Kings of Pastry

I finally caught the movie Kings of Pastry over the weekend, and I can’t say there’s much there to recommend. Which is to say, it’s a movie that teaches you virtually nothing about pastry, the profession of baking or even the ostensible subject of the film, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. I’m still marveling at how an 80-minute film on pastry managed to miss all that, but it did.

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On the Purpose of Dry Milk

Reader Vanesa (yes with only one “s”) asks:

Can you tell us more about what the powdered milk is doing in this recipe? Is it for flavor, structure, something else?

Vanesa, I’d be delighted. Flavor is part of the reason for the powdered milk, however it’s mostly there as a tenderizer. Powdered (dry) milk is composed of carbs (lactose), fat and protein. What all those things have in common is that none of them are gluten. Which means that once they’re introduced to the dough, they’ll interfere with the wheat protein networks and keep the crumb from getting too chewy. So I guess you’d say that it’s there to undermine structure more than anything else. Thanks for the question!

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Spam Spam Spam Spam

A savage band of spammers evidently found the new site late last week. Friday I woke up to well over 1,000 messages waiting for approval. Fully half of them read “Thanks for the awesome posting, it saved MUCH time!”, and were accompanied by links to various porn sites (which I’ll investigate later in order to verify that they are, in fact, the sort of filth that would never be allowed on a blog of this quality). If anyone has any ideas about how I can put a stop to the deluge, please get in touch.

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Why are king cakes made of brioche?

…asks reader Kendra. That’s a good question, since many other types of kings’ cakes made outside New Orleans (notably galette des rois) are made with flaky dough. To that I’d say that while the brioche ring is the most famous of the New Orleans king cakes, some bakeries do make the French-style flaky galette. In fact I was steered in that direction by more than one local who believed that the French style was both better-tasting and truer to the king cake aesthetic. I’ve already done that one, of course, so my thought was to press on with something new.

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King Cake History Redux

There’s no question that structurally New Orleans-style king cake is a very different animal than continental kings’ cakes, however the history behind it is nearly identical. I’ve written on the topic here, here and here. What seems true is that the king (or kings’) cake is less about Christianity than it is about parties. Have a look-see if you need a refresher or missed that series of posts entirely.

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On the Texture of Whipped Cream

Reader Kylie asks:

Why does homemade whipped cream seem to taste lighter or “thinner” than whipped that’s inside pastries that I get from a pastry counter? What are those bakers adding that I’m not?

They might not be adding anything at all, Kylie. Other than a little sugar and vanilla, that is. Oftentimes we home bakers serve whipped cream as soon as we prepare it, which means it’s a little warmer than whipped cream that’s been whipped and then thoroughly refrigerated. Whipped cream that’s chilled has a thicker mouthfeel because the fats have firmed up in the cold.

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New Orleans-Style Kings Cake

I think they just call it “King Cake” in New Orleans, actually, but why get hung up on semantics? I’ve spent weeks casting about looking for a recipe that’s representative of what’s served in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. I didn’t find much that spoke to me, and was considering making up my own recipe […]

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Making Paris-Brest

There are an awful lot of flavors and textures at work in this simple pastry. Crunchy toasted almonds, spongy/chewy choux, rich but light chantilly cream and beneath it all a luxurious almond-praline pastry cream. Put it together and you’ve got something even one of today’s hyper-fit long-distance cyclists would find hard to resist. You want to have most of the components ready before you begin: pâte à choux batter loaded into a large pastry bag, praline paste and pastry cream. With all that at-the-ready, you can get down to baking and building. Preheat your oven to 425.

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