Our guest blogger is Vohn McGuinness who blogs over at Vohn’s Vittles.
Edinburgh Foody kindly sent me the new book Patisserie: A Step-by-step Guide to Baking French Pastries at Home by Murielle Valette to review. It is, quite simply, a beautiful book with stunning photographs throughout.
Ms Valette is from a family of French chefs and is currently head pastry chef at Michelin-starred Ockenden Manor Hotel, south of London. She is keen to break down the mysteries of French pâtisserie to make it accessible to the home-baker.
The tagline of the book is “a step-by-step guide to baking French pastries at home” and this book is certainly that. There are lots of step-by-step instructions accompanied by photographs of each stage to guide you through all aspects of pastry-making. The first section of the book is all about basic techniques and explains how to make different types of pastry, dough, sponge, creams and meringues. Each individual item is given its own recipe, step-by-step instructions and step-by-step photographs. I am very impressed by the puff pastry recipe, which even includes diagrams on where to make the folds, the direction to rotate the pastry, the order in which to make each fold and how long to refrigerate between each folding stage.
Following on from the basics, there is a chapter for each of five different kinds of pastry – sweet shortcrust pastry, sweet pastry, sablée pastry, puff pastry and choux pastry. These chapters have a range of recipes which use the pastry you learnt to make in the basics section. There are also extra how-to guides and more helpful tips, for example how to line a tart tin, how to make chocolate mousse filling, and how to poach pears. Then follows more chapters on other pâtisseries ranging from croissants to brûlées, to dacquoise, to cannelés, to macarons to florentines.
Essentially, think of French pâtisserie and it is likely to be in this book!
So we know the book has a beautiful look and step-by-step instructions but do these actually work? Can a home-cook use this book to make something beautiful?
I decided to have a go at baking the Sour Cherry and Pistachio Tartlets on page 80. One of my reasons for choosing this recipe is that it uses sablée pastry, which is a pastry I’ve never heard of before, let alone made! So this seems like a good test for the instructions.
Sour Cherry and Pistachio Tartlets
The ingredients list specifies 500g of sablée pastry and says to see page 10 – however the recipe instructions say to make the sablée pastry following the instructions on page 12. So, which is it? Page 10 or page 12? Not a big deal to decipher this, as page 12 is puff pastry and page 10 is sablée pastry. I put it down to a minor typo and turn to page 10. The instructions for sablée pastry are easy to follow and the option is given to prepare it using a food processor/ electric mixer or by hand. I choose to use to use my mixer and the instructions tell me that the step-by-step photos are on page 7 – but page 7 shows the photos for making sweet shortcrust pastry by hand – another page number typo! I compare the photo pages and see that the ones I want are on page 11. So here we go…
Mix 260g plain flour, pinch of salt, 120g icing sugar and 120g cold butter.
The recipe says to mix until the mixture has a sandy texture – this is a perfect description to help you know how long to mix for.
Then add an egg, mix and gather the pastry into a rectangle. Except my pastry is far too dry to gather together. I am surprised because I measured everything exactly, on electronic scales exact to one gram.
Not to worry, I mix an egg in a cup and add about a quarter of it. The dough seems just right now.
So I gather it together, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.
Next, back to page 80, and the instructions say to line the tartlet tins with the pastry – it calls for ten tartlet moulds 10cm in diameter – who even has 10cm tartlet moulds in their home kitchen, let alone ten of them?? I end up using six 9cm tartlet moulds and six 7cm ones. The recipe also guides us to see page 42. A quick flick to page 42 and here there is a step-by-step guide with full photo instructions on how to line a pastry tin – excellent!
The tartlet tins lined with pastry now go in the freezer whilst you make the pistachio cream.
The instructions for pistachio cream say to follow the method “on page 202 (same method as almond cream)”. I turn to page 202 and am now a bit confused as the pistachio cream recipe here uses gelatine. I have no gelatine, as the recipe I was following for the Sour Cherry and Pistachio Tartlets on page 80 didn’t mention gelatine in the list of ingredients. I am disappointed that I won’t be able to make the recipe until I go shopping again. Then I realise that this pistachio cream is one that sets in the fridge, whereas the recipe I am making requires a pistachio cream that will be baked. I remember that snippet of the instruction that said “same method as almond cream” so check the index and find an almond cream recipe on page 30. This cream says it is to be used to fill tart cases and must be baked in the pastry – eureka – this is the one I need to make!
