No, this isn’t a post about French boobs, more like French pastry. That’s right, I’m back on my Puff the Bakery course, and after hitting such highs as the twice-baked chocolate cake, and actual puff pastry, I’m starting Volume 2 with some choux pastry. Choux is the base for so many things including chocolate eclairs, churros, and gougeres – basically all the good things in life. I’d never heard of a Paris Brest before, but I knew I was going to love it.
The Paris Brest was created to promote a bicycle race between Paris and Brest, a small town in Brittany and looks a little like a bike wheel, or a choux doughnut. The traditional filling is a hazelnut mousseline, a very light mousse made by whipping butter into a creme patisserie, which sounds so good. I was looking forward to making this.
I started by making the mousseline as it had to chill for a long time before it was ready to use. This wasn’t quite as simple as I first thought as I had to make a hazelnut praline paste to include in it. The course said you can buy it, but I’ve never come across it in any supermarkets so I followed their instructions to make my own. I managed to make the praline no problem, but I wasn’t sure if my mixer would handle breaking up the hardened caramel and whole nuts. It turns out that wasn’t the hard bit: it broke them up effortlessly but the mix just would not turn into a paste. My neighbours probably hated me this afternoon as my mixer was constantly on and off again for at least half an hour. In the end, I decided to go against the Puff advice and add a little oil and thank god I did as it came together in a beautiful smooth paste soon after. Thankfully the rest of the mousseline was a breeze after that.
I was hopeful the pastry would turn out ok as the basic recipe seems quite simple. There is a little guesswork when it comes to working out how many eggs to add, but there are clear instructions on how to work it out. I added some craquelin (a butter, sugar, and flour combination to make the top crunchy and crinkly) and full of optimism put some in the oven.
The craquelin made the top look lovely and rounded, but unfortunately, they never grew any bigger, and when I turned them over there was no air in there at all – they were flat. This was undoubtedly really frustrating, but at this point, it was 7pm and I’d been in the kitchen for hours. I’d only baked half the pastry mix so I thought I’d try again the next day, and made my own version of the Paris Brest, by sandwiching two of the flattened pastry rings together instead.
This was a lot of choux, but with the incredible hazelnut mousseline in the middle, it still tasted really good. It wasn’t the pastry I was hoping to be eating by the end of the day, but I wasn’t prepared to waste anything. You can’t go wrong adding lashings of the delicious mousseline and covering the pastry in icing sugar really.
The next day I tried again only to have the same problem. Frustrated, and with a freezer full of flat choux, I called my Masterchef friend for some ideas. She said it could be that the mixture was too wet and gave me a few pointers, but also that the pastry could need more heat. It was at this point I realised I’d misread the oven temperatures, and I’d been under-heating the dough by 20C. I couldn’t believe it! I decided to mix up a small batch of dough and try it with the new information, and I was over the moon when it actually worked – it was proud and puffy and tasted way better. A lesson learned – check the recipe properly!