Snapshots from Jura: Paris Brest from Bistrot de Pontarlien

From June 19th to June 25th, I traveled around the Jura region of France as a guest of The Comté Cheese Association. I'll be filling you in on what I ate, drank, poked, prodded, and otherwise documented on the awesome trip in the land of cheese and wine.

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I don't really do dessert that often. Given the option, I'd almost always opt for the cheese course, or perhaps just some nice Islay Scotch, ice on the side. But there are certain sweets that I simply don't pass up.

Growing up, my mother used to pick up cream puffs from the Japanese Sunmerry's Bakery at a strip mall in Fort Lee, NJ. Now these were desserts worth eating. Crisp and tender pâte à choux puffs split and stuffed with vanilla-scented whipped cream. They were so good that I was even inspired to step into the kitchen. It was one of my first attempts at pastry, and despite the fact that my cream "puffs" were more like flat cream disks, they were mine, and they were tasty.

These days, I don't eat nearly enough cream puffs.

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All that might change now that I've had what may well be the cream puff ne plus ultra: the Paris Brest at Le Bistrot de Pontarlier (which, by the way, is in fact in Port Lesney, not Pontarlier, 50 km away. I found this out the hard way).

I was vaguely familiar with the dessert named after a famous bicycle race before I came here, but I'd never see what it could really be. It's made by piping out a large ring of choux pastry and baking it until it's puffed and golden, then splitting it and filling it with a base layer of praline cream then topping it with stiff whipped cream. It's supposed to mimic the shape of the bicycle wheel and provide racers with the intake of sugar, heavy cream, praline, and pastry necessary to become a world-class athlete.

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As you can see, my dining companions and I were so keen on starting this race that I didn't manage to snap any photos before the beast of a puff was divided and conquered. The pastry was all you could hope for in a pâte à choux: crisp and well-browned on the exterior with an almost pie-crust like flaky butteriness. Right underneath the outer layer you got a soft, moderately chewy, moist cake-like layer that stretches ever so slightly when you bite into it and pull with your teeth.

The cream was very lightly sweetened and whipped until quite stiff so that it doesn't ooze and squirt out the back when you eat it, while a thin layer of rich, buttery, and smooth almond praline adds plenty of toasted nuttiness without weighing the light-as-air puff down.

It was good enough to make me almost consider ditching the cheese course. Almost.

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