24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
jerry i h
- Published on Amazon.com
Three decades ago, the Roux Brothers re-invented French cuisine by inventing nouvelle cuisine and writing a cookbook by the same name. With this book, they have focused their talent to the pastry kitchen. One the whole, if you sort of know your way around the home pastry kitchen, this book is a decent (but not great) resource for professional patisserie recipes adapted for the home kitchen. It is not for beginners.
In spite of all the French heritage, the Roux brothers exercise their craft in England, and are thoroughly British in attitude and taste, for better or worse. True to this tradition, virtually every dessert in this book has either fresh fruit or marzipan (there is even a Christmas pudding; there are 5 fruit souffles, but not a chocolate one); if you are looking for a standard, heavy, fattening French pastry or dessert that does not have fresh fruit, you probably will not find it here. In that sense, this pastry book is quite deficient, as there are whole classes of pastry and desserts that the home pastry chef should be able to do, but are absent from this book.
The concept of a pastry book to train the home cook into an amateur pastry chef is very appealing; this is the stated intention of the authors. No book I have ever come across does this adequately. Sad to say, this book is no exception. The patisserie here is more or less professional, meaning that most of the dishes are multiple component assembly jobs; it assumes you already have the components available and ready for use. The coordination of making the basic components with the main dish assembly is never addressed. There is a surprising amount of inattention to the recipes by the authors: flour amounts are in cups and not weight, the use of confectioner's sugar makes the dessert gritty (you should use superfine sugar), potato starch in the sponge biscuit, a creme mousseline that uses pure butter rather than whipped cream (yuck), and the use of instant vanilla pudding and lack of gelatin in creme chiboust.
Unfortunately, the recipe instructions lack the necessary detail for the home cook. Without professional instruction, it is unlikely that the average home cook will be able to successfully execute the recipes, even in the basics chapter. For example, the suggestion to place water directly to the oven floor when baking bread will either cause a kitchen fire or damage the oven. The authors never address what to do with leftover cake trimmings, frostings, etc; several recipes advise you to throw away leftover meringue (a professional pastry chef should know better; just pipe out and bake little cookies or vacherins). Some of the recipes require you to slice genoise rounds into paper thin layers (1/4 inch), but the book never tells you how. The seasonality of fresh fruits is also never addressed (good quality fresh fruits means that many of the desserts can only be made during certain times of the year, plus the quality of fruit in England is inferior to the ones in California, as England is at the same latitude with Canada, not exactly famous for high quality summer berries or stone fruit; if the authors lived in California, I think the fruit treatment would be vastly different).
On the good side, other than the croquembouche or Pithivier, the recipes do not have fancy, elegant, professional decorating components. The emphasis is on preparing the pastry itself, making it a good learning tool for the home amateur pastry chef who does not need to learn sophisticated decorating techniques. The recipes also have essential constituents: prep and cooking times, and necessary equipment and tools.
The chapter on sugar work (poured, spun, rock, blown, and pulled) is rarely found, even in professional pastry books. They are quite instructive, but flawed: no safety information (hot, molten sugar at 300 degrees is the most dangerous thing in the kitchen, even more dangerous than deep fry grease, because the sugar sticks to your skin, whereas oil tends to drip off or can be shaken off), glucose (which cannot be found in stores, but you may substitute light corn syrup), and the call for beet sugar or cane sugar cubes (wrong on both counts: always use granulated cane sugar for worked sugar and sculpture).
It has chapters on doughs, bread, meringue and sponge cake bases, sauces and creams, tarts, cold dishes, hot dishes, sherbet, savory hors d'oeuvres, petits fours, picnic cakes, worked sugar, and a brief chapter on culinary sculpture (dry choux, marzipan, royal icing, pastillage, nougatine, chocolate curls, ice bowl).