Restaurant offers bike race-inspired French dessert

February 26, 2010 7:09:54 PM PST
Some desserts are inspired by ingredients. Others are apparently influenced by major events. ABC7 Chicago's Hungry Hound says there is a new restaurant in the Gold Coast with a hidden gem: a traditional French dessert that was created based on a famous bicycle race. Before the Tour de France, there was the Paris-Brest, a marathon bike race from Paris to Brest and back again. The race inspired a dessert, which is shaped like a bicycle tire. It's being created with passion - and a lot of hazelnuts - at one of the restaurants inside the gleaming new Elysian Hotel.

Alissa Wallers has a big job. As pastry chef for the entire Elysian Hotel in the Gold Coast, she oversees the sweets for both its high-end restaurant, as well as its more casual one, Balsan. One of that restaurant's stellar desserts is proving to be the Paris-Brest.

"It was designed like most French pastries out of tradition. So, it was made in the shape of a bicycle wheel, and it was named after a bicycle race that was between the city of Paris and the city of Brest," said Wallers.

Wallers begins by making a traditional 'choux' pastry: butter, sugar, milk and water are slowly heated in a pot. She adds flour to thicken it. Everything is transferred to the bowl of a standmixer, where she begins adding eggs for volume. The beater runs for several minutes. The batter is transferred to a pastry bag so it can be piped out onto a baking sheet. Each piece gets an egg wash, and a few caramelized hazelnuts.

Time to make the nougatine: powdered sugar, glucose and butter are whisked pretty vigorously, then it's poured out onto some paper, covered, and thinned out with a rolling pin. A handful of chopped hazelnuts are sprinkled on top, and the nougatine is baked until crisp. Once it's baked, it's chopped up into tiny pieces, which will eventually find a home within the pastry later.

Now comes the filling: heavy cream and pure vanilla beans, whipped until soft peaks, plus a little gelatin. Then, the secret weapon - praline paste - which gets incorporated into that creamy filling.

"Those are caramelized hazelnuts and once they're caramelized, they are then put into a food processor,and it's jut blended until it is a really great, rich peanut butter-type consistency," Wallers said.

Now, it's time for assembly: the baked choux pastry is sliced in half; praline cream is piped onto the bottom, then a sprinkling of the chopped nougatine, plus another decadent layer of praline cream, followed by the other half of the pastry. It is simultaneously creamy and crunchy.

"We work very hard to make sure that we have that nice crunch on the outside with the choux, but it's still nice and moist and tender on the inside. Everybody in pastry is taking great pride in this little dessert and we, we are constantly making sure that it's, every one is going out crispy and tender on the outside," said Wallers.

The Paris Brest is available on both the lunch and dinner menus at Balsan, and it costs just $5.

Balsan, inside Elysian Hotel
11 E. Walton