Pierre Hermé Pastries
by Pierre Hermé, Ève-Marie Zizza-Lalu
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Country: US
ISBN: 9781584799450, Year: 2012
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

In Pastries, Hermé takes on 50 monuments of the pastry world from ancient to modern times, and reimagines them in unique and inventive ways. At times the metamorphosis can be a head-scratcher, and the book doesn’t include details about the creative process behind the transformation. However, any fan of food history and pastry will appreciate up to 50 new recipes from one of Paris’s finest.

Full review

Structure of the book

The book is divided into 4 parts:

1. The Doyens of Pâtisserie (13 desserts with 2 recipes each, or 26 recipes)
2. Pâtisserie with Terroir (13 desserts with 2 recipes each, or 26 recipes)
3. Multi-Storied Pâtisserie (13 desserts with 2 recipes each, or 26 recipes)
4. La Pâtisserie Moderne (11 desserts with 2 recipes each, or 22 recipes)

The division of the book is unique in that it divides the pastries into historical categories. For each classic dessert, there is a page describing the known or theoretical origin, followed by a “classic” recipe (in the sense that the recipe is distilled into its most simplified form; for instance, plain vanilla ice cream under “Ice Cream”) then a reinterpretation by Pierre Hermé (under “Ice Cream”, “Miss Gla’Gla Mahogany”, which is composed of a swirl of mango sorbet, rose-scented lychee sorbet, and butterscotch ice cream sandwiched between a coffee macaron). Despite the history-heavy tone of the book, the classic recipes are not written as they had been made in pre-modern times; the plain vanilla macaron uses the Italian meringue method, and you don’t have to boil deer antlers to obtain gelatin. Each dessert has a full-page photograph by Laurent Fau, either on its own or paired with its reinterpretation.

About the author

Pierre Hermé, once called “The Picasso of Pastry” by Vogue USA, is one of Paris’s most celebrated patissiers. He apprenticed under Gaston Lenôtre and moved on to famed patisseries Fauchon and Ladurée before starting his own brand. He is the author of several pastry books in French, and in the US he has released two previous books in English: Desserts by Pierre Herme and Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme (both co-authored with Dorie Greenspan). This book is a translation of his recent book, Rêves de Patissier, released late last year in France.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

It’s hard to believe that there hasn’t been a book that juxtaposes classic French pastry and new creations; usually it’s one or the other. Perhaps the concept had been waiting for Pierre Hermé, who is one of the few modern patissiers who, with his classical training and inventive spirit, crosses the line between the two frequently, and can make a reimagining sufficiently distinct from the classic while still remaining respectful to the inspiration. Sometimes the metamorphosis seems dubious and too obviously retroactively associated (“Carré Yu was inspired by Tarte Tropezienne? Yeah, right.”). In the introduction, the book says that at times Hermé may want to transmit an “intimate experience” instead of a reinterpreation. But for the most part, the transformations are clever and open your eyes to new possibilities. And it’s never a bad thing to have a new recipe from Pierre Hermé. I would have wanted to read more about the creative process behind the reconstruction. As with his other books not written with Dorie Greenspan, only a couple of sentences accompany each reimagined recipe, and no comments on the classic recipes. However, for a pastry fan like myself, reading the well-written and well-researched histories is enlightening and at times amusing, even if they rarely refer to Pierre Hermé.

With a few exceptions, most of the reimagined recipes have not been published before. A few come from Patisserie de Pierre Hermé (a slightly altered version of “Festival”, a reimagination of the Blancmange), ph10 (“Carre Yu”), Infiniment (“Tarte Infiniment Café”, a reimagination of the Mocha Cake, and “2000 Feuilles”, a reinterpretation of the Mille-Feuille), Chocolate Desserts (“Gaufre Pistache Comme un Sandwich”, a reimagination of Oublies, and “Suzy’s Cake” as a classic recipe for Chocolate Cake). Fans will appreciate finally seeing a few of his masterpieces in print, such as “Croissant Ispahan”, a mini Saint-Honoré (“Saint-Honoré Sarah” in this case), two “Émotion” recipes (“Eden” and “Infiniment Vanille”), “Bûche Mogador”, and the “Gourmandise Fraise, Orange, Cardamome” (a reimagination of the éclair). Even the modern macaron recipe, “Macaron Indulgence” (mint and spring peas), was not included in his book of macarons.

The recipes are presented in volume-based (cups and spoons) and weight-based (gram) measurements. However, the equivalent weights are not the same as with his books with Greenspan, and the weight measurements should be followed as much as possible. The recipes have been scaled down for the home cook, and even the “classic” recipes seem to come from Hermé’s own notebook. Interestingly, he spares the reader from searching for pâte a glacer and returns to using the adaptation in Chocolate Desserts– mixing chocolate sauce with ganache.

What problems/flaws are there?

For a few recipes, a component may drop out from the recipe inexplicably. This is notable in his “Chou Infiniment Citron”, where a pâte sucrée is made but disappears after being put in the fridge. It’s meant to be placed on what I assume is the frozen pâte à choux to form a crumbly crust when baked. The vanilla macarons are sandwiched together with an unknown adhesive.

Though the pastries appear majestic in their photographs, they also have a cold and monumental feel to them, which is probably deliberate, given the theme of the book. It’s a vast improvement from Jean-Jacques Pallot’s abstract portraits under Ich&Kar’s direction in Infiniment, but it still leaves me wanting for the near-tangible lusciousness we first saw from Hartmut Kiefer in Desserts and Jean-Louis Bloch-Laine in Chocolate Desserts. Those portraits, I felt, were just as alive as the pastries sitting in the display case of his shop.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

The book is a welcome addition to any pastry fan’s shelf, whether they are intermediate bakers (a case can be made for beginning bakers as there are simple recipes inside, but there’s too little instruction otherwise), aspiring professionals (if they can excuse the home adaptations), or even those interested in food history.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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