Visit France and chances are you will be gazing into the windows of patisseries in every neighborhood or village – the French adore their pastries and travel great distances for a particular pastry done to perfection. The names of the pastries are lyrical like Coffee Religieuse or Croquembouche. They capture the sophistication and elegance that is French cuisine. But, why wait for a trip to France to enjoy pastries – become an expert yourself.
Jacquy Pfeiffer’s The Art of French Pastry (Knopf 2013) is an excellent place to start. He is the co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago and star of Kings of Pastry. His new book, co-authored with the industrious Martha Rose Shulman, is a thorough course in French pastry.
Start at the beginning with Jacquy’s story in French pastry, and then look closely at his chapter on Essentials. He includes links for his favorite machines and ingredients – really helpful if you are setting up a new kitchen or adding to pastry essentials to your kitchen. The next chapter is on fundamentals – like the very simple Sugar Icing Glaze (p. 5) made of confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice and water. He moves quickly onto Pate a Choux (pp. 11-20) with text and drawing illustrating how to pipe Eclairs, Paris-Breast or teardrops. Then he moves on to Brioche and Puff Pastry as well as all sorts of other essentials like pastry cream, and caramel. Most recipes take up several pages with photographs, step-by-step instructions for novices, and some hand holding:
Making puff pastry requires patience, perseverance, and practice. I highly recommend that you undertake this recipe in a cold or air-conditioned environment so that the butter does not become soft on you. If you’re a novice and you’re working in a hot kitchen in the middle of July, now is not the time for the puff pastry lesson. (p. 28)
But, if it is January or February, by all means go for it! And then use your puff pastry in Mille-Feuille (pp. 116-9) or Palmiers (pp. 227-9) or Gateau St. Honore (pp. 253-7). If puff pastry seems too daunting – or it is too warm – try making one of Jacquy’s Tarts or Cookies, or Cakes. There is even a chapter on Alsatian Specialties, like Kougelhof (pp. 287-301), Stollen (pp. 303-6) or Bettelman Aux Cerises (pp. 339-40) a kind of cherry cake made from leftover brioche, meringue, custard, and cherries. Of course, you’re going to have to make Brioche first (pp. 21-6) and have enough left over from your morning’s warm breakfast to save for the cherry cake.