Tour de France … has bicycles but no cake …

It’s Tour de France time of the year. If you live in France there is no way of escaping it; it’s on TV every afternoon and TV news every lunch time and evening at 8. It’s on the front pages of our newspapers. And on Sunday it will be right in our faces because on […]

It’s Tour de France time of the year. If you live in France there is no way of escaping it; it’s on TV every afternoon and TV news every lunch time and evening at 8. It’s on the front pages of our newspapers. And on Sunday it will be right in our faces because on that day the final étape (stage) will be raced on the Champs-Elysées. The avenue will be closed to traffic from Saturday night already and won’t open until after the trophy has been handed over.

The Tour de France is without argument the king of bicycle races, but another race, one which is perhaps more grueling, has been stealing a little of the Tour’s glory this year. This is the Paris-Brest-Paris race which in 1991 celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Paris-Brest-Paris, as it name indicates, is from Paris to Brest and then back to Paris. The cyclists are not allowed to receive any assistance and neither are they allowed to stop, and the distance is 1200 kms (746 miles). The race was organized by the Paris newspaper Le Petit Journal and the first race, in 1891, was won by a man named Charles Terront. He did the 1200 kms in 71 hrs 22 minutes. He was not a professional cyclist and today still amateur cyclists can compete. The race is staged every four years and the next should be next year.

But the Paris-Brest-Paris is being spoken of at the moment because of a cream cake – the Paris-Brest – created in 1910 in celebration of the race. French bakers are therefore celebrating the cake’s 100th anniversary. It is as popular today as it was at its creation. The cake I mean.

The Paris-Brest gâteau – the Paris-Brest choux circle, as it’s called in English – is in the shape of a wheel (see photo above) and it can either be a large cake or a small individual one. It is said to have been created by a baker in Maison-Lafitte, just outside Paris. The bakery was on the Paris-Brest-Paris route and the baker, Jean-Paul Durand, had in 1910 decided to bake a cake in the shape of a bicycle wheel and to call it a Paris-Brest. The cake was an immediate success and Paris bakers began to bake them too. But Durand’s fame quickly ended when a pastry shop across the street from him – Chez Bauget Maison – claimed that it had invented the Paris-Brest cake. It is a claim the descendants of the pastry shop’s original owner still uphold.

Bake I can’t, so I can’t give you the recipe for a Paris-Brest choux circle, but you will be able to find it on the Web. What it comes down to is a cake of choux pastry filled with praline cream and topped with baked almonds. It’s nice!

By the way, the Tour de France dates from 1903, so the Paris-Brest-Paris is a good 12 years older.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response

7-22-2010 at 13:42:10

I have a friend in Philadelphia who is mad about the Tour and loves Lance Armstrong in particular. I remember being in Paris a couple of times during the Tour. There was never much of anything else on French TV in those days anyway and it went on ad nauseum.

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