Essential Tips and Tools for Making French Pastry Simple

Essential Tips and Tools for Making French Pastry Simple

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French pastry essentials
Cordon Bleu pastry chef Molly Wilkinson masters French pastry the simple way. © @mollyjwilk

She’s back! The vivacious American pastry chef who teaches French pastry made simple has launched a new season of online and in-person cooking classes.

INSPIRELLE has been following Molly’s success in France ever since she moved from Texas to Paris in 2016 to attend the prestigious Cordon Bleu pastry school. From there she stepped into kitchens all over France to learn first-hand about regional pastries.

Talented and enthusiastic, Molly began offering her own baking classes in-person and then online during the pandemic. Her accessible approach to French baking from her cozy kitchen in Versailles led to the publication of  her first cookbook in 2021 called: French Pastry Made Simple: Foolproof Recipes for Eclairs, Tarts, Macarons and More” (Page Street Publishing, Co.)

French pastry
Quintessential French pastry made easy by pastry chef Molly Wilkinson. © Joann Pai

How does she do it? INSPIRELLE asked Molly to share some of her smart techniques and baking tools to help you make classic French sweets easy. And if you are feeling inspired to bake, join Molly and INSPIRELLE on November 10, 2022 for a guided tour of French shops that specialize in baking equipment, with a final stop at one of her favorite pâtisseries in Paris.(See registration details below.)

French pastry made simple book coverFirst of all, is your cookbook, “French Pastry Made Simple” for debutant bakers who want to make fancier desserts?

It is! I really wanted to take the “scary” out of French pastry for folks that are not familiar with baking it. My mix of American background and training in France really helps with this. I love both and know how to break things down and make them easy to understand for the baker that grew up on cookies and brownies (like I did) but wants to dip their toe into French pastry.

What are the basic baking tools and the equipment one should own to start whipping up French pastry? How do you build up your kitchen?

There is a lot of specialized pastry equipment but to get started, you can do so much with just a few things. I actually have a list of just 10 tools that you need to get started from a rolling pin and tart pans, to piping tips and piping bags. On the list, you’ll probably see lots of things that you might already have too. I love taking what folks already have and making it work! I also hate to ask bakers to buy things that they will only use for one recipe. So I keep it simple, about ten tools that I use on a regular basis to create all sorts of incredible creations.

© @mollyjwilk

From Le Creuset to Gobel to Emile Henry bakeware, who are the French masters of cooking and baking equipment? (Feel free to change the brands)

Oh gosh – it is in their bones!! So many world cuisines are based on French cooking, and it really shows! Almost all of the fundamental recipes that are used today in both sweet and savory French cooking have been finessed for hundreds of years, and the equipment shows this too.

If you can’t afford to buy big brand names, can you share some good alternatives that will turn out perfect pastries?

Absolutely! My first suggestion would actually be, focus on getting a really good whisk and rolling pin. You can do so much with that and having good tools will make it more effortless in the kitchen. For a good whisk, any old one will work, but take a close look at how the handle is attached. There should be no gaps and it should be sturdy! The worst is when the handle falls off your whisk in mid-whip!

In terms of brands, Chefmade is a great mid-range option.

Chestnut cream
Photo: Molly Wilkinson

Many expats scramble every holiday to find baking ingredients they are used to back home: baking powder, pumpkin puréeCan you offer us some tips on where to find them or what to substitute with?

Oh yes, I remember when I realized the cocoa powder was not in the baking section but in the coffee section! For baking powder, you’re looking for the pink packets (levure chimique), brown sugar is muscovado or vergoise...when I first moved here it was next to impossible to find in the regular grocery stores, but now you can! If you want a big bag of muscovado for not that much, head to G.Detou. Pumpkin Puree – yes, you can make your own by roasting and pureeing a potimarron, but I have to admit, it’s one of the few things that I still bring back from the US. I love the consistency and ease of Libby’s. When I run out, My American Market is great for this! Also, Boneshaker’s Donuts carries it in their stores in November. For molasses, I would again recommend My American Market online, you can also find Pomegranate molasses at Naturalia.

Baking with Molly Wilkinson in her home in Versailles, France. © Molly Wilkinson

Which pastries are quintessentially French? Born, baked and bought only in France? Madeleine, macaron or mille-feuille?

Oh, so many! And I would really encourage you to check out pastry shops everywhere you go in France as there are so many regional treats too! I love the Paris-Brest… it’s choux pastry in a circle, filled with a praline cream (a caramel nut butter). It was created to commemorate the bike race between the towns of Paris and Brest … so the pastry is in the shape of a bike wheel!

Tarte au Citron is also a classic – have you ever noticed that most pastry shops will carry it both with and without meringue? There’s a big debate on which one is better and usually every Frenchie will have an opinion on this.

The madeleine is best known for its appearance in Proust’s work when he takes a spoonful of tea and a little crumb of madeleine makes its way inside. He states that after one sip the combination brought all of his childhood memories back.

Even now, you might hear someone ask “What is your Proust?” which essentially means, what do you eat that reminds you of home or your childhood?

French pastry is beautiful in its tradition, layers of elegant flavors, and decoration. There is such joy in making it at home too as it can be a fun project with a tasty end result.

Try Molly Wilkinson’s recipe for a classic pumpkin pie for the holiday season.

Join Molly and INSPIRELLE for a Special Walking Tour to find Kitchen Essentials in Paris

Join Cordon Bleu-trained patissière Molly Wilkinson for a walking tour of Paris’ top kitchen and baking supply stores. We’ll end the tour with a visit to a well-known pastry shop for inspiration!
When: Thursday, November 10, 2:00–4:00 pm
Where: 2nd arrondissement (exact location sent after booking)
Cost: 15€ INSPIRELLE members; 25€ non-members

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