It’s officially baking season. Baking and pâtisserie is a branch of cookery that often borders on science, demanding attention to detail and patience to perfect. Few people are as dedicated to the craft of patisserie as pastry chef and 2018 Bake Off: The Professionals finalist Darryl Collins. We’re fortunate to have Darryl regularly share his knowledge and skills as a guest tutor at Philleigh Way, leading our Patisserie Masterclass course. We sat down with him to find out more about pastry and pâtisserie ahead of his next course on October 31st.
My theory to this is that to be a good pâtisserie chef you need to have an artistic level of thinking with a scientific mind. You need to look at the ingredients at a molecular level and not just as something that you use to hold things together.
I honestly believe that anyone can become a decent pastry chef with the right training and guidance but I don’t believe that anyone can just become a great pastry chef by accident. I’ve been a pastry chef for over 20 years and have also worked with many chefs and pastry chefs over those years – some extremely talented chefs and others that seem to just be doing it for a job. With pastry, it has to be a career choice. It has to be something you absolutely love and live for; there is no in-between.
For hobbyist bakers, I think I’ve already proven that you can do fine patisserie at home as well as in a professional kitchen. Since lockdown I’ve been running Yumii Pâtisserie from home and I was still able to create cakes, éclairs and so on. It’s about persistence in what you’re doing and trying different techniques. Hobby-wise, you’re looking on Instagram and other places like that for inspiration and then putting recipes together and playing around with them until you achieve what you’re looking for and what you think is right.
My advice to home bakers looking to take it up a notch is to see if you can get into a professional kitchen. Not all kitchens will allow non-professionals to go in and check out that side of things, but some will. You can always approach a kitchen to see if you can get some experience. Or, courses! You can go up to Ruth Hinks’ in Scotland at Cocoa Black because they do lots of courses, there’s a place in Banbury at Callebaut Chocolate where they have a Chocolate Academy. I’m obviously teaching a patisserie masterclass at Philleigh Way if people want to come and hone their skills, and we normally do that three or four times a year. These things aren’t free, but they’re the best way that you can pick up professional skills as a home baker.
The key elements to pâtisserie, as with all food, are taste, flavour, texture and looks. These are a must as several senses are involved – we eat with our eyes too!
Taste and flavour are probably of paramount importance. I’ve eaten in quite a number of restaurants and hotels and I would say that perhaps 70% of the desserts I have eaten have been of a poor quality. This is simply because they have been a case of style over substance, and something looking great on a plate but then tasting of nothing but sugar. I work on the flavours first and trial them with many different people well before I start to think about what it will look like on the plate.
The importance of texture is for mouth-feel, not so much for looks. When it enters the mouth it obviously can’t be grainy, it’s got to be smooth and pleasant so that you don’t think “hmm, what is that in my mouth?” Everything has to blend together. Texture is so important, not so much for your hands but
How something is plated and presented is highly important, even though it is something that is so often overlooked. We eat with our eyes first, then we get the aroma, and finally the taste.
These are the only guides a pastry chef needs to understand to be successful and to have a good understanding of patisserie. Knowledge is the key to all. If you want to do this for a living then train hard, listen to others but most of all be true to your passion and yourself. Then over time you’ll be able to excite people with your flavours and impress with your talents and skill as a pastry chef. The same goes for home bakers who want to wow – patisserie is a craft that you need to spend time learning.
On the next Patisserie Masterclass that I’ll be teaching at Philleigh Way at the end of October, I think that because it’s Halloween we’ll be doing something along that theme. We’ll make some pumpkin macarons, and we’ll do some choux buns – probably again with some sort of Halloween theme! That way I can teach some high level skills, but we can have a bit of fun with it all at the same time.