Professionally Produced Pastry Palate Pleasers
Since virtually all pastries contain three everyday, key ingredients – flour, shortening and water, mixed and made into malleable dough – one may be forgiven for thinking that professional pastry making is a simple procedure, something easily accomplished without detailed instructions, tuition or a comprehensive training course. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, making pastry at a professional level constitutes a separate section of culinary science and art, one so important that it is accorded its own specialised role and French title, that of the chef patissier (pastry chef or chief). This person occupies a specialised position as creative chief-in-charge of crafting various desserts and additional sweet and savoury delights in a professional kitchen, while the preparation of other meals and types of courses is attended to separately.
Belgium and France are world-renowned for their superb patisserie. A French patissier, Antonin Careme, (1784-1833), is said to have been the first master of this craft in the modern era. Aspirant French and Belgian pastry chefs serve lengthy apprenticeships followed by a written exam in order to qualify.
In South Africa, Prue Leith Chefs Academy’s patisserie diploma courses are intensive and very comprehensive, incorporating theoretical and practical aspects throughout their duration, either – six months full-time or 12 months part-time. Prue Leith Chefs Academy’s full-time course is designed for qualified chefs seeking additional patisserie training in order to specialise in this function. The part-time programme requires no prior culinary qualification.
Alongside the Academy’s exams, we require that our students also pass the relevant City & Guilds examination, which enables them to work wherever they choose, worldwide, since today’s world of pastry aficionados and patisseries extends far beyond Europe and Southern Africa. As with other culinary specialities, patisserie courses are designed to provide an in-depth knowledge of this discipline’s science and art. The latter aspect is innovative and creative, while the former is essential in order to understand the importance of ingredients, their functions, successful combinations, and the effects that different processes have on them.
Pastry of the Past
The ancient Egyptians left behind much more than pyramids, whilst Greeks developed so much more than democratic principles and distinctive architecture. Ancient Romans provided posterity with a lot more than marvels of civil engineering, a legal system and a calendar. In these ancient cultures, sweet delicacies are thought to have been made from a phyllo-like mixture of flour and oil with the addition of honey, fruit, nuts and/or dates. Somewhat later, the Romans discovered that a covering of flour, oil and water pastry dough could be used to protect meats during the cooking process, keeping the contents moist and preventing it from burning.
Such pastry coverings also served as containers in which cooked meats could be transported during travel. Pastry “parcels” were purely culinary aids, not particularly tasty nor meant for consumption but thrown away once the contents were eaten.
Because shortening – lard, fat or butter – was unknown, use of early pastry was merely convenient, unlike today, when students of the culinary arts who attend our professional pastry courses are taught to produce perfect patisserie palate pleasers.