Neoclassical View of Plated Desserts: Grand Finales


"When everything comes full circle, it will always come back to the classics." -Michael Hu Pastry Chef and Consultant Ask any Chef: When it comes to desserts, the classics are the grand finales of all great meals. They have withstood the test of time. Who can resist the sumptuous temptations of Black Forest Cake, Boston Cream Pie, or Cherries Jubilee? Or the savory familiarity of rice pudding, chocolate mousse, caramelized bananas, or an old-fashioned plum tart? In this Exciting, delectably photographed new look at classic desserts, authors Tish

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"When everything comes full circle, it will always come back to the classics." -Michael Hu Pastry Chef and Consultant Ask any Chef: When it comes to desserts, the classics are the grand finales of all great meals. They have withstood the test of time. Who can resist the sumptuous temptations of Black Forest Cake, Boston Cream Pie, or Cherries Jubilee? Or the savory familiarity of rice pudding, chocolate mousse, caramelized bananas, or an old-fashioned plum tart? In this Exciting, delectably photographed new look at classic desserts, authors Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty invite some of the world's greatest pastry chefs to re-invent the classics. A Neoclassic View of Plated Desserts: Grand Finales is a testament to the timelessness of tradition . and to the creativity of today's great pastry chefs in reworking the basic culinary building blocks into enchanting, fresh new creations that remain faithful to their source. The Recipes in this Volume offer a wonderful balance of old and new-and all will delight the eye, satisfy the taste buds, and stimulate your own creativity. Lincoln Carson of Picasso, in Las Vegas, Nevada, whips up a pear-starred version of the traditional Tarte Tatin; Susan Notter and Ann Amernick add playful elements to their '90s napoleons; Chris Broberg of Lespinasse sparks Butterscotch Rice Pudding with unexpected flavor combinations; while Norman Love's (of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company in Naples, Florida) Manjari Mousse and Kumquat Cake blends the sweet-tart jolt of kumquat with the full flavor of Manjari chocolate to create a sublime, surprising, streamlined delight. Like its Companions in the acclaimed Grand Finales series, A Neoclassic View of Plated Desserts overflows with time-proven crowd pleasers, all beautifully presented with color photographs and detailed step-by-step instructions. Use them as they are . or do as their creators did-break the rules and add a touch of your own to bring down the house with a truly grand finale.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In their third in a series (after Chocolate Passion) of books on plated desserts, Boyle and Moriarty (of Chocolatier magazine) pool the talents of various pastry chefs to assemble a collection of beautiful desserts that will challenge even the most able home cook. In an interesting introduction, well-known pastry experts such as Nick Malgieri (Chocolate) and Chris Broberg (pastry chef at Lespinasse) voice their opinions on dessert-related topics and relate their own sometimes difficult learning experiences. The desserts themselves are quite complex, with each recipe consisting of several parts (e.g., to make James Foran's Caramelized Apple Phyllo Crisp, you have to prepare the Crisp, Caramelized Apples, Phyllo Shells, Red Wine-Dried Cherry Sauce, Indian Cinnamon Ice Cream and an Apple Garnish, then assemble the whole). In compensation, these are impressive creations. Pat Coston's Milk Chocolate and Banana Mousse Box with Amaretto Ice Cream and Caramelized Bananas is like a present begging to be opened; John Degnan's Trio of Asian Br l es is daintily presented in individual sake cups. Special equipment is helpfully listed at the start of each recipe. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This is the third book in the "Grand Finales" series by Boyle and Moriarty, both editors at Chocolatier magazine. The series in general focuses on artistic presentations of individual pastries as opposed to the traditional tortes, pies, and cakes. This volume presents "neoclassic" desserts, re-creations of such standards as tarte tatin, apple pie, and chocolate mousse. Created by 27 of the best pastry chefs working today, these desserts are truly inspired. But while the book is valuable for pastry chefs hoping to stay abreast of current trends in patisserie, it has little beyond beautiful pictures to recommend it to the average reader. The recipes are difficult and presented in the formula format familiar only to food service professionals. Even the lengthy introduction, interesting as it is, tends to ramble. There's a final chapter on working with sugar, a glossary of pastry terms, and a source list for ingredients. Recommended for academic libraries supporting culinary programs.--Tom Cooper, St. Louis P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471293132
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,237,734
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 11.22 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

TISH BOYLE is Food Editor and TIMOTHY MORIARTY is Features Editor of Chocolatier and Pastry Art and Design magazines. They are the authors of Grand Finales: The Art of the Plated Dessert; A modernist View of Plated Desserts: Grand Finales; and Chocolate Passion: Recipes and Inspiration from the Kitchens of Chocolatier Magazine.

