Pros: Reveals how to perform many advanced techniques
Cons: Skills required are well out of reach for most home cooks
Elements of Dessert is a professional, advanced level cookbook that teaches experienced pastry chefs how to take their skills to the next level. The book is beyond the needs of most home cooks, but if used the right way, Elements will still provide plenty of useful knowledge to the adventurous.
Following the tradition of most cookbooks from the Culinary Institute of America, Elements is organized in a way that will provide users an at-home education. Most cookbooks from the Culinary start with cooking basics, and a review of ingredients, prior to introducing recipes that are published sequentially from basic to more complex. However, chef-author Francisco Migoya modifies the pattern to better apply to the advanced pastry kitchen.
First, instead of kitchen safety and equipment, Migoya starts with cooking philosophy. He explains that while you will imitate others’ dishes at first, you must develop and refine your own style. He stresses the importance of not over-composing your dishes, and yet encourages you to push the limits of creativity. And within each recipe or topic that he discusses, this philosophy of tempered experimentation is seen.
Next, Migoya briefly reexamines common cooking methods to show you that more can be done with basic techniques. When discussing the creaming method, for example, he points out that since the main purpose of creaming is to trap air, why not use different items for the base, such as duck fat with your sugar. And instead of purchasing chocolate to cook with, why not grind your own from scratch? Already, you can see Migoya’s philosophy being applied in Elements.
Then, the ingredients of the advanced pastry kitchen are reviewed. Here again, Migoya breaks from the usual Culinary cookbook pattern by ignoring discussion of common ingredients and only focusing on the unique. The obvious statement this writing decision makes is that you should already be very comfortable in the pastry kitchen before attempting these advanced recipes. More importantly, you again realize that Migoya is expanding your limits in all areas of cooking. While pastry chefs may rightly boast of their use of all natural ingredients like cream or eggs, the advanced kitchen reconsiders the use of additives like xanthan gum, sodium alginate, or calcium lactate to achieve desired results. Further, you will garnish desserts with the unexpected like edible gold and copper dust. Such items often play only a minor role in actual taste of a dessert, but they nonetheless contribute to its overall success.
Finally, you are given a substantial lesson on taste and flavor. Through descriptions and tables, Migoya teaches you the finer points of diners’ palates. He sets out what flavor pairings work well together and why. You are even given cheat sheets for later use to guide you in your own experiments. And to reinforce the importance of flavor over flash and gimmicks, you are later given notes on why the flavors work for each completed dessert in the book. These instructions and tips complete your introduction to the advanced pastry kitchen, and you are now ready to tackle the challenge of the recipes.
Upon reaching the recipes section, you will notice that Migoya again breaks with the Culinary format of recipe organization, but only slightly to accommodate the needs of professional chefs. Instead of sequentially listing recipes from basic to more complex, the recipes are grouped by style of service. This allows professional kitchens to quickly browse dishes based on the meal service they offer. However, you should note that some of the later recipes make callbacks to techniques that are explained at length in earlier dishes. So while not necessary to study the recipes in progressive order, do not overlook the lessons found in previous pages.
The recipes in Elements are a broad assortment of treats that rarely resemble the familiar. For instance, there is the dessert of frozen Nutella and banana cream molded into the shape of Legos and colored to match the real life toy. There is also toast with cherry jam that is dispensed from toothpaste-like tubes. Then there’s the carrot cakes served as obelisk-like structures. Though unfamiliar in appearance, the desserts are not so outlandish that your guests will be intimidated. Rather, your guests will appreciate the artistic and playful nature found on each plate.
Regardless of artistic presentation, the underlying preparation and cooking are themselves demanding. The desserts found in Elements are often composed dishes, meaning that multiple recipes must be completed before final assembly and plating. In other words, significant attention to detail and careful planning is norm, not the exception. For example, the recipe for Carrot Cake Cubes requires five separate components from five full recipes before combining them into a single plated item. Without appropriate planning or grasp of advanced methods, success will be difficult to achieve. True, not all desserts require assembly or multiple components, but time intensive preparation should be expected throughout Elements.
If there were one glaring drawback to owning Elements, it would naturally be its advance material. Many of the methods presented in the book seem so profound that attempts to learn them from the printed page, as opposed to an internship or professional stage, appears futile. Further, even well-stocked professional kitchens will need to invest in new equipment and ingredients to complete a number of the recipes. And even if a kitchen has both the equipment and ingredients, they may not have the trained staff or daily prep time necessary for realistic service of these dishes. When a pastry book calls for food dehydrators, designer foil sleeved envelopes, gellan gum, and ice cream stabilizer, you know that only the truly passionate or obsessed will take the time to track down each item.
Nevertheless, despite seeming out of reach of many cooks, there are many who will benefit from owning it. First, remember Migoya’s philosophy that it is appropriate to imitate others until you develop your own style. Books like Elements are necessary to show developing chefs exactly what is possible, and inspire them to pursue learning various techniques that they otherwise would never have considered previously. Next, those pastry chefs who do have the skills necessary to execute these recipes need books like Elements as a resource, not a cookbook. Those chefs have already made significant investments of time in their careers and will view the book as a source of ideas and not a how-to manual. And they are the ones who will, just by seeing the required cooking methods, instinctively know how to personalize the dishes or adjust the recipes to fit their needs and resources, thus avoiding the need to invest in equipment that they don’t need. These very experienced chefs are the readers who will use Elements to its fullest.
So why should the less experienced cook purchase Elements? Because many of the individual components are still rather simple. In fact, many of the recipes are basic preparations that you probably cooked previously, with a single change or two for refinement. You will get your feet wet in advanced pastry cooking and may even find a number of dishes that you will love and that will impress others. You may need to slow down and be very methodical in your approach to a recipe, but you may be surprised at how many of these recipes you can execute in your home kitchen. The home cooks just need to be prepared for methods and ingredients that are unfamiliar to them.
Like most CIA books, Elements of Dessert is indeed an at-home education, but for the very experienced pastry cooks. While there are many lessons a casual cook can gain, this book is largely for the trained chefs. Nevertheless, do not turn away from Elements out of fear. The recipes themselves are not impossible, but do require meticulous preparation. And if you tackle the components one at a time, you will see that your skills can meet the challenge of the advanced pastry kitchen. And with Elements of Dessert, you will have the at-home training necessary to get you there.
[The sample recipe included below shows the broad spectrum of cooking skills that may be served by a single Migoya recipe. Note that this is merely a single component of a much larger recipe. Also note how it is a rather simple looking recipe, accessible to even the casual cook. But Migoya assumes you have a working knowledge of sugar, and will understand the temperatures that must be reached to obtain a crack candy. Further, note his final step on service and storage. Such information is not necessary for the home cook, but it is also something not necessarily possible for them either. Many of the other recipes are similar. Home cooks may have the ability to make Migoya’s recipes, but the recipes are best suited for the experienced chef and well stocked kitchens.]
Roasted and Salted Peanuts: 10.23 oz.
Sugar: 8.36 oz.
Corn Syrup: 9.07 oz.
Baking Soda: .6 oz.
- Combine the peanuts, sugar, and corn syrup in a 4 qt. sauce pot.
- Cook over medium-high heat while stirring with a heat-resistant spoon until the sugar begins to caramelize. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the baking soda.
- Pour onto a greased marble surface or a sheet pan lined with a nonstick baking mat.
- Let the brittle cool and then break it into bite-sized pieces.
- Reserve in a dehydrator set to 115F during service. Brittle is very susceptible to moisture and will become tacky at the slightest increase in ambient humidity. Stored in an airtight container with silica gel in a cool, dry place, it can keep for a few months.