Secrets of baking success
New York-based chef Rory Macdonald reveals what it takes to become a top pâtissier and provides two favourite mousse recipes
First in, last out. That’s the first thing I say to anyone looking to enter this profession. In a restaurant the pastry chefs are there at the beginning and the end of a meal, and in pâtisseries or bakeries, their work often starts just as everyone else goes to bed.
It can be tough and relentless, but I have never thought of it as a sacrifice. Whether working as a chef or a pastry chef, this is my job, this is what I do. And if you want to have any sort of success in this career or any career, you have to work hard and be dedicated. It’s not glamorous, but it is rewarding.
It’s the little things in life. I still smile every time I tap out a tray of shiny chocolate bonbons, and I’m still proud when my macarons come out with perfectly straight sides or when I speak with a guest who enjoyed their pastry.
As Chef David Evans [Macdonald’s first boss, at Nutfield Priory Hotel in Surrey] taught me, success is not about recognition, success is about being proud of what you do. Practice until you get it right, and then take pride in the results, whether it’s in a professional kitchen or at home, a caramel or a croissant.
Rules for perfect pastry
Pastry making is a discipline. The more you can stick to these guidelines (or, in my world, rules!), the greater your chance of consistency and success. In Chanson’s [Macdonald’s New York pâtisserie] kitchen when my cooks say to me, “Something went wrong, I don’t know what happened, I did everything the same,” I always smile because that’s not how baking works, especially when it comes to pastry.
At some point the rules weren’t followed, whether it was the scaling of the recipe, the time of a proof, the temperature or baking time or fan speed of the oven, something was different and it had an affect. When it comes to baking, there is something really satisfying, almost addictive, to following the rules because that way you will get the same results every time.
This may sound a little intense, but once you have mastered the following rules, after that you have the knowledge you need to change them. A great example of this is my croissant recipe. Once you have mastered this recipe, the possibilities are endless, from chocolate-raspberry or pistachio to black truffle and prosciutto croissants, all using the same base dough. But only if you follow the rules.
This is paramount. In the kitchen it’s actually the most important aspect of our work – if your work area is dirty, then your food is dirty. This is the first and most important thing a young cook will learn and it will serve them for the rest of their careers. The same should be applied to a home cook, too.
Being clean and organised will make baking more efficient, less stressful, and more enjoyable – and that’s how baking should be!
• Before starting any recipe, empty your dishwasher or fill your sink with soapy water, so you can clean up as you go. This will keep your work surfaces clear, and when you have finished baking, you can sit back and enjoy your creation without an hour’s worth of cleaning ahead of you.
• Clear as much counter space as possible; this will help you to keep things clean and organized as you cook.
• Get all the necessary equipment out, and have it clean and ready before you start. This way you won’t be stressing out as you search in the back of your cupboards halfway through a recipe.
Weigh your ingredients
There are many variables in baking – adding the precise quantity of ingredients called for in a recipe should not be one of them. As every good pastry chef knows, weighing items, preferably on a digital kitchen scale, is the cleanest, fastest, most efficient, and most importantly, accurate method for achieving this.
That is why I strongly recommend that you get into the habit of weighing your ingredients rather than measuring them using grams and tablespoons.
Here are some examples that demonstrate how weighing can make all the difference when it comes to the success of your pastries, breads, and other baked goods:
• One cup of flour might weigh 50 percent more than another, depending on how it is scooped or packed.
• Different brands of salt are not equal when measured by volume, so depending on the salt you are using, you could be adding way too much or too little, potentially a significant variable.
• Eggs are another massive variable: depending on where you buy them, the weight of six large eggs can vary by as much as 200 grams.
• When measuring flour, icing sugar or cocoa powder, lightly spoon it into the measuring cup, rather than packing it in or dipping and sweeping the cup through the flour to measure it.
Oven hot spots
Every oven is different and will have hot spots – even convection ovens will have these. So, it is worth your while to try to figure out where they are and how that might affect your baking.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
This saying is something I think about every day in the kitchen.
“Do we need to change this recipe?”
“Is this truly better now that we’ve changed it?” I ask these questions whenever we are testing a new recipe. Did we improve it or are we just changing it because we make it every day and we’re bored?
Here’s another way of saying this: “Respect the old but embrace the new.” If you master the classics, then the possibilities are endless.
Baking is a skill, a trade, an art form – whatever you want to call it, it takes time, patience, and practice. Don’t be disheartened if your first round of macarons doesn’t rise, or if your first attempt at croissants doesn’t look like the photos. Examine all the variables and see if there was anything you missed so you can come up with a plan for the next round.
It can be frustrating, but don’t give up – when you bite into a perfect macaron or croissant that you made yourself, that feeling will outshine any frustration ten-fold!
Simplicity isn’t always simple, but it is always the best. Happy baking!
Chocolate mandarin mousse
- 3 sheets gelatin
- 190g milk
- zest of 3 Mandarin oranges
- 2 large egg yolks
- 30g sugar
- 225g milk chocolate, preferably
- Valrhona Bahibé (46% cacao)
- 25g Mandarin orange juice
- 225g cream, whipped to soft peaks
For the Mandarin glaze
- 9 sheets gelatin (18g), 250g Mandarin orange puree, 40g glucose or corn syrup and orange liquid food coloring
1. Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water.
