle. Pipe 15rings measuring 6cm in diameter onto a baking tray lined with a non-stick baking mat. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 160C (140C for fan assisted) and bake for a further 10–15 minutes until golden. Do not open the oven during baking as the rings may collapse. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

2. Second, make the praline crème:

In a saucepan, heat the cream and milk until boiling. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light. Pour half of the boiling liquid into the egg mixture, whisk until mixed and then transfer all of the egg yolk mixture back to the saucepan. Continuously stir until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, taking care not to overcook. Take off the heat and pass through a fine sieve into a bowl containing the chocolates and praline paste, stir until fully incorporated. Add the butter and mix until smooth. Pour into a shallow dish, wrap with cling film, cool rapidly and leave to fully set.

3. Third, make the chocolate pastry cream:

Put the milk and the vanilla in a saucepan and boil. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Continue whisking until the mixture slightly thickens. Add the flour and cocoa powder and whisk again until smooth. Pour half of the infused milk into the mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Pass this mixture through a fine sieve, return the mixture back to the remaining milk in the pan. Continuously whisk until it comes to a boil then reduce the temperature to a simmer. Continue to stir and cook for 5–6 minutes. Take off the heat, add in the chocolate and stir until it has completely melted. Pour the pastry cream onto a shallow dish or tray, wrap with cling film and cool rapidly.

4. Lastly, make the crème chantilly.

Whisk together the creams, vanilla seeds and sugar until stiff.

5. To assemble and finish:

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C for fan assisted). Slice the choux rings in half horizontally and set on baking trays. Place in the oven for 1–2 minutes to crisp up. Remove and leave to cool. Spoon the praline crème into a piping bag fitted with a 12mm plain nozzle and pipe a ring on top of each choux ring base. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts. Spoon the chocolate pastry cream into a piping bag with a 12mm plain nozzle and pipe a layer of cream on top of the praline crème. Spoon the crème chantilly into another piping bag with a 10mm fluted nozzle and pipe swirls on top of the pastry cream. Top with the other halves of the rings and press down slightly so that the lids are stable. Pipe a rosette of crème chantilly on top of each ring, dust lightly with icing sugar and decorate with chocolate.

(recipe courtesy of William Curley)