What is the most delicate of delicacies?
December 11, 2016 10:45 PM   Subscribe

My new years resolution is to learn to bake pastries - very fine pastries...the FINEST pastries!! But, what are they?

I am already a master bread baker and live/breath King Arthur Flour resources. I'm not interested in cakes, cookies, pies or brownies - been there, done that. Assume I've manage brioche, popovers, scones and the like...

I want to make fine delicate pastries, but don't know where to look for resources or even what qualifies. I'm unafraid of lard, heavy cream, butter etc. I'll go there.

Where can I find good resources (books or online) for making fine, delicate pastries? A good step-by-step guide, but will take me somewhere elaborate and tasty.


What are the finest and most delicate pastries you've ever had that I should try to make?
posted by Toddles to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
No resources from me, but there was a recent patisserie bake off show on the BBC that you may find very interesting to get ideas and challenges from - Bake Off Creme de la Creme if you can find it somewhere!
posted by kadia_a at 10:58 PM on December 11, 2016

Croissants? Not a pastry but super difficult to make. Chocolate croissants qualify as a pastry in my book.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

And a Yule log for the season!
I would scope out cookbooks at the library but maybe the Larousse would be a good start?
posted by chapps at 11:20 PM on December 11, 2016

(aren't croissant pastry?? I guess I always thought so because sooooooo much butter! But thats just my own rationale!)
posted by chapps at 11:22 PM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wikipedia says that croissants are pastries - and my copy of Best of Gourmet Vol 2 agrees!
posted by Toddles at 11:57 PM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, other than cooking your way through the usual French suspects (macarons, mille-feuilles etc), how about looking further afield.

Maltese Pastizzi - which is essentially what you'd get if you mutated puff pastry and a croissant and added a sweet or savoury filling. The recipe for the dough is simple, but it's the stretching, rolling and forming that is the hard part. But let me tell you, fresh pastizzi right out of the oven is so delicious that you don't care that the filling is volcanically hot - you just want to stuff it in your mouth.

I guess the Italian equivalent would probably sfogliatella. Oh my goodness - very more-ish.

Or what about spekkoek (aka Indonesian Thousand-Layer cake, or lapis legit)? It's not precisely a pastry, but it isn't a cake or a pancake. It does require a lot of patience and good technique, which seems to be what you're after.

Everyone knows baklava, but have you made filo pastry from scratch?? If you don't want to do baklava, then what about a Viennese Strudel - the pastry has to be fine enough that you can read a love-letter through it. Or make a savoury burek with it.

Or what about going the down the rabbit hole that is the Asian mooncake? Traditional ones are pretty stodgy stuff, but I had a baked custard mooncake this year that was awesome, and the snow skin mooncakes (admittedly, not baked, so presumably not pastries) come in flavours like cheesecake or durian ice cream.

Ooh...what about pineapple buns? A sweet yeasted bun with a crunchy sugar topping that's somewhere between a sugar cookie and a streusel. It's not particularly difficult, but it is light, and very delicious.
posted by ninazer0 at 12:01 AM on December 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

Is the kouign-amann's five minutes of fame over already? Regardless, they are delicious.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:18 AM on December 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Get inspired by Sadaharu Aoki (my favorite patisserie in Paris) or watch "le proclaim grad patissier (if you speak French).
posted by mathiu at 12:45 AM on December 12, 2016

In addition to croissants, try Opera cake and napoleon. If you haven't done anything with pate a choux, try that because it's awesome, but it's not particularly fussy.
posted by fiercecupcake at 5:15 AM on December 12, 2016

I LOVE the fragility and delicateness of mille-feuilles, also why not try our specialties of "wienerbrød"? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danish_pastry
posted by alchemist at 5:36 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Puff pastry & croissants are technically challenging, and once you master the technique, you can do a lot.
posted by theora55 at 5:51 AM on December 12, 2016

A few years ago someone gave me The Art of the Dessert, by Ann Amernick (I believe a former White House pastry chef).

