Time to get out your apron and whip up some delicious pâte à choux! Pastry Chef, Molly Wilkinson (you’ll remember her from my first interview in April 2020) is releasing her first cookbook. Learn the foundations of French pastry and helpful techniques that will have you making the most delicious pastries in the comfort of your own home. As one of the many who has developed a love for baking over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of taking Molly’s online pastry classes, and I’m so excited to get started on recreating the scrumptious recipes in French Pastry Made Simple.
In this interview, Molly shares about her favorite recipes from the book (including how hard it was to narrow down which ones to include!), her favorite places to source ingredients, what she loves most about hosting pastry classes in her Versailles kitchen, as well as answering my question on whether we can expect more cookbooks in the future. You’ll have to read through to the end to find out her answer!
Your first cookbook is releasing this month. Tell me a bit about how you decided to write your first cookbook.
I actually didn’t have any plans to write a cookbook but when you’re approached by a publisher, I was like um YES! Page Street Publishing (who has been amazing to work with!) sent me an email in January 2020 and left the subject of the book up to me! I had a couple of ideas and ultimately we decided to go with one that highlighted the foundational recipes of French pastry and then showed everything you can do with them. This follows what I do in my classes and really breaks down a technique or recipe that might be new to a baker, to something that is very doable and easy. Then once you learn those base recipes, I show you everything you can make with them like cream puffs, eclairs, and Saint Honoré, after learning how to make a dough called pâte à choux!
What did you enjoy the most about putting the book together, and how did you narrow down the recipes that you would be featured in the book?
I loved the creative process of developing the recipes. There were times when it was really stressful due to heatwaves and impending deadlines but I really tried to just have fun in the kitchen. I’d turn on some French music, bring out excel (oh yes… to compare baking ratios of ingredients), and just baked!
Narrowing down the recipes was HARD! I wanted to include them all. As there is a certain page count we had to stick to, we ended up having to cut a few. This really came down to evening out how many recipes were in each chapter. We decided to offer these as bonus recipes to people that pre-ordered the book so they were still out there in the world.
Some of the recipes in the book include a Croquembouche, Flan, and Paris-Brest. Out of all the recipes which one (or ones) is a personal favorite?
Honestly, it’s so hard to pick a favorite, especially as I’ve eaten them all so many times haha. I am such a fan of chocolate and caramel though so I’d say the Chocolate-Caramel-Nut Tart where the textures and taste are incredible – thick caramel with rich chocolate ganache and then salted nuts to balance it all out. As it’s starting to get hot, another favorite is the Vacherin. It’s essentially an ice cream cake a la francaise with meringue and whipped cream. The first time I made it was for Francois, my French partner’s birthday in the middle of July. It’s also a fond memory of our time in Alsace as it’s on so many restaurant menus there.
Where are some of your favorite spots to source the ingredients for the pastries you make?
I use a lot of dried culinary-grade flowers for decoration. A great source for these in France is Aromandise, in the US, I recommend The Quiet Botanist. For chocolate, when I can, I head into Paris to G.Detou, a really great spot for pastry ingredients in general and fun to go to as a tourist for little gifts to bring home. There’s actually a flour mill in Versailles that uses local grain and a mix of new and old techniques to make amazing flours. It’s called Moulin de Versailles and their mill (and boutique!) is right by the Versailles Chantiers train station.
Photo Credit // Joann Pai
I love the concept for the book, French Pastry Made Simple. For some new to making pastries, which of the recipes would you suggest they try first?
I would start with some of the ones that use just one base recipe to get a feel for it, as many of the recipes combine two or more base recipes. While they are still very easy, they just have more steps. So start with conquering those base foundational recipes with Chouquettes to learn pate a choux, Meringue Kisses to nail French Meringue, and Lunettes de Roman cookies to conquer pate sucree (a delicious tart crust).
Which one of the recipes is the most time/labor-intensive to make?
The Saint Honoré takes a bit more time as you’re combining puff pastry, cream puffs, pastry cream, and caramel into an overwhelmingly good concoction!! This is named after the saint of bakers here in France and is definitely one to try. What I would recommend is following the make-ahead tips. If you split the components and make them over the course of a couple of days, it makes it much easier and is also a fun build-up to the final creation.
Now that there is light and the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, what do you look forward to the most about having students back in your kitchen (and do you plan on continuing virtual classes as well?)
There is something about having people in this space that really just brings it to light! I can’t wait to have people back laughing over pastries and maybe clinking glasses of champagne – oui! My in-person classes are private and for small groups which means I can really be right there next to you showing you when you need to stir something longer or how to hold a piping bag.
Virtual classes are continuing as well as they are such fun and an amazing way to offer affordable pastry classes to people all over the world. It’s like a little escape to France with the added huge bonus of baking in your own kitchen. I keep the equipment and ingredients very minimal with all of my recipes to make them as accessible as possible. It’s all about having fun… and eating something delicious!
When did you find out that David Lebovitz would be featuring a review on the back of your cookbook? (Was it an ultimate pinch-me moment?)
Oh my gosh!!! It was SO exciting. I reached out to his assistant, Emily who is a friend of mine, just on the off chance that maybe he’d be interested. If I ever meet him in person, it will be an ultimate fan-girl moment – I LOVE his cookbooks.
Photo credit (left) // Joann Pai
You’ve been featured in the New York Times, Vogue, the Wall Street Journal, and on the Today show. What was the best part about this experience?
To be super honest, sharing it with my family and jumping around at even being in these established news outlets.
Do you plan on releasing more cookbooks in the future?
YES! I think I’ve been bitten by the cookbook bug. It was crazy putting this one together but I already want to do another one. I’ve got some ideas on the topic… 😀
Photo Credit // Krystal Kenney