Being a pastry chef is most possibly the best decision I’ve ever taken. Everyday, I have no words to describe the bliss I feel when I’m busy making things. Yes, making. With my hands dirty, and more often than never, with my apron too.
So yes, many say you can judge how good a pastry chef is by the look of his/her apron. In the books, it should be clean at all times.
Well, let me tell you one thing. I strongly think that if you can tell every bits and pieces of mise-en-place that’s been made with just a look at a chef’s apron, then it’s a good thing. Perhaps, it’ll become a joke. But I will know deep-inside that this chef gets things done.
And to me, that’s a very good start. The clean apron will come later, as every move will become smoother, faster and more precise. And if it never comes, you can always change it ten times a day (and I speak from experience on this point).
So today, I’d like to focus on skills and techniques that are the very essence of what makes a good pastry chef, in a kitchen or at home.
Because at the end of the day, I strongly believe it’s not about your position, or whether you trained in the most expensive schools, or simply love to spend your days off making pastries.
It really gets down to passion. A passion with no boundaries.
In fact, I know many passionate people who know more than the head pastry chef next door.
And that’s really the matter. To know, to be curious, to strive to learn always and forever more. To experiment, to fail, to success.
This is the very first step to becoming a pastry chef.
The list is not exhaustive, but should be considered as a checklist. You want to become a pastry chef? Then do some research and learn about:
- pâte brisée
- pâte sucrée
- pâte à foncer
- pâte feuilletée (perhaps, even inversée)
- pâte feuilletée levée
- pâte à choux
Is you pâte brisée crisp and flaky? Is your pâte sucrée melt-in-your mouth?
Do you know the difference between pâte brisée and pâte à foncer?
And what about your puff pastry? Is it light and break into million pieces in your hands? Do you know how to caramelise its top?
Are your croissants and pains au chocolat light with even layers and thin membranes? Do you see a honeycomb pattern when you slice into them? As for the technique, do you know a great tip that ensures even laminating?
Are you choux puffs consistent and hollow? Not wet and yet not dry? Can you glaze an éclair, shiny even after a few hours in the fridge, neat around the edges? Do you know that technique for fondant, the one that involves freezing it into small disks then letting it defrost over a choux?
Do you know brioche dough is an emulsion? Do you treat it as such? Can you knead it by hand or in a mixer without over-heating it? And which temperature should the butter be?
Are your savarins and babas light as a feather, with holes just so?
- pain de Gènes
- biscuit cuillère
- crème d’amandes
Do you know the difference between a génoise and a pain de Gènes? Is your génoise light and fluffy? Can you tell when it’s just baked, not overly so?
Can your dacquois holds its shape? What’s the purpose of the many different ratios of caster sugar versus icing sugar?
And the biscuit joconde. Why do you have to beat the mixture for so long? Can you spread it thinly enough in an even layer?
Are your biscuits cuillère soft and spongy rather than dry? Is your batter firm enough to keep its shape when piped? Do you always dust it with icing sugar at a 10-minute interval?
Can you tell when a macaron appareil has been macaronné enough? French or Italian meringue? Or even, as I now see it more and more, Swiss meringue? Which syrup temperature is best for the Italian meringue? Can you pipe macarons consistently? Are they shiny with a crisp crust and melt-in-your-mouth inners? Do they have beautiful feet? Do they crack in the oven, and why?
Is your crème d’amandes light and fluffy? Does it split and feel too buttery once baked? Is it too spongey?
- temper chocolate
Can you temper chocolate so that it snaps into shiny shards? Can you do it without a probe? Without a marble? Can you spread it to make décors with just a palette knife?
Do you know how to make a simple ganache? And how each ingredient works towards a smooth supple ganache?
- crème pâtissière
- crème mousseline
- crème diplomate
- crème Chiboust
- crème anglaise
- crème au beurre
Is your crème pâtissière super-smooth, not grainy? How do you do, just bring it to the boil or let it bubble for a few minutes to relax? Do you just pour the hot liquid over the egg mixture and let the magic happen?
Does your crème mousseline feel light? Does it split? And do you know what to do in case it does? Do you add the butter to the crème pâtissière, or the crème pâtissière to the butter? What about that story that says half of the butter should be incorporated into the hot pastry cream?
Do you know the right temperature to fold your whipped cream into the crème pâtissière to make a crème diplomate? How much gelatine is just enough to set it?
When making a Chiboust, hould you use a whisk or a maryse when folding the Italian meringue into the hot crème pâtissière? In fact, how hot should the pastry cream be when you do so?
Is you crème anglaise eggy? Is it smooth and just thick enough?
As for the bavarois, two things: how whipped your cream should be? How hot your anglaise or fruit purée?
Is your sabayon thick and glossy?
What is a crémeux: lemon, chocolate or other fruits? Does it hold its shape and yet melts in your mouth? Is it set just enough or could you kill someone with it?
Is your crème au beurre made with Swiss or Italian meringue? Which temperature do you need the meringue to be at before incorporating the butter? And how cold the butter should be? Why does it split? What to do if it splits?
Can you make the perfect quenelle with one spoon? Always the same size, with a pointy tip and a round back?
How to whisk, mix, combine, fold? Spread with a palette knife or an off-set palette knife? How to tell when a sponge is baked? How to whisk egg whites, fast or slow? And cream? Until which point for a mousse, a Chantilly?
How to glaze an entremet, with no air bubbles and a shiny glaze?
How, how, how… This is what should go through your mind every single second of every single day.
I’ll try and make step-by-steps for each and every of the above items, but in the meantime, get your aprons out, find recipes and compare them to each other, and get dirty.
Yes, definitely get dirty!