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Making French pastries

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Is it possible to make French pastries at home and will they taste like the "real thing?"

If so, what pastry books should I look at buying?

Thank you.
post #2 of 12
I've love making French pastries at home and as for tasting like the real thing I haven't had too many complaints.

Which pastries are you interested in? Puff pastry, petit fours and pate choux are just a few of some very broad ranges of French pastries. There are also general categories such as cookies that have French specialties such as macaroons.

I have quite a few books (my wife rolls her eyes when I buy yet another) on pastry making. The new French Baker is a good one for a home cook but depends a lot on a food processor and short cuts. Some of them work great, some fall a bit short of what they're aiming for, though they still taste good. Desert Circus & Desert Circus at Home are both from Jacques Torres ( I think he knows a couple things about French pastries ;)) and can be gotten at 1/2 Price Book Stores.

Hope this helps,
post #3 of 12
I'm not sure I would know exactly what "the real thing" is. I'm sure in France different bakeries will produce slightly different versions of the same product - all very good but different never the less.

Like Drac, the French pastries I make at home are well received whether they taste like something made in a French bakery or not.

I would never discourage anybody from trying new things in the kitchen but I would caution that dealing with laminate doughs (I'm guessing you are talking about things like danish and croisants) requires an understanding of the pastry arts that may be a bit beyond a beginner's level. You would do well to read as much as you can about laminate doughs - yeasted or not - to get a good understanding of them. Then go ahead and dive right in. Even the duds taste great.

post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
Honestly, I don't know their names, but I want to make everything seen here:


Too ambitious? :s
post #5 of 12

French pastries.

Not wanting to rain on your parade, but I would say learn the basics first, how to make different pastries, not that awful meat pie pastry that so many so called pastry cooks use, yuck. Also learn how to make things like Genoese
and similar, and the different fillings etc.
I think you may have a way to go before getting into french pastries.
But with the ambition you have you will get there. ;-))) qahtan
post #6 of 12
Since I am studiously avoiding actual work today: the carpets remain un-vacuumed, the coffee distributor remains un-called, and I am sick of pricing new products (did you know how expensive cardamom is per teaspoon?), I am free to run on and on about baking theory.
I see that everyone in this thread so far is discussing French Pastry from the home kitchen. Lo many years ago (okay not that many years but you get the idea) I too was a serious home baker.
Armed with the inter-net (the inter-net today is a far different beast, e-bay was still a new idea!) I set out to create fabulous confections from my home kitchen. Lots of trial, even more error. Some okay stuff but not classic French pastry. So I took the plunge and joined a cookbook club. Several books were absolute duds. Some assumed I already possessed knowledge and skills that I so did not have.
One book stood out as the perfect meld. Not so serious as to intimidate me but great instruction and theory for a springboard into bigger things but also enough to have me turning out puff pastry, croissants and pate a choux in no time. How To Bake by Nick Malgeiri. (Not limited to French Pastry by any stretch, the title explains it all.)
Anecdotal evidence of its value:
I was asked to help with a rather important to-do at my husband’s place of employment. Artists coming in from all over the world for awards, VIPs, the whole nine yards. I did an array of tartlets, petites fours, etc. All either from How To Bake or inspired by the skills I garnered from it.
Primped, primed and poised as a volunteer helper I poured punch for members of the International Olympic Committee and did my best to perform my wifely duty of helping the event run smoothly. I noticed amongst the well-tailored guests a rather rumpled looking man in a golf shirt, shorts and cruddy sneakers scarfing down my pastries like he hadn’t eaten in a week.
Thinking an unwanted interloper had evaded the greeters, I quickly flagged my husband down to alert him. Turns out Mr. Rumpled was rumpled because he had just flown his private jet in from Paris with only enough time to get from the airport to the event. He was the biggest big wig there.
He was so pleased to meet the person who had prepared the pastries and informed me around a mouthful of tartlet that having just left Paris he could attest to the fact that mine were as good or better than the “real thing”. Which of course led to me getting “The Big Head” and deciding that I wanted to learn more, do more etc, etc.
I then picked up a copy of Simple French Desserts by Jill O’Conner. Very pretty book and there is a review of this book on this site. I like her Honey Madeleine recipe. But keep in mind desserts and pastries are not synonymous. But it is geared to the home cook and is very informative.
Hope that helps. And use the Amazon link from this site.
post #7 of 12
My angle on the whole thing is with the ingredients. You want raves on great pastries, start off with great ingredients.

