Baking is more of a science than an art which is why we’ve always enjoyed it. Unlike cooking which relies more on intuition and will require a pinch of this and a dash of that “to taste”, baking tends to result in success when you follow recipes precisely, so we have eagerly anticipated the release of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Keller is the chef-proprietor of six renowned restaurants including The French Laundry as well as six Bouchon Bakeries – and he’s the only American chef to hold three star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. Bouchon Bakery is a step-by-step guide on how to create the famed treats that have made its namesake beloved in its many locations from New York to Las Vegas. You don’t achieve three Michelin stars with a laissez-faire attitude and Bouchon Bakery reflects both Keller’s passion for French and American baked goods – French patisserie, croissants, tarts, brioche and American cookies and cakes – as well has his philosophy of excellence throughout.
Written with the help of Sebastian Rouxel, the Executive Pastry Chef of Keller’s restaurants, as well as Matthew McDonald, head baker for Bouchon Bakeries, this trio doesn’t pretend that to get results like theirs recipes are ‘easy peasy’. They encourage precise measuring using digital scales, testing your oven to determine hot spots, cycling your oven at least three times to ensure even baking, and they even provide speeds on the KitchenAid 5-quart Artisan mixer that correspond to their definitions of low through high. Still, some of the recipes are remarkably easy and require just a few ingredients – Pecan Sandies for My Mom are composed of just flour, pecans, unsalted butter and powdered sugar with instructions simple enough for a novice baker. The book is also peppered with texts providing useful insider tips – the wisdom one can only accumulate by doing – such as how to handle dough (rolling it, resting it) and steps for making great bread advising patience and a commitment to seeing the process through step-by-step. Bouchon Bakery is written so thoroughly that even if you have never turned on your oven, with dedication and perseverance, you could fashion their treats at home.
While Keller pays homage to his French training with macarons, madeleines and financiers, teaching you how to make these indulgences which sound intimidating chez toi, he offers many American-style baked goods, like doughnuts, that he’s tweaked for grown-up palettes. For his TKO’s (Thomas Keller Oreos), they suggest Guittard Cocoa Noir which promises a dark dough and his Oh Ohs (Keller’s sophisticated take on Hostess Ho Hos) are enrobed in pâte à glacer. If you don’t have a particular sweet tooth, Bouchon Bakery still offers plenty to satisfy with options like Bacon Cheddar Scones, Corn Muffins and that holy grail of bakers the world round – how to make an impeccable baguette. Matthew McDonald writes “I’ve never made a perfect baguette, nor have I eaten a perfect baguette” despite baking about 1,000 a day – such is his drive for excellence.
What’s evident throughout is Keller’s devotion to his craft, seeking brilliance in every aspect of what he does. He even dedicates two pages to the importance of “Working Clean” relaying the advice he gives to those just starting out who ask him how to become a great chef: “Make sure your workstation is clean and organized at the end of the night.” When they stare at him, expecting more he says “And: translate that into everything you do.” It’s by this philosophy he lives and this degree of care is embedded in this tome at every turn. It’s the reason you need a digital scale to use this book (they give measurements like 161 grams of flour for the Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins and 126 grams of slice blanched almonds for the Florentines) and the reason the recipes tend to be long with very precise instructions – because Keller wants to you to achieve the superior results at home that he does at Bouchon.