How to Make a Giant Paris-Brest Choux (Eclair) Christmas Pastry Ring

This Christmas pastry ring sums me up just now: I’m going around in circles – but aren’t we all at this time of year?

My Corsican parents-in-law have already been and gone for our early French Christmas in Paris.  Their visit certainly speeded up the last few days of marathon shopping for holiday gifts and rustling up menus with fresh produce from the market; I’ve probably been looking like a perplexed turkey who’s lost the plot in Star Wars.

Scottish vs French Christmas Traditions

Before we know it, we’ll be flapping off to Scotland for my family’s Christmas gathering: pulling at our favourite British crackers together at the table, the more brave amongst us wearing their banger-sizzled contents of fluorescent paper hats and reciting the rolled-up corny but giggle-provoking jokes – especially after some toe-curling glasses of wine nectar.

The final blast of cheese after the Christmas Pudding still comes as a surprise. Bless Antoine; it has taken him a while to get used to dessert before cheese (and I am perhaps worse than him on this British custom after 24 years in France) but he’s cool and laps it all up – except Monsieur still refers to cranberry sauce (no matter how good, since he won’t even try) as turkey with jam or avec de la confiture.  Thank goodness Mum just laughs it off and has learned to shrug her shoulders like the French.

Choux (Eclair) pastry ring for special occasions

Traditions on the French side are slightly more serious at the table. My mother-in-law or Belle-maman always makes her two homemade bûches de Noël, or yule logs. I say always, as none of us have even contemplated breaking with this family ritual – that’s decidedly her territory. To avoid stepping on any toes in the kitchen, my answer is to make this large crown pastry ring version of the Paris-Brest, dressed up for Christmas with holly and red currants.  What’s more, I find it much less hassle to make than a yule log!

The Paris-Brest Pastry Ring

Paris-Brests are in many Parisian pastry boutiques these days, although I’m disappointed to see they’re more often served as straight éclairs.  If it’s a real traditional Paris-Brest, it should be in the shape of a bicycle wheel since it was invented in 1910 by Louis Durand, who concocted a giant choux wheel filled with hazelnut praline buttercream to celebrate the cyclists passing his pâtisserie in Maisons-Laffitte (just west of Paris) on their sprint up to Brest.

You can find my Whisky praline filling recipe for this Paris-Brest Christmas pastry ring at The Good Life France. The recipe is an extract taken from Teatime in Paris: A Walk Through Easy French Pâtisserie Recipes.  This time I’m doubling the quantities and making an extra large Christmas choux pastry wreath.

Giant Paris-Brest pastry ring decorated for Christmas from Teatime in Paris

For such a large circle, no fancy moulds are needed – just a plain but large piping bag (about 30cm/16 inches).

Giant Birthday Eclairs

Once you’ve had fun piping out large circles to create a giant wheel shape, there’s no stopping you: you’ll find it just as easy to pipe out large numbers for birthday éclairs too!

First was for a good friend’s 50th with a mixture of a Paris-Brest and a giant 5 with strawberries and cream – then Antoine’s great aunt Raymonde was thrilled to bits on her 94th birthday this summer with two giant elderflower cream and fresh strawberry éclairs, served with a glass of bubbly as she looked at the recipe in Teatime in Paris, just back from the printers and smelling of fresh ink.  It was a great double dose to celebrate!

Birthday giant numbered choux or éclairs

Just sketch out your circle or number shapes on baking parchment, cover it with another layer of parchment (so the dough isn’t in contact with the pencil), pipe away with two side-by-side layers then pipe out a third one on top, between the two.

How to pipe out giant eclairs in the shape of numbers

Choux (Eclair) Pastry Ring Recipe

Instructions in steps 4 & 5 are given for piping out the large pastry ring or Christmas wreath to make one large Paris-Brest choux wheel. Use this principle to pipe out giant numbers for birthday éclairs. When baked and cooled, split horizontally then fill with double quantities of the Praline filling from the mini Paris-Brests in “Teatime in Paris” or any other choice of filling.
(This is a slightly shortened and adapted version of the recipe, which is in more step-by-step detail in Teatime in Paris with its own chapter, including chouquettes, éclairs and Réligieuses.)

Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 – 40 minutes

150g water
90g milk
1 tbsp orange blossom water
4g salt
1 tbsp sugar
90g unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
150g plain (all-purpose) flour
4 medium eggs, chilled
Slivered almonds (optional, to decorate)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/360°F (Gas 4). Boil the water, milk, orange blossom water, salt, sugar and butter in a large saucepan.

2. Once boiling, remove from the heat and quickly add the flour. Whisk until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the pan.

3. Transfer to a mixing bowl (or electric mixer) and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs until you have a smooth, sticky paste. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a plain or star tip of 10-12mm. At this point, you can seal the pastry in a piping bag and keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.

4. Cover a large flat baking tray with baking parchment.  Using a pencil, trace out a circle of about 18cm diameter, with the help of a round plate (I do it free hand – it doesn’t need to be that perfect!) and cover with another film of baking parchment, so there’s no direct contact with the pencil marking.

5. Pipe out the dough following the first 18cm circle, then follow with another circle right next to it in the inside.  Finish with a third circle superposed on top, nestling in between the two rings below.

6. Sprinkle with almonds on the pastry ring. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until brown – and don’t open the oven door at all during the process, otherwise the pastry will fall. Just wait until it’s well browned.

7. Leave to cool on a wire rack then using a bread knife, cut through the middle horizontally and fill with the praline buttercream or any other filling of your choice, such as this pistachio cream and top with fresh berries of your choice.

Paris-Brest-Edinburgh from Teatime in Paris Jill Colonna, Christmas pastry ring

Before you go, you still have time to enter the international competition to win a copy of Teatime in Paris! Just click here to read the FREE 2015 Christmas Issue of The Good Life France Magazine and turn to page 55 and click on the book cover for Teatime in Paris!  Update: This giveaway is now closed.

Thank you so much for your support and comments here on le blog and on social media. I’ll be back here after Christmas with more festive recipes and travel stories. In the meantime, you can still find me on Instagram – starting with a book-signing and carol singing at the British Embassy in Paris tonight …

Happy Holidays!

 

Stuffed Cabbage (Chou Farci): A Cheat’s French Classic Winter Recipe

A French Classic recipe of stuffed savoy cabbage made easy by using turkey stuffing leftovers.

Paris Breakfasts Gourmet Paris Maps in Watercolour

Carol Gillott is an American artist who has been living in Paris full time now for 3 years.  As soon as I started following her popular ParisBreakfasts blog a few years ago, it didn’t take long to become hooked on such an artistic eye’s view of life in Paris and open my own eyes to a different perspective on a city I’d lived in for over 20 years.

Watercolour map of Ile Saint Louis ice cream from Teatime in Paris

Carol particularly loves the gourmet side of the City of Light. Whether it’s varieties of cherries or Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes floating around the Eiffel Tower, she always manages to paint Paris dreams. It’s no surprise that ice cream also makes a lip-smacking feature, as she lives just a stone’s throw from the Parisian ice cream institution on Ile Saint-Louis.

Paris Breakfasts Eiffel Tower watercolours

While I tend to look up at historical plaques on buildings and put my foot in it (twisted my other ankle this way last month), Carol is more down to earth – spotting spectacular shoes and colour-coded fashions of those around her. I always wondered about the fascination in chaussures until she explained her background in designing shoes which took her around in the fashion world from NYC, Hong Kong, India, and Italy.

As she says herself, her Mom taught her watercolors at 5 and she’s still at it, painting for Champagne Mumm, Peggy Porchen, Guerlain, The Russian Tearoom, the Maharana of Udaipur, and … for my book, Teatime in Paris!

Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts sketching maps

When Carol agreed to work on a delicious map as the endpapers of the book, I was overcome with excitement seeing her at work in her studio as she started sketching out ideas based on the book’s recipes.  I knew she was mad about maps already, but I had no idea that this was her first gourmet map of Paris in the making!

hot chocolate and garden maps

Imagine having a wonderful excuse to taste what she paints: as I brought a few madeleines, chouquettes, and buttery financiers from the book, Carol made us the most exquisite hot chocolate with grated cinnamon.  And while we sipped on the chocolate, I realised that we were surrounded: even her placemats were maps of the gardens of Versailles.  And before we knew it, the book was launched in May this year.