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Table of Contents

Neoclassics and the Kitchen.

Fruit Desserts.

Spoon Desserts.

Cakes, Tarts, and Pies.

French Classics.

Frozen Desserts.

Sugar Work.

Glossary of Classic Desserts and Pastries.

Source List.



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First Chapter


This is the third volume in the Grand Finales series. These books present the recipes and plate designs of some of America's most talented pastry chefs.

A plated dessert is a dessert that is prepared at the last minute, upon the individual order of the customer. The pastry chef assembles several components, most of which were prepared that very day, and artfully arranges them on the plate. Staff members working for the chef are expected to duplicate the presentation as closely as possible. A plated dessert usually consists of the main item (the item that is described on the menu) plus a garnish and a sauce, but the chef has the freedom to expand or mix and match this roster, within the boundaries of economics, flavor, and common sense. A plated dessert can include several components (sauce, ice cream, cookies, sugar) that present contrasts in texture (crunchy and creamy) and flavor (sweet and acidic), and if there can be a warm item to contrast with cold, so much the better. A plated dessert can be as complex or as simple as the chef's sensibility allows. The trend toward plated desserts-- and away from dessert cart, slice or scoop of ice cream, or single item desserts-- was first seen in Europe and in culinary competitions in the late 1980s. American chefs in the appropriate settings and with the necessary budgets have been presenting these desserts since approximately 1990.

Because plated desserts are compositions, they lend themselves to many different visual approaches. In Grand Finales: The Art of the Plated Dessert, we classified the visual presentations of American plated desserts into nine categories, using schools of thevisual arts as a frame of reference. Impressionist desserts use abstract and literal forms to convey an image or feeling; Architectural desserts are strongly vertical; Performance Art desserts move or involve action by the diner in some way. And now, Neoclassic desserts.

For this volume, we challenged 27 pastry chefs to create desserts within the confines of the definition of neoclassic desserts as outlined in Grand Finales-- that is, a dessert that features a classic dessert as a major component, though that component may contain a contemporary variation; this variation may entail a slight alteration of the classic recipe, or it can involve a change in the accepted presentation of the dessert.

As was noted in the first volume of the series, neoclassic is a broad term. In fact, most desserts qualify. "If you look at what people are doing, there is usually one element that is a classic," points out Martha Crawford, department chair of the International Baking and Pastry Institute at Johnson & Wales University. Most of the recipes in this volume, then, are accessible to most professionals, and are time-proven, best-selling menu items. They are never out of place, never out of style. A bit more show business goes into their planning and presentation, but after all, as Todd Johnson, pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples, Florida, puts it: "When a customer spends that kind of money, there's nothing wrong with putting on a show." T. M.

An excerpt from Chapter 1:


Mistakes have played a crucial part in the evolution of classic desserts. As Nick Malgieri surmises: "A chef may have been making fritters and made a mistake and thought, maybe if I put some jelly in it nobody'll notice. And the jelly doughnut is born." Such things do happen, but, in fact, they are only one factor among many in the development of the classics. "A lot of things happen for reasons of economy and practicality than a chef really wanting to make something better, or a romantic mistake," he says.

"Pastry history is a natural evolution, evolution being accident and endless experimentation," agrees Markus Farbinger, of the Green Mountain Chocolate Company in Waterbury, Vermont. "In trying for perfection, we try a little change, one small thing at a time." He cites mousse as an example. From its origins as simply melted chocolate, whipped cream and perhaps butter, "Eggs were introduced just to make it richer and to emulsify. Then they discovered that when they whipped it up, they introduced air. Then they started separating the eggs, and introduced even more air, and they got a different product. Then at some point-- perhaps spurred by Lenôtre and Thuries-- they began to introduce gelatin into mousse, to stand it up as a component, to incorporate it as an ingredient. Now we are adding less gelatin, and on and on. It all boils down to the basic techniques, the basic mixing methods, and how they can be applied."

As dictated by necessity, adds Nick Malgieri. "They made pastry out of puréed lentils during World War II," he observes. "You do what you can with what you have."

