The Dessert Architect
by Robert Wemischner
Publisher: Delmar, Cengage Learning, Country: US
ISBN: 9781428311770, Year: 2009/ 2010 (appeared 2009, but publication details in book say 2010)
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

The Dessert Architect gives plenty of inspiration for a student of pastry arts to create his or her own impressive creations through 50 creative recipes. It also provides a few guidelines in creating your own plated desserts and what factors must be put into consideration in a professional kitchen. However, the photography needs some improvement in showing off the desserts. Also, the lack of instructions for specific plating techniques and the exclusion of newer methods in plating and construction keep the book from becoming an authority on plating in the modern pastry chef’s bookshelf.

Full review

Structure of the book

The Dessert Architect has 6 chapters in 416 pages:
1. The Four Cornerstones of a dessert architect’s arsenal of knowledge
2. Ingredients and recommended equipment, where Wemischner briefly describes basic ingredients such as chocolate, nuts, and spices
3. Creating a dessert menu, taking into account the logistics of a pastry kitchen
4. Plating using a few basic guidelines
5. Dessert and beverage pairings; and
6. Recipes for 50 plated desserts, which makes up more than 70% of the book.
The remainder of the book is made up of the appendices (resources for the pastry chef, useful websites, organizations offering continuing education opportunities, important temperatures for the pastry chef, bibliography, glossary) and index.

About the author

From the back cover:

Robert Wemischner is a pastry chef and culinary educator whose long-standing interest in the flavor potential of ingredients has culminated in The Dessert Architect, his fourth culinary book. Robert’s career has ranged from a pioneering gourmet to-go shop to freelance food writing — he is a regular contributor to Food Arts and Pastry Art and Design, among others — and from France to California. For the past 18 years, he has taught baking a pastry at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Robert frequently consults with those in the food service industry and is a regular presenter at professional organizations, including the International Association of Food Professionals, Retailers Bakery Association, and Women Chefs & Restaurateurs.

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

In the preface Wemischner hopes that through The Dessert Architect, the student of pastry will be inspired to taste widely, and that inspiration and excitement will be translated onto the plate. The book certainly does not fall short in providing inspiration, with a wide variety of desserts that pushes the pastry chef out of his or her comfort zone flavor-wise. The desserts are subdivided into chocolate recipes (such as Gateau Fondant and Chocolate Bombe), coffee, spice, and tea recipes (such as Chai Affogato and Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream with Mango), dairy recipes (such as Handpulled Strudel with Creamy Cheese Filling and Ros Malai with Cardamom Milk Sauce), fruit recipes that are further subdivided into citrus fruit recipes, exotic/tropical fruit recipes (cherimoyas, tamarillos, feijoas), non-seasonal fruit recipes (grapes, bananas, pineapples, pears), and seasonal fruit recipes (figs, rhubarb, persimmons, raspberries), non-seasonal recipes (such as Cream Puffs and Topsy-Turvy Gateau St. Honore), nut recipes, rice and grain recipes (such as Chocolate Semolina Pudding), and vegetable recipes (such as Carrot Halva and Tomato Tart). This classification makes it much easier for the reader to focus on a dessert given what might be available seasonally, or even produce beautiful plated desserts even where good produce might not even be available. Also, this makes it easier for chefs to construct a menu around certain flavor themes (or to cover all the bases in terms of customer preferences as the case may be).

The book takes a more modern approach with plated desserts, which means there are no intricate sculptures of chocolate or pastillage, though there are still a few elements that are purely decorative (such as glass tuiles made of isomalt). The emphasis is placed on making most (if not all) of the components on the plate integral to the experience of the dessert as a whole. Most of the desserts do not need extraordinary equipment or ingredients to be accomplished, and even in such cases, substitutions can be easily made.

The recipes are written such that each dessert has all the components contained in a few contiguous pages, so there is no need to jump around the book looking for a base recipe. At the beginning of each recipe, there is a suggested order by which the components can be produced and a convenient equipment list. The book in general gives special consideration to the logistics of a pastry kitchen. In the introductory chapters, the author gives the reader helpful tips on how to select the proper desserts for a given operation (informal vs. stylized, a la carte vs. prix fixe, the number of employees, storage space, menu changes).

