Written by: Chef Alexandre
Editor’s note: We are pleased to introduce to you the Art of…French Pastry, with Alexandre Cavezza. This introductory article is the first of the series, which will include both articles and videos. Our goal, simply, is to bring to our art lovers little “tastes” of French lifestyle, in addition to the innovative works of our artists. Profitez-en bien !
The Art of…French Pastry
French gastronomy has been included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2010. UNESCO experts believe that French cuisine strengthens the collective identity of France and contributes to the cultural diversity of the world. Cooking is French art, but what about pastry making? Even if both activities take place in the kitchen, cooking and pastry making are two very different things!
Let’s start by explaining the characteristics of pastry-making…
The art of French pastry greatly developed in the 16th century. Within pastry making, there is great variety: shortcrust pastry, puff pastry, choux pastry, sablée pastry…and so on.
An art…or a science?
On the other hand, pastry has a limited number of ingredients, unlike cooking which has hundreds. Indeed there are hardly ten ingredients at our disposal to make all the French desserts: flour, egg, sugar, milk, cream, butter, chocolate, yeast, gelling agent, salt, fruits… It is the combination of all or part of these ingredients, with very precise processes (recipes), that allows us to carry out all the pastry making as a whole.
Pastry is therefore characterized by very rigorous and precise recipes. Nothing is left to chance: the order of mixing, the temperature, the time, the quantities… everything must be measured! A good pastry chef doesn’t need to taste to know if it is successful. They simply need to observe their preparation: the color, the shine, the texture, and the shape – these are all clues to know if a dessert will be successful or not. Pastry is very close to chemistry in its rigor, it is not a matter of mixing ingredients randomly or without precision and then baking!
The Tools of the Trade
That’s why a good pastry chef has good instruments. The first is a scale accurate to the milligram because everything must be weighed, even the eggs. Indeed the weight of eggs varies from 40 to 60g so 4 eggs can go from 160g to 240g! This can make a lot of recipes go wrong. So the first tip is to always weigh your eggs…
The second essential tool is a thermometer with a probe for measuring temperatures to the nearest degree. Indeed, to make an Italian meringue, you need a syrup at 118°C, no more, no less. To make a custard, you need to heat the preparation to 82°C, no more, no less.
The third essential tool to free up your hands and move forward quickly is a KitchenAid (TM) type mixer/blender. Indeed, you need to be able to do several things at once to make a pastry in a reasonable time (and not spend all day!). While the robot is mixing the dough or whipping a meringue, you can make a syrup or a cream and go twice as fast.
There are many other instruments but the 3 previous ones are really essential for those who want to start making beautiful French pastries.
A Beloved French Tradition
In France, pastry making is the object of very long and difficult pieces of training for those who want to become “Meilleur ouvrier de France” (France’s best pastry Chef). “Pâtisserie” then becomes art and sometimes a luxury: the macaroons of La Durée for example are world-famous. Numerous television programs have been created after the French love for pastry: it’s pretty, it’s tasty, makes you dream, and puts magic in your life.
That’s what the art of French pastry is all about!