Last month, my partner and I spent a few days in Paris. One day, we stumbled upon this remarkable bakery on Rue Saint-Denis which sold, among other delicious pastries, an enormous Paris-Brest cake by the slice. It was so good that we went back for more the next day. Paris-Brest is a delicious choux pastry filled with a hazelnut "mousseline" cream, and it involves one hard-to-find ingredient: praliné (hazelnut-almond paste). This recipe is great because it shows how simple it is to make your own praliné. It is an extra step you can do without if you can good quality praliné in a jar, but it was well worth the effort.

100 grams hazelnuts
125 grams almonds (preferably skinned)
180 grams sugar
50 grams water

125 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
75 grams (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1 egg
2 tablespoons water

500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
130 grams sugar
60 grams cornstarch
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
170 grams unsalted butter, softened
140 grams praliné

STEP 1: Make the praliné.
Preheat your oven at 350°F (180°C). Place hazelnuts and almonds on a baking sheet in a tray and let roast in the oven for 10 minutes.
In a saucepan, pour sugar and water and bring to a boil. When bubbles are forming and sugar has fully dissolved, pour hazelnuts and almonds in. The syrup will coat the nuts and form a sugary crust around them.

Reduce the heat and never stop stirring. The sugar will dissolve slowly and turn into a caramel after a few minutes. When the caramel reaches a rich golden hue, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the content onto a sheet of parchment paper.
Let cool completely.

When the brittle is hard, break it into small fragments and pour them into a food processor. Start by pulsing, just long enough to break the brittle into smaller bits, then put processor on high speed. First, the brittle turns into a find powder. Continue mixing until the fat in the nuts breaks down and the mixture turns into a thick paste.

You can store the praliné in a glass jar and keep it in the pantry or the fridge for 3-4 weeks.

 STEP 2: Make the choux pastry.
Preheat your oven to 190 °C (375 °F) with rack placed in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 20-cm (8-inch) circle on the parchment paper.
In a saucepan, bring water, milk, butter, and salt to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the pan.
Return the pan to low heat and cook, stirring the dough for about 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously with an electric mixer or wooden spoon after each addition, until the dough is smooth. 

In a small bowl, make the egg wash by combining one egg with water. Set aside.
With a pastry bag fitted with a fluted or plain 2-cm (3/4-inch) tip and filled with choux pastry, form a ring along the circle on the parchment paper. Form two other rings in the first, being careful to connect them.

Add two to three rings on top of the first layer with the remaining dough. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with the almonds.

Bake for about 1 hour or until the pastry is golden brown. Turn the oven off and let dry for about 30 minutes with the door ajar. Let cool completely. 

 STEP 3: Make the mousseline cream. 
In a large sauce pan, pour 2 cups of milk, one quarter of the sugar and the vanilla pod, and bring to a boil.
In a bowl, cream egg yolks and and the rest of the sugar with a whisk. Sift in the cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
Pour only ¼ of warm milk into the bowl and whisk to combine. Then pour the cream in the pan of the warm milk.
Over medium heat bring it to a boil whisking constantly. When it starts to boil, whisk continually until the cream thickens.
Remove from heat, pour the cream into a bowl, cover with cling film (straight onto the cream to prevent the formation of a thick skin on top). Let cool completely and store in the fridge.
When the cream is cold, take it out of the fridge. With electric beaters, beat the cream for half a minute. Add softened butter in 2 or 3 times, beating well after each addition, to obtain a smooth consistency. Finally, add the praliné you made earlier  (if you followed the recipe above, you'll only use about half the paste) and beat well until fully incorporated into the cream. Place the mousseline cream in the fridge to let the butter work its magic and stiffen the cream.

STEP 4: Assemble!
Slice the choux pastry in two, leaving the bottom part slightly bigger than the top. Remove the top ring and set aside.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a fluted 2-cm (3/4-inch) tip with the mousseline cream and pipe it all over the bottom ring, forming swirls in the process.

 Cover with top ring. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar (optional). And enjoy!
Mousseline cream is at its best when it has had time to properly set in the fridge for a few hours.


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