Desserts by Pierre Herme (Anglais) Relié – 4 mars 1999
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First, if you are looking to find a cookbook on comfort food or "the-way-Mom-used-to-make-it-desert" for your next family gathering, DON'T GET THIS ONE. Also, if you're on a frugal budget or a time crunch, again, LOOK ELSWHERE. This is one of the GREATEST patisserie chefs in the world. And he gives us in his cookbook all the extravagance, style, taste and showmanship that title carries. The recipes are expensive, time consuming and sometimes tricky. They contain specialty ingredients and use specialty tools. Any substitutions based on economy or convenience will probably result in failure.
On the other hand, if you long to create something really extraordinary and impressive and have the time and pocketbook to match don't hesitate to get this. Although some ingredients are special, they are not so hard to obtain. If you can read and write, you can cook from this. Both experienced and beginner cooks. I can't account for a previous reviewer who complained about confusing directions. All I can say about that is some people don't bother reading directions thoroughly, make a mess, and then blame the directions. I have baked time and again from this book, from the simple and delicious coconut pound cake to the spectacular and complex "Melody," and never a glitch in the preparation. I have to tell my guests that I made it. They always just assume its created by a professional chef and ask me for his number.
So there you have it. Know yourself before you decide to spend the money on this one. Definetely for the serious cook only.
The book is divided into 4 main sections: Pierre's basic recipes, Fruits, Creams and Cookies, Tarts and Tartlets and Cakes. A Dictionary of Terms, Techniques, Equipment and Ingredients as well as a Source Guide round out the book. I guarantee that the hands-on experience of creating at least one of these dessert extravaganzas will act as your own personal primer to pastry-making, igniting your passion for the French patisserie and insuring that you purchase all other books by M. Herme. My own interest in the book was cultivated by seeing M. Herme in action on Martha Stewart's kitchen where he piped the beautiful and delicious pear and fig tartlet with such an easy perfection I was astounded. Bought the book the next day and was not sorry!
This book is not for a beginner. If you don't have any other books on baking in your collection, don't make this the first one because some recipes need to be compared with those in other books.
Case in point: BUTTER CREAM
I bought special European butter and fresh eggs from the local farm. I followed instructions to the letter even though one part of the recipe really went against my instincts and previous experience with butter cream: the amount of sugar. The recipe calls for 3 CUPS OF SUGAR for 7 EGG Yolks and about a POUND OF BUTTER. Now, 3 cups sounded way too much for the amount of other ingredients but I went ahead anyway. Well it turned out that 7 yolks cannot absorb this much sugar syrup, and instead of acquiring the lovely marshmallow texture while being beaten and cooling with the syrup, they turn into dry powdery mixture. Even though they did not look right, I went ahead and added all the crazily expensive butter to it. In the end, the cream looked all right, but the texture was all wrong: it left a powdery trace on the tongue as if it was made with confectioner's sugar. And even aside from the texture imperfections, the cream was just TOO SWEET.
The cream could not be used. It was a waste of time and money.
I looked in Baking with Julia to check the proportions. And of course: 2 CUPS OF SUGAR for 16 yolks and 2 POUNDS of BUTTER - LESS SUGAR for TWICE the quantity of other ingredients.
In the end I made the butter cream with 1.5 cups of sugar (and water amount reduced accordingly) and then it was lovely. The technique - adding butter to the yolks and beating with a whisk instead of paddle attachment - produces a superbly light and satiny cream.
Another point about the butter cream. The temperature for the sugar syrup is given at 145F. Be ware, the syrup begins to caramelize at 140 F. At 145 it is almost at hard ball stage and cannot be incorporated into the yolks. Again, checking in Baking with Julia, you'll find that the syrup is ready at 139 F, which really is the perfect point.
Bottom line for this recipe: fantastic method but the proportions are definitely not right.
The lemon cream, on the other hand, is SUPREME. I've read the reviews where people complained about it being like lemon butter, but I suspect that they did not follow through with the crucial step of mixing it in a blender. Or maybe they did not follow the temperature instructions. If you do follow the instructions, the result is sublime. I could just eat the whole thing right out of the blender. It sets beautifully in the fridge.
Another great tip from the book: mixing several types of cream together to produce a divinely light filling. I mixed some of the lemon cream with the adjusted butter cream and then folded in some whipped heavy cream - TO DIE FOR.
But don't grow too confident. Try the coconut cake. Yes, it is fabulous. But the amount of milk did not work for me: too much. The cake had to bake for almost two hours ( I even bought an oven thermometer after this to make sure my oven is well calibrated; it is) and still did not bake through (although it still tasted delicious). I will make the recipe again, but will add less milk. Again, if you check similar recipes in other books, you will see that they use less liquid.
BOTTOM LINE: You need experience before attempting recipes from this book. Some of the recipes may not come out right on the first try, but if you tweak them, the result might be out of this world. But the learning experience might cost you a lot of time and money. Some recipes contain curious glitches. Do not follow all the recipes blindly. Use your common sense, previous experience and another trusty source. With these reservations in mind, I believe the book is worth the money. Even if not all the recipes work on first attempt, the innovative techniques and combinations of flavors are well worth the expense and time ( and the inevitable mistakes).
UPDATE: One of recipes I've used again and again from this book is The Perfect Tart Dough. It makes a large quantity, but you can freeze what you don't use; it is going to be as good 2 months later from the freezer as on the first day. This is absolutely the BEST tart dough i've ever tasted. It is tender; crumbly; takes any kind of filling without getting soggy; use it pre-baked or as is according to recipes.
About measuring: There are accurate and inaccurate methods of measuring, both by weight and volume. The right way to measure by volume is to gently spoon dry ingredients into a dry measure cup ans level off with the back of a knife or spatula. The right way to measure by weight is to use an accurate scale. Many scales made for home use are not particularly sensetive and will yeild no better results than by volume measure. To say nothing of the fact that every day, millions of people follow volume-measure recipes with good results -- what's the problem?
Some authors do include weights for ingredients -- I did so in my first book, Perfect Pastry -- I no longer do, because I don't consider it important. Neither does Maida Heatter -- is there a more successful and accuracy-based author than Maida? I don't think so.
So if you want a challenge, this book is for you. Having baked most of the recipes in this book, I can say that Pierre's recipes are extremely reliable; if you follow the directions fastidiously, they will work. While you may not necessarily create something as gorgeous as what appears in the pictures, you will get more than your share of oohhhs and ahhhs. And some of the recipes are just sublime. I highly recommend the chocolate mousse dome, especially for the novice bakers. This is one of the few recipes that will almost always turn out just like in the picture, is fairly hard to screw up (comparatively speaking) and is just great for chocolate lovers. Another really nice one is the Philadelphia Almond Cheese Cake... not really a true cheesecake, but sure to please everyone.
My only complaint (and I echo what others have said) is the omission of mass measurements. Volume measurements (or "American measurements") are quite frankly, dumb. They are inaccurate and more difficult and time consuming than just doing things properly by mass. Volume is not an alternative method to mass; it's just wrong, if you ask me.
That being said, I found the recipes very reliable, in spite of the volume measurements. Even the base recipes, like Genoise, vanilla buttercream, and pastry cream, are recipes I routinely use as the building blocks for many of my cakes, even though I have many other alternative versions of the same recipes from other books. These just work really well.
So to sum up: if you have baked your share of brownies, lemon meringue pies, and chcolate chip cookies, and are ready to move on to something more challenging, and for that matter, just plain more fun and interesting, you're going to have a blast with this book.