Book reviews by Mobilism's Book Review team
Nov 20th, 2016, 8:37 pm

TITLE: The French Baker
AUTHOR: Jean Michel Raynaud
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Food & Drink, Baking, Pastry
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2016
RATING: ★★★★★

PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon iBookStore

Description: From a master patissier comes an inspirational-and equally practical and achievable-guide to delicious French-style baking in the home kitchen. The French Baker features 95 recipes accompanied by beautifully shot and styled images; the more complex and technical baked items are supported by step-by-step photography and further hints and tips. Throughout the book, recipes are interspersed with narrative sections that feature French-born Jean Michel's stories of his training and work in patisseries in France and give insights into the place of bakers and baking in French society. Introductions and breakouts also provide information about the recipes' history, traditions and cultural significance. The recipes are a mix of sweet and savoury, and following on from a basics/techniques/ equipment section they are grouped into chapters focusing on biscuits; cakes and muffins; tarts and pies; choux pastry; brioche; flaky pastry; breads; spreads and jams; and creams and curds.

Review: Julia Child said “You don’t spring into good cooking naked. You have to have some training. Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again...The more I learned the more I realized how very much one has to know before one is in-the-know at all.”

The French Baker is a comprehensive guide on French baking by pâtissier Jean Michel Raynaud, who was a head pastry chef by the age of 20. The book includes 95 authentic French cakes, pastries, tarts, and breads the reader can make at home. With step-by-step photography, and more hints and tips for technical bakes such as making your own Puff Pastry.

Wonderfully detailed notes by Jean Michel Raynaud about the tools of trade - the equipment and essential ingredients the home baker would require - highlight the book, which also explains the differences about various kinds of salts, sugar, salt, butter, cream etc.
A pinch of salt goes a long way in cooking and is critical for developing flavour, balance and stability. Baking is no exception. There is a multitude of different salts on the market these days, ranging in colour from pink to grey, and in price from the cheapest table salt to high-end ‘gourmet’ salts. So what salt should you use and when?

Other than explaining about the various ingredients, Jean Michel Raynaud answers questions one might have while learning to bake, types of oven to use, he even explains the chocolate manufacturing process, along with different kinds of chocolates to use, and when.
Which chocolate should I choose?

As a cook, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying high percentage chocolate because it is perceived as being better — but it’s all about balance. The type of chocolate you use will have a critical impact on how your creams emulsify and set. Using a chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage than recommended in the recipe will harden your creams too much and most likely destabilise (split) the emulsion due to the increase in cocoa fat. Conversely, using a chocolate with a lower ratio of cocoa than recommended will give you a softer finished product.

The amount of sugar the chocolate contains is another key consideration, as it’s important to find the right balance of sweetness and flavour. For example, if you’re cooking with chocolate that contains a high percentage cocoa (and thus low in sugar), you will need to neutralise the inherent bitterness with a touch of chilli, strong spices, salt or pepper. A sweet chocolate, on the other hand, will benefit from the addition of a tart or acidic taste such as lime, pineapple or Greek yoghurt.

The French Baker offers a good mix of recipes savoury and sweet, such as Goat’s cheese, tomato and basil tart, Potato and cream tart, Olive tapenade and haloumi swirls, Chocolate and banana pizzas, Olive oil and orange-blossom sweet bread, even how to make your own Hazelnut and chocolate spread. It covers all sections of baking, divided into sections consisting of biscuits, cakes and muffins, tarts and pies, choux pastry, brioches, flaky pastry, breads, spreads and jams, and creams and curds. In the beginning of each section there is a food quote for example "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." (Carl Sagan)

I share below one of my favourite recipes from the book, which is very simple to make even if you buy ready-made puff pastry
Hazelnut Palmiers
Makes about 25

note : You will need to give an additional single turn to the puff pastry, to refine the layers of pastry and to stop the palmier from expanding excessively during the baking process.

    - 150 g (5¼ oz) raw hazelnuts, roasted and skinned (see tip)
    - 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) cold Puff Pastry, 6 single turns
    - 300 g (10¼ oz) Hazelnut and Chocolate Spread

    1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Wrap the skinned hazelnuts in a clean cloth, then smash the nuts in the cloth with the base of a heavy-based saucepan until coarsely crushed. Set the nuts aside.
    2. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface into a 4 mm (1/8 in) thick rectangle measuring 40 x 50 cm (16 x 20 in). Remember to keep moving the dough and dust with extra flour when necessary so that it doesn’t stick to your work surface. If you haven’t achieved a perfectly shaped rectangle with your rolling pin towards the end of the rolling process, simply stretch and pull the dough into shape using your hands.
    3. Using a flat spatula, spread the hazelnut and chocolate paste evenly over the pastry, right to the edges, then sprinkle with the crushed hazelnuts. Don’t be tempted to apply a thicker layer; the palmier is made of four layers of pastry, so if the hazelnut spread is too thick the dough won’t cook properly, and there’s nothing worse than undercooked puff pastry! With one long side of the rolled-out dough (abaisse) facing you, use your hands to roll the two long sides of the pastry towards each other to meet in the middle. Fold the bottom half over the top to form a log. If the pastry is too soft to handle, refrigerate it for 30 minutes, or until firm.
    4. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Using a large knife, cut the roll into 2 cm (3/4 in) thick slices and place on the lined trays, leaving a 10 cm (4 in) gap between each as they are going to double in size during cooking. As you will need to cook the palmiers in batches, it is a good idea to refrigerate the remaining pastries while the first batch is cooking.
    5. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C (320°F) and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the bottom of the pastries are golden brown. Puff pastry needs an initial burst of heat to develop, but the majority of the cooking time is designed to dry it up as much as possible. If the tops darken too fast, cover loosely with a piece of foil. Repeat with the remaining pastries. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 1 hour before serving.

Baking is one type of cooking that requires accuracy. The French Baker, with it’s mouthwatering photographs and detailed easy-to-follow instructions, definitely helps the baker envision how their final product should look.

The French Baker is a must-have cookbook for people who love to bake -- and for those gourmands who love their french pastries!

“Baking and love go hand in hand, for as one bakes a tasty treat and fills the room with its sweet aroma, the true joy is to take what has been made and share it with another.” ―Heather Wolf
Nov 20th, 2016, 8:37 pm