Thursday, March 8, 2012

Paris-Brest, a challenging subject

This week's Short and Tweet challenge from Dan Leppard's book Short and Sweet focussed on choux pastry and I chose the option to make the Paris-Brest. As Dan explains in the recipe notes the pastry's name comes from a Paris to Brest bycycle race and the pastry is piped to suggest the wheel of a bycycle.

Dan fills his choux with a coffee pastry cream and garnishes the top with caramel and nuts.  Although these are described by Dan as  mini coffee Paris-Brest we are still talking a full dessert portion each here. The total recipe only makes six and I think I made mine a bit large so think penny farthing rather than tour de france.

Pastry and I are not the best of friends and I felt apprehensive throughout making these. Early in the process I was convinced my choux dough was far too stiff and it still seemed very stiff after beating in the 3 eggs. I think I piped the dough with too small a diameter piping bag end and made too big a 'wheel'.

Once they were in the oven there were some nervous minutes while I watched and waited for the dough to puff. It really never puffed as much as I had expected but if you pipe out mean thicknesses of pastry you cannot expect miracles.

I also felt I had too starchy a mixture for the pastry cream but have to confess to fiddling with this recipe as I wanted a mocha pastry cream, not just coffee.

The caramel behaved but I only made a little as I'm not so fond of crunchy sugar. For someone who claims to eat anything I have to accept that I can really be rather picky with how things are made.

The finished pastry did taste very good but I really don't think I would make them again unless I can rid myself of the fear of pastry; it just makes the process feel hard work rather than fun.


  1. Pastry is such a common bugbear (for me in particular). I think it's one of those things that we tend to attempt infrequently, and because we do it so irregularly, there's no accumulation of competence with it (if you see what I mean).

    The wheels are attractive - for the nervous, I wonder if starting off with the choux as a pie topping might be the way to go if there is a need to practise?

    1. I think you are spot on there, my rare adventures with pastry inevitably lead to trepidation whereas regular practice would build experience and confidence. The pie topping would have been a better starting point.

  2. Our Paris-Brest baking experience lead to some frayed nerves and clipped tone exchanges.The novice baker I was 'supervising' is famously good-natured so this confirms the very trying nature of working with pastry. But I should also say that the result was well received - it's surprisingly easy to lose track of the fact that something tastes fine when the process of creating it has been a little fraught.

    If your choux is light, airy, crisp and not soggy then it is most of the way towards being a success. Yours looks as if it met these criteria. The dough is rather stiff and takes a lot of beating. I can't know, but if you found the paste stiff, perhaps a little too much water evaporated during the initial boiling of the water and butter (easy to do if the pan is a too wide)?

    The volume of puff (so to speak) reflects the moisture content of the choux paste turning to steam and expanding the skin of the dough in the hot oven.

    Thank you for allowing me to include your picture and write-up in Short and Tweet 19: Glorious Choux, Paris-Brest and Fripperies.

    1. Thank you for all those useful hints,I am quite keen to try a savoury choux so will do that soon while all the current experience is still fresh.