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Four-star desserts from France

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Two enticing desserts that deserve a drum roll and a flag are a Paris-Brest and a dacquoise. What these four-star palatal gems don't deserve is their fussy reputations that tend to intimidate everyday home kitchen cooks.

A traditional Paris-Brest is a large circular pastry made of pate a chou (cream puff pastry), filled with sweetened whipped cream, sprinkled with almonds , and dusted with confectioners' sugar.A dacquoise is a cake of meringue layers made with ground almonds, filled and iced with buttercream, and usually dusted with confectioners' sugar. Variations on these themes, as in the following recipes, are up to you. For example, you may wish to fill the Paris-Brest with a richer egg-based custard cream or the dacquoise with a lightly flavored maple buttercream.

In any case the first rule of baking fancy desserts is to stop debating and plunge ahead, all excuses barred.Nobody need be a master French pastry chef to make decent home versions of these ambrosis. Nor does anybody need be a graduate of a cooking schoold or an appreciate in a Paris restaurant. The unclosed secret of success is this: Just do it.

Practice makes better, but even the first baking of these desserts produces a sigh from lucky families and guests. Paris-Brest Pastry: 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 1 cup milk 1/9 cup sweet butter, in pieces 4 extra large eggs, room temperature 6 almonds, blanced, chopped Filling: 1 cup sweetened apricot puree 1 1/2 cups all-purpose cream, whipped 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar Glaze: 3 tablespoons apricot jam

For the cake, mix flour, salt, and sugar. Set aside. In a large heavy saucepan, bring the milk and butter to a boil. Immediately, pour all the flour mixture into the milk, remove from heat, and mix fast and thoroughly. The pastry dough (pate a chou) will form a ball. Cool for 2 to 3 minutes. With a wooden spoon, vigorously beat in eggs one at a time.

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