Published November 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
We knew this showstopper French dessert was both elegant and delicious. Now that we’ve perfected its various components, we can say it’s reliable as well.
There’s no shortage of Paris-Brest recipes—but there is a shortage of foolproof versions. We tried recipes that produced “wheels” of all shapes, sizes, and textures, overly rich praline cream, and praline pastes that a caramel-phobic cook would never dare attempt.
We wanted an infallible recipe whose components all added up to a showstopping dessert we could debut at our holiday table.
We started with the backbone of the Paris-Brest: the pastry dough. Since all pastry dough recipes use the same six ingredients—milk, water, butter, sugar, eggs, and salt—it was just a matter of determining the exact amounts of each that would yield rings with the balance of tenderness and strength that we were looking for. To add crunch to the tender pastry, we sprinkled it with chopped hazelnuts before baking.
With a reliable dough in hand, we began to sort out the best way to bake our two rings: the tire and the narrower, inner tube. Since our rounds were two different sizes—one thick and one thin—we needed to rethink the traditional, three-step baking technique. After a long series of tests in which we baked the rings at different temperatures for varying times, we came up with a two-part solution. First, we placed the narrow ring on the lower rack, where it was partially shielded from the oven’s heat by the tray above. This helped prevent burning. Second, we lowered the temperature of the initial bake (traditional pastry dough is cooked in three stages) and held it there for a considerable amount of time. This longer, gentler early cooking period ensured that by the time the narrow ring was browned, the thick ring would be fully set—the upshot being that we could open the oven door, remove the narrow ring, lower the temperature, and finish cooking the larger ring without risking it deflating once the oven door opened.
Next, we created a light yet sturdy praline cream, which is made by combining pastry cream with praline paste. We improved on a basic praline paste by adding a touch of lemon juice to it. We combined that with the test kitchen’s trusted pastry cream recipe, which we lightened up with whipped cream and thickened with gelatin.list of recipes