I do love sweets. Every morning, I typically eat in a nice bakery and I always order a dessert after my dinner. Am I big and fat? Not yet
So why do we treat sweets like our figure’s worst enemies? To answer this question, I interviewed one of the best pastry chefs in Riga, Julija Baranova. She studied in France under famous French pastry and confectionery chefs, which gives her hobby and life-passion a solid educational background.
Julija makes amazing French desserts, with which she has totally spoiled me
So let’s find out how you can have your cake and eat it…
Julija, how about a few words on why desserts are treated as the figure’s worst enemies?
My most common childhood dessert was two biscuits with something sweet in between. Alternatively, cupcakes with butter or butter cream. Butter is widely used to create cream’s firm consistency. I remember heavy cakes from my childhood: sugar roses, biscuits, loads of white fat butter cream and maybe some jam if we were lucky.
Desserts were associated with enormous sweetness and enormous harm to your figure. Sweet lovers always been painted as fat & unlucky.
From stodgy cakes to high-end pastry
But wait. At the same time, a revolution has been going on – a revolution in pastry-making. The mighty Gaston Lenotre, the father of the modern patisserie, started to do something that turned the dessert world from being only sweet and heavy to light and textured, with tastes like sour, salty, bitter, etc. He started to lighten desserts, swap butter for whipped cream, add gelatin to the cream, use the freezer to make cream, take out the butter and sugar.
Amazing Pierre Hermes continued his work and perfected it. He invented high-end pastry. Thanks to him, pastry has become part of the realm of luxury, design and creation. Desserts became heavenly light, using jellies, cremeaux and all kind of tastes, not only sweet.
Fruit essences, such as passion fruit, guava, lime and mango are used extensively.
This year’s world pastry chef champion, Guillaume Mabilleau, (he won the world’s best patisser’s prize in 2011), his latest dessert collection is not ridiculously sweet.
The more sugar we eat the less sweet we feel
It’s a vicious circle that makes us eat Cinnabon. It’s the same with a salty taste: it kills everything else, if added excessively.
French chefs cancel out sugar with salt. They commonly use a lightly-salted caramel in desserts. Just to have one sweet taste in a dessert – it tastes bad. No matter how many fruits you add – if there’s lots of sugar, you won’t taste anything but the sugar.
According to the modern rules of patisserie, sugar shouldn’t make up more than 20% of the total ingredients. By taking away excessive sugar, all of the harmony in the universe is just in front of us.
The world of patisserie is an entire universe and it’s beautiful in its variety. The range of textures and tastes is huge.
Textures – there should be at least four textures in a dessert. Crispy, creamy, soft, mousse, etc. French chefs like biscuits without flour, or cook without using yolks.
What about French classics?
Classics never die. Take the Opera cake – the most famous French cake, and the invention of Gastone Lenotre. The only cake left untouched, with classic butter cream. 700,000 copies have been produced in the world. And, if made right, it’s not too sweet.
A decent French confectioner will make a dessert that consists of just 20% sugar, at least 2 aromas, 1 cream or mousse. Mousses are a very popular world trend in confectionery now.
The value of a dessert is not in its sweetness but in the number of textures. There has to be at least 4 textures in a dessert.
Why is fine patisserie so expensive and so insanely tasty?
The answer is, the combination of a master’s hand and the ingredients.
For example, one French confection, called Valrhona, has more than 100 flavors and costs $40 per 2 lbs. A king’s hazelnut costs $90 per 35oz.
The Tahiti vanilla is more expensive than the ordinary vanilla, thus more aromatic.
Olivier Bajard’s tiny piece of caramel candy costs $4 – because he uses the best of the best ingredients and his mastery. It’s a cult, it’s a religion and it’s very worth it.
Local products – Olivier Bajard works in Roussillon in Perpignan – it’s basically a house in the middle of nowhere in the south of France. He only uses fresh local seasonal products, like berries depending on the season, and so on. He might add 3
types of chocolate to one dessert. The average human being can’t tell one from the other in the mix…
French pastry chefs have a very reverent attitude towards their products.