"The trend today is to lighten classic desserts, trim the fat and calories. But when people come to eat in a restaurant, it is often because it's an event of some kind. In that sense, why not have fat and sweetness? As long as it's not an everyday occurrence, why not splurge and enjoy?" Daniel Jasso, Advanced Bakeshop Instructor, Western Culinary Institute, Portland, OR

Sadly, the origins of many of the desserts we consider classics and their component parts (hold the lentils, please) are shrouded in mysteries created by rival kitchens and a confusion of cute folk tales. For example, it is said that Baked Alaska was created, at least in part, by a doctor studying the heat conduction properties of meringue. But Nick Malgieri's understanding is different, and not so folksy: "I read that Baked Alaska was invented in the nineteenth century at the Hôtel de Paris. It was originally called Norwegian Soufflé Omelette. Back then, sweet soufflé omelettes were very popular, though they are not done anymore. These sweet omelettes had a loaf shape. The word Norway for this particular one was used to denote the cold interior-- it looked like a standard sweet soufflé omelette, but you cut into it and it had ice cream in it. Meringue was a corruption, a development from that."

The evolution of baking and pastry classics is, then, a story of necessity, technology, abundance, scarcity, commerce, fashion, and mistakes interacting on several planes. For the most part, however, it is a matter of minute deviations, incremental developments over time. And as always, history is written by the so-called winners. "My view is very Eurocentric," admits Markus Farbinger. "All of us who are European or European-trained view the history of pastry that way. After all, who defined cooking? The French. Because they were able to organize a profession more effectively, they are the last word. But we must remember that people cook all over the world, and they have done so for thousands of years-- in the Middle East, Asia, Africa," he adds. "The truth is, Europe does not have the finest cooking, and we borrow from other cultures too."

For Farbinger, it is a mistake to think that the discipline of pastry evolved from cooking, from the Chef. In his mind, pastry chefs evolved from bakers. "To be specific, it comes from the growing of grain, then the baking on open fires. From the open fire came the closed fire, then the oven.

"Six thousand years ago, some early Europeans used tree bark as a mold," Farbinger continues. "They would rough out a form from tree bark, fill it with dough as a liner, and bake it. They made a shell out of paste, filled it with fruit and drizzled honey over it." Honey was also used to help mark special ceremonies or holidays, some four to five thousand years ago; it was incorporated into bread to create a ceremonial cake. It was, says Farbinger, such religious observations that helped propel baking beyond the basic loaves.

Leavening was discovered by the ancient Egyptians. Grains of the ancient world needed to be toasted before threshing, which made leavening chemically impossible. It is known that the Egyptians, by approximately 400 B. C., had developed a wheat that could be threshed raw. Then accident set in most probably: bakehouses and alehouses were one and the same at the time, and such an arrangement is a breeding ground for airborne yeast spores; it is probable that some yeast spores settled on some dough that was waiting to be baked. This bread would rise, even slightly, and be more flavorful. Attempts to reproduce this would lead to experimentation. Another possible explanation is that ale instead of water was used to mix dough, the results were intriguing, and history took its course. It is estimated that the ancient royal Egyptians were served as many as 40 different breads and pastry varieties-- flatbreads as well as raised breads, formed into conical shapes or plaited, incorporating honey, milk, and eggs.

Pastry and breads were also enjoyed by the nobles and commoners of ancient Rome; and since there were no utensils, breads served as scoop, vessel, and nourishment.

"When you're sixteen years old and you're working ten, twelve hours a day, it's difficult. Sometimes they would curse you, scare the hell out of you. Back then, it was hard to understand why this was necessary. Even today, I still don't like it, but at least I realize it was for the good-- they were pushing me to become better and better. I was tougher on kids in my shop ten years ago than I am now. I wish I was tougher. It is good for them, and you want to be sure the job is done right." Didier Goller, Executive Pastry Chef, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Palm Beach, FL

"But I believe that gingerbread is the first pastry, the first product elevated beyond bread," says Farbinger. Gingerbread's origins, like so many others, is unclear, but by the time of the guilds, it was a distinct product. Europe of the Middle Ages saw the emergence of the guilds, with different responsibilities that were clarified by law. And each guild had its own by-laws-- very strict procedures for who was admitted, for training apprentices, for qualifications for various levels like journeyman and so on, and for how the product was made: ingredients, proportion, procedures. The size and weight of the finished product was strictly monitored. "It was very much like our education system now," says Farbinger. "They would present a series of objectives, like little study units. There were strict procedures for the making of marzipan, ice cream, bon-bons, pralinées, gingerbread, and even how to keep accounts.

