Long before Dominique Ansel filled the world with cronut lust, there was another dessert legend sweeping the New York pastry scene. François Payard opened his first pâtisserie and bistro in New York Back in 1997 after being named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. So we can easily say Payard is the expert on appeasing a sweet tooth or two. The icing on the cake? This fall he released his fourth book, Payard Desserts, aimed at teaching professional pastry chefs how to make beautiful preparations while introducing serious home cooks to the tips and tricks of the trade.
Flipping through the pages got us wondering: can the average New Yorker make one of his glorious creations? So we went ahead and put it to the test. The book is incredibly thorough, and Payard offers sage advice on choosing the right ingredients and cookware. Each recipe breaks down the dessert to its components. We decided to attempt something fairly simple, so we settled on a Chocolate Chiffon Cake. It’s the delicate, fluffy cake our childhood selves would never have fully appreciated.
So how did it all turn out?
Expectation: These will be impossible to make because we are not Francois Payard.
Reality: Yes, a lot of these recipes are way over our heads (like blueberry pavlova or olive oil macaron) but some sound totally doable in our tiny apartment kitchens — with patience (and maybe some Enya playing in the background to subdue our pastry-induced rage).
Expectation: The corner grocery store will not have all of the ingredients.
Reality: Shockingly, the shop down the block that frequently runs out of toilet paper did in fact have cake flour and cocoa powder.
Expectation: Our home appliances will not measure up to the task.
Reality: Using a middle-of-the-road mixer we were able to blend everything up properly. The egg whites were a bit of a challenge, but the batter looks ready to go. We’ll cross our fingers and cry into our spatula while it’s in the oven.
Expectation: This cake will look like Godzilla mutilated a chocolate factory.
Reality: Not too shabby — the edges are a bit burnt thanks to a mediocre oven, but the overall look is much better than a monster terrorizing Japan. The texture stayed surprisingly spongy and light, though, so we’ll stop despairing.
Expectation: This chocolate chiffon cake will taste like our hopes and dreams even if it looks like dog meat.
Reality: Aside from said burnt edges, we stayed faithful to François and made a reasonably light, fluffy cake sans any Betty Crocker boxes.
Our conclusion? For folks feeling particularly ambitious, these recipes are a fun challenge to conquer on a rainy night in the kitchen. We recommend making it a team effort with a couple friends (if nothing else but for moral support.) Still, we won’t blame anyone who ditches the baking supplies mid-attempt. Remember, there is no shame in running to the bodega at midnight to get a cookie instead. (Not that we contemplated doing that, of course.)
Want to snag your own copy of Payard's recipes? Pick one up at The Strand in Manhattan or Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.