Friday, May 17, 2013

The Art of French Baking: Strawberry Frangipane

he Art of French Baking, published by Phaidon, is a beautiful book. The covers are padded and sparkling white, the pages thick and smooth, the photographs well shot and printed, and any cookbook with bookmark ribbons gets a lot of points from me. However, the recipes seem to leave a little something to be desired.

I am an experienced baker. Not an expert, not experimental, and not a chemist, but my pie crusts are tender and flaky, my bread rises and my batters are light and fluffy. Therefore I was somewhat surprised when several recipes from this book did not come together or bake in the way I expected. The instructions are quite brief, which is fine if one already has some technique, but I repeatedly found myself with a dough that didn't hold together despite extra liquid, or choux puffs that simply wouldn't rise (I tried twice in one day), or worse, cookies that burned but didn't bake through.
strawberries, pie, cake, baking, frangipane

So now I've determined that I'll just need to reinterpret and double check the recipe for logic before I start anything. Make sure the oven temperature doesn't seem oddly high, that the wet and dry proportions make sense and that I can adjust here and there. Or at least I can make the recipes with frosting and cover up all the little problems!

Today I needed to use up the last of a flat of strawberries from market, and the Strawberry Frangipane looked pretty easy. It's just egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds and strawberries. Nothing can go wrong! Well, nothing except my being short an egg. Sigh. So I just eased back on the other ingredients. The batter was thicker than I was expected and didn't exactly pour between the strawberries, but it did melt around them once in the oven. Then it was just a matter of keeping an eye on it until the top was the perfect shade of done... except when I cut into it, the inside was not at all done. Not even a little. Back into the oven it goes.

I'm fairly fed up at this point, having never had so much trouble with recipes before. Perhaps it's partially my fault, but with every recipe coming from the same book it seems unlikely that this is entirely on me. I really want to love The Art of French Baking, but it's not living up to my expectations. You all know what the lesson is here, right?

strawberry, frangipane, pie, cake, eggs, simple
Here's a quick list of the things I've made from this book:
  • Sweet orange croquettes- excellent
  • Babas au rhum- pretty good, not as fluffy as I'd like.
  • Pate a choux puffs with pastry creme- total fail, no puff to be had, more like cookies. I have done these successfully in the past with a Martha Stewart recipe!
  • Petit fours with chocolate ganache and sprinkles- worked well in mini muffin tins
  • Duchesse petits fours- Dough didn't even slightly hold together and overcooked too quickly
  • Orange gateau, I think- I have a vague memory of using a pineapple, too. dunno.
  • Sweet slices- basically sugar cookies, oven temp was also too high
  • Strawberry Frangipane- Ha. Maybe once it's baked for three times the suggested time!

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