Making desserts: secrets of perfect pastry
Acclaimed NYC-based pastry chef Camilla Tinoco clearly knows her sweet stuff. Currently working at French master Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne, Camilla shares some amazing tips with The Foodie World on making desserts that will delight your family and friends at home.
Originally a business analyst, Camilla changed careers four years ago to pursue her passion and create innovative pastries that exemplify the finest French traditions but also take influences from her Brazilian background. She’s appeared on the Food Network, contributed to Modern Eclairs and Other Sweet and Savory Puffs and helped create recipes for Les Petits Sweets: Two-Bite Desserts from the French Patisserie (both available on Amazon).
We chatted with her to get her unique take on making desserts and modern French pastry.
A lot of home cooks (as well as the professionals) fear pastry. Do you have any foolproof tips to share?
Imagine a fragile plant that needs the right amount of water, nutrients, and exposure to sunlight. If you don’t take care of each one of its necessities carefully, the flowers won’t come and the plant will eventually die. To me, flowers represent a perfectly-executed product.
Great pastry demands precision, method, and patience. It seems simple and easy until you realise that a single degree up or down can ruin a dessert that took hours of your time. That’s the fear; the high rate of failure frustrates home cooks, and some professionals too, and it pulls the trigger of fear even before you’ve cracked the first egg.
A great tip for home cooks? Organise yourself and follow the recipe thoroughly. That way, the chances of having a great result are pretty high. No shortcuts.
Chefs use the french term ‘mise en place’, which means ‘everything in its place’. If you have all ingredients measured, the oven preheated on the right temperature, your pan and molds and accessories prepared, you don’t need to fear pastry. Failure will happen once in a while, but mistakes bring perfection in the future. Once you reach a certain level of practice, you will be astonished by what you can do.
What are the essentials every home cook needs to create great desserts? Is there a kitchen gadget/gizmo you’d recommend for serious cooks?
I don’t think you need a specific gadget to create great desserts. Great desserts are created based pretty much on two things: high quality products and the right technique. But if I had to choose useful tools, I would definitely recommend a good stand mixer and a hand blender. They are very useful and can speed up the process when you are making a cake or ganache.
Any plating tips for home cooks to make their desserts look as beautiful as they taste?
I believe in simplicity. Be organised, focused on each step, and always clean. Don’t overdo it! You don’t need 1,000 different types of glaze or buttercream to create an elegant cake. Pick one or two colours and work with their shades, add the other components like sprinkles, cookies, flowers, and fruits. Little by little you will be able to build your dessert without making it too exaggerated.
What inspires you in creating desserts and how do you incorporate Brazilian influences?
The mathematical perfection found in nature inspires me. I like to create desserts with geometrical shapes and perfect lines, probably a reminiscent influence from my engineering background.
Flavours are like nature’s color palettes. Harmonious, pleasing, and they all have a reason to be there. That’s how I integrate Brazilian influences and ingredients with international traditions and techniques. I look at flavour compounds in the ingredients, how they react to our palate and the cultural background of the audience. These are only a few of the questions that I ask myself when combining native Brazilian ingredients with another culture’s cuisine.
When I create a dessert I always try to add at least one traditional Brazilian ingredient, like guava, Brazil nuts, or banana, or a very typical Brazilian sweet recipe like brigadeiro, which is made with condensed milk, and quindim, which is a Brazilian custard-based dessert.
What’s the most challenging dessert you’ve ever prepared?
Recently I created a mille feuille in a triangular shape. This dessert was made of chocolate biscuit, quinoa puff, white chocolate crunch, brigadeiro, orange cremeux, and a striped white and dark chocolate decoration. As this dessert was in a triangular shape, all layers were supposed to be cut exactly the same size by hand, with perfect angles and thickness.
Are desserts getting any healthier – using less sugar for example?
Let’s be real. From a pastry cook’s point of view, I don’t think that desserts are really getting healthier, because when you reduce the amount of sugar, sometimes you need to compensate for it with other ingredients, like fat for example. Sugar isn’t only for making something sweeter, it also helps the moisture and structure, and balances flavour and acidity. I believe that most chefs are trying to create more interesting flavour experiences by using different types of sweeteners and creating new combinations of flavours that bring a sweet sensation without adding a lot of sugar.
If you could only have one more dessert for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
I’m a chocolate lover, but if I had to choose only one dessert, I would pick apple tart or its cousins, like tarte tatin, apple turnover, or apple crumb cake. Desserts made with apples normally have a great balance between sweet and sour, and a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg make them shine.
You can sample Camilla’s amazing desserts at DB Bistro Moderne, 55 W 44th Street in New York City.