Bake the Book: 'Pierre Hermé Pastries' A Feast For the Eyes, Not For The Belly
If your passion for French pastry runs deep, chances are you're already quite familiar with Pierre Hermé. He's the pâtissier whose drop dead gorgeous macarons have inspired countless pilgrimages to his Paris shops. But Hermé's pastry pedigree doesn't end with rose petal and litchi macarons—his roster of babas, sablés, and financiers is truly incredible.
This month Hermé has released his first English language baking book in over ten years: a beautiful, over-sized volume entitled Pierre Hermé Pastries that's almost too pretty to bake from. It's an aspirational pastry book, one look at the recipes and it's clear that this book caters to only the most ambitious of bakers, those with the wherewithal and drive (and plenty of spare time) to reproduce Hermé's show-stopping creations.
And like any ambitious baker worth her salt (or sugar, in this case) I saw Pierre Hermé Pastries as a challenge, a cookbook daring me to dive in and see just how doable these recipes are to those of us with sub-Hermé baking backgrounds.
As it turns out, Pierre Hermé Pastries might be best for pastry voyeurism and history rather than baking.
I began my journey through Pierre Hermé Pastries with perhaps the book's most straight forward recipe, Sablé Aux Olives Noires: tender, buttery shortbread studded with black olives. Delicious? Absolutely. But that recipe marked the end of my Hermé success.
Next up was a Mille-Feuille, a recipe that included four sub-recipes—including one for puff pastry that clocked in prep time at one hour. It sounded suspect to me. As did the instructions. Some books voice their recipes in a way that assumes a certain level of knowledge, but this one assumes that the baker has mind-reading capability. The instructions are choppy, fragmented, and at times even absent. What good is it to know to roll out your pastry to 1/16-inch thick if the size of the rectangles that you're meant to divide it into aren't specified? I'm sure that there are lucky folks out there who are gifted with pastry ESP, but unfortunately I'm not one of them.
After mixing up a batch of very lumpy pastry cream, it was time to caramelize the puff pastry. Unclear directions struck again. There are many recipes which call for multiple rereads, but after the tenth perusal of the same paragraph I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that this time it wasn't just a matter of careful reading.
The recipe's baking times were off to the point that the pastry burned before the sugar had a chance to caramelize. When I tried to salvage what I could, I realized that this Mille-Feuille just wasn't going to happen. And that one hour prep time? Make that three.
To properly execute these involved pastries there must be a level of attention to detail from both the cook and the recipe writer, and in the case of Pierre Hermé Pastries it's just not there.
Without delving into a sad story that involved hours of baking an Opera cake that never came into fruition, I have to say that your butter and sugar are best spent with other baking books. If you must have your Hermé and eat it too, might I suggest Desserts By Pierre Hermé. It is co-authored by the incomparable Dorie Greenspan, whose pastry recipes have never steered me wrong.
Note: The publisher of Pierre Hermé Pastries is in the process of compiling an errata sheet that will appear on the company's website and all errors will be corrected in the next reprint.