Oh yes, it’s an art all right. Like sushi chefs, French pâtissières spend many years studying and perfecting their craft. Ginette Mathiot (1907 – 1998) taught three generations of French families how to cook. The author of over 30 cookbooks, running the gamut of French cuisine, this legendary food writer has brought together a definitive collection of classic French receipes in such bestselling tomes as Je sais cuisiner (I know how to cook) and Je sais faire la pâtisserie (I can cook pastry).
Translated by Clotilde Dusoulier, The Art of French Baking is a bible of fundamentals for anyone wanting to stretch their culinary savoir faire. Or anyone with a sweet tooth. Or a love of French cookery. Or all three.
This beautiful book, as snowy as an airy French meringue, is gorgeously designed, with simple typography that’s classically chic. Pocked with divinely retro and très français illustrations by Sara Mulvanny, the white on white pages also feature whimsically pastel photography by food pic talent Moko Inoue.
Before diving into the sugary fray, the author provides essential techniques to help die-hards perfect such culinary elusives as the perfect sauce, brioches, petits fours, sponge cakes and the dreaded pastry dough. A troubleshooting guide includes the answers to such conundrums as “my pastry has shrunk”, “my choux buns are tough” and “my puff pastry does not rise well” all lined up in a neat and orderly fashion.
The recipes are similarly ordered, sliced in fat sugary wedges . . . details of which you have been so patiently waiting, my pastry-loving friend.
Where better to start drooling than Basic Recipes – pastry of various incarnations, icings and fillings from fondant to ganache to creme pâtissière, custards, creams and sauces from sugar syrup to crème anglaise. Small Cakes includes rum babas, macarons, madeleines and the ubiquitous range of classic petit fours. There’s even my favourite – financiers – a light, cakey biscuit.
In gâteaux, we meet nut and fruit cakes, the Génoese spong, kugelhopf, roulade and savarin – a breadlike cake soaked in rum. The brioches will have your eyes rolling skyward with delight and yes – there are éclairs gleamed with slicked chocolate glaze and choux buns puffed with cream. Paris-Brest, mille-feuilles and enough tarts to light up the red light district of Amsterdam round out the Pastries and Tarts section, and Biscuits includes cigarettes (crisp and delicate rolls), sablés and langues de chat (cat’s tongues).
Milk and Egg Puddings feature a feast of custards including the toffee-encrusted crème caramel and brûlée, and meringues, soufflés and starch puddings finish off a virtual degustation of sweetness and light. With The Art of French Baking and its 350+ authentic recipes in your kitchen, the only thing missing will be a trip to Paris to compare your creations with the masters. Le sigh. Get the book then book your ticket. Any excuse.