Reader Lindy writes:
Joe, I’m frustrated. Every time I set out to make a fancy pastry it ends in disaster. I don’t want to give up, I actually consider myself a fairly accomplished baker, but I just can’t seem to get the fancy pastry thing right. Should I stop wasting my days and stick to the breads and cookies I know? Help!
Lindy, I feel your pain. Spending a long day making components for an elegant pastry, then having the whole thing collapse into a rich and delicious mess…it can be a terribly aggravating thing. It happens to me far more than I admit on this blog.
When it gets right down to it, the secret ingredient for success in fancy pastry is time. If you peered into the back of any pastry shop what you’d see there would surprise you. Almost all the bakers would be spending almost all their time making components: creams, cake layers, fillings, toppings, crusts, garnishes, the list goes on. Final assembly is just one in a series of careful steps that can take several days to execute.
Mirroring that process at home is the best way to achieve the kinds of results that those pastry shop people get. That means making components ahead of time — several days ahead if possible — storing them, and then making assembly its own event.
That’s the professional pastry-making way. The problem is that most of us home bakers try to do the whole thing in one fell swoop. We bake the layers, make the filling, whip the topping and shape the garnishes all in one afternoon. When it finally comes time for assembly or shaping we’re tired and time-pressed. Which is to say: prone to making mistakes.
But taking the professional kitchen approach we can not only improve the overall quality of the components we use (because we give each one the time and attention it deserves) we make a better looking pastry because we’re tan, rested and ready when we get to the final building step. As I’ve often said, I’m at my happiest when I have a sunny Saturday afternoon in front of me, a cold beer or two in the fridge, and a pastry to build.
So plan ahead, do a little each day, and when all is said and done your fancy pastries will be working a whole lot better. That’s the best advice I have to give!