The recipe book to buy: Gâteaux
Two of France’s most acclaimed pastry chefs, Christophe Felder and Camille Lesecq, unveil their most important professional secrets behind the creation of mouth-watering (and visually stunning) classic French cakes and baked treats in their cookbook.
Christophe Felder was the pastry chef at the Hôtel de Crillon for fifteen years before publishing more than twenty cookbooks in France and opening his own pastry school for home cooks. Camille Lesecq was the head pastry chef at the Hotel Meurice in Paris. With more than 150 show-stopping desserts, the recipes in Gâteaux are an ode to what masterpieces can be made from the simple combination of flour, milk, butter, eggs, and sugar.
French pâtisserie is all about precision, so Felder presents home bakers with an amazing wealth of information and skill that goes into making the perfect Madeleine or Tarte Tatin (with an interesting side bar on legend of how this classic came to be), among many others. The recipes are sprinkled with charming stories and memories from a lifetime of pastry, going back to his Alsatian childhood, and inviting the reader to appreciate the hundreds of years of tradition that shaped these cherished recipes.
The roster of sweets in the book include a fair number of regional specialties from Alsace-Lorraine including Kugelhupf, Sweet Pretzels, Bettelmann, Honey Brioche, and Kipferl. However other regions of the country are by no means neglected with tempting treats from the beloved Parisian Saint-Honoré Cake (named in honour of the patron saint of baking) to delicate Lady Fingers that are traditionally consumed with champagne. Each sumptuous recipe is completely foolproof with detailed, step-by-step instructions and pictures that eliminate the guesswork. The authors’ ingenious tips on everything from constructing a charlotte and making fondant flowers to braiding a brioche are sure to inspire bakers of all levels.
Recipe 1: Lemon Tartlets
Ingredients, serves 8
- 75g butter, softened
- 45g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 sachet vanilla sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- 15g ground almonds
- 125g all-purpose flour
- 70ml lemon juice
- 90g sugar
- 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 100ml double cream
- Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt, vanilla sugar, water, egg, and ground almonds. Sift in the flour and mix until just combined. The dough should be smooth. Shape into a
flattened disk, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.
2. Pour the lemon juice into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until dissolved. Beat in the eggs and egg yolk. Stir in the cream and grated lemon zest; the mixture should be completely smooth.
3. Preheat the oven to 345°F (180°C).
4. Working on a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch (3 mm). Cut it into disks the size of the tartlet moulds and line them. To prevent the dough from rising in the oven, either cover with parchment paper weighed down by pie weights, or cover with a mould that just fits over the base of the tartlet. Bake for 20 minutes, until very lightly coloured.
5. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (170°C).
6. Divide the filling among the 8 tarlets, leaving a little to add for the final stage, and bake for 15 minutes, until set. Do not allow it to brown at all. Spread the remaining filling smoothly among the tarts and bake for a further 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
7. Just before serving, grate the lemon zest directly over the tartlets.
Recipe 2: Pears in Pastry
Ingredients, serves 6
- 250g all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for the work surface
- 175g butter, room temperature, diced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 pinches fine salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the pears
- 6 ripe pears
- 50g butter
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- Plus one egg and a pinch of salt for the egg wash
Method: make the dough
1. Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Add the butter (diced), sugar and salt.
2. Rub the ingredients between the palms of your hands, working until the mixture forms a sandy texture. Add the egg and milk and knead in to make a firm dough.
3. Shape into a disk, cover in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.
Prepare the pears
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
2. Cream the butter, lemon zest, and cinnamon together.
3. Peel the pears carefully. Using an apple corer, remove the cores of the pears, taking care not to damage them.
4. Fill the hollows with the butter mixture.
5. Bake the pears for 8-10 minutes only and allow to cool. (You will need the oven at the same temperature to bake the filled pastry cases after a chilling period of 1 hour.)
Make the egg wash
Whisk the egg with the salt briskly for a few seconds until the egg wash is very liquid.
Encase the pears
1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 40cm square, 2mm thick.
2. Working from one side of the square to another, cut the dough into 2cm strips. With the pastry brush, brush them lightly with the egg wash.
3. Pat each pear dry with sheets of paper towel to ensure that the dough does not slip off them.
4. Roll the strips of dough around the six pears. Brush the pastry case with the remaining egg wash. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour to rest so that they hold well when baked. If necessary, reheat the oven to 220°C.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry cases are very lightly browned. Serve warm.
Recipe 3: Sweet Mini Pretzels
Ingredients, makes about 50 mini pretzels
- 185g butter, room temperature
- 75g confectioners’ sugar
- 1 pinch fine salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
- 250g all-purpose flour, plus extra for the work surface
For the glaze
- 300g icing sugar
- 40ml water
- 10ml lemon juice
- 5ml rum
A pretzel cutter
A silicone baking mat
Make the pretzel dough
1. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle beater. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and add the salt and vanilla seeds. Beat until smooth.
2. Beat in the egg yolk. Sift the flour into the mixture in the bowl and stir it in until combined. Do not overmix. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
3. Dust the work surface lightly with flour and roll the dough to a thickness of 5mm. Return it to the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up.
Make the glaze
In a mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients together until combined.
To finish and bake
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the silicone baking mat on the baking sheet.
2. Using the pretzel cookie cutter, cut out the pretzels and place on the prepared baking sheet.
3. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden. You will need the oven at 170°C for the final step, after they have cooled and been dipped in the glaze.
4. Transfer to a rack to cool. Holding them with your hands, dip them, one by one, into the glaze. Then place them on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to drain.
5. Place them in the oven at 325°F (170°C) for 45 seconds to dry out a little.