It's a beautiful book, but waaaaay out of my league. I bet it would be a great jumping-off point for you, though. Lots of finely detailed desserts with multiple components. Some are classics, some more modern. Check it out!
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 6:19 AM on December 12, 2016

I've heard that making streudel from scratch is supposed to be a very time consuming, fiddly task. Which makes sense, because it seems similar in spirit and technique to puff pastry and croissants.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:53 AM on December 12, 2016

The finest pastry I've ever had was the azuki cream puff from the Japonaise Bakery in Brookline, MA (RIP, Cambridge location!). I made my brother walk a mile in the cold to get one once; he complained the whole way, but shut up instantly the moment the puff hit his mouth, and then had nothing but rapturous praise the whole walk back and for years to come.

They are special enough that I've never had one that even came close from anywhere else. I suspect they make them with a laminated rather than choux dough, so it comes out more like a delicate croissant, but I'm not positive. Also, red bean has a tendency to feel very heavy and leaden, particularly to Western palates, but in this cream puff, it's soft, jammy, and beautifully balanced against the slightly sweetened whipped cream. I have no idea how they do that--whipping, maybe?--but the overall effect is an ideal marriage of soft, gooey, and every so slightly chewy East meets West, that isn't as sweet as you might expect, but still feels like the most luxurious mouthful you've ever inhaled. Anyway, these puffs deserve to be the next big thing in the pastry world, because they are far too perfect to be limited to one small corner of Boston.
posted by Diagonalize at 6:53 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to disagree that making puff pastry is particularly difficult. It takes some time and patience, but it is simple and easy.

Pate Brisee, on the other hand... 16 years ago I had the perfect pate brisee recipe. And I lost it. Every crust I've made since has been substandard. I tweak a lot, both technique and ratios. So, you can get endlessly wonky with something like this. Or puff pastry. Both are acceptable for use in...

Tarte Tatin. Puff Pastry is the classic and better choice. I started trying to master this in 1997, and finally nailed it in early 2011.

Should you accept this mission, it's made partways on a stovetop in a cast iron pan, then finished in an oven. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:03 AM on December 12, 2016

posted by praemunire at 7:14 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the very best pastries I would start with Viennese (and Hungarian and Italian, maybe) cookbooks and source material, not French. nothing against French pastries, I would eat them every day and twice on Sundays but they are not the best of the best or the height of the art. I rely on Lilly Joss Reich's Viennese Pastry Cookbook personally but I am sure there are better sources for more complicated things. with a good book like that you can, if you want to, develop a repertoire of the various structural elements and pastry creams and invent your own constructs and combinations out of them, it works extremely well.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:24 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Constructing something like the wardeh, beinnaren or shaabiatt made by Pâtisserie Royale would be an exceptional challenge. They are works of art.
posted by scruss at 7:24 AM on December 12, 2016

Croquembouche can be quite stunning and combines some important French pastry elements: choux pastry, pastry cream, and caramel (and also, timing!).

Similar is the Paris-Brest, originally designed to commemorate the bicycle race. This one uses praline inside the choux pastry along with pastry cream.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:05 AM on December 12, 2016

Pate a choux can be a little tricky to master but once you do you can make eclairs, gougeres, beignets, and cream puffs among many other variations.

I also have fun making baklava though it's not technically difficult unless you make your own phyllo dough in which case it can be a real (but not impossible!) challenge.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 10:45 AM on December 12, 2016

The most complex pastry I have ever baked is Gâteau St. Honoré. It is worth every painstaking second and it is named after the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs.
posted by atropos at 7:06 PM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

There is a holiday bread from Croatia called Povatica. I thought it was complex and fiddly and a challenge to bake, but you might already be past it in skill level. But what you might appreciate is the fact that I found this recipe in a contest for something called the Secret Recipe Club. I don't know anything about it other than what was posted for this recipe, but it might be something fun to find out about and play along with, if it still exists.
posted by CathyG at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2016

And I've just remembered the thing I couldn't remember earlier - canneles!
posted by ninazer0 at 10:20 PM on December 15, 2016

Hungarian Dobostorte.
posted by benzenedream at 12:31 AM on December 19, 2016

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