Take the highly-respected hazelnut – you can’t just throw them into a dessert. You have to make their taste open. To do this, the hazelnuts are baked first in the oven to get that little brown spot in the middle.
Rhubarb is also very much respected, because of its distinctive sweet-sour taste, texture and aroma.
Raising pâtisserie to the rank of an art
There’s a pastry chef cult in France. Once every four years, the Meilleur Ouvrier de France takes place, a very high French award for artisanal mastery. The winner gets the collar and the MOF title, which is a life-time achievement award. Chefs are considered almost national heroes and it’s very, very much respected to be an MOF. Much like the world’s best painters or ballet dancers – it’s the same with patissers in France. Because to make a piece of art like these desserts takes an awful amount of skill and time and talent. It has to be respected.
Once every four years, every confectionery school takes part in the competition. It takes years to prepare. They need to come up with a number of desserts and each of them has to be unique. The obligatory part is the chocolate figure. It’s a classic discipline and it’s very difficult.
There’s an excellent movie, Kings of Pastry, which tells the story of the MOF competition.
Dessert is the chef’s gift to the world
I mean these guys are obsessed. It’s a big game and their role is to come up with something in particular, some taste or texture that hasn’t been done before. Some “icing on the cake”, that makes you sparkle and then create a whole dessert around that.
Your job as a confectioner is to pull this miracle out of anything – and then bring it to the world to enjoy. To mix and match.
Energy of taste
Learn to appreciate a dessert. Don’t count the calories. The value is in its taste and if the low calorie dessert is not tasty, it will leave your body feeling dissatisfied, which will cause an even greater demand for something sweet and tasty. Eat really good, fresh things and enjoy. You won’t get fat if you treat a dessert as an art form to be savored, not a commodity to be consumed absent-mindedly.
The big journey into fine pattisserie starts with the simple basic things. I believe every person has the right to taste the perfect eclair – with the right custard cream and the right pastry, it will never just be sweet.
An eclair is not equal to a calorie bomb if you make it with butter cream and take away the chocolate glaze and so on. Make light and right versions so you can appreciate the taste – not the calories.
Julija, what has been the most difficult pastry for you so far?
It’s a Red Velvet Biscuit – it takes two or three days to prepare, with all kinds of secrets and techniques like freezing, frosting, boiling, etc. You have to be very patient and very precise with the ingredients, using only fresh and selected products.
Here are some fine French dessert recipes:
From GUILLAUME MABILLEAU
A Cake With a Touch of Sourness
Biscuit coconut, coconut shtroyzel, lime cremeux, pineapple and lime cream.
Coconut shtroyzel is a kind of crispy biscuit that bakes unevenly, like curly whitecaps. The biscuit is made of just 3.5oz of flour for three cakes so it’s very lightweight.
Cremeux is not a cream, it’s the new generation of filling. Whipped cream plays a starring role, with added flavoring, for example, from chocolate. 200ml lime juice and just 1.4 oz of sugar, add cornstarch, gelatin and white chocolate plus whipped cream.
Lime cream is the light, white cream with pineapple, on gelatin and whipped egg whites.
Julia, some pastries for the kids: can you give us one easy-to make kids’ recipe?
Biscuits: 1 kg sour cream, 2 eggs, 600g sugar, 1.5 tbsp soda, 400g flour, 3.5 tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tbsp butter. Take the sour cream and the eggs and mix them with the flour, add soda. Divide the dough into two parts, add to one part cocoa powder. Bake at 200C for around 20-25 min.
Cream: 600g of sour cream, 200g of sugar powder and the juice of half a lemon mixed.
Icing: 4 tbsp of sour cream, 3 tbsp of cacao, 4 tbsp of butter and 4 tbsp of sugar – heat in a pot but don’t boil it.
Put pieces of dark biscuit on top of the icing and make the white biscuit form a hill.
Julija, one easy French pastry recipe for beginners – that can be made at home – but very French, please.
It’s Madeleine cookies for sure. It’s the symbol of France. The Madeleine recipe can be found widely on the web. The main ingredients are flour, sugar, eggs and vanilla.