The iconic French pastry you should bake for New Year’s party


By Claire Saffitz, The New York Times

When I think of French pastry — before eclairs, before madeleines, before even the croissant — I think of Paris-Brest. For me, it occupies a special status in the pastry pantheon, simply because I find it incomparably delicious.

Invented in 1910 by pastry chef Louis Durand, Paris-Brest was named for a bike race that runs between Paris and the port city of Brest, in northwest France. It was even designed to resemble a bike wheel, with its ring of pate a choux, or cream puff dough, split horizontally and filled with a praline mousseline. The end result is a study in contrasts, with its juxtaposition of crispy choux and silky filling.

Like many other French pastries, Paris-Brest requires several steps and components, but the entire process can be broken down into manageable parts that can — and should — be done ahead of time. The finished pastry is a showpiece, so make it when you really want to show off (and feed a group).

The first step is to make the praline, a ground mixture of caramel and nuts (typically a 50-50 mix of hazelnuts and almonds). Homemade praline paste tends to be grainier than store-bought, which is hard to find outside France. To ensure my homemade praline paste is as smooth as possible, I coat toasted hazelnuts in a dark caramel, then crush the mixture and combine it with smooth almond butter in a food processor. The almond butter jump-starts the grinding, reducing the amount of the work for the food processor and producing less grit. You can make the praline weeks in advance; just store it in the fridge to prevent rancidity and stir it well before using to reincorporate the oils.

Next is the mousseline: You first make a pastry cream, which is basically a vanilla pudding. It’s cooked on the stovetop until thick and bubbling. (Make sure the mixture comes to a boil, whisking all the while, to activate the cornstarch.) After being chilled for several hours, the pastry cream is whipped with the praline paste and room-temperature butter until light and smooth to help the mousseline to hold its shape, so you can pipe it into beautiful swirls inside the pastry ring.


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