These photos were taken between the hours of 4pm, Saturday March 30th and 2am, Easter Sunday, the 31st – during holiday pastry and bread production. Alen and I are extremely lucky to have a very talented, skillful and eager team of cooks and bakers that perform at a very high level, because it seems that everywhere I look, I find beautiful and interesting things to photograph. With such a proficient team, we can truly produce a wide variety of products including plated dessert components, pastry, confections, bread, viennoiserie and chocolate.
On this day, our production kitchen was in operation for 24 hours, when normally there are a couple of hours in between shifts. However, when we were leaving at 2:15am, our early morning Bakery Finishing team was arriving to prepare for Easter – and we returned at 10am as they were finishing their shifts.
“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” – Coco Chanel
It takes a well seasoned and mature Chef to practice restraint in the kitchen. So often, young, inexperienced cooks tend to add ingredient after ingredient to a composition, which, in most cases, can confuse the palate and muddle the true potential of the main elements of the dish. Choosing complementary ingredients thoughtfully and sparingly will allow each component to come through in a memorable and powerful way.
In fashion, one thoughtful accessory, an amazing pair of shoes or a beautiful fabric can create a perfectly balanced and unforgettable ensemble. We feel the same about food. Our Tarte aux Fraises is a true beauty in her simplicity. Peak of the season strawberries accompany cognac infused crème patisserie, all atop a thin citrus pâte sucrée tart shell. Finished with a curled julienne of citrus zest, et voilà! Complex and harmonious flavors in unison. So simple, n’est-ce pas?
Nougat is a very traditional and time tested confection that has been made for centuries and centuries in the old country. Although nougat is thought to have originated in southern Europe, it is found around the world – each different region with it’s own distinctive texture and flavor.
Nougat can be flavored in many different ways, however, there are a list of usual suspect ingredients that are always found in this confection. With a texture somewhere in between a marshmallow and a chew (and sometimes a brick!), there are always a plethora of roasted almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and sometimes pine nuts that add to the divine flavor of nougat. In many places, nougat is studded with dried fruits to add a splash of color and a tangy, sweet flavor. The most distinctive characteristic of nougat is the earthy, sweet and caramelized flavor of it’s main ingredient – honey. It is said that nougat traditionally contained “pure honey of the Alps” – to me, that sounds simply amazing.
The nougat that we make is in the style of Montélimar – a nougat with a distinctive soft chew, unlike it’s Italian cousin turrón that is hard and breakable. We caramelize fragrant acacia honey and slowly pour it over whipping egg whites. After the texture has thickened and become elastic and creamy, we fold in lots of roasted nuts and dried fruits. Next, we cast the nougat between pieces of edible rice paper – another traditional touch- and when it is set, we cut it and wrap it into individual pieces. The final product is nutty and fragrant, chewy and soft, with a hearty nut crunch and soft tangy pieces of dried cranberries.
The final step in our eclair production is garnishing each eclair, so that it can be enjoyed by a guest. We have sold many flavors in the past, and for us, each flavor has it’s own identity and character. It is inspiring for us to create a new eclair, and exciting to watch the presentations evolve until we are all really happy with the final look of the product. This type of creative trial and error is what every chef thrives on – to acheive personal expression and artistic license is such a thrill!
Red Ribbon Eclair
Our chocolate eclairs are finished with dark chocolate glacage and garnished with golden cocoa nibs – to create a sophisticated look with elements of texture and flavor. Our newest eclair is finished with a sweet white glacage and a contrasting vibrant red ribbon, swirling down the top. We aren’t sure yet what flavor this beauty will be – any recommendations?
Palmiers are made with laminated puff pastry that has been sheeted, doused with sugar, then rolled up so the sides meet in the middle. The dough is then cut into disks, sprinkled with a bit more sugar and baked until all of the layers become golden brown, the butter has rendered and the sugar has caramelized. The first bite of a palmier is beautifully crisp and flaky with notes of brown butter and caramel – a perfect accompaniment to a steaming mug of hot cocoa, coffee or tea.
Sometimes commitment is hard. But when things come in “minis, ” a new logic seems to form. In pastry, especially, it seems much easier to make the investment on a couple of small bite-sized delicacies than one individual piece.
Dark Chocolate & Red Currant Mini Tart
When faced with a full, robust, glistening pastry vitrine that is calling to you, a whole new kind of indecisiveness takes hold; Chocolate or fruit? Caramel or coffee? Tarte, entremet or verrine? Sweet or savory? I usually just go for the gusto and try a bit of each – however, for the more conscientious guest, mini pastries are like a security blanket – a small investment, just enough until the full-fledged and out of control pastry addiction takes hold – the kind that when you wake up in the morning you just have to have that one sweet morsel of delicious pastry…..until then, a mini will be the perfect gastronomical gateway drug indulgence.
“Les Pralines Roses” are a special French confection from Lyon consisting of roasted almonds that have been coated in a pink sugar and panned. They are a close relative of the Jordan Almonds we are familiar here with in the States, yet with their bumpy and knotty texture, they are not nearly as smooth and sophisticated looking.
Praline Rose Macaron
We became familiar with les pralines roses while working at The Fat Duck, where Jocky and the gang of chefs were inspired by Les frères Troisgros’ usage of these popular pink confections in their Michelin starred pastries. There are many interesting ways to incorporate les pralines roses into French pastries – including brioche, meringues, macarons, ganaches and of course, crushing them and using their poppin’ pink color for garnish. We are keeping the tradition alive by creating our own versions of les pralines roses, as well as pastries that are inspired by their flavor and color.