"I was very competitive all my life, and when I started in the culinary business, I looked for someone who was very passionate. I found him, and then some, in Charlie Trotter. I'll say this about Charlie: Hardass that he is about a lot of things, he will help anyone-- give them recipes, help them find any purveyor he can. He believes that you can only have a great restaurant in an environment of other great restaurants. He gets involved in the neighborhood. He will have his people clean up the garbage two blocks from his place, because 'this is our neighborhood and we will have an impact here. ' I love that idea." Keegan Gerhard, Executive Pastry Chef, Dean & Deluca, Charlotte, NC

"Every shop was-- and still is-- very secretive," continues Farbinger. "Their recipes and procedures were protected by the guilds. You didn't give them away to anyone outside the guild. This is why there is so little documentation about the history of pastry at the time. Still today," he adds, "Americans are very open and pragmatic, while Europeans are generally more secretive."

Oddly enough, the disciplines of gingerbread-making and candle-making were linked, and still are, to some extent, in Austria. The pastry maker emerged from that discipline. "Around 1650, the sugar bakers split from the gingerbread makers, by decree," says Farbinger. "The gingerbread makers were by this law only allowed to make 'dark' baked goods using mostly rye and honey. The sugar baker was only allowed to make a 'light' product, using refined sugar and wheat. In that same year, the chocolate maker guild was formed."

An obvious important development at this time was the appearance of sugar. "Honey is not a structure, it only has a sweetening effect," points out Farbinger. "Sugar is a building material, like flour; it gives a product structure. That was a major breakthrough and led to baking as we know it today-- baking, cakes, products that are tall; not flat bread, not gingerbread."

Sugar has been produced for thousands of years. Farbinger points out that Alexander the Great may have brought sugar back to Europe from his conquests. The original home for cane sugar was India, but even Indian royalty did not have it at their disposal. European colonial production of sugar was begun around 1770, but supplies were disrupted by wars and banditry. Around 1800, from the European point of view, the supply was stabilized. Quickly, the price fell, and it was generally available.

Of course, European royalty and nobility were the primary beneficiaries. There was a patissier in the kitchens of European royalty who made desserts, ice creams, and so on. "Among royalty, what was popular was ices, because they were luxurious and difficult to prepare," says Malgieri. "Everything is exciting when you can't have it," agrees Farbinger. Bread bakers did not live at court, mostly because the ovens were huge and hot and dangerous. They were in a separate place, called the bakehouse. "Bread bakers were protected by law," says Farbinger. "There could be only so many bakers and millers per square mile. They lived and worked outside, and delivered the product to court."

"What separates the people who rise to the top from the people who don't is their skills with people more than their skills with pastry. You have to devote time to manage people. If you can have tremendous talent with pastry, you might make it in a small restaurant. But in a hotel situation, you have to have people skills." Todd Johnson, Pastry Chef, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Naples, FL and Owner, Creative Culinary Tools, Naples, FL

Vigorous trade with far-flung corners of the world brought not only sugar but other ingredients and skills to Europe's pastry kitchens. "A lot of the items we think of as European fancy pastry originated or were developed from their initial Arab identities in France, Spain, and Italy in the early Renaissance times, the late fifteenth century," says Nick Malgieri. These three cultures were, over the centuries, joined by exchanges through marriage, trade, and the rise of the merchant class. "From the Middle East came white sugar, citrus fruits, candied fruits, peaches, apricots, spices, and almond paste," says Malgieri. "By the middle of the nineteenth century, the stage was set for an explosion." A renaissance.

This renaissance in patisserie began to take form around 1850. "It brought more elaborate cooking to a wider segment of the population," says Malgieri. "Before that it had only been the nobility. Now more people were enjoying fancier food. The reason that a lot of this progress codifying and development of fancy food occurred in the nineteenth century is due to the technological advances leading to the Industrial Revolution. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, food went public. Restaurants, pastry shops, and the original take-out stores called cookshops all came on the scene during that time. It was the heyday of the pastry shop. Ladurée, for example, opened in 1863.

"There was a lot going on, and a public willing to buy this," continues Malgieri. "Development began to increase incrementally. Ideas were spawned and borrowings took place from far afield-- other countries and cultures. It was fusion, nineteenth-century style. All the great pastry shops had their specialties-- one place known for its brioche, another known for its St. Honoré, and so on." The competition among these shops was fierce.

