Simply Sensational Desserts / Room for Dessert
Simply Sensational Desserts: 140 Classic Desserts for the Home Baker From New York's Famous Patisserie and Bistroby Francois Payard
Broadway Books, 236 pp., $35
Room for Dessert: 110 Recipes for Cakes, Custards, Souffles, Tarts, Pies, Cobblers, Sorbets, Sherbets, Ice Creams, Cookies, Candies, and Cordialsby David Lebovitz, Alice Waters, and Michael Lamotte
HarperCollins, 221 pp., $30
Being a baker/pastry cook by trade, I'm naturally very interested when new baking books show up on the market. However, in recent years my interest has been tempered with a healthy dose of skepticism when the authors are restaurant pastry chefs, because the resulting books are often filled with intricate recipes for elaborate architectural masterpieces rather than flavorful desserts. This fall, pastry chefs in two of America's major restaurant markets have new cookbooks, out and I'm pleased to report that each offers many recipes that are very accessible to the home baker.
Frenchman Francois Payard is a third-generation pastry chef who was raised in the family bake shop, Au Nid des Friandises in Nice, France. Perhaps anyone who grew up in a bakery whose name translates to "the essence of sweetness" was destined to be an exceptional pastry chef, and the young Payard has certainly done that. After the traditional French apprenticeship and obligatory military service, Payard was pastry chef at famous Paris restaurants La Tour d'Argent, Le Toit de Passy, and Lucas Carton, making a name for himself as a craftsman who created food rather than architectural "toys." When he emigrated to New York City, he worked at Le Bernardin and then Restaurant Daniel before striking out on his own to open Payard Patisserie & Bistro in Manhattan two years ago. Quite a series of accomplishments for a man not yet 35 years old!
Payard's newest accomplishment is Simply Sensational Desserts, a collection of more than 100 of his signature desserts adapted for use in the home kitchen. He chose Broadway Books because their 1998 work with Jean-George Vongerichten successfully translated that four-star chef's recipes for home use, and Payard was determined to put out a book home bakers could actually use. Therefore, the signature recipes of Payard Patisserie have been transformed by reducing the number of steps involved, simplifying the necessary ingredients and required equipment. The result is a book full of mouthwatering recipes that actually work.
Payard first provides readers with recipes for the building blocks of his pastries, such as an all-purpose sweet tart dough, genoise, pastry creams, buttercreams, glazes, nut pastes, and sauces. Mastery of these basic recipes makes it possible to create some of the exceptional desserts in subsequent chapters filled with cakes, tarts, souffles, cookies, petit fours, sorbets, candies, and holiday desserts. So far, I've found inviting recipes in every chapter.
Being a lover of crisp cookies, I couldn't wait to try the delicate Coconut Tuiles, which are the perfect complement to sorbets or mousse, and the buttery Galette Noisettes, a classic French after-school treat rich with the flavor of hazelnuts. Both cookies were very successful and disappeared quickly. Payard includes his father's Lemon Pound Cake and Apple Cake in a chapter on weekend cakes, and each recipe renders a simple, straightforward cake that would travel well to a family outing or serve as an unadorned treat with afternoon tea or coffee.
The sections on chocolate cakes and tarts and tartlets offer many enticements. Among them are the Chocolate Pudding Cake, which is really just an excuse to serve cool slices of dense chocolate ganache, and a much more elaborate Gateau Alexandra, a dessert named for Payard's wife which features an oval of chocolate mousse encased in batons of crisp chocolate meringue. The Lemon Tart will delight lemon lovers with a tangy filling complemented by a buttery pastry crust. Rustic tarts with both peaches and figs look like the perfect summer accompaniment to homemade ice cream, and the Hazelnut Tart with Chocolate Chantilly Cream makes a crunchy caramel alternative to pecan pie. While Payard's book won't turn novice home bakers into accomplished French pastry chefs overnight, the recipes are approachable to anyone willing to follow them carefully to achieve simply sensational results.
Former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz taught recipes from his new book, Room for Dessert, to a sold-out class at Central Market late last month, and after preparing some of his recipes it's easy to understand why. In keeping with Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters' passion for simple preparations of fresh, flavor-rich seasonal ingredients, Lebovitz presents a collection of intriguing recipes that dessert-loving home bakers can easily use.
The chapter on cakes offers several temptations. There's the Coconut Cake (reported to be the annual dessert of choice for Alice Waters' father's birthday), which is a simple sponge cake brushed with dark rum syrup, filled with a coconut custard enhanced with vanilla beans and frosted with sweetened whipped cream. I was surprised to see that Lebovitz includes flourless chocolate cakes, the Chocolate Orbit, a Chocolate Pave, and the Gateau Victoire, but each has a different flavor and texture, and the tip about cutting the delicate Gateau Victoire with dental floss is a great one. I'm anxious to try the Persimmon Cake with some wild persimmons picked by a friend, and the Plum Huckleberry Upside Down Cake will be high on my list of things to try in late summer. The recipe I'm most eager to try, however, is a Meyer Lemon Semifreddo, in which layers of sponge cake are brushed with lemon syrup, filled with tangy lemon curd, and sprinkled with Amaretti. Now if I can just find a local purveyor that carries the small California Meyer lemons, I'll be in business!
Not surprisingly, Lebovitz's chapters on fruit desserts and sorbets and ice creams are packed with recipes showcasing the excellent produce available to a California pastry chef. There are tarts with apricots and cherries, pies with Concord grapes, cobbler with pineapple, rhubarb and raspberry, and nectarines baked with pistachios and ginger. Frozen or congealed dessert flavors include combinations of mango and strawberry, citrus fruits and kumquats, tangerines, and passionfruit. While Central Texans won't have access to the same bounty of produce year-round, many of these recipes should be possible here when fruits are in season.
I was particularly intrigued by the section on Liqueurs and Preserves; here, the author provides some of his favorite methods for preserving his favorite fruits in jams and marmalades plus vodka-based formulas for making liqueurs at home. He offers these recipes both as components of other desserts and as interesting gift ideas. I'm especially curious about the Vin D'Orange, an aperitif made with tart Seville oranges and Nocino, an Italian liqueur made with green walnuts and spices that Lebovitz suggests as a flavoring for custards or a syrup to pour over ice cream. The Pineapple Ginger Marmalade and Fig Jam both look like things I'd like to try.
Working my way through Room for Dessert, I had the same reaction I've had to other cookbooks based on recipes from Chez Panisse. I have a serious suspicion that the dishes presented would be so much easier to prepare and ultimately taste better if I had access to the same bounty of quality produce and specialty ingredients as the folks who cook at Chez Panisse. Lebovitz's recipes are very accessible and easy to reproduce; home bakers should have no problem with them. However, in such simple recipes that depend on the rich, natural flavors of seasonal produce at the peak of freshness for true success, you may wish you had Alice Waters' restaurant forager to do the pre-baking shopping.