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Cookbook Review: La Pâtisserie des Rêves by Philippe Conticini and Thierry Teyssier

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La Pâtisserie des Rêves is one of the most beautiful cookbooks you will ever encounter.

Is “beauty” a good criterion for a cookbook? Often it is. When a publisher invests in full page four-color photos of every recipe then you know the publisher considers the book to have substance and hopefully a long publishing life.

The book title here literally means Patisserie of Dreams. Here the dreams are the remembrances of classic French patisserie recipes. Co-author Philippe Conticini is the chef half of the team, the very man who invented “verrines,” those vertical towers that delight Parisian diners and that ultimately will make their way around the world [go to Amazon to find book examples; you’ll be intrigued]. And co-author Thierry Teyssier is an advertising guru, the business half of the partnership.

The pair opened their first brick and mortar store in Paris in 2009. Expansion in Paris and then to London followed. Now comes this exceptional book.

Their concept is simple: present the classic French recipes, ones that they have tweaked and perfected. The reviews for their patisseries around Europe are exceptional. People have instantly gravitated to the stores and the treats that are consumed in quantity.

I say the recipes have been tweaked because, as an example, the Pâte Sucrée recipe uses 40% more butter than the standard recipe [but one less egg white and less flour].

And while they present their classic Gateau Saint Honoré, every store in France has their own twist on this recipe. Is there even such a thing as the “authentic” any more. Does it matter, because if you like Vanilla Crème and caramel, this version offers an abundance of both, gracefully atop the entire dessert.

Chapters, with some examples, are devoted to:

  • Viennoiseries: Light Kouign-Aman, Brioche Mousseline
  • Teatime Treats: Marbled Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake, Dreamy Madeleines
  • Salon de Thé: Floating Island, Fruit Tagine
  • Biscuits [aka Cookies]: Praline Shortbread, Coconut Snaps
  • The Classics: that Saint Honoré, Paris-Brest
  • Seasonal Fruit Tarts: Rhubarb Tart, Banana and Coffee Tart
  • Freestyle Cakes: Coffee Cake, Goats Cheese Tart with Mango and Avocado
  • Confectionary: Caramels [with salted butter], Sweet Chocolate Ice Cream
  • Lessons on Taste: basic recipes and techniques with insights into flavor

Unlike most books, the techniques and tools discussion comes right at the end. Open the book, get past the Table of Contents and you are immediately at recipe #1: Light Kouign-Aman. A couple of years ago, few of us knew about this recipe. Now, thanks greatly to Dominique Ansel and his bakery in Soho here in New York City, this Breton sugar specialty is a treat in demand everywhere. I’m not sure why this recipe is called “Light” because the authors don’t skimp on the butter or sugar.

None of the recipes in this book come with explanatory headnotes: there is simply the list of ingredients, the detailed instructions, and the matching full page picture. Yes, a picture can be worth a thousand words.

While these recipes are all classics from the authors’ childhood, several of them are ones where the flavors and the techniques are entirely new to me and possibly to you.

The Banana and Coffee Tart starts with a base of Pâte Sucrée. That foundation is topped with an Almond and Coffee Butter that includes crème patisserie and rum. A layer of fried bananas is applied and itself topped with a hazelnut and brown sugar streusel. The picture makes you think about licking the page. Or buying bananas.

The Coffee Cake is much, much richer and more complex than the American standard. This dish is an assembly of Coffee Sponge Cake, Hazelnut Streusel, Coffee Meringue, and Coffee Cream. Like that banana tart above, this dessert is not a mile-high. Its multiple layers lie snug against the table, but offer burst after burst of deep coffee flavors. It’s a treasure that awaits you.

The recipes here are “doable” by the typical American foodie with a sweet tooth. Some of the more beautiful, and layered deserts, like the Goat Cheese Tart with Mango and Avocado, have multiple components. You may need a dough, a cream, and some caramel or streusel. If you are starting from scratch, then these desserts can consume a long afternoon. It may be wise to divide the dessert preparation over two days, one for dough and crème, and one for other components and assembly.

There are treats, like the dough-centric Light Kouign-Aman, that simply require multiple steps with hours needed in each case for rising and resting. If you want these gems for breakfast, somebody is going to have to follow baker’s hours and rise by 3AM. More likely, you may be serving these for an afternoon tea or a late night dessert treat with coffee. The recipes here are authentic and you will not find “simplifying” or faux ideas. There are no shortcuts to quality.

The message of this book is that the desserts of your dreams are there for you to make real. You just need La Pâtisserie des Rêves, some time, some patience, and a fondness for dough and cream. Your creation may not quite match the beauty displayed in the photos here — the difference between foodie and professional is most evident, not in the taste, but in the visual presentation. I guess the only solution here is to make one, and make it again, and make it again. You will not find that to be onerous at all. Your friends and neighbors will probably want to help.

 

Cookbook Review: Pies and Tarts from The Culinary Institute of America and Kristina Petersen Migoya

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With the late July sun upon us, we are in High Pie Season. We can enjoy custard and cream pies year round, but late summer and fall are the times for the fruit wonders that first cross our minds when we hear “pie.” For some of us “pie” means a very bright strawberry treat or a deep, deep dish apple wonder that resonates cinnamon.

