Pastry Chefs Share Their Favorite Sweets and Tips for Creating

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Recently, we reached out to a wide range of pastry chefs from around the United States to ask what their favorite pastries were to make and to share a secret or tip to make those particular pastries perfect. From classic French techniques to traditional Mexican treats and everything in between, here is what these chefs had to say.


Éclairs

James Kubie, Pastry Chef
Coquette Restaurant, New Orleans

Éclairs are my absolute favorite thing to eat. One of the reasons pâte à choux is the perfect pastry to make at home is that it requires little in the way of specialty equipment and compared to laminated doughs like puff pastry and croissants, the time investment is minimal.

James’ Advice for the Perfect Éclair

Bring the heat! The trick to getting your pate choux to rise beautifully is to bake at a seriously high temp. When the water in the dough evaporates and converts to steam, it makes the éclair expand like a balloon, creating a hollow interior that can be filled. Home ovens generally aren’t as efficient as the big commercial guys used in bakeries, so a higher temp is usually required. A commercial convection oven can bake a batch of éclairs at 375 F, in about 35-45 minutes. Your home oven might need to be cranked up to 400F, or even 425F. It all comes down to getting to know the eccentricities of your own particular equipment.


Marshmallow Fluff

Tiffany MacIsaac, Chef/Owner 
Buttercream Bakeshop, Washington DC 

My favorite dessert to make is the Happy Camper featuring graham, chocolate and marshmallow – but the marshmallow is this amazing, billowy, honey-vanilla marshmallow fluff. The texture is super special and is what makes this dessert super special.

Tiffany’s Advice for the Perfect Marshmallow Fluff

There is a fine balance to making a meringue topping that is a creamy fluff. We wanted to the fluff to hold its shape for multiple days, but retain a creamy mouth feel. It requires a small amount of gelatin to keep it in shape, but not so much that it sets the fluff too much.


French Toast

Tanner Agar, Owner/ Chief Experience Officer 
Rye Restaurant, Mckinney Texas

My favorite thing to make, despite not being very fancy, is French Toast. The reason is because our French Toast is so much better than normal because we make it in the traditional French style.

Tanner’s Advice for the Perfect French Toast

French Toast in France is called Pain Perdu.  It means “lost bread.”  It is only ever made with bread that is too stale to eat normally, and that’s the secret. We take thick cut bread and we let it dry overnight. This stale bread loses all its water and then we re-hydrate it with our ice cream base. The result is bread that isn’t soggy and instead is light, fluffy, and joyful. Every week we make a different flavor as the base is easily adaptable. Our most popular so far is vanilla with Captain Crunch Butter. 


Amarena Sicilian Panettone

Giacomo d’Alessandro, Pastry Chef
Polosud Gelato Coffee Pastries, New York

Sour Cherry Panettone is the result of the union of two products which are the best of the Italian patisserie: the delicious panettone and the sparkling quality of sour cherry sorted in Castelvetrano, Sicily. Traditionally served during fall/winter time, this classic Italian panettone recipe dating back to the early 19th century features semi-candied Amarena cherries baked into a buttery delicious cake. The Amarena Panettone is an incredibly delicious addition to your holiday. I want to dedicate it to the most curious, sophisticated palates. 

Giacomo’s Advice for the Perfect Panettone

On special order, the panettone can be filled with our award-winning Italian traditional gelato, making the panettone a unique treat for any particular or special event. 


Tarts

Noelle Gogg, Pastry Chef
The Ballantyne Hotel, Charlotte 

I love making tarts that incorporate a well-rounded combination of textures and flavors. Fruit, nuts, grains and local products become my inspiration.

Noelle’s Advice for the Perfect Tarts

Balance! Tart shells are destined to be sweet, have a bit of crunch and hold their contents neatly inside. Make sure that when filling your tart, you choose a filling that won’t make it soggy. You can prevent soggy tart shells by brushing the inside of the baked shell with cocoa butter or tempered chocolate. This will create a seal between the shell and the filling that will be virtually invisible, but very necessary! When choosing a filling, think about water content. Things with less “free water” such as ganache will make your shell-less soggy than a curd, for example.

Christina Ferrari, Chef/Owner
Shoreline Lake Boathouse & American Bistro, Silicon Valley

I enjoy making tarts as you can vary the fillings, shapes and décor based on season, mood or trend. Whether round, triangular, or square you can vary your presentation to appeal to a wide range of customers and tastes. Also, I get a lot of inspiration from my travels, especially in France, and tarts are a great way to execute on that inspiration. 

Christina’s Advice for the Perfect Tarts

Preparing the molds carefully and using the edge of your knife to trim excess cleanly yields a sharp presentation of your products. A secret tip to achieving this clean edge is after baking individual shells, turn over the tart and rub it gently on a drum sieve to make a very clean edge. Then I fill them with pastry cream and seasonal fruits or various curds including lemon, lime, grapefruit or passion fruit. Another tip is to cut your fruit thicker and brush with an apricot jam glaze so that the fruit holds up longer — sealing it from air — as well as giving the tart an attractive appetizing look. 


Conchas

Ruben Ortega, Executive Pastry Chef
H Town Restaurant Group, Houston

One of my favorite pastries to make is a Mexican sweet bread called conchas. We make this pastry for merienda (snack) or breakfast in Mexico. I grew up eating and making conchas, as my aunt was a bread maker, or as we call them, panadera. My aunt was an amazing baker and she was the first person to teach me to cook. Making and eating conchas brings back a lot of memories for me. 

Ruben’s Advice for the Perfect Conchas

Make the dough by hand and use fresh yeast as well very strong cocoa powder for the chocolate topping, such as Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder 100% Cacao Extra Brute and Cacao Noel Cocoa Powder Premium. Both of these are not alkalized like other well-known brands so they are more bitter, more pure. And a tip for enjoying conchas – it’s very traditional to eat them with Mexican hot chocolate!