That means fresh butter--unsalted butter, no margerine crud here, real cream, 33% buterfat or more, cake flour and not all purpose flour, a decent real vanilla extract or even vanilla beans, none of that articifical vanilla-in crud. Chocolate? Stay away from anything that says you can "bake" with it, this is a red liner that the cocoa butter has been replaced with an inferior vegetable fat. There are only one or two good american chocolates, and with the exception of few S. American ones, the rest are all European.

Be suspicious of any recipie that calls for rice crispies, marshmallows or candy......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #8 of 12
Be suspicious of any recipie that calls for rice crispies, marshmallows or candy......

Or Cool-Whip
post #9 of 12
It is ambitious but without the ambition you won't get anywhere in anything. The main thing is to realize that pastries like other forms of cooking are bases around a set of basic skills.

In the pictures you showed two pastries jumped out at me the Napoleon and the palmier. Both of these are made from puff pastry. Now puff pastry can be made at home (the store bought stuff has no flavor at its best) but you will spend a lot of work making it. After you learn how to make the puff pastry you bake it after docking it and cut it into rectangles. You than make pastry cream and alternate layers of cream and pastry. The desert itself is fairly simple but you are combining two basic skills to make it.

Another one was the cream puffs. Again just combining two skills. In this case it is pate choux and pastry cream. If you combine puff pastry, pate choux, pastry cream and add dry caramel in the right way you can make a St Honore.

Several of the cook books I have give good instructions on these skills but most of those are made for large scale production, The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry, 4th Edition: Books: Bo Freiberg and a couple school cookbooks I've picked up at used book stores. Good instructions but the portions are for supplying a store or restaurants. I also got some ones that do make smaller ones but like mentioned above they expect a high level of knowledge. Of my small collection, about 200 books, the Desert Circus & Desert Circus at Home are both from Jacques Torres are two good ones but are far from complete. I would recommend Bo Friberg's book as it is a great read for technique and definitions, but it makes a big hole in the pocket book.

I've been looking out for a used copy of Julia Childs French Desert cook book for years. I flipped through it once but didn't have room in the suitcase for it.

I do have a lot of cookbooks that cover basic skills but they have a tendency to be just one or two. Gateau in one, pate choux in another, etc.

post #10 of 12
Drac, I would add Julia Child's The Way to Cook to your recommendations. It has photos to accompany its narrative on making puff pastry, pate brise, etc.
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post #11 of 12
That's the one I was trying to remember!! Thxs Mezzaluna.

By the way Julia's book lists a way of making puff pastry that is easier and almost as good as the traditional way (most of us can't tell the differance). It's the one I use when making pithivier. Also called a Twelfth Night cake made with puff pastry & almond paste (frangipane).

post #12 of 12
Instead of a book, you might want to check out Craftsy.com. There are a few very good French pastry courses. I took the croissant course and had an excellent result the very first time. The instructor is actually a production pastry chef and is an excellent teacher She also has a dedicated French pastry course. The great thing I like about Craftsy is once you buy the course it is yours forever, no time limit and I think reasonably priced for the quality of education you get. Oh, and it is interactive. You can ask the instructor questions and they respond within a day and post their responses on the platform so everyone can benefit from each other's questions. It's a nice community and I have learned a lot from other students as well And no, I don't work for Craftsy.com or any of their affiliates, I just really enjoy their courses! Good luck!
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