The Art of French Baking – a book review

The Art of French Baking – a book review

My first step through the front door was met with an instant feeling of warmth and desire. The aroma of freshly baked pastry hung in the air, dripping with sweetness from slightly caramelised apricots and sugar. No, I wasn’t stepping into a pâtisserie on a Parisian back-street, I was stepping into my own front door after getting home from work. Someone had been a little busy in the kitchen and had just taken a fresh tarte à l’alsacienne out of the oven. Now that’s something I could get used to coming home to. It also means that someone got their hands on my new cookbook before I got the chance to make something from it myself. Am I complaining? Hardly.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone that has been to a French pâtisserie and not enjoyed the pleasure of it all. Heavenly smells, glistening cakes, tarts and pastries and the desire to try just about everything on display. It’s way too easy to just rock into a pâtisserie, take your pick and go home with a selection of treats but if you’ve got the time and a little patience it’s not all that challenging to create some of those treats in your own kitchen. Here’s one book that makes life a little easier in creating some of those classic French sweet treats at home, and you don’t need to be an expert.

 

This collection of baked dessert recipes by Ginette Mathiot (1907-1998), a superstar in her own right with more than 30 books published under her name; books that helped educate three generations of budding cooks in France. Je Sais Faire la Patisserie (published 1938) was recently translated and named The Art of French Baking by a team of international food experts including French food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier (Chocolate & Zucchini) that was consulting editor of the project.

This adapted and modernised publication is easy to read and follow and is organised by types of desserts like milk & egg puddings, biscuits, cakes, icings & fillings, tarts & pastries. Simple photographs are displayed throughout the 300+ recipes, something most of us expect in cookbooks nowadays. Budding cooks can easily learn about essential techniques, equipment and ingredients or even try a hand at fabulous desserts by celebrated chefs from France, Australia, USA and the UK. I love the troubleshooting section on why things go wrong with making pastries and how you can prevent them from collapsing, going tough or breaking when rolling.

Here are just two of the delicious treats that can be found in this 350 page French baking bible.

Avelinettes recipe

avelinettes

serves 10

 

  • 150 g ground walnuts
  • 150 g ground hazelnuts
  • 150 g ground almonds
  • 450 g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp coffee extract
  • 1 small egg white (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

 

Place the walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, sugar and coffee extract in the bowl of a mixer or food processor and stir or process to a smooth paste, adding a little egg white if required. Shape pieces of the paste into little oval petits fours and roll them in the cocoa powder. Do not cook them.

Serve in little paper confectionary cases.

Alsace tart recipe

alsace tart {tarte à l’alsacienne}

serves 6

 

shortcrust pastry (makes 400g):

  • 250 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tbsp flavourless oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125 g butter, chilled and diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 1-2 tbsp ice-cold water

 

Put the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the oil, salt and butter. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Moisten with the water to bring the dough together. Briefly knead the dough by hand; the more quickly this is done, the better the pastry will be.

Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for between 30 minutes to 24 hours. Bring it back to room temperature before rolling out.

On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a circle 5 mm thick and and use to line a greased 23-cm tart tin, preferably one with a removable base. The pastry may also be used to line small round or boat-shaped tins (barquettes).

To bake the pastry case blind, preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and baking beans or uncooked rice. Bake for 10 minutes, then gently remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans or rice and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, until it is light golden brown and cooked throughout.

Note: Keep the ingredients and utensils as cool as possible. This will help the pastry to retain a short, crumbly texture. Any leftover pastry can be frozen. 

for the tart:

  • 1 quantity Shortcrust Pastry
  • 500 g apricots or apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 100 ml crème fraîche

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 20-cm tart tin. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3 mm and use it to line the tart tin. Prepare an uncooked shortcrust pastry case.

Arrange the fruit on the pastry. In a bowl, beat the flour, eggs, sugar and crème fraîche until just smooth. Pour over the fruit and bake for 30-40 minutes.

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