"An executive chef at a hotel is still a hands-on chef. I prefer it that way. If your people see you working hard, they are more likely to try hard. But much of the job involves trying to put out fires. Everybody is always in a hurry, and often the first things they forget are the basic methods they learned in school-- how to fold, how to scrape the bowl. Under pressure, it's the simple things that people forget to do. That's why I tell students not to be in so much of a hurry-- they need to remember the basics." Thomas Worhach, Executive Pastry Chef, Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, Palm Beach, FL

More than money, pride was at stake. "Chefs want to create desserts that are unique and exciting," says Farbinger. "We want to be recognized for our skills. It is a basic need."

Custard tarts were much in demand, "hundreds of different things, especially made out of and filled with almond paste," says Malgieri. "Meringues, nut pastes, fillings and doughs, shaped tartlets. That was the golden age of pastry cream-- it was used as all kinds of fillings, it was served hot and cold, it was gelatinized. There was no refrigeration, and a lot of people died from eating spoiled pastry cream. That's how chiboust was developed-- cooked meringue was added to cold pastry cream, which made it safer. Lenôtre was the popularizer of chiboust." Also popular was anything made from pâte à choux and any kind of out-of-season fruit, though fruit desserts were not common at all. "The introduction of fruit is a recent one in pastries, post World War II," says Farbinger.

The ovens were wood-or coal-burning, of course. Says Malgieri, "The way they used to gauge the heat of the oven, the way it is expressed in cookbooks before thermostats is this: they would put a piece of paper in the oven, and they would see the paper turn color. They would write the instructions as, bake this cake in an oven of straw-colored paper, or bake it in an oven of light brown-colored paper. It was an attempt to establish a standard temperature before thermometers. Before that, they would throw something in and see what happened."

"A lot of early ice cream was made in brine, which held a low temperature. It was a predecessor of refrigeration," says Malgieri. Buttercream was developed in the mid-nineteenth century, but it too had evolved over time. "The way it originated, the only way to keep cakes fresh before Saran Wrap and refrigerators, was to seal the cake in a thin layer of butter, in order to preserve it," says Malgieri. "At some point it occurred to someone to put a little sugar in it and keep it on the cake when it was served."

In America, it wasn't using what was rare, but rather what was abundant, that generated classics. Easy to make, easy to eat, that was the American way, says Meridith Ford, a food writer and instructor in baking and pastry at Johnson & Wales University.

"Teaching is definitely part of this job. A half hour or an hour a day spent with one person or several-- even that little amount of time helps. Over a period of time the body of knowledge grows, the confidence grows, and they catch on. Heck, it doesn't make any sense to criticize someone's work if you haven't spent any time teaching them."Bill Hallion, Pastry Chef, The Renaissance Vinoy Resort, St. Petersburg, FL

A lot of the country rustic desserts were designed to use whatever was around. "Pies were basically meat extenders," says Ford. "But when the colonists settled in the New World in the 1600s, somehow or other, native ingredients being a prime factor, sweet pies were created. In New England, they started making sweet pies out of what was readily available-- pumpkin and molasses, which was one of the only sweeteners they had. Later, the Indians showed the settlers how to tap trees. That's how chess pie and pecan pie were born; syrup pies were only using what was abundant." Ford lists as American classics apple brown betty, bread pudding, buckles, cobblers, crisps, apple pandowdies, grunts, Indian pudding, shoofly pie, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. "Bread pudding is European in origin but we took hold of it," says Ford. "Our spoon desserts, rustic desserts, or country desserts are almost like extenders."

American classics of southern origin developed along a different path, says Ford. "Much of the culinary heritage of the South stems from the lingering fascination with the European aristocracy, through the vigorous importation of clothing, design, spices, and other culture as well as an influx of influential chefs, many of them from France, escaping the Revolution," she says. "Particularly in the large port towns-- New Orleans, Charleston, Savanna-- the French influence began to seep in, also because the people of these towns were wealthier than their New England and frontier counterparts. Some of the classics generated at the time-- Lady Baltimore and Lord Baltimore cakes-- take their names from aristocracy."

Hard upon the renaissance in European pastry shops of the mid-nineteenth century was the Industrial Revolution. "Everything we know, say, and do stems from the Industrial Revolution," says Nick Malgieri. "And the way we eat is pretty much post-World War I. That's when the twentieth century really began." He sees this era as a turning point in all areas of the culture, culinary included. "That's when a lot of the streamlining began to take place. The banquets, the 36-course meals, all that began to disappear. What happened in the '20s-- dress, manners, haircuts-- everything was diminished, simplified. The same thing happened with food. The three-course meal made its debut. One dessert rather than many desserts was served."

