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Pastry chef Will Torrent: Sweet success made easy

Half of the baking battle when it comes to mastering the techniques of French pâtisserie is confidence, says chef Will Torrent

Will Torrent is one of the leading pastry and chocolate experts in the UK with an award-winning patisserie background.

He began his career working for Heston Blumenthal at the age of 16 and, in 2007, following a First Class Honours degree at the University of West London, he won the first Medallion of Excellence for a British pastry chef at WorldSkills Japan.

He went on to win Young Chef of the Year in 2009, Acorn Scholar 2010 and received the WorldSkills UK Outstanding Achievement Award in 2012. He has worked with top chefs such as Jamie Oliver and James Martin, as well as for The Dorchester, Claridges and The Fat Duck.

In this excerpt he explains his family’s culinary background, his aims in writing the book and offers baking encouragement, whilst introducing basic pâtisserie techniques to master:

“When I was growing up, I was surrounded by food, baking, sweets and family. My Grandad trained as a chef and practiced his trade in some of the most famous hotels and restaurants in the seaside town of Bournemouth. What is more, his uncle owned a pâtisserie in Paris so all this cooking and pastry really is in the blood.

'From an early age I understood how food can bring families together and enjoyment to the table when hard work and effort go into a meal'

“My Nans also baked the most amazing cakes – chocolate, fruit and Welsh cakes – so from an early age I understood how food can bring families together and enjoyment to the table when hard work and effort go into a meal. Nans’ Welsh cakes were brought home with giddy anticipation – beautiful crumbly little things full of sugar, butter and raisins.

“Just writing this, I can smell them baking in the kitchen and then hear the unwrapping of the foil and greaseproof paper they were wrapped in.

“I have three very vivid memories from my childhood that conjure up nostalgic tastes, aromas and wonderful memories. The first is of making peppermint creams with my friends at infant school and being stunned at the strength of minty flavour.

“The second is of baking chocolate fudge cake with my Nans for many a birthday celebration – I couldn’t quite reach the worktop but I did my best to get stuck in and of course I ate the raw cake mixture from the sides of the bowl and the spoon. We always looked forward to that much more than the traditionally iced fruitcake that Mum always asked for.

“The third is of a Greek salad made by my Grandad. I must have been about nine or ten years old and I had never tasted feta cheese before! I had always loved cheese on toast but this sour, salty cheese with its unusual texture and smell, chopped in a salad with tomatoes, cucumber and olives, really fed my imagination and I soon caught the cooking bug. With that kind of heritage, it’s no wonder I ended up training to be a pastry chef.

“Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great pastry chefs and in some amazing places, so I hope some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up here and there will make your life easier when you set out on your French pâtisserie journey.

“French pastry is so often thought of as impossible to achieve at home, and something that only professional pastry chefs with years of training can perfect. Even some of the simpler French desserts have the fear factor for many people out there.

“But with the growing popularity of baking over recent years, it’s time to step into a pastry chef ’s shoes, attempt some of the classics and surprise yourself.

“I hope that with my step-by-step guidelines and modern flavour combinations and finishes, you will have the confidence to attempt some of my French pâtisserie, made easy! Keep it familiar but make it new!”

Basic techniques

“Pâtisserie is all about technique precision and elegance. You only need to look in a Parisian pâtisserie window to appreciate how skilled a pastry chef needs to be to produce identical rows of éclairs, perfectly piped macarons and batch after batch of silken ganache to enrobe petits fours.

“When you make the decision to replicate these creations at home, you needn’t doubt your skills; every basic technique is simple to master if you take your time, are meticulous and don’t berate yourself too much for a novice attempt.

“All of the stock pastry doughs, creams and finishing touches are achievable and will provide you with the foundations for so many French pastries.”

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