I, along with many, many people I know, loathe baking…simply for the fact that I suck at it. It’s not that I don’t like sweets–I do–it’s just that I like not feeling pathetic even more. I asked John Cheng, pastry consultant for North Square about common misconceptions novice bakers have…and any advice he could give us.
First of all–and this made me very, very happy–John thinks that internet and magazine recipe photos are false advertising. That mouth-watering chocolate raspberry layer cake that you try to duplicate from the pages of Food & Wine? Accept the fact that nothing even remotely that beautiful is ever going to make it onto your plate. It may taste okay, but it will inevitably look like the cover girl cake’s homely, lop-sided sister.
Back in the day, John worked for Good Housekeeping and had copied some of their test recipes and not once did they come out looking like the photo.
“Even I could not make mine look like theirs (and I am a professional). Not once.”
Lesson #2: Oven temperatures vary from oven to oven. Fledgling pastry chefs need to get to know their oven and adjust baking times accordingly. It may take a couple of burnt pies or flattened souffles, but once you get the hang of your appliance, making the perfect tart shell should be a snap.
Lesson #3: Use your noggin. Cheng believes that common sense is one of a chef’s most important tools. If you think something is not quite right, don’t do it that way. If your batter looks too thick, well, it probably is!
If anyone has any questions for the pastry king, pass them along. Thanks for the advice, John!