"I remember thinking, during my pastry training in France, 'If I can survive this, I will never be in fear again. ' A kick in the rear doesn't give you talent, but it does give you discipline. Many chefs are talented, but they don't have the discipline to send the same dessert out two days in a row. They lose focus. You must combine talent and discipline. And you must endure difficulties in learning, because, truly, it is a beautiful profession-- the things you can do with the products of nature. How many people have this chance? That's what should keep you in focus."Jacquy Pfeiffer, Co-owner and Instructor, The French Pastry School, Chicago, IL

Kitchen staffs began to shrink, and consolidate. "In the big hotels, you had a glacier who made the ices, a patissier for desserts, boulanger for bread, viennoser who made some brioches, a sucrer who made sugar pieces, and only sugar pieces," says Nick Malgieri. Some of this elaborate staffing lingered for a time, but after World War II, labor costs went up, and that style of kitchen brigade was no longer viable.

It is the rising cost of labor, still very much an issue today, that has influenced the development of pastry in our time. "Skills, technology, and efficiency have become more important," says Farbinger. "In the old days, a boy cranking a churn handle was middle-level skill, and this was the learning curve of an apprentice. There could be 20, 80 ingredients and a huge team of people to form these ingredients into pièces montées. Labor was not an issue. Today, labor is expensive."

Malgieri cites millefeuille as a pastry example. "To make various refinements on that to a certain degree was fairly easy," he says, "but to do that nowadays in a delicious non-insane way, it just gets harder and harder."

It seems that pastry has not evolved much since the mid-nineteenth-century renaissance. There are many reasons for this: the limits imposed by baking science, the familiarity of ingredients and equipment, even mundane reasons such as the rising cost of labor. So much was new back then, so much was being learned; think of it as a funnel that narrows, strangling possibility. "The further you go along the evolution of pastry and desserts, the more variation that is developed, and the more genius and talent is needed to go beyond it," says Malgieri. "The first geniuses, Escoffier and Carême, made a great contribution on codifying it. But it was easier for Picasso to be Picasso in the 1900s than it is for the person in 2000 to do the same."

"Gunther Heiland taught me technique, to be sure, but what he really taught me was an attitude; he tried to instill in me to always strive for perfection. If you stopped working on something and said, 'It's okay, it's done, ' he would walk away and not say anything. But he always made you look to the next level. Whenever and whatever you did, nothing was ever perfect. You were always challenging yourself to go to the next level. As a whole person, if you do everything like that, it seeps into your work. I feel like he's still looking over my shoulder, but there's nothing wrong with that. I'm still pushing. I'm never happy with mediocre." Martha Crawford,Department Chair, International Baking and Pastry Institute, Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI


Many of the spurs to innovation in pastry remain the same today as they have been for centuries-- new equipment, the need to have one's work recognized, exotic ingredients, the simple urge to tinker, experiment, to create something rare and fabulous. These spurs are joined by one more: the need to lighten the classics, to adjust for the way we eat today.

"Dense desserts in large portions-- that's the way it was," Sebastien Canonne says, "and that's the way I like it," he adds. "But lifestyles are not the same anymore. Back then people worked heavy work, outside, construction. Afterwards you would need a millefeuille. But now after a three-course meal you will want a light millefuille. The style of life became different so the style of food needed to become different."

Some chefs in this book expressed the hope that, by experimenting, they might come up with a dessert that will be considered, in future, a classic. But most are more modest in their aspirations. "The goal is to keep the true flavor, the natural flavor of each product, to use it in a classic way, but update with the new equipment, new techniques," says Canonne. "Not to take shortcuts, but find efficient ways to produce it better, faster, lighter."

The goal of neoclassicism, in Canonne's view, is to update the look of classics that are just fine as they are-- poached pear, for example-- and to lighten those that are out of step with the times-- millefeuille, for example. "Maybe instead of pastry cream with 300 grams of sugar per kilo you'll use 150 because it's enough, says Canonne. "And maybe you will lighten the pastry cream with sweetened whipped cream but with stabilizers so that later it doesn't collapse."