I could only find whole pistachios…
but ground them up in my food processor.
The recipe says to sieve them and the result is a beautiful fine green sand.
However there does seem to be an awful lot left in the sieve. This seems like such a waste.
but I pop them in the freezer to use up in my next crumble mix, which I think will add a fabulous taste and texture to the crumble.
The sieved pistachios are mixed into creamed butter and sugar, with a little flour, and then lightened with two eggs. The end result gives a pistachio cream which looks lovely and creamy and light.
Next up is to make a cherry jam, which is very easy. Simply pop some red or black cherries in a pan with caster sugar…
Cook for 10 minutes over a low heat and leave to cool.
Now to blind bake the sablée pastry shells, straight from the freezer until golden brown.
Then the fun bit – to construct the tarts! First a teaspoonful of the cherry jam…
Then a tablespoonful of the pistachio cream
Then push some morello cherries in the top.
Bake until the cream is set, which takes about 18 minutes.
The final tart is delicious. The sablée pastry is a revelation – so crisp and crumbly that it is almost like a biscuit. The pistachio cream is light and sweet, whilst the sour morello cherries cut through it, balancing the taste beautifully.
I love these Sour Cherry and Pistachio Tartlets and will definitely make them again!
The smaller 7cm tarts are nowhere near as nice, as they don’t have the same depth of light pistachio cream – so you do definitely need to use 10cm moulds, or as close to 10cm as you have.
The only problem I now have is that I have lots of sablée pastry left over and some cherry jam and lots of morellos cherries – but no pistachio cream. So, the ratio of ingredients in the recipe seems a little off. I am not sure if I should maybe have ended up with more pistachio cream than I did because of the amount of pistachios which were left in the sieve – perhaps a home grinder isn’t good enough to grind the pistachios finely enough? Not to worry though, I have lined more tart tins with pastry and frozen them to use in the future. The cherry jam will probably get used up on toast as it is delicious, especially now I have mixed in the leftover morello cherries so it is now a sweet and sour cherry jam!
If I baked these again
I always love to find ways to break down a bake so I can make it over a couple of days, as I don’t always have the time or energy to have a full baking session in one day. So I did a few little experimental bakes to see what might work for this recipe.
First of all I froze a complete cooked tart and then defrosted it at room temperature. The pastry is still lovely and crisp, so definitely freezes well. However the pistachio cream had collapsed slightly, so was not so light with more of a gooey texture. The tart had the same lovely taste but not the same delightful texture.
For the next experiment, I made all the ingredients and then stored them in the fridge overnight. The pastry ends up more chewy than crisp and crumbly, whilst the pistachio cream is much more dense and somehow a lot sweeter in taste. This method results in a tart which is nowhere near as nice as being made fresh, or even as nice as frozen and then defrosted. It lacks the balance in textures and flavours.
So, my advice for making these ahead is to make the sablée pastry and line the tart tins, then freeze them uncooked. They will just need to be baked a few minutes longer at the blind baking stage. The jam could definitely be made ahead and stored in the fridge, or even frozen. The pistachio cream, however, definitely works best when baked freshly made, so this should be made just before filling the tarts for baking. I will definitely make the tarts again and will use this method for splitting the work over a couple of days.
The Sour Cherry and Pistachio tartlets recipe I tested yielded lots of delicious little tarts, which have a perfect balance in taste and texture. I will definitely be making more recipes from this book and am already planning profiteroles for Christmas Day. The book itself looks beautiful and has lots of handy step-by-step photos, instructions, handy tips and hints.
However the book is let down by the problem with incorrect page numbers being referenced within recipes. This could make things very confusing for a beginner baker, which is a real shame as this book would otherwise be ideal to learn how to make pâtisserie.
I would recommend this book and it would make a beautiful gift. However I must add the caveat that the recipient needs to have enough cooking experience to be able to realise when the wrong page number has been given and to work out the correct page number.
Patisserie: A Step-by-step Guide to Baking French Pastries at Home has a recommended price of £14.99