The Roux Brothers on Patisserie by Michel and Albert Roux

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The Roux Brothers on Patisserie by Michel and Albert Roux

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: If you regularly have the need to cater for large numbers of people or have unlimited time to devote to the preparation of food this book is a gold mine. If not you will find it pretentious and pernickety. It's not really a book for the hard-pressed home cook. Borrow it and enjoy the read, but don't buy.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 1991
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 0356123790

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Back in the late 1980s one of the highlights of Sunday afternoons was a television programme called "At Home with the Roux Brothers". Both brothers had three Michelin stars (the highest accolade which a restaurant can earn), Albert at Le Gavroche in central London and Michel at The Waterside Inn at Bray. The food they produced was superb - in a completely different class to the usual food that you see on television cookery programmes.

Some years later we had the opportunity to have a meal at The Waterside and to spend the night there. Even after seven years that dinner still stands out as the most exceptional meal that I've ever eaten: for the first time I understood what made a Michelin 3* restaurant so special. Every detail of the five course meal was perfect, with the finale being a raspberry soufflé. This came, perfectly risen, to the table in an individual ramekin and was accompanied by a jug of raspberry sauce. The waiter slit the top of the soufflé and poured in the sauce: that which had been perfectly risen now mushroomed. Pure showmanship, but sheer genius.

When we left the next morning I was given a copy of "The Roux Brothers on Patisserie", signed by Michel Roux, as a mark of his appreciation of our visit. Now, this is not a book with quick puddings to whip up in time for lunch. This is the sort of food that you get served in top class restaurants loosely adapted for the home.

The book is based on the exercise books which the Roux brothers kept when they were apprentices and later in the grand private houses and restaurants where they worked. There are all those hints and tips which make the difference when you're preparing these classical dishes. I'll mention at this point one of the quibbles which I have with this book. The titles of the dishes are all in French, followed by an English translation. In a book written entirely in English this seems to me to be an unnecessary affectation.

This is not a book for the slap-dash. It's a book for people who follow recipes precisely - you're even instructed exactly how much butter you should use when you grease a baking sheet, although you are allowed to use a copper-bottom stainless steel pan if you don't have a copper pan! When salt is used you might not be told how many grains to use, but you will certainly be told how many grams.

The recipes begin with the basics which will form the foundation of recipes later in the book. I'd never realised how many different types of pastry there are - but that's not surprising when you're lazy like me and buy it from the freezer cabinet at the supermarket. As well as a list of ingredients for each recipe you will also be told what special equipment you will need. Anyone who has ever got most of the way through a recipe to find words such as "place custard in ice cream machine... " will appreciate the benefits of this!

Periodically I make up stocks of the pastries and put them in the freezer. Well, it usually means that butter is on special offer at the supermarket. It is useful, I find, to have a supply of sweet short pastry and ordinary short pastry although I'm not quite so pernickety that I distinguish between ordinary short pastry and flan pastry when it comes to making a tart! For the purists there's less butter in the flan pastry. There are also some superb recipes for sponge and meringue bases for puddings.

You might think you're on your way now, but I'm afraid you've got to master the making of creams (such as confectioners' custard), sauces (the custard requires 12 egg yolks!), coulis (a fruity sauce) and jellies (no, not the ones by Chivers... ). Now you're allowed to try the recipes.

Tarts can be served warm or cold, but never chilled! There are fruit tarts of every description and they all look delightful. These are not the standard apple tart that you buy in Asda and pop in the oven to cook through. Most recipes consist of a bottom crust covered with confectioners' custard and the fruit artistically arranged on top. I've made the lemon tart on several occasions and it's stunning although I always end up with more filling than the pastry case will take!

If you don't fancy a tart you can make what are described as 'cold deserts or sweets'. I think most people would describe these as the sort of cakes you get in high class cafes and from sweet trolleys in good restaurants. I am tempted by the Pear and Wild Strawberry Charlotte, but the recipe feeds ten! Wild strawberries are best eaten, by the way, with pink champagne. Talking of champagne, could you fancy peaches poached in champagne? It's one of the few recipes to serve as few as four people.

The first of the hot puddings is our old friend Christmas Pudding. The recipe makes four puddings each of which will serve ten people, but the pudding can be stored for up to five years. Apparently the taste of a three or four year old pudding is 'indescribable'. My raspberry soufflé is in this section too along with quite a few other soufflés and pancake-based recipes.

In 'Ice Creams and Sorbets' we indulge ourselves in a champagne sorbet, which, as you might imagine, is best served with wild strawberries in season. I'm tempted by the hazelnut praline ice cream with chocolate sauce if only because one of the ingredients is as mundane as instant coffee powder.

In the chapter on tea and picnic cakes there is some rather more homely food. I can recommend the lemon cake, although the recipe is a little pernickety in demanding two size 1 eggs and three size 5. The cake is made in a loaf tin (precise dimensions given) and there's rum included in the cake before baking and more is sprinkled over it when it comes out of the oven.

The final chapter in the book covers decoration and presentation. This, I must admit, is where I fall down. When presenting food I aspire to 'tidy' and I'm not even too worried if I fall short of that, just so long as I avoid 'messy'. I cannot imagine myself spending the time to make sugar-work flowers or delicate marzipan animals, but for those who can there are excellent instructions and I must confess that I've just considered making a pink cat!

This isn't really a book for the home unless you regularly cater for large dinner parties and have almost unlimited time to invest in preparation of the food. If you have a restaurant I would imagine that you probably already own the book or something similar. It's certainly not a book for someone seeking inspiration for family meals. As you would expect, though, the book is beautifully presented and the photography is superb.

Have I ever made the raspberry soufflé? No, I haven't. Somehow I feel as though it might take something away from that wonderful meal at The Waterside all those years ago.

You might also enjoy Patisserie at Home by Will Torrent.

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dwillbourn said:

I have this book. I find some of the recipes a little over complicated and for many there is a reference back to another chapter which I find a bit daunting. I have in fact only made one recipe from it and at the time of writing to you on impulse cant remember it.

An Ok book wasn't quite what I had expected but have great respect for the brother's skills !!

Darren Webb said:

Ive just been looking for my favourite choc sauce recipe on the web and i came across this page. I find the comment by dwillbourn very amusing and i thought i had to reply. Although this book is on sale to the general public this book is obviously made for chefs and proffesionals, i find it annoying that people such as this can complain about the complexities of this book, you dont walk into your local book shop and pick up an advanced book of presision engineering and expect to understand much of what you are reading, in the same way this is what this person does not seem to grasp, to be a chef takes a lot of years of hard work and requires an immense amount of technical ability if you want to be as good as these guys, the assumption that any old tom, dick or harry can make things like a cardinal gateaux or a harlequined souffle is laughable, my suggestion to dwiilbourne is that if you want to know how to be a patissiere you really do need to go to france and train as a chef, otherwise leave the technical stuff to us and dont complain when you find a book that is well out of your depth. Darren Webb(chef)