"I find that people just getting into the business place too much emphasis on how much they're going to get paid and how many hours they're going to work, instead of what they need to learn. Of course the money is important-- to repay school loans for one thing-- but you have to be in this for the long haul. You can't look too closely at the money, because when you calculate how many hours you put in to earn it, it doesn't seem like much. You need to keep your focus on enhancing your skills. The more you know, the more you grow, the more you're worth, the more you make." Marshall Rosenthal, Executive Pastry Chef, The Reno Hilton, Reno, NV

"New equipment doesn't change the recipes, but it might change the procedures," agrees Michael Hu. He mentions as examples the spreader, a device that allows the chef to spread greater amounts of dough, and many other products that facilitate large batch production: "Meringue powder, atomized glucose, cocoa butter in pellet form, chocolate in pistolles, of course," enumerates Hu. "A lot of people say, 'I will never have instant this or that in my kitchen, ' but there is a place for it. Some of the stabilizers, and cold and hot processed pastry cream-- a lot of this is not used as the basic ingredient but as a fortifier, for doing huge batches. A good example is chiboust cream. It's basically light pastry cream. If we do a banquet for a thousand, I'll still make a pastry cream the old way, but when I lighten it, instead of using gelatin as a binding ingredient I will use the pastry cream powder. And it enhances the flavor."

"We are getting better starches, instant starches, the chocolate pastilles, fruit purées," lists Martha Crawford. "Some people say you have to purée your own fruit, and I say, why? I give my students the option, but I feel that it saves me time to do other things. We're learning to cut time when we can cut time."

Of course, when something is gained, something else is lost. Ironically, the new equipment produces new pressures. "The pressure put on a shop to produce and reduce workforce is partially due to equipment," says Michael Hu.

And some chefs fear that basic skills might erode due to new equipment: "hand skills, like piping and even preparing a piping bag," says Hu. "Writing 'Happy Birthday' on a birthday cake is a talent that is being lost to transfer sheets."

Chefs will naturally experiment, if not to meet changing expectations, then to meet a challenge within themselves. This presents the dilemma, the balancing act that must be performed: trying to stay cutting-edge and creative, for their own sake and the sake of good business for their venue, while trying to give customers what they want. "Every dish doesn't have to be an education, especially the dessert," says Chris Broberg. "You want the guest to be comfortable. You have to balance the rigidity of following the classics with being inventive enough to meet your needs or interesting enough for a jaded clientele."

"I know a lot of people can name five different types of exotic fruits, but can you name five different apples and what they're used for? Which is best for a pie, which is best poached? We should always strive for more flavor, of course, but also texture in desserts. The trend is away from the baby food puréed items." Susan Notter Corporate Pastry Chef, Albert Uster Imports, Gaithersburg, MD

"You can get bored if you just make classics," says Heather Ho. "You want to inject fun and levity into your work." But, says Ho, there can be a limit to how much fun a chef can have: "I enjoy looking at an architectural dessert, but I wouldn't want to eat one because I know what needs to happen to make them stand up straight-- the amount of gelatin that goes into a lemon curd to make it stand up straight. It's not as good, as creamy, as tart and luscious as it could be-- why would anyone want to eat that? But there has to be a middle ground-- not just classics and not just eclectic. Desserts don't sell well if the menu is all over the place."

What sells in one market may not sell in another, most of our chefs agree, which places another limit to experimentation. "In major cities where there's more variety of restaurant and an educated diner, the customers are more apt to experiment," says Norman Love, a man that has logged considerable travel.

Norman Love mentions Sachertorte, baba au rhum, and crème caramel as desserts that are often requested in his hotels, nationwide. "Charlottes, éclairs-- people relate to that," he says. "These are not experimental diners. They won't order cherry soup with licorice ice cream, but they will order something they can identify with."

"Philadelphia is very conservative. Customers here don't like to experiment very much," says Suzanne Silverman, executive pastry chef for the Main Street Restaurant Group in Philly. She enumerates some of her hits and misses: "Chocolate chile cake didn't work, neither did tequila bread pudding. It hurts your ego a little bit when you make all these beautiful things and they don't sell, but I try these odd little things now and then. What I have learned is, most anything chocolate sells."

Washington, D. C., is another big town with a reputation for a conservative palate. "Anything that's not ice cream or chocolate or apple or lemon, I can't sell it," says Ann Amernick. "In New York you can sell anything. Not so much here."

