Pastry champ's favourite recipes
World champion pâtissier Christophe Michalak dreamed of being an artist
Christophe Michalak is head pastry chef at the Paris Plaza Athénée. His new book, Les desserts qui me font craquer(Desserts I’m crazy about), is published by Plon, price €27)
What was the idea behind your book Les desserts qui me font craquer?
I simply took French people’s favourite 45 desserts and brought them up to date with a more modern, rock’n’roll, elegant feel.
Some are inspired by other chefs?
I have a lot of friends and like to talk about them. I have too much respect for them to try to copy them exactly, but I’m often inspired by them while adapting dishes in my own way.
In theory they can be made at home, but some need items like a cream siphon or a chef’s blowtorch.
On the whole, yes, that’s the idea. You can find equipment like that easily, and it’s not all that expensive.
Is it important to be well equipped: for example, to finish your crème brûlée with a blowtorch, not under the grill?
In ordinary cooking you can get by without much and just wing it, but in pâtisserie it’s more complicated.
I don’t want to lie to people: if you want to do it right, you have to be very serious about the recipes. You could get by with the grill, but it’s never as good.
Which are your favourite recipes?
I like the cheesecake very much, it’s very delicate and tasty, the cherry clafoutis, and chocolate or lemon tarts and tarte tatin.
You have a recipe for pain d'épices (gingerbread), which looks good for Christmas. Is it inspired by three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire?
It is very simple and so good, very moist and aromatic. I ate a very good one at Gagnaire’s and I’ve tried to recreate something similar.
Why does France has such a great tradition of pâtisserie?
French pâtisserie is very traditional, very unique. You can go all over the world and not find anything better. There are many cookery styles, but really only one pâtisserie, the French one. We take the authenticity and classic side very seriously in France, but at the same time I try to bring a youthful touch.
Do you think too many people stick to the same classics without using new ideas?
You have to move with your times: 25 years ago desserts were very alcoholic, very buttery and fatty; now you need to make lighter cakes.
Where should you go to taste the best pâtisserie?
There are some very good pâtisserie shops in Paris, and I list some favourite addresses in the book.
Such as [luxury food supplier] Fauchon and [top pâtisserie shop] Ladurée, where you have worked in the past?
They are among the best Paris addresses still but there are lots of others too.
What do you enjoy most about pâtisserie: the creative, artistic side?
There is the look, the elegance, but also the balance of flavours and textures; it’s not just about the look. The important thing is to create emotions with your desserts.
What have you invented for your winter collection at the Plaza Athénée hotel?
I’ve concentrated on a certain product, origin and shape for each dessert. For example, I took maple syrup from Canada and made a dessert in the shape of a pear. The public can visit to taste my desserts in our Gallerie des Gobelins between 15.00 and 19.00.
You have been involved with the French version of Masterchef [a televised cooking competition for amateur chefs, inspired by the BBC show]. Has it been going well?
I think it will take a while for the French to really get to know the concept well, but I think it’s a success. I especially enjoyed an episode where they made croque-en-bouche [fancy desserts made from a pile of small pâtisseries]. It was a pleasure to work with the contestants and explain how to make a beautiful cake.
You have worked in the UK before. Are there any British desserts you enjoy?
Yes, at the Hilton, Park Lane. I like summer pudding, which I have a version of, cheesecake and bread-and-butter pudding, among quite a lot of things.