Pastry Family Tree

One of the challenges that I face with my staff is that they tend to slow down and become nervous when given a new recipe, whether it is for something as simple a new cookie, or something a little more complex. For instance, I gave a recipe to one of my newer cooks, J. It listed the ingredients, listed cooking methods, and combining the components. When it came time to finishing the recipe, it said "Put the pastry cream into the robot coupe and add the chevre." She turned to me and asked if she had missed something. "Where is the pastry cream? It's not listed in the ingredients." she asked. I then had to show her that the first part of the recipe is making a pastry cream with the first few ingredients.

I suppose part of me knew that they are not aware of what they are making on a daily basis or why. That they just look at ingredients listed and methods and don't think about it. That they were just blindly trying to get through prep lists and go home. Just getting through the day.  Often I'm not really aware that others in the kitchen aren't like myself, constantly thinking through a recipe, no matter how many times I've done it.

So, in an effort to teach my staff about the whys and hows of cooking and pastry, I started having a one-on-one conversation with one of the most recently hired pastry cooks about the Pastry Family Tree.

Just as in savory, pastry has an intricate lineage running through our recipes that can be traced back to Mother Sauce(s). The most basic begins with Creme Anglaise. Being a custard, it is the matriarch of many of pastry's creations, from sauces, other custards, to bases for bavarians, or mousses. Changing the ratio of ingredients, and sometimes, adding other components, you can create a variety of items, as well as learn how changing the cooking methods are a way of getting those ingredients to react to one another differently to effect different results.

The Anglaise method is basically heating your liquids (milk, cream) and tempering it into a yolk and sugar mixture, returning this to your pot and cooking this mixture on the stovetop to 77ºC - 85ºC.

If you were to add cornstarch to the Anglaise - keeping the same method of cooking it on the stovetop - you have pastry cream.

If you temper the hot liquids into the yolks, strain, and pour it into ramekins and bake it in the oven in a water bath, you have creme brulee (and pots de creme, etc.). You have changed the cooking method to a baked custard.

If you add whole eggs and bake the custard, you have a flan.

If you spin your cold Anglaise in an ice cream machine, you have ice cream.

I was teaching E. about how to make Italian Meringue Buttercream. A recent graduate of French Pastry School, she has not had much experience in the field, other than baking for friends and family. While at the mixer, we explored the branch of the Meringue family tree.

Italian Meringue is basically egg whites, whipped until light and fluffy, then a sugar syrup (heated to a certain temperature) is added to stabilize it.

Add butter, and you have Italian Meringue Buttercream.

Add bloomed and melted gelatin, and you have marshmallows.

Fold your Italian Meringue into a base of almond flour, powdered sugar and liquid whites, you have French macarons.

Change the components of the syrup and the ratio of syrup to egg whites, and you have marshmallow fluff.

Now, if you marry Pastry Cream, gelatin, and Italian Meringue, you have a chiboust.

It's been interesting talking to E. about how these things are all interconnected and how changes create new things. I tell my staff, there is no "new recipe" but just the same methods, and often the same ingredients in different ratios.

Recipes are guidelines. They are reminders of how just much and what you need to make a particular item. Learning the actual methods and what to look for - "When is it done?" "When it's done!" - instead of sticking strictly to cooking time, for instance, you learn about the chemistry and the hows and the whys. You must always be present, aware, and you must think when cooking and baking. There are so many variables that recipes don't cover, such as an oven running hotter or cooler, gas versus electric stoves, and climate changes, that you need to learn to recognize what is going on with what you're making. The fact that so many family recipes are passed down the each new generation by learning with someone makes more sense than just inheriting a recipe box.

It's not always easy getting people to think and learn. It's not always easy to take the time to teach someone methods. Some days you spend putting out more fires than guiding your staff. Some people are actually just working for a paycheck, while others, like E., are interested in learning what's behind the written recipe. I'm looking forward to introducing the rest of my staff to the Pastry Family Tree and hope that I am able to reach them and teach them what I know. I understand that it is a process and that I have to learn to be patient with myself - many times the things that come easily to me, these things that I take for granted - won't come easily to others. And I have to be patient to those who are not as much of a pastry nerd as I am and try to find a way to reach them as well.

Next time you're making brownies, a cake, or even a soup, think about what's going on in front of you. If you have time - when you have time - experiment a little and see what happens. You may find a delightful surprise in a recipe you've used for years.


Patrick said…
Stumbling upon your blog is amazing. I love the honesty, the rawness of the kitchen which I am quite familiar with. The care and love of your pastry really evokes from this post and seeing all the pastry sauces and creams all coming under one tree and one mother is amazing. (I know about the savoury sauces, but pastry..that is a revelation). As I read this post I can really envision you teaching younger generations and really inspiring those who are willing to learn.
I will be following. Your words and your work is amazing.

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