Top positive review
4 of 4 people found this helpful
on January 25, 2004
At first I was skeptical of this book, since Hermé is worshipped by the French press as a demi-god. I am glad to say that this is a source of very good, but not great desserts. There are several things I like about this cookbook. All of the recipes were thoroughly tested, and I had no problem with the ones I tried, although some recipes required more than casual talent and there are no warnings about this in the recipes. Most of the recipes are assembly jobs. That is, the components are prepared at least a day before and assembled that day. The garnishes and plating are also completely described and recipes given for them; this way, there is no question of how to serve them. These are mostly professional restaurant desserts that have been successfully adapted to the American kitchen. So, these recipes are suitable for both restaurant and home. There is nothing here that is very difficult, but some are time consuming and have several preliminary steps. Hermé for the most part eschews decorative, architectural structures and focuses on the flavor of the dish.
The chapter "Basic Recipes" contains components used by recipes in the other chapters. It is an interesting collection of recipes, some with curious wrinkles. Some of them, like pâte brisée, meringue or inside-out puff pastry, do not work as well as standard versions. Some, like crème anglaise or pastry cream, are actually better than standard ones because they list actual temperatures rather than a physical description as the end point, meaning that the less experienced will have a good chance of doing them properly. Some recipes, like Lemon Cream, are a lot of extra effort without any discernable improvement. In this chapter, standard French names in addition to the American ones used would have been nice, especially for those who have not had a lot of experience with French patisserie.
The next two chapters, "Fruits, Creams, and Cookies" and "Tarts and Tartlets" are much more interesting. Hermé's use of fresh fruits is particularly impressive, particularly in simple fruit plates and tarts. The little tricks he uses are well worth learning and applying elsewhere, like burning off crème chiboust with a propane torch, adding freshly ground pepper to fresh fruits (I believe he is the one who invented this), or using chopped, drained oranges by itself as a tart filling. Some his tricks, however do not really help; draining or drying fruit produced a nice texture, but they lost their fresh fruit flavor.
The last chapter on cakes was rather ordinary. In particular, I did not really like the flavor of the chocolate cakes. They have all sorts of other flavors added in, and they did not combine well with the chocolate. The combinations are trendy, and many of them are already out of date (book copyright is 1998).
The last chapter is particularly useful: it has explanations of the procedures and equipment used throughout the book. My only complaint here is that marzipan and almond paste certainly are not the same thing, nor are they interchangeable. It is here, buried at the end of the section on measuring, that you discover how flour is measured for the recipes (they use dip and sweep).