Patisserie: Mastering the Fundamentals of French Pastry
It seems like cookbooks are the new coffee table display item with many publishing houses now producing glossy, beautifully photographed tomes that are as much picture book as recipe guide. Publishers like Phaidon, once better known for their weighty art tomes, are churning out glossy, well-designed books by the dozen, bringing the same standards of excellence to their cookery volumes as their design and fashion monographs. Rizzoli, an imprint we’ve always associated with cultural publications, has gotten into the same game and their hot pink Patisserie: Mastering the Fundamentals of French Pastry by Christophe Felder is a fantastic example of such an effort. With 210 recipes, it may be the only dessert cookbook you need.
Felder began his career at Fauchon, the legendary Parisian gourmet food purveyor and also worked at Guy Savoy, the famed Michelin three-star restaurant. At just twenty-three he became pastry chef at the world renowned Hôtel de Crillon where he remained for fifteen years before founding his own pasty school in Strasbourg, France. This 800-page book draws upon his teaching methods at his pastry school and is the English compilation of ten French volumes Felder created to “demystify the intricacies of professional pastry making” so that bakers could achieve delicious results at home. Patisserie is helpfully divided into chapters according to dessert type including Classic Cakes and Desserts, Macarons and Petit Fours. But what’s particularly compelling about this jam-packed book is that it includes 3,200 photographs. There are, of course, those food porn shots that make your mouth water, but the majority of the imagery is actually in the form of step-by-step numbered guides offering instructive captions showing you exactly what the texture of your dough or batter should be or how to execute a particular technique, reassuring you that you are on the right track.
A guide offering practical tips on how to use the book is at its rear but should be introductory reading. Some suggestions are common sense such as reading the recipe through from start to finish, practicing mise en place so that everything is within reach once you begin, and using a scale (although measurements in cups are also provided for those more happy-go-lucky types). He also specifies using a convection oven, unsalted butter, and large eggs (unless otherwise indicated). Felder has helpfully rated his recipes from easy (those he reassures can be completed by novices) such as Strawberry Tiramisu to advanced (those requiring previous skill and experience) such as Chocolate Chestnut Layer Cake but he promises that even his complex recipes can be mastered with some practice.
All the classic French desserts are held within this weighty tome such as Choux Pastry, Chocolate Financiers and an incredible variety of macarons. But Felder has definitely created a style of his own, going beyond these standards and embellishing to create desserts with a sense of fun and whimsy. A chapter is dedicated to decorations and there Felder teaches you how to bake strawberry chips, candy rose petals and use almond paste to create tiny mice and gorillas. Applied properly, these adornments are sure draw admiration. As any baker worth their sugar knows, precision counts and Felder advises that his recipes must be followed “scrupulously” in order to achieve the desired effect – he doesn’t say a pinch will do when 5 grams is what’s required. But he guarantees beautiful results if his clear and careful instructions are followed with care.