"Butter Cream: A Year In A Montreal Pastry School"

Butter Cream: A Year In A Montreal Pastry School by Denise Roig

I found this book very enjoyable. It didn’t make me want to go to pastry school, but it did give me a pretty good idea of what it would be like. I found a lot to interest me in her story, probably because I love baking and I love memoirs, so what's not to like?

I think the most appealing part of the story is that the author is a beginner. She’s been baking all her life, but this is her first experience with “professional” pastry making. As a result, it’s an easy read for everyone. The reader learns the cooking terms at the same time as the author so there’s no “chef speak” leaving you wondering what the heck she’s talking about.

Having watched lots of  “reality tv” about chefs and cooking, I had a bit of an idea what to expect. It’s an incredibly high stress occupation, but like any other art, also very satisfying when you get it right. For people who are performance oriented, a beautiful cake or tart is a joyful accomplishment, even if you did drop, spill and wreck things in the process. It’s like poetry in a way. When you write a poem and you know it’s good, you feel immense satisfaction, but the pain/loss/fear/sadness you had to experience to create that poem was not enjoyable at all. Fortunately not every baking experience is like that, but some of the more complicated ones certainly can be. It’s worth it because of the beauty being created and the pleasure it will give to others. Well, ok, usually worth it. I am never, ever going to make petit fours no matter how much joy it would give anybody.

The author is honest about her teachers and classmates. It’s refreshing that she’s the kind of woman who sees the good in everybody, and that she is also realistic about their flaws and limits. I was left with the impression that she is a warm, kind person, someone it would be nice to have as a classmate. I’d like to know her.

She is honest, too, about her own abilities. As a 56 year old, she knew she would not have the energy of younger students, and that because of family and work responsibilities, it would get complicated for her when the pastry class demanded late nights, early mornings or weekends. She was often frustrated, sometimes lost, and at times driven to the limit of her endurance in class, but she stuck with it and reaped the rewards of her perseverance and determination. I’m not at all sure I would have made it.

There are some basic recipes in the book, things like pastry cream, genoise, ganache and butter cream. I’m hoping to work on a couple of things to see if I can perfect them. Some things, like puff pastry, I will never attempt because it’s too time consuming and because it’s easy to buy it frozen at any grocery store. I love baking, but at this point in my life I also love easy.

I learned some good things about method from this book, like how long eggs and sugar have to be beaten together and how to test that you’ve been beating them long enough, how to whip cream to get the best result, etc. I’ll probably be using the book as a reference in my kitchen, at least till I get pastry cream mastered.

Besides the recipes and methods, it’s also a good story, well told. I enjoy reading people's personal stories and found this one fun to read as well as informative. If you like to both read and bake, I think you’ll appreciate this book. I recommend it.


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