Maisons Laffitte is a charming market town which sits adjacent to the historic forest of St -Germain-en-Laye and is about 18km north west of the centre of Paris. Easily accessible by SNCF train or urban RER A, this bustling town boasts its own grand 17th century chateau which was designed for a wealthy Parisian aristocrat by the outstanding architect, Francois Mansart and then in 1777 purchased by the Count of Artois, brother of Louis XVI.

A town of many surprises, Maisons Laffitte is also the proud home to Patisserie Durand, the creator of the world famous Gateau de Paris-Brest.

Unassumingly tucked at the faraway end of the high street, the architecture of this shop is beautiful and coupled with its willing staff, transports customers into the timeless era of elegance. Its high airy ceilings, mirrored walls with intricate plaster relief topped by a huge glass chandelier, Durand is precisely as one would imagine a traditional bakers shop should be.

The three brothers Durand established their patisserie business in 1909, but it was the following year that they fashioned this ingenious idea - a ring shaped confection to coincide with the 1910 bicycle race from Paris to Brest (and back again). The race passed by the Croix de Noailles which today marks the crossroads of the D308 Poissy to Maisons Laffitte road with the busy N184 St-Germain-en-Laye to L'Isle-Adam, the form of the cake replicating the wheel of a bicycle and sold to the many spectators who brought picnics and congregated to cheer the cyclists.

Recipes for the Paris-Brest gateau appear in most good cookery books though I now appreciate that none of these are at all authentic, the original recipe being a closely guarded secret. Matters this does, as was passionately explained by Stefan Durand, great-grandson of the founders(pictured left). Paris-Brest is based on choux pastry and creme patissiere - a confectioner's pastry cream made with flour, sugar, butter and eggs, and finished with a sprinkling of toasted almonds and icing sugar. The uniqueness of this creation is the addition of almond praline (almond kernel and caramelised sugar) to its filling, the precise quantities and recipe for this being rightly concealed.

A tiny shop this may be, but sales are buoyant with over 100 large sized Paris-Brest sold on an average Sunday. Ever discreet, Stefan could not be drawn to name the famous who visit his store for their sweet treat, but many do - from Maisons Laffitte itself and further afield into both the Parisian suburbs, and Paris herself.

Baked freshly each day on the premises there are two versions - the famous ring shape which, incidentally is not piped through a nozzle, each one being individually spread onto the baking sheet by hand and also small individual cakes, which are not the expected ring-shape as seen in books and bakers shops. In fact, the individual cake has never been a ring the reason being that to produce a daily quantity like this would be just prohibitively time consuming ...... and their fat elongated shape actually holds a generous amount of creamy filling.

Patenting a design of this nature was unheard of at the turn of the 20th century and since then Stefan and his grandfather explored this avenue to protect what is rightfully theirs, but in order to do this something in the recipe would have to be changed and how could this be? Once something is changed it is no longer his great-grandfather's Paris-Brest.

Feather light and without hint of cloying sweetness I can honestly advise that until you have tasted the true Paris-Brest-Durand you have not experienced the genuine version, and quite honestly no imitation can ever be a match.

Durand - Patissier, Chocolatier, Traiteur (caterer)

9, avenue de Longueil

78600 Maisons Laffitte

France

tel: 01 39 62 01 83

email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Urban RER line A

With special thanks to Stefan Durand and the Durand family for generously welcoming us into their bakery and sharing their story.