Cookbook Review – The French Baker
Master pâtissier Jean Michel Raynaud shares his passion, skill and inspiration in his new cookbook The French Baker.
Surprisingly, Sydney-based master pâtissier Jean Michel Raynaud grew up in a French home where food was not a particular passion. In fact, his father was utterly floored when he announced his intention to leave school to become a pastry chef and it was not until he emigrated that he realised just how important food was to French culture. Fortunately for us, his mother was in the habit of taking him to the best pâtisserie in Marseille for treats and it was here that his love for baking was born.
These days Raynaud is the creator of much baked joy at Sydney’s Renaissance Pâtisserie and Baroque Bistro in The Rocks district. In The French Baker (Murdoch Books), his first cookbook, he shares his skills and offers not only technical information, but the inspiration to help the reader attempt to experiment and create for themselves.
Baking is one area of cooking which does require a degree of knowledge and can seldom be truly successful when totally winging it without adequate information. Raynaud’s book begins with comprehensive sections on the ingredients and tools required for success. He explains the difference in flours, yeasts, sugars, fats etc as well as listing some of the essential tools and has included some information on ovens.
I love baking and must say that I found this book to be utterly inspirational. Each turn of the page was accompanied by my quiet murmurs of appreciation and very happy sighs, as I carefully marked out the recipes I couldn’t wait to try. He covers every aspect of baking from cookies, through cakes, pastry and tarts to breads, with the origin of each recipe being briefly explained and each technique described in detail and illustrated with excellent photographs.
In the interests of comprehensive research (and just for the sheer joy of it) I successfully tried three separate recipes from different sections of the book. I made his Yoghurt Bread first up – and will, in future, be doubling the amounts as it makes a truly delicious, but quite small loaf. Raynauds favourite method for bread making is to use a pre-fermented mixture called a poolish, which gives a subtle sourness and a much more consistent overall fermentation process – all of which is explained thoroughly. I then moved on to his divine Olive Oil Cake with Candied Lemons and Lavender and finally the fragrant and delicate little cookies called Orange Blossom Navettes, but won’t be stopping there.
This book is perhaps better suited to those who already have some baking experience under their belts and who may be looking to expand their repertoire but, having said that, there are a few fairly simple recipes that a confident beginner could easily attempt. One such is the delightful Orange Blossom Navettes and I include the recipe here. I did find that I needed to add a little more olive oil than stipulated, but the result is a short, delightful little snack that goes down brilliantly with a cup of tea – and that, for me, is bliss.
Orange Blossom Navettes
- 500 g 1lb 2oz plain (all-purpose) flour
- 250 g 9oz caster (superfine) sugar
- 1/2 tsp fine salt
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 120 ml 4 fl oz olive oil
- finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 Tbsp orange blossom water
- 2 eggs extra
- Combine flour, sugar & salt in a bowl, make a well in the centre. Add the lightly beaten eggs, olive oil, orange zest and orange blossom water and use your hands to mix it all together for 5 minutes, until smooth. Cover with a cloth and set a side at room temp for 1 hour. Any short doughs, such as shortbreads made with flour and a liquid (eggs), must be left to rest for at least an hour to allow the gluten strands (wheat protein( to relax and shorten. Failing to do this will inevitably lead to a tough and unpleasant texture.
- Line 2 baking trays with baking paper or a silicone mat. Divide dough into 4 portions, then roll each portion into a cylinder about 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) diameter. Using a small, sharp knife, cut each cylinder into 8 pieces. shape each piece into a 10 cm (4 inch)long roll, then pinch the ends slightly to give them a tapered shape. Place on lined trays, spacing about 5 cm ( 2 inches) apart.
- Using a sharp knife, make a deep incision lengthways down the middle of each roll. Put the extra eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork until well combined. Lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash, then place trays in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Cooking one tray at a time, bake on the bottom shelf for 15-20 minutes, or until the bases are slightly brown and the tops are dark blonde. If the biscuits are browning too quickly, cover loosely with a piece of foil and continue baking.
- Cool on the trays, then store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
The French Baker was kindly supplied to Lambs Ears and Honey as a review copy, by Murdoch Books.