Sometimes there are multiple reasons to buy a cookbook:
- The recipes: old favorites or shiny new toys or both
- The writing: direct and easy to follow, especially when you have a hot pot on the stove, a thermometer in one hand and a dripping whisk in the other
- The education: the new ideas and techniques you can fold, literally, into your portfolio of culinary skills
- The book layout: immediately attractive, even seductive
- The pictures inside: lots and lots of big color pictures that make you salivate but also give you some confidence, and a bevy of smaller ones displaying the step-by-step details that ordinarily haunt you
- The cover picture: a signature dish you want to make and eat, now
Pâtisserie by the distinguished husband and wife team of William and Suzue Curley is exactly this kind of book. This is a fun book, filled with recipes that will take you months or years to work through [if you do this book in a week, then you need professional help, or your are ready to open that bakery].
But this is also a serious book, one that will educate you with details about “the basics” and provide you with a symphony of dessert recipes. There isn’t a better pastry book combining both the detail and the friendliness of Pâtisserie. This week, on this blog, I’m reviewing five pastry books. No, I’m not going to pick “the” one to buy, for reasons that will appear on Sunday when I summarize the week. You’ll need more than one book, but if you are “serious” about your pastry skills, then Pâtisserie is a book you simply must have.
The book is divided into three parts:
- The Basics: 20 pages on ingredients and techniques
- The Foundation: 100 pages on essential recipes, from doughs to decorations
- The Pâtisserie: over 200 pages with 90 recipes displaying an unparalleled diversity of flavors, colors, and layers
The Basics section is short but intense. Here are descriptions and pictures that will tell you how to outfit your kitchen as a modern pastry factory. Do you need everything here? Maybe. If you want to work your way through this marvelous book, then your journey will include purchasing some tools you may not have: silicone baking mats, a madeleine pan, metal rings in various shapes and sizes, plastic moulds, …
The Foundation section will immediately impress you. Other books have a dozen or so key recipes to master, as components, before going on to individual dessert ideas. There are 140 items here: both recipes and variations and techniques. Yes, more things here than the actual recipes later in the book. No, you don’t need to master everything here before getting to the good part, those actual desserts. But lingering here will make you much more skilled. For example, there are two main techniques for making pastry dough: the crumbling method and the creaming method. Both are discussed and illustrated with a dozen step-by-step photos. The authors are doing everything possible to educate you and make sure you succeed.
In the recipes in this section, there are often multiple photos guiding you along the way. How do you turn that puff pastry as you make it? The pictures make it immediately clear. [Ever read a puff pastry description and gotten lost: left versus right, top and bottom?]
Confused about meringues? Italian versus French versus Swiss? In three pages you both read and see the differences. Need a crème? You’ll find Crème Pâtissière plain and chocolate and caramel, Crème Chiboust, Crème Diplomat regular and ginger, Crème Mousseline, Crème Chantilly regular and chocolate, Crème au Beurre regular and coffee and chestnut, and much more. If you discover one of these elements, where do you use it? There’s a handy guide at the bottom of each page directing you to individual recipes employing this component.
That’s an essential element of Pâtisserie: everything has a purpose and an eventual role in some delight down the road. Explore anything here and you’ll find a rich avenue to travel and eventually taste.
The Pâtisserie section has all the recipes gathered into key groups:
- Pastries and Leavened Specialties
- Petits Gâteaux [that the Fraise de Bois and Sudachi Teardrop on the book cover]
- Entremets [Complex multi-layered and multi-flavored cakes]
- Baked Cakes
- Petits Four
A typical recipe includes a gorgeous full page picture, a battery of smaller pictures showing key steps, and one or two [or sometimes three] pages of ingredients and procedure.
The mix of recipes includes classics and new ideas presented by the authors, like their Citrus Slice with layers of chocolate sponge cake, macaron, chocolate mousse, ganache glaze, lemon syrup and lemon ganache all topped with a citrus macaron. Yes, there is modest overlap with the recipes in other pastry books, but the battery of new ideas here make Pâtisserie a worthy investment of your time and money.
The full page photographs, by Jose Lasheras, can only be described as luscious. There is clever use of shaded lighting while the variegated background colors match the gradations in the dessert. The photos become still-life art pieces, intensely inviting you to bake away.
The recipe instructions are carefully written and ordered. You are taken though each creation in a precise order. Yes, to create these desserts “some assembly is required.” But professional pastry chefs, although creative, are accustomed to making quantities of each delight, so they do have a “production line” mentality: do this, then this, then this. It’s not really authoritarian and it certainly helps us non-professionals work through a composition that, tasty as it is, is also complex. Each step here is one or two sentences long. Readily understood and executed.
You want a masterpiece? Just patiently follow their orders. These are not five-minute or one-bowl recipes. You’ll need time, your kitchen may display intensive usage, and you’ll probably want to clean up before you eat. But anything you make from Pâtisserie will put a smile on your face and confidence in your heart. Take Pâtisserie one sublime recipe at a time. It’s a wonderful book.
While half of all marriages end in divorce, no marriage of corn and crab ever has. Be it in a salad, a dip, a soup — or some other creation — the two flavors seem to automatically merge into one overpowering burst of pleasure. This dip is rich, so it can serve as the centerpiece for you cocktail party appetizers. This dip is rich, so you really don’t want to “make a meal” of it.
Although, some of us …
Everything in moderation. I’ve adapted the recipe from the one in Comfort Foods by Better Homes and Gardens. Here I suggest fresh corn and fresh crab. Try to get your crab from one of those pictured crab legs, meaty and moist. Canned crab simply does not have the vitality of freshly cooked.
This recipe calls for Monterey Jack with jalapeno, but you can easily use another cheese of your preference and, again if you wish, add some heat with sliced jalapeno or other hot peppers. Adjust the amount of onion, if you desire, and the color as well: red or white instead of green. For some non-jalapeno zip, a single diced clove of garlic can be substituted. A dash or two of hot sauce will simple seal the deal between crab and corn.
If you were to use an abundance of cheese — 2 cups instead of 1, so the bubbly mass at the end is rather fluid, then you have an excellent adornment for baked potatoes.
Roasted Corn and Crab Dip
Yield: 10 servings
- 1 cup corn kernels, off the cob
- 1 cup chopped red sweet pepper [1 large]
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup cooked crabmeat, cartilage removed
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers [or similar “hot” cheese], about 4 ounces
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup sliced green onion
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Broken tostada shells, toasted baguette-style French bread slices, and/or crackers
Preheat an oven to 375°F. Coat a 1-quart quiche disk or shallow baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
Heat a small cast iron skillet on medium-high and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the corn and red pepper. Cook stirring constantly until the pepper has softened and the corn kernels are still al dente. You goal is to have pepper pieces and corn kernels just past the first point of being comfortably eaten.
In a medium bowl stir together crabmeat, cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, green onions, and black pepper. Stir in the cook pepper and corn. Transfer the mixture to the prepared quiche dish.
Bake, uncovered, about 20 minutes or until bubbly around the edges.
Served with the broken tostada shells, toasted bread, or cracker.
Source: modified from Comfort Food by Better Homes and Gardens
Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/4 for 1/25th second at ISO‑1600