"In a kitchen, you have to assemble a team of people that will work together. Sometimes you can feel it-- whether it's a new situation for you or there have been changes recently, and the people just don't mesh. Then it's up to the chef to build that team. If two people don't get along, you have to help them make it work, or make a change. When you hire someone, you have to consider, will he or she fit in? You have to take your best guess. The strength of a kitchen is everyone working together." En-ming HsuExecutive Pastry Chef, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Chicago, IL

Jill Rose, who was pastry chef at Lespinasse, also in Washington, D. C., for several years, does not agree that capital customers have a collective dull palate. "I've been surprised," says Rose. "I grew up in that area, and I thought I was familiar with their tastes. But we did a chef tasting menu, and I reserved my most adventuresome desserts for that menu, and I was shocked to find that when I was experimenting and going far out, those would be the desserts that would sell the most." As an example, Rose cites a shaved ice dessert with mixed melon and Midori syrups, candied mung beans and coconut milk. "We called it a melon granité with whatever. That is a big part of it-- the name that you give it should soften it, give them something they can relate to, but at the same time pique their curiosity." Rose balances the exotic menu with tried-and-true items: crème brûlée (" which we serve with biscotti") a selection of ice creams and sorbets with a marinated berry compote, and soufflés, always.

Even in a culinary theme park like San Francisco, there is a conservative clientele. "Some of the things that excite me the most don't sell very well. It tends to dampen my enthusiasm," laments Keith Jeanminette of Masa's in San Francisco. "Other places in town are much more successful with items like that. The clientele that I serve is less inclined to experiment. I need to find a happy medium between what excites me and what I can sell."

"Soufflés." says John Degnan, the executive pastry chef at The Lodge at Koele in Hawaii. "You put it on the menu, it sells, it sells, it sells."

"All classics sell well," in John Hui's experience. The executive pastry chef of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, lists his bestsellers: "Sacher torte, linzertorte, baba au rhum."

"Charlottes and bavarians are classics that are overlooked and underrated," says Daniel Jasso.

"Fruit crisps." says Heather Ho, "because it's basic. People love it, and it changes from season to season. You can play with a lot of different textures."

Martin Howard has great success with chocolate chip cookies and brownies, as themselves or used as components in desserts. "People know them and love them," he says.

"I was first in my class in cooking. Then I tried pastry because I always loved it and I went from first in my class to last. It was very frustrating. So I worked hard. Hard work will always pay, but work cleverly, otherwise you are just banging your head against the wall. What opened my eyes is when I worked in smaller shops-- they were always working one step ahead and ten backwards. I saw that it is possible to work hard like a moron. It is better to learn the better way right away, and work cleverly. Every day people are finding a better way." Sebastien Canonne Co-owner and Instructor, The French Pastry School, Chicago, IL

Ann Amernick notes that ice cream is a classic no kitchen can do without-- with chocolate sauce handy as well. She also mentions tarts. "Chocolate torte is a best seller-- a big, rich piece, with warm ganache over it," she says. "When I was at Citronelle, I did a brownie, but we didn't call it that. I did the brownie so that I could do a napoleon and other European classics. Americans need to try other things. I did a cranberry panna cotta that is so good, such a burst of flavor. It just didn't sell. I did a goat cheese cake. I couldn't call it goat cheese on the menu of course, but it's so delicate, just a little bit of sourness. It didn't sell. Same with baba au rhum. It didn't sell. Then I put rum raisin ice cream on it, chocolate sauce over it and walnuts, and it sold. A recipe of Marian Burros that I loved and changed just a little-- sour cream dough, paper thin and flaky, with apricot jam and walnuts and raisins-- is incredible, and I couldn't sell it for anything. We called it walnut raisin strudel, then faux strudel, then walnut raisin rugelach."

Amernick adds that it is important for pastry chefs to stay in contact with the waitstaff. "You need to stay on their backs," is how she puts it. "They're willing, but they forget. Go to them, give them a taste, tell them, 'You should try to sell this thing. ' "


In an age of restless experimentation, it seems that every possible exotic ingredient, odd flavor combination, and avantgarde texture has been tried by some chef, somewhere. "I don't think there's much that's being neglected," agrees Jemal Edwards. "There are so many pastry chefs doing so many things." But the buying public-- that is a different matter. Chefs sometimes champion a particular dessert, whether a personal favorite or as gesture to educate the clientele. As often as not, such offerings are defeated in the marketplace.

Suzanne Silverman wonders why Americans don't see the value in the "plain pastries that are seen in Paris, with a very thin fruit layer or purée. Fruit and custard, perfectly done. French pastry amazes me. It's so beautiful outside, and it's almost a surprise inside."

"I've always loved baking. My dad loved to bake so, even as a kid, it was something I liked to do, and it's ended up being a great career for me. Every day is different, you meet great people, and there's a lot of creativity. Of course, because it's not routine, it's also not nine to five. The hours can get a little tough, especially when you're married and you have a family. But you can't get into it because of the money. You have to love it." Brian Schoenbeck,Pastry Chef, Westin River North, Chicago, IL

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