Blog: A Paris-Brest Saved, A Paris-Brest Earned | The French Pastry School

Blog: A Paris-Brest Saved, A Paris-Brest Earned

A Paris-Brest Saved, A Paris-Brest Earned
The French Pastry School |
September 8, 2009

“Chef, have you seen my choux?”  Every student at The French Pastry School is responsible for their own product and mine had gone missing—I was distressed but our instructor, Master Baker Jonathan Dendauw, always seemed to have the right answers.  My table partner, John, and I had spent the previous day perfecting the recipe for pate a choux, a rich paste that puffs in the oven, creating a doughy cavern that most chefs fill with pastry cream.  We spent hours meticulously piping it into long éclairs, round chouquettes and wheel shaped Paris-Brest but when it came time to store the baked result for the next day, we suffered a classic miscommunication.  If I hadn’t put them away, and he hadn’t either, where could they possibly be? 

Chef’s eyes lit up, as if he had been waiting for me to ask this question.  With a raised finger theatrically pointing to his temple and a gleam in his eye, he said, “Oh yes, I remember seeing that last night….”  A sense of relief swept over me and I hung on his words, eager to be reunited with yesterday’s hard work.  “Yes, that’s right…I saw them go into the trash.”  My mouth dropped open and for a few moments I couldn’t speak.  He paused to let me feel the impact of what he had said, but a friendly smirk gave him away: he had, in fact, saved them in his own freezer overnight.  

As he restored my prodigal puffs, I thanked him repeatedly and assured him that this would never happen again.  Chef smiled at me, half-scolding, half-amused: he had hidden them to get that exact reaction.  I was well taken care of at The French Pastry School where I could learn these lessons with the support of passionate and encouraging chefs that were teachers, not bosses; in the real world of restaurants and bakeries, I might not be so lucky.  The last time I had messed something up was at my job in a French restaurant: I had burnt a dacquoise while plating other desserts, had been promptly taken off the line and then put on mop duty for the rest of the night.  Here, we were almost encouraged to make mistakes so we could learn how to fix them.  Still, with pantries filled with the finest quality ingredients available, one of the most important lessons our chefs can teach us is to respect what we make—and not forget it overnight on the speed rack.

“Taste this,” Chef Jonathan insisted as he finished his demonstration of the day’s recipes and held out a tray of completed Paris-Brests.  This instruction entails more than just gobbling the miniature pastry in a single bite—we owe it more than that after hours of preparation.  Tasting is a long, complex process.  First, we took in the nutty-sweet scent of the caramel-colored pate a choux and the hazelnut filling.  As we slowly bit into the tiny wreath-shaped pastries, the first sensation was the delightful interplay of textures: the slight crunch of the sugar crystals sprinkled on top, the tender resistance of the choux and the melt-in-your-mouth smoothness of the nutty cream.  The buttery flavor was intoxicating—as I looked around at my classmates, their eyes were either wide in happy disbelief or closed with pleasure.  Tasting these for the first time held a certain kind of magic for everyone.

After the demo, we returned to our work stations in pairs and spent the rest of the day working carefully and efficiently, trying to recreate chef’s spell.  Before we left the kitchen with boxes and plates filled with our pastries, Chef issued one last instruction: “These will not keep until tomorrow.  Do not let them go to waste.”  John and I exchanged a significant glance: after one close call, these miniature beauties would not end the day in the trash.  On my way back to my apartment, I handed them out to the businessmen who worked nearby and fellow passengers on the bus—everyone’s eyes brightened and they thanked me with smiles and muted “yums.”  By the time I reached home, I held the greatest testament to a lesson well-learned: there is no better sign of respect to a product than an empty plate.