Food writer and recipe tester Linda Avery reviews cookbooks.
In 1995 Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer and Chef Sébastien Canonne, M.O.F., opened The French Pastry School in Chicago. It was the only school of its kind in the United States. Having taken classes at The French Pastry School, I will say that everyone I have met on their staff is competent, genuinely nice, helpful and interested in a student’s success.
(Aside: In 2009, the DVD Kings of Pastry hit the market. The documentary follows Chef Pfeiffer’s return to France on a quest for the prestigious status of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (M.O.F.). If you are not aware of what transpires during this competition, i.e., the pressure, the long hours and the high emotions, it's a must see. The story is fascinating.)
Back to the book: Chef Pfeiffer’s talents have been recognized worldwide and now The Art of French Pastry is a finalist for a James Beard award in the category of Baking and Dessert.
He opens the book with his life growing up in Alsace and his rigorous training. After working as executive pastry chef in France, he hit the road and became the trainer, moving to Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Palo Alto before landing in Chicago in 1991.
He then tells you how to use the book, scale ingredients, and provides an essentials chapter where he gives an opinion of which tool is best (digital candy thermometer, wooden rolling pin, ramekins, etc) and gives source information. Essential Ingredients follow (sourcing included).
Chapter 1 is devoted to fundamentals or “little pastry master classes” - the foundation – and he warns “you will not be able to execute the classic recipes… without mastering the fundamentals.” Think puff pastry dough.
Chapters on French Pastry Classics, Tarts, Cookies, Cake & Ice Cream follow. The final chapter is a nod to his home: Sweet and Savory Alsatian Specialties.
Diagrams and drawings are precise; the visuals solidify the reader's understanding of what the recipe states. Time-lapse photos of creating meringue and whipped cream are the perfect guide for the novice who is baffled by the difference between soft peak, semi-stiff peak, stiff peak and very stiff peaks. He shows broken meringue and how he “repaired” it.
This book is a comprehensive tool for anyone who aspires to a career in pastry or just enjoys serious baking. Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon. Use the Look Inside feature to see how comprehensive this book is. It is indeed award-winning material.