What problems/flaws are there?

Though Wemischner aims mainly to inspire the pastry chef in terms of flavors and plating principles, there are several areas the book could have improved on to truly be an indispensable guide for the budding pâtissier. The first is in bridging the gap between principle and product — and that is through technique. Following his own metaphor for plating dessert, it’s as though the book gives an introduction on what makes a good building, then goes straight to the blueprints. The recipes themselves don’t have much in the way of instructional images, which would have been more useful than a text description (one very long paragraph) on how to assemble the dessert. The first few chapters do a good job of enumerating the elements, but never show what they are or how to make them. For example, it lists a few shapes that sauces may be presented as: swaths, coils, pools, ribbons, a series of dots in graduated sizes, and brush strokes. Any pastry chef will be able to recognize what those are, but Wemischner fails to show how one can make a good swath or brush stroke, which I would have hoped a book on plated desserts would finally be able to accomplish.

The second area Wemischner falls short in is in newer plating techniques. In the introductory chapters he acknowledges the existence of foams through the recommended equipment list (CO₂ cartridge canisters) but apart from making milk foam for “A Cup of Coffee”, there is no mention of making a foam for any of the desserts — in fact, the milk foam is made the way a barista would, through a steam wand or whisk. While some may say that the so-called “molecular” techniques such as spherification and aeration are too trendy and date the desserts, few can deny that ignoring their existence altogether in a book about plated desserts takes away a part of a new pastry chef’s arsenal and thus limits is usefulness. There is a dessert that uses pineapple “leather” and tangerine “powder”, but none that use “soil”, “paper” and, aside from gelatin, not a single hydrocolloid makes an appearance in the book.

The book is plagued with typographical errors. A strange detail in the recommended equipment (“digital scale: 1/4 ounce or 7 gram increments”) is a harbinger of the errors that appear in the recipes. The book appears to have forced the recipe quantities into convenient round numbers for ounces, then multiplied by 30 for the gram measurements. Occasionally a recipe will call for ten times the amount of an ingredient (such as gelatin) in ounces, and sometimes the conversions don’t even match up at all (1 ounce, or 5 grams of lemon zest). Very careful reading of the recipe and understanding of the ratios involved is important, but for some components where ratios can be variable or don’t exist (like for lemon zest in a syrup), this can be doubly frustrating. (Edit: Robert Wemischner has noted that errata are available on the official website, available to those who purchased the book with a username and password and the errors will be corrected in subsequent printings.)

The index is not exhaustive, which makes looking for some specific components very challenging.

This reviewer feels that the photographs of the desserts do not give a good idea of how the dessert impacts the customer visually as a whole. All the negative space is cropped out (whereas the whole plate should be shown to show its importance), resulting in close-up shots of the desserts which are sometimes unflattering. An example of a book that manages to capture the experience of viewing a plated dessert perfectly is Gordon Ramsay’s 3-Star Chef.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Beginning to intermediate-skill pastry chefs would most benefit from learning the principles taught in the book, and they will be most inspired by the imaginative platings and flavor pairings.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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5 Comments

  1. Y
    Posted 01 Nov 2009 at 18:57 | Permalink

    Interesting and nicely worded review! I’ve been in two minds about whether to get this book (seeing as I haven’t had a chance to look inside and haven’t read any other opinions I trust about it).

  2. Posted 01 Nov 2009 at 23:29 | Permalink

    I think I would love this book. Nice review.

  3. Posted 02 Nov 2009 at 00:47 | Permalink

    Its an interesting trend to see so many pastry books coming out that have the feel of a fancy text book. Does that mean everyone is an expert, or everyone feels that’s a major gap in the literature.

  4. Posted 02 Nov 2009 at 11:01 | Permalink

    Just a note that this book appeared in the second half of 2009, even though the publication data in the book list it as being published in 2010.

  5. admin
    Posted 07 Nov 2009 at 00:23 | Permalink

    I’ve just received word from the author that the publisher’s site has a page with errata that is accessible with a username and password (for those who have purchased the book). These errors will be corrected in subsequent printings.

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