Most of us are a generation or two removed from having pie making as part of our normal, daily or weekly culinary life, the life where we are the ones making the pie. “Pie” now means a visit to a diner or defrosting something made in a factory. That’s a culinary tragedy.

To get back into personal pie mode, we need help and help has arrived in superlative fashion. Pies and Tarts, from the Culinary Institute of America and author Kristina Petersen Migoya, is the latest in the wonderful line of CIA books targeted to an expanding culinary audience.

The subtitle of the book tells it all: The Definitive Guide to Classic and Contemporary Favorites from The World’s Premier Culinary College. That is precisely what this book is about: a thorough education in the craft of making pies and tarts along with a bevy of recipes, some classic and many deliciously new. Kristina teaches at the CIA and has a lifetime spent loving and making pies. The CIA faculty and chefs are world class and have helped refine this book to the state of perfection you need to readily tackle and conquest any pie challenge before you.

What exactly does Pies and Tarts do for you? It will teach you the essentials for crafting a great pie or tart, both in terms of flavor and presentation. Certainly the “look” of that crust is as important as the flavor. Pies are inherently visual.

And Pies and Tarts provides a portfolio of recipes that will occupy you for a year, season by season. The recipes includes classics: Apple and Lemon Meringue. And new combinations reflecting emerging trends in flavors and highlighting the Hispanic influence that abounds: Maple Cream and Dulce de Leche.

The book has eight chapters that come in a natural order and span all the intelligence you need:

  • Tools, Equipment and Ingredients
  • Techniques
  • Pie and Tart Crusts
  • Fruit
  • Cream
  • Custard
  • Chocolate and Nuts
  • Savory
  • Finishing Techniques and Recipes

Those first three chapters get your grounded in the techniques and methodology for creating superior pies and tarts. The Tools chapter covers everything from rolling pins to which apples are best at what times of year. The Techniques chapter uses panels of photos to take you through the mechanics of getting a crust positioned just right over that pie dish, no matter what the size.

Have you ever had a crust fall apart on you as you tried to drape it over your pie pan? Not a good pie day, and here Pies and Tarts will provide guidance and insurance.

The Crusts chapter has a dozen recipes, some classic and then there is a pretzel example and one for empanadas based on masa harina and ready to be filled with veggies or beef in the recipes that follow.

The Fruit chapter has all the classics but the fun is the new flavor ideas: Strawberry Balsamic, Bellini Peach, Concord Grape, and Roasted Ginger Plum. I can’t wait for the concord grapes to arrive in that limited fall window to make, bake, and consume.

The Cream chapter is similar. It presents classics like Vanilla Cream coupled with new treats: Chocolate Malt, Chocolate Nutella, German Chocolate, Maple Cream, and Chai Vanilla. Yes, maple cream is not brand new but it’s one of those neglected flavors that now is abundant in recipes, both sweet and savory. And, yes, there is a separate chocolate chapter but Kristina has graciously seeded chocolate ideas everywhere. My kind of author.

The Custard chapter has the same story. Classic pumpkin pie but also Pumpkin Cheesecake, Maple Pumpkin, Chocolate Chess, Shoo-Fly, Creamy Maple, Bittersweet Chocolate Mocha Tart, Honey Orange, And Dulce De Leche. These are treats here to enjoy year round. However though, the Creamy Maple and Maple Pumpkin are ideas for your holiday feasts as this year concludes.

The Chocolate and Nut chapter offers Maple Pecan, Hazelnut Coffee, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Pretzel Tart, Walnut Caramel Tart, and of course Salted Caramel. You find salted caramel recipes everywhere, I know. For a good reason: salted caramel is delectable and this pie recipe is a grand one for your first salted caramel step.

The Savory chapter offers both year round and seasonal treats: Kale Bacon and Onion Quiche, Chicken Potpie, Vegetable Potpie, Black Bean and Corn Empanadas, Crab and Chive Tart, Bacon Crème Fraiche and Spring Onion Tart, Ham Asparagus and Cheddar Quiche, Artichoke and Parmesan Tart, plus Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart. Some ideas here are designed for spring, using asparagus or spring onions. But others can be relished year round, like the Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart.

The final Finishing chapter offers ideas to round out your pie repertoire plus some clever recipes. There are crumb toppings, washes and glazes. The technique to make perfected blowtorched meringue is amply displayed in photos. There are guidelines on how to refresh pies by reheating, plus tips for freezing: bake with fresh fruit then freeze for enjoyment when the snow is on the ground.

The recipes include a new technique for easy candied whole nuts, some gallant bourbon whipped cream for your pumpkin and maple pies, and brown sugar and oat crumble topping to top fruit and berry pies.

Pies and Tarts is a book for pie lovers, eaters, and bakers of all skill levels. If you are already pie experienced in your own kitchen, there are new recipes here to try, plus education to boost your skills. If you have never made a pie in your life, now you can. With confidence and success.

Pies and Tarts has been recently published. Go take a look, browse, savor, and bake away.