2. In a saucepan, bring the milk and orange zest just to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisking continuously, pour the boiling milk over the eggs and sugar.
3. Return to a clean pan and stir with a spatula in a figure eight motion until the crème anglaise begins to thicken; remove immediately from the heat, add the drained gelatin, and pass it through a fine-mesh sieve, directly over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is fully melted, then stir in the orange juice. Allow to cool.
4. In three stages, gently fold in the whipped cream until fully incorporated. Using a piping bag or spoon, fill sixteen 3-inch half-sphere moulds three-quarters full. Place in the freezer for at least 3 to 4 hours, or until frozen.
5. When frozen solid, push a mousse out of the mould and place the two flat sides together. Working quickly and using your fingers smooth, join the two edges together so you have a perfectly smooth sphere. Return to the freezer. Repeat with the remaining frozen mousse. Insert large wooden skewers into the middle of each sphere of mousse; leave them in the freezer.
6. Soak the gelatin in cold water until soft; drain and squeeze out excess water.
7. Heat the orange puree and glucose in a saucepan. When hot, add the drained gelatin, whisk to incorporate, and then pass through a fine-mesh sieve. Reserve at 95°F (or body temperature, if you don’t have a thermometer) until needed.
8. First make sure the temperature is around 95°F and that the glaze is not too thick; if it is place it briefly in the microwave until it is liquid again.
9. Using the skewer as a handle, quickly dip one of frozen mousse spheres into the glaze, coating it completely, then quickly removing it to allow the excess glaze to drip off. Immediately dip the sphere again—the glaze should set straightaway. Carefully pull out the skewer and reserve the sphere in the refrigerator until serving time. Repeat with the remaining frozen mousse spheres.
10. If available, insert some fresh mandarin orange stalks with leaves into the holes made by the skewers. Serve on dessert plates at room temperature.
Earl Grey and blood orange chocolate mousse
- Hazelnut Dacquoise
- 9 large egg whites
- 120g granulated sugar
- 375g hazelnut flour or ground hazelnuts
- 10x icing sugar
- 40g loose Earl Grey tea
- 375g milk
- 60g granulated sugar
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 sheets gelatin
- 450g milk chocolate, preferably Valrhona Jivara Lactee pistoles or bars
- 450g heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
- zest of 3 blood oranges
- 300g heavy cream
- 375g milk
- 50g neutral glaze
- 500g dark semisweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Manjari (64% cacao)
1. Make the hazelnut dacquoise: Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until they become foamy, then gradually sprinkle in the sugar, whisking on full speed after it’s all added until a smooth meringue is achieved.
2. Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift the hazelnut flour and icing sugar, then using a spatula, fold them into the meringue, mixing gently until fully incorporated.
3. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprayed with non-stick spray, spread the dacquoise evenly over the pan. Bake for 8-12 minutes, until it has a light colour and bounces back when you press with your finger. Let cool on a wire rack.
4. Meanwhile, make the mousse: Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water until soft; drain and squeeze out excess water. Put the tea in a small saucepan and add water just to cover. Bring to a boil and continue to boil until the water has evaporated.
TIP: Cooking the tea leaves slightly helps rehydrate them and removes some of the strong tannin flavours, as you would get from over-brewing tea.
5. As soon as the pan is dry, add the milk, bring to just under a boil, then strain over the egg yolks and sugar, whisking continuously. Return to a clean pan and stir with a spatula in a figure eight motion until the crème anglaise begins to thicken; remove immediately from the heat, add the drained gelatin, and pass through a fine-mesh sieve, directly over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is fully melted.
6. In three stages, gently fold in the whipped cream until fully incorporated. To line the cake ring or frame, gently press ring or frame over the cooked dacquoise and cut around the ring or frame so you have a tight fitting base, exactly the same size. Lightly spray the sides of the ring or the frame with non- stick spray so it is easier to unmold after it has set.
7. Pour the mousse into the mould or cake ring over the hazelnut dacquoise, place in the refrigerator, and allow a minimum of 4 to 5 hours to set, but ideally over-night.
8. To finish the mousse, remove the mousse from the mould or cake ring, ensuring that the dacquoise is on its base, and place in the freezer for at least 3 or 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
9. Meanwhile, make the chocolate glaze: In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and mirror glaze and bring to the boil. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and mix well, emulsifying with a whisk or hand blender. Transfer to a heatproof container and allow the glaze to set in the refrigerator.
10. When you’re ready to assemble the mousse, gently melt the chocolate glaze in the microwave; it’s ready to use when it reaches 95°F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, then wait until the glaze is around body temperature before using.)
11. Remove the mousse from the freezer and place it on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or parchment paper to catch the drips. Pour the glaze over the mousse, allowing the excess to run off, then immediately place the mousse on a plate and return it to the refrigerator to allow the glaze to set.
12. When ready to serve, add one or two blood orange macarons and some caramelized hazelnuts, if you like.