As a nation we have fallen in love with The Great British Bake Off and patisserie week is a particular favourite on the show, because it always proves a real challenge to the contestants and gives them a chance to show off their skills by making some of ‘the fancy stuff’.
Did you know? In France and Belgium, patisserie-bakeries are only legally allowed to call themselves ‘patisseries’ if they employ a licensed master pastry chef.
If you’re not a master baker though, you might find patisserie a daunting prospect – it is an exact science and often requires precise amounts, which can be a little bit scary. But taking a patisserie course can boost your confidence in this area of cooking, whether you cook for a hobby or are looking to further your professional development in your catering career.
Baking versus patisserie?
If professional pastry chefs are skilled in both the art of patisserie and in baking, and patisserie week features as part of The Great British Bake Off – what’s the difference between the two? Put simply – ‘baking’ is said to constitute the bulk of baking and pastry cooking, whereas ‘patisserie’ is considered to be more of a delicate art form.
Did you know? It takes a long time for chefs to earn the title of master pastry chef – (maître pâtissier) and they have to go through training, an apprenticeship, as well as a written examination before they qualify.
A number of patisserie courses form part of a larger baking or cookery qualification, and many combine patisserie with confectionary – so check the course description carefully when making your choice.
Types of pastry
The pastry types you’re most likely to encounter in your exploration of patisserie are:
- puff pastry – a light, flaky pastry containing several layers of fat, achieved by a process of rolling out and folding over. Commonly used in pasties, sausage rolls and strudels.
- viennoiserie pastry – similar to puff pastry in that it is made of several layers, but sweeter thanks to the addition of cream and sugar. Commonly used in croissants, Danish pastries, brioche, and many others.
- shortcrust pastry – doesn’t puff up during cooking, and tends to be used in pie and quiche bases.
Patisserie courses are of various durations, and are available both as a professional qualification, and as an unofficial course taken for personal interest reasons. Which option you go for will influence how many types of patisserie you learn how to make – our list of popular patisserie items will give a sense for the art form and the kinds of things that you will learn on a patisserie course...
Mille-feuille (custard slice) – the mille-feuille is thought to date back to 17th Century France, and traditionally consists of three layers of puff pastry, with crème pâtissière sandwiched between the pastry. The top layer is either dusted with sugar, or covered with icing.
Profiterole – another 17th Century French offering, the profiterole is a choux pastry ball, filled with fresh cream or crème pâtissière and topped with chocolate sauce.
Did you know? The World Record for the largest profiterole was made in the USA in 2011. The huge choux roll measured 19.05cm high and had a diameter of 96.52cm.
Eclair – very similar to profiteroles, éclairs are characterised by their oblong shape. An eclair can be topped with caramel instead of chocolate, in which case it is called a bâton de Jacob.
Croissant – made of buttery, flaky viennoiserie pastry. The dough used to make croissants is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet, in a technique called laminating.
Tart – a tart of a (usually shortcrust) pastry base, which is filled and then baked.
Torte – a torte is a multilayered cake filled with whipped cream, butter cream, mousse, jam or fruit.
Crème pâtissière – not a dish on its own, crème pâtissière is a vital part of a number of patisserie items. Consisting of milk, egg, sugar, flour and vanilla, ‘creme pat’ is easy to make, and once you’ve mastered this you can make use of it in your cakes, éclairs, tartlets, and soufflés.
After your patisserie course
If you choose to take a patisserie course for fun or personal interest, which doesn’t result in a formal qualification, you will leave with some new kitchen skills to make use of at home and impress your guests with. If, however, you are looking to embark on a career in catering, a level 1 qualification, will equip you to progress to sit a level 2/3 qualification. Level 2/3 is the standard you need to reach in order to work in a professional kitchen.
If your patisserie course whets your interest and you want to broaden your knowledge of the subject, you might also be interested in attending a more general baking course. Other related courses that may appeal include sugarcraft and cake decorating.
By Fiona Hughes