Crowns of cream

Oddly enough, the classic creation was supposed to have been designed to recall a bicycle tire.

It’s lucky that in springtime there are still days cool enough to enjoy baking. One of my favorite springtime desserts is a ring of light pastry with an enticing, liberal layer of whipped, creamy filling showing all around.
Oddly enough, the classic creation was supposed to have been designed to recall a bicycle tire. The French call this impressive crown-shaped cake gateau Paris-Brest, which was named for a bicycle race that took place between Paris and Brest, a port city at the western end of France. To some this image might not seem fitting for an elegant dessert, but many Frenchmen and women are as addicted to their cycling races as they are to their desserts.
The glorious gateau, garnished with sliced almonds and powdered sugar, is a beautiful dessert, owing part of its appeal to the simplicity of its presentation. It needs no intricate embellishment.
Technically, this popular cake is a cream puff in a different form. Unlike eclairs, which are also made of cream puff dough, the ring-shaped pastry is fairly easy to form if you first trace a circle on a buttered baking sheet. Before putting the dough ring in the oven, you sprinkle it with sliced almonds, which toast to light brown as the pastry bakes. It’s lovely to watch the cake puff and smell the almonds toasting as it bakes.
In old-fashioned French patisserie, the filling of the golden gateau Paris-Brest is made of an elaborate butter-enriched pastry cream flavored with praline, or ground caramel-coated almonds. For springtime I opt for a lighter filling: I love my gateau bursting with bright-flavored, fresh berries and ruffles of Chantilly cream – French sweetened whipped cream flavored with real vanilla. Chocolate fillings are wonderful too, like one of whipped ganache, made of chocolate melted in hot cream, then cooled and beaten to a mousse-like texture.
The dough itself is easy to make and is ready in a few minutes, with no need for a food processor, a rolling pin or a counter messy with flour. You just cook the butter and water briefly in a saucepan, and beat in flour and eggs with a wooden spoon.
In fact, it’s so easy, you might want to make a double batch and bake the extra dough in large spoonfuls as cream puffs. Then freeze them for summer, when you might not feel like baking; thawed and filled with ice cream and doused with chocolate sauce, they’ll make phenomenal profiteroles!
Chocolate-orange pastry crown
For this new version of French gateau Paris-Brest, I use an easy-to-make, scrumptious filling of orange-scented whipped chocolate ganache.
The baked pastry cake can be kept, covered, up to one day at room temperature but tastes best on the day it is baked. You can keep the filled cake, covered, up to eight hours in the refrigerator.
Cream puff dough (see next recipe)
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)
2 Tbsp. sliced almonds (for sprinkling)
Powdered sugar (for sprinkling)
Chocolate-Orange Whipped Ganache:
3 medium-sized navel oranges
350 gr. fine quality semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
11⁄2 cups heavy cream
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 200º. Lightly butter a baking sheet. Using a 20-cm. cake pan, draw a 20-cm. circle on baking sheet; it will be only barely visible.
Prepare dough. Using a pastry bag and large plain tip about 1.5 cm. in diameter, evenly pipe dough in a 20-cm. ring onto baking sheet, following marked circle. Pipe another ring inside first, touching it. Pipe a third ring on top of crack joining first two rings. Brush dough with beaten egg. Gently mark lines on dough by pressing with bottom of a fork dipped in water lightly. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top. Bake about 35 minutes or until dough is puffed and browned; cracks that form during baking should also brown.
Using a serrated knife, carefully split cake in half horizontally. Cool both halves separately on a rack.
Chocolate-Orange Whipped Ganache: Using a vegetable peeler, pare colored part of peel of oranges in long strips, without including white pith. Scald cream and strips of orange peel in small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling at edges. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 20 minutes. Strain cream into medium bowl, pressing on orange strips, and return to cleaned saucepan.
Put chocolate in a heatproof medium bowl. Reheat cream in small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with whisk, until it comes to full boil. Pour cream over chocolate all at once. Stir with whisk until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate, stirring mixture often from sides of bowl to center, until cold and thickened but not set, about 30 minutes.
Whip mixture in mixer at medium speed or whisk it by hand until it lightens in color, is thick enough to spread and forms very soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Do not overbeat ganache or it will separate. Use at once, or it will stiffen and become impossible to pipe. Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with large star tip and pipe all of it onto lower half of cake in a ruffle so it shows at edge. Cover with top half.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
You can use other berries or diced tender nectarines when they are in season.
Pastry crowns with strawberries and chantilly cream
Cream puff dough (see next recipe)
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)
2 Tbsp. sliced almonds (for sprinkling)
11⁄4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
11⁄2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups strawberries, rinsed and hulled
31⁄2 to 4 Tbsp. sugar
Powdered sugar (for sprinkling)
Prepare, shape and glaze dough, sprinkle it with almonds, bake it and split in two layers as in recipe above.
Halve or quarter strawberries lengthwise and sprinkle them with 11⁄2 to 2 tablespoons sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes.
In a large chilled bowl whip cream with 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla until just stiff. Refrigerate until ready to use, or up to 30 minutes.
A short time before serving, fill pastry with strawberries, allowing berries to protrude slightly from edges.
Using a pastry bag and large star tip, pipe whipped cream generously onto bottom pastry layer, allowing berries to show from sides. Set top layer gently in place. Shake powdered sugar over cake and serve.
Makes 8 servings.
The dough is easiest to shape while warm but can be kept, covered or wrapped, up to 4 hours in the refrigerator.
Cream puff dough
1⁄2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄4 tsp. salt
55 gr. (1⁄4 cup) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
3 large eggs
Sift flour onto a piece of waxed paper. In a small heavy saucepan combine water, salt and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until butter melts. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Immediately add flour all at once; stir quickly with a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth. Set pan over low heat; beat mixture about 30 seconds.
Remove from heat; cool about 3 minutes. Add 1 egg; beat thoroughly into mixture. Add second egg; beat mixture until smooth. Beat third egg in a small bowl. Gradually beat 1 or 2 tablespoons of this egg into dough, adding enough so dough becomes very shiny and is soft enough so it just falls from the wooden spoon. Add a pinch of salt to remaining egg; beat until blended. Reserve as glaze. Refrigerate glaze until ready to use. Makes enough dough for a 20-cm. ring cake or 15 to 20 cream puffs. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and Sefer Ha’ugot (The Book of Cakes), published by R. Sirkis.