The Art of French Baking
Phaidon Press, £24.95
A rather dull plain white jacket does not inspire you to delve further into The Art of French Baking. However, once inside there are helpful sections on essential equipment, ingredients and techniques - and you will need these as the recipes do not go into great detail. For instance, the instructions for making something as technical as brioche - an enriched yeast dough of some complexity - take up no more than half a page.
There are a few pictures, but they appear lifeless and flat, similar to those in a college text book. In complete contrast, the charming illustrations take you on a journey around France and allow you to peer through the windows of pâtisseries - found in every village, town and city - at the calorie-laden counters of tempting cakes and desserts.
Written by the late Ginette Mathiot, a prolific writer on French home cooking, this book has sections on every element of French baking. All the basics are covered including crème pâtissière, crème au beurre and all the pastry doughs from choux pastry to puff pastry, as well as sauces like crème Anglaise. There are also chapters on gateaux, petits fours, tarts and pastries, milk and egg puddings, biscuits and small cakes, which cover the likes of tuilles, langues de chat, Madeleines, savarins, roulades, eclairs, Napoleons, Alsace tart, crème caramel and crème brulée.
A small section at the back of the book has recipes from a handful of world class pâtissiers. Legends such as Pierre Hermé and François Payard share well known and loved pastries from their repertoires. There are also recipes from Sadaharu Aoki, a native of Japan who has taken Paris by storm since opening four patisseries in the city. His selection of classic French dishes, which are given a twist with flavours from his homeland - such as opera cake with matcha tea and yuzu tartlet - are no doubt supposed to add some credibility to this book. Unfortunately, the lack of pictures does not encourage even the most experienced pastry chef to attempt to give them a go. The recipes in this section, however, are in more detail than the rest of the book and cover some of the technical wizardry.
The Art of French Baking would suit those who already have a good knowledge of French pâtisserie and have been baking for some years. If pictures and in-depth methods are not for you, then this book does contain a multitude of classical recipes covering a wide range of pâtisserie.
By Claire Clark, pastry chef and consultant
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