Teatime in Paris endpapers map watercolour by Carol Gillott

Then in June, Carol presented us her map of Rue du Bac, which was perfectly fitting for the sweetest street in Paris’s brand new annual event, the Bac Sucré.  Her subscribers were also receiving such treats in the mail while last week, Chef Conticini from La Pâtisserie des Rêves also fell under Carol’s mapping spell.

Rue du Bac map in watercolor by Carol Gillott

And just look what continued? Rue Mouffetard, Rue du Cherche-Midi, Rue Montorgeuil, Rue de Martyrs, Ile-Saint-Louis ….

Paris maps in watercolour by artist Carol Gillott

These foodie streets could all be yours and it’s not too late before Christmas, although you’ll need to hurry to receive Carol’s Paris monthly sketches and maps in your Mailbox.

Paris Breakfasts in your mailbox

Don’t you just love to get mail in the holidays?  Especially from Paris…

Dark Chocolate Lava Cakes with Runny Hearts

How many times have you seen chocolate lava cakes on dessert menus? In Paris …

Festive Paris Magic at the Patisserie des Rêves – 2015 Yule Logs

A touch of Christmas magic arrived in Paris this week with a tasting of not one but three new French Bûches de Noël or Yule Logs.  Launched by the Pâtisserie des Rêves at their tea salon in BHV Paris it was also a unique opportunity to chat with the extraordinary pastry chef behind them, Philippe Conticini and creative director, Thierry Teyssier.

Just walking into the pink pastry boutiques of La Pâtisserie des Rêves in Paris reminds me of that enchanting scene in the film, Mary Poppins; as the family jumps on a carousel, wooden horses take off and they ride in the air to discover a cartooned magic kingdom, then sip tea from porcelain cups.

But imagine opening up a secret door into a delightfully real theatrical world – with oversized glass bells announcing an ever-changing line of exquisite pastries, giant pink spiral lollipops standing to attention in jars, with a pile of humped-back madeleines, buttery-rich financiers and viennoiseries all sitting on the counter. It’s no surprise that children are also the focus of attention here, with special goûter (a French afternoon teatime snack) days organised especially for the little ones.

Patisserie des Reves Paris BHV tea salon

Literally the “Patisserie of Dreams”, the unique concept of the Pâtisserie des Rêves was born in 2009 when chef Philippe Conticini and theatre and hotel entrepreneur, Thierry Teyssier (owner of Maison des Rêves), partnered their talents together to create the first pastry shop in Rue du Bac.  Over the last six years, the internationally acclaimed pastry chef and creative artistic director have expertly aimed at rekindling precious childhood gourmet experiences to create a memorable magic experience in pastry for the next generation.

Chef Conticini aims at awakening the senses by modernising traditional French pastries with his own magical touch of surprise to the likes of the Saint Honoré, Millefeuille, seasonal tarts and Paris-Brest pastries – all still his signature pastries that have global gourmets queuing in his boutiques from Paris to Japan and now in London.

Today Philippe Conticini is not only one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary pastry chefs, he’s also one of the rare chefs to have also achieved a high-level cuisine career in the savoury world too.  He literally grew up in the kitchens of his parents’ restaurant, south-east of Paris in the Val-de-Marne area, and by 1986 was co-owner of the Table d’Anvers until 1998, catching a Michelin star along the way.  During that time (1994) he was creator of the verrine: instead of serving dishes horizontally on plates, they’re served vertically in transparent glasses – a brilliant idea making desserts also easy to transport, now copied the world over.

Philippe Conticini and Thierry Teyssier

Philippe Conticini and Thierry Teyssier

Ten years before the Patisserie des Rêves was the turning point when he shot to international fame while with Petrossian Paris. In 1999, while creating a café-boutique concept for the house in NYC, he baffled the culinary world with his unexpected dishes around a Caviar theme, wowing American gourmets. In the space of just 5 months after first being featured in Food Arts Magazine, news spread quickly of his immense talents and within only 18 months he was awarded a Michelin Star.

Today, in between being a TV star with appearances of the popular French equivalent of the Great British Bake-Off show – among others – he teaches the sensation of taste with ongoing workshops, and continues to revitalise the universe of scents, taste, textures, flavours, and presentation that generate that special Madeleine de Proust feeling of déjà-vous (or should I say déjà-goût?).

