Usually, no one would ever associate riding a bicycle with food consumption. However, surprisingly enough, the history of Paris-Brest cake goes hand in hand with the history of cycling. Indeed, the story of Paris-Brest dessert commences with the bicycle race. We are not talking about Tour de France now, as another bicycle race leads us to the creation of the delicious French dessert.
Which came first: the Paris-Brest cake or the bicycle race?
The end of the 19th century coincided with the end of the era of grand-bi, a bicycle with high wheels. A safer model of a bike turned up in 1885. After that, cycling quickly became a trendy sport. A French journalist, Pierre Giffard, the director of the Petit journal, stayed on top of sport tendencies and saw the immense potential in future bicycle races.
Having an adventurous and enterprising mindset, Pierre organised a bicycle race to promote his journal for a wider audience. Imagine: 1,200 kilometres between Paris and Brest, a naval town in Brittany, became a racetrack in 1891. In the early morning of 6 September 1891, amateurs and professional cyclists went for their long ride to Brest and back. After the first success, it was decided to repeat the race every ten years.
Nineteen years after, Pierre planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the competition. Bearing in mind that delicious food is always a good idea to attract the audience, he asked Louis Durand, a famous pastry chef in Maisons-Laffitte, to make a special cake for the upcoming race. As expected, the original shape of a cake, resembling a bicycle wheel and its high caloric value, made it extremely popular among race cyclists.
The cake quickly found its home in every pastry shop all across France. Unfortunately, there are no photos of Louis Durand’s Paris-Brest. But it seems there were versions of this cake topped with bread dough spokes, mimicking the bicycle wheel’s spokes.
Real Paris-Brest VS fake Paris-Brest
What does a real Paris-Brest cake look like? In addition to its round shape, this one is made with pâte à choux, a hollow pastry with topped almonds, and filled with mousseline – hazelnut praline cream. The square or rectangular cake saves the taste and flavour of the original cake, but not its shape.
Snacks during modern races
Are you curious whether race runners get delicious desserts similar to Paris-Brest during the sports competitions today?
- During the London Marathon in 2019, runners were proposed to eat pizza, burgers and fries.
- Bicycle riders participating in the Tour de France eat nothing fancy but Al dente pasta and rice that guarantee a long-lasting energy supply.
If you are eager to try Paris-Brest cake, you will go to a typical French pastry shop instead of going to a race. Nowadays, the legendary cake is popping up in all French patisseries. Do not limit yourself to macarons and crème brûlée – try the wheel-shaped pastry even if you have nothing to do with cycling.
The cake is turning heads in other countries, including the USA. Pronounced as “pah-ree-breast”, the cake’s name often creates misconceptions in American restaurants. For example, while looking at the cake’s name on the menu, people might imagine a dome-shaped dessert. However, after having read our article, you will never be embarrassed while ordering Paris-Brest!
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Olena Khomiakova is a Schuman Communication Trainee Terminology Coordination Unit. Currently she is enrolled as a Master student in Learning and Communications in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg.