Normally, baking books by top restaurant pastry chefs, at least the Michelin-star type, are big. And glossy. As with the previous cookbooks from French pastry chef and former London restaurateur Michel Roux (his son now runs La Gavroche restaurant), you needed those gorgeous super-sized photos to convince you to take the time to actually make that chocolate mousse filled with lavender crémeux and served with a mixed berry compote. A time-consuming mouthful.
The beauty of Roux's new cookbook, Desserts, is that it is small. Not quite stocking-stuffer small, but small enough for that caramel bavarois with saffron roasted apples to peek out of the top of a stocking.
And don't let that brownie recipe on the cover photo lead you astray. Desserts is definitely "Oh my gosh, you really got me this?!" worthy.
The book works in small-scale form because the majority of the recipes are actually quite simple, albeit still pastry-chef inspired: Crunchy egg white meringue cookies filled with fresh plums so they ooze the juicy fruit, honey madeleines with pink peppercorns, cantaloupe gazpacho with an intriguing blanched green bell pepper and raspberry garnish. Yeah, we're curious too.
Particularly about that blood orange sorbet with thyme and dried red chile. Or those delicate banana soufflé crêpes, essentially a crêpe folded in half like a taco and filled, quite literally, with banana-egg white mousse. It's not exactly a complicated recipe, but like most of the recipes here, definitely one requiring a careful eye.
Or as Roux notes, "This [banana soufflé crêpes] recipe is tricky to make successfully in small quantities. If there are four of you, my advice is to simply eat two crêpes each." Why yes, what a lovely idea.
If you're a novice pastry chef, Roux includes the basics, too: Crème patissiére, brioche dough, dacquoise, puff pastry dough.
And once you master that choux dough, there's always that mini croquembouche with candied violets should you not exactly feel in the Buche de Noël mushroom spirit this year.
We should note that Desserts probably isn't the ideal fodder for the cookie-content bakers on your list (though you'll find Roux's versions of pastry classics like financiers, rochers and tuiles here). This is the sort of little gem that any aspiring David Lebovitz would love -- which is, incidentally, why we think Pastry would have been a much better title.
But we have no time for quibbling. There are chocolate-almond rochers to make.
Chocolate and Almond Rochers
From: Desserts by Michel Roux.
Note: Per Roux, "You can make these using white chocolate couverture if you prefer. As you are shaping the rochers, work swiftly as the mixture has a tendency to solidify; if it does, just warm the mixture over hot water for a minute to soften."
1 2/3 cups (250g) chopped or shredded almonds
¼ cup (50ml) cognac or Armagnac
½ cup (50g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
7oz (200g) dark, bitter chocolate, 60-70% cocoa solids (preferably Valrhona), chopped
2 tbsp (30ml) cocoa butter or hazelnut oil, gently warmed
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Toss the almonds with the cognac. Dust with the confectioners' sugar and mix to ensure the almonds are coated. Scatter on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, turning at least twice, until golden. Let cool, moving them every 5 minutes so they don't stick together.
2. Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place over a pan one-third filled with hot water (at 122-140°F/50-60°C), making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Melt over gentle heat, making sure the temperature of the chocolate doesn't exceed 122°F/50°C.
3. In another bowl, mix about one-third of the almonds with one-third of the warmed cocoa butter or hazelnut oil until the almonds are nicely glossy. Pour one-third of the melted chocolate over the almonds and mix gently until evenly coated.
4. Drop a dessert spoonful of the mixture onto a sheet of baking parchment, to form a little mound. Shape the rest of the mixture in this way, working quickly and leaving ¾-1¼ inches (2-3cm) between each rocher. Repeat to mix and shape the rest of the rochers, in 2 batches. Leave in a cool but not humid place, until set, about 15 to 20 minutes. Store in airtight containers, interleaved with waxed paper, in the refrigerator until ready to use. To serve, place the rochers in petits fours cases on a platter.