After crisscrossing the country in search of our Restaurants of the Year, we stumbled upon the Dish of 2018: A sweet-savory Paris-Brest at Grand Cafe in Minneapolis.
“I’m obsessed with shimmer powder,” says Jamie Malone, Best New Chef alum and chef/owner of the Minneapolis restaurant. “That goes into the glaze, so it looks super shiny.”
The flecks of gold leaf don’t hurt, either. This particular Paris-Brest (see the recipe) is the culmination of years of perfecting (and playing around) on Malone’s end. At pop-ups prior to opening Grand Cafe, she tested out the idea of a savory pastry with hot chicken liver mousse piped into a doughnut. “We get bored serving things the same way all the time,” she says. Which is how she stumbled upon the Paris-Brest, the iconic creation of French pastry chef Louis Durand.
Initially, a gimmick to promote the 746-mile Paris-Brest bicycle race in France back in 1910—and the size of an actual tire—the sweet took on a life of its own and remains a standard at any Parisian bakery. Traditionally, the choux pastry is piped in a circle, allowing water in the dough to evaporate from all directions, which keeps the shape intact unlike cream puffs. Then it’s filled with nutty praline cream.
But the Paris-Brest at Grand Cafe isn’t Louis Durand’s Paris-Brest—it’s Jamie Malone’s and that’s what makes it exceptional.
The dough takes a dip in the deep fryer. Then, it’s stuffed with chicken livers that have been cooked down with Cognac, heavy cream—“A little, well a lot,” says Malone with a laugh—garlic, thyme, and a bit of salt and sugar. It’s passed through a chinois, that trusty kitchen strainer, to get a velvety texture. For the glaze, she burns honey so it's black and bitter and stirs in some apple cider vinegar for tang to balance it out. A sprinkle of shimmer powder and specks of gold, and you’ve got the full package. “Bitter, salty, sweet,” says Malone. As well as rich, complex, and downright delicious, we’d like to add, which is why it’s our best bite during our months-long search for the 2018 Restaurants of the Year.
Malone first became obsessed with French pastries as a teen growing up in St. Paul. Her home-economics teacher had a collection of French baking books, which she loved to flip through. “I’m not a sweets person, but the aesthetic, the craftsmanship, the skill that goes into them, it just blows my mind,” she says. She loved the books much that she slipped one in her bag to study on her own. “I still feel guilty about it,” Malone says. “But it opened this whole world that was so defined and refined and magical. I remember just reading it to understand how cakes work.”
Fast-forward to now, that cookbook has been lost during multiple moves, but Malone’s fascination with French pastry has remained. “I don’t do pastries often, but I love the precise, delicate look of them,” she says.
These days at Grand Cafe, she’s selling 15-20 of her riff on the Paris-Brest a day, a lot for the neighborhood restaurant.
“I’m kind of surprised,” she says. “They’re pretty intense, but people love it.”