Postcards from Paris: The Paris-Brest

1st Postcard: The Eiffel Tower

Kelcey begins our first Study Abroad correspondence series with POSTCARDS FROM PARIS.  This series will be on Wednesdays, alternating between Kelcey and fellow Culinarian Yael, exploring French culture and food.  

No one does pastry like the French. Maybe it’s the quality of the ingredients: pastry chefs here are exetrmely fastidious about sourcing only the most pristine, unblemished fruits, and the purest chocolate.  Even the fat-percentage of French butter is higher than others (and, oh, is the butter here good). But in my opinion, perhaps the most important reason French pastry is in a whole other stratosphere is because pastry chefs really do live and breathe pastry. Their shops are more than a source of livelihood: they are direct reflections of their art. So it was no surprise that when Yael (a fellow Culinarian in Paris) and I went to Jacques Genin yesterday to try his famed Paris-Brest, Monsieur Genin himself was running around his beautiful, perfectly decorated and organized shop, speaking with customers and making sure that everything was in order.

M. Genin first gained fame as a master confectioner, making chocolates, fruit candies and caramels for the best restaurants in Paris. Now, with his own fame superceding his confectionary skills, he has opened his own store, complete with seating if you wish to linger over a miraculously perfect pastry for an hour or two. But M. Genin’s store is definitley a place to sit and linger quietly.  There was no music playing in the store, most people sat reading at their tables, and if people were speaking, it was very hushed. So Yael and I did feel a little out of place, but soon found our way to a table and placed our order, almost in a whsiper. It felt almost formal, like the fine-dining expereince of pastry (think Lady M on the Upper West Side but about 100 times more formal). So although I usually have no qualms about photographing pastry especially, I didn’t have the guts to do it. So many thanks to the fabulous Mr. David Leibovitz for providing this picture (after the break) of the Paris-Brest (who at least is a personal friend of M. Genin and gets permission to photograph).

Now, the Paris-Brest…

M Genin's Paris-Brest. Image courtesy of David Liebovitz (davidlebovitz.com).

This classic pastry is made with a doughnut-shaped piece of hazlenut-studded choux, which is then split in half and filled with a chestnut-hazlenut pastry cream. To finish it off, the whole thing is doused in powdered sugar, and the completed pastry somewhat resembles a bike tire. And this is where the pastry gets its name : after a famous bike race between Paris and the city of Brest.

I’ve had Paris-Brest before, and of course I found them astoundingly delicous. But that was in the U.S. and now, after tasting the perfection that is M. Genin’s, there is honestly NO COMPARISON. The choux is deliciously tender, but still hefty enough that it not one bit soggy, even after being filled with moist chestnut-cream. The hazlenuts studded throughout the choux give the pastry great bite and texture compared to the smooth and sweetness of the cream as well. Finally, the pastry-cream was a perfect combination of sugary sweetness along with the smooth, savory nuttiness of the chestnuts. What a perfect day to spend a rainy day: warm and dry with an immaculate Paris-Brest.

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