These were created in 1891, to celebrate the first 1,200km Paris-to-Brest bike race, one of cycling’s oldest events. It is said that a pastry chef who was working along the route came up with the idea of the choux pastry rings to represent the puffy pneumatic tyres that were taking over from the old solid rubber ones. Leave the skin on the nuts as this gives flavour and colour.
100g hazelnuts in their skins
1 quantity Crème au Beurre (see below)
1 quantity Choux Pastry mixture (see below)
1 medium egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
icing sugar, for dusting
To make crème au beurre, first make Crème pâtissiere, as follows;
Makes about 400g
250ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod
3 medium egg yolks
60g caster sugar
25g plain flour
✽ Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan. Lay the vanilla pod on a chopping board and slice along its length with a sharp knife. Open out and scrape the seeds into the milk, then put the halved pods in too.
✽ Put the eggs and sugar into a bowl and whisk until pale and creamy. Add the flour and mix until smooth.
✽ Put the pan of milk over a medium heat, bring to just under the boil, take off the heat and slowly pour half of it into the egg, sugar and flour mixture, whisking well as you do so. Add the remainder of the milk and whisk in well, then pour the mixture back into the pan.
✽ Bring to the boil, whisking all the time, then keep boiling and whisking for 1 minute, take off the heat and pour into a clean bowl.
✽ Scoop out the halves of the vanilla pod. You can wash and dry them and keep them in a jar of sugar, which will give you vanilla-flavoured sugar for use in all your baking. Cover the surface of the bowl with greaseproof paper straight away, as this will help to prevent a skin from forming. Cool and then keep in the fridge until ready to use.
✽ Crème au Beurre is simply Creme Pâtissiere with butter added – the advantage of this is that the butter sets the cream quite firmly, so it is good in recipes where you need the cream to hold its shape.
✽ Take your cold Creme Pâtissiere from the fridge and whisk it until it has the consistency of a light mayonnaise, then whisk in the pieces of butter a little at a time until the cream is smooth and has turned quite white.
125g plain flour
4 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
✽ Bring the water, butter and salt to the boil in a large pan. Tip in the sieved flour, whisking all the time until it resembles mashed potato.
✽ Using a wooden spoon, beat over the heat until the mixture is glossy and take off the heat. Add the eggs one by one. Before you add the last one, check that the texture is smooth and glossy but that it will hold its shape for piping.
Making the Paris Brest
✽ Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.
✽ Spread the hazelnuts out over a baking tray and put into the oven for about ten minutes, shaking the tray occasionally so that they toast evenly. Take them out of the oven, leave to cool, then crush half of them with a rolling pin and keep to one side. Put the rest into a coffee grinder, or use a pestle and mortar to grind them into a paste. Mix this into the Creme au Beurre and keep to one side.
✽ Snip the corner of a piping bag – if using a disposable one – insert a large star nozzle, fill with the Choux Pastry mixture, and then pipe 10-12 circles of around 8-10cm onto a silicone mat or non-stick baking tray. Brush lightly with the beaten egg. Scatter your reserved crushed nuts on top and put into the preheated oven.
✽ Turn the oven down to 190°C/gas mark 5 and leave the Brests for about 15 minutes, until they are light, golden and puffed up, turning the tray around halfway through. For the last few minutes of baking, prop the oven door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon to allow the steam to escape, and help the choux to dry out properly. Remove the tray from the oven and leave them to cool.
✽ Cut in half horizontally, pipe the base of each with the reserved hazelnut cream, replace the top and dust with icing sugar.
An excerpt from Patisserie Maison by Richard Bertinet, photo credit Jean Cazals, originally published in FrenchEntrée Magazine