You would think with all of these credentials, chef Conticini would be distant. It couldn’t be more the opposite since for myself, it was memorable magic in itself for him to chat informally, demonstrating his modest sincerity, and willing to share in his most intrinsic form of expression through pastry.

Buches de noel Patisserie des Reves Paris

Bûches de Noël 2015

Chef Conticini stresses that his take on the classic Christmas Yule log is simple – yet his three Bûches have taken 2-3 months to prepare. It takes time to produce something so tecnicially complicated, he says, and that has to appear effortless, to as to remind us of the traditional French festive dessert from childhood but with that modern Conticini touch.

2015 Christmas Yule Logs by Philippe Conticini

Vintage Vanilla Yule Log

This is for pure vanilla fans looking for that creamy intensity, rolled to a black centre of vanilla grains with touches of griotte cherry throughout. He suggests finely grating a touch of lime zest to finish off the dessert: the lime delicately magnifies the vanilla beautifully.

Millésimée au Chocolat Yule Log

What’s Christmas without chocolate, they say? Classic chocolate and vanilla are worked into a symphony of textures and its warming sensations of silky dark chocolate are sumptuously progressive.

Praline lemon French Christimas Buche 2015 from Patisserie des Reves

Main photo courtesy La Pâtisserie des Rêves

Praline-Lemon Yule Log

Following his signature Paris-Brest with an extra secret praline centre, it’s no surprise that his famous praline continues to excite the senses here. On a base of salted crunchy praline and a light hazelnut sponge, the lemon is extremely delicate within a vanilla mousse with a round finishing sensation.

Extra fine Praline chocolate bars

Together with Carol Gillott, of Paris Breakfasts fame, we tasted the range of new chocolates for Christmas.

Christmas chocolate praline bars patisserie des reves

Following on the success of his white chocolate collection, the new collection is presented in a magic box of golden secrets for the festive season, with 10 extra-fine mini tablets revolving uniquely around praline. The praline predominates the palate – whether it’s dark, milk or white chocolate – but the whisper of raspberry, fleur de sel, lemon or coconut make each nibble a special treat.

I particularly loved the milk chocolate and passion fruit, as he leaves the fruit seeds in the chocolate, giving it that extra fine crunch. I don’t normally like seeds in pastry cream, but here it’s a surprise that works.

Philippe Conticini and Thierry Teyssier new book

Having already published award-winning recipe books which are also a reference for professional chefs, Philippe Conticini’s latest, Souvenirs Gourmands, is now on the shelves and co-written by Pascale Frey.

I couldn’t resist snagging my own as an early Christmas present from hubby since it’s filled with delightful childhood gourmet memories of 50 French celebrities (Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, Christian Lacroix …) with their favourite souvenirs linked to their recipes that are all given the Conticini twist. I’m sure we could entice them to produce an English version too.

New book by Philippe Conticini, Souvenirs Gourmands

As famous bear of ParisBreakfasts was creating his own gourmet sensations to treasure, Carol Gillott wowed Monsieur Conticini with her exquisite watercolour of Rue du Bac, just one of her Paris map creations since illustrating the first one for my book, Teatime in Paris!

Carol Gillott Paris maps rue du Bac

As the first patisserie in Rue du Bac, the Pâtisserie des Rêves has been such a go-to address that other prestigious pastry boutiques have followed suit to join in one of the most sweet gourmet streets in Paris. In June this year, Chef Conticini was chosen as Godfather of the first ever Bac Sucré event, to celebrate the talents of his artisan neighbours.

Fortune cookies by Philippe Conticini

Also just in time for Christmas, are pink gift cards which will come in handy for pastry lovers (hint, hint, Antoine) – but this is my favourite lucky hit: the new buttery Fortune cookies with their subtle hint of coconut.  It’s perhaps the French answer to pulling British Christmas crackers at the table. As I opened mine, the message read:

Le Bonheur est toujours à la portée de celui qui sait le goûter.
“Happiness is achievable to those who know how to taste”.

That simply sums up the essence of Chef Conticini’s sweet magic.


 

This post is linked to my first article now featured on
BonjourParis online publication


 

The three Bûches de Noël will be available as of 10th December. Both the praline-citron and chocolate bûches are now available as individual portions.

Patisserie des Rêves
93 rue du Bac
75007 Paris
Tel: +33 1 – 47 04 00 24