For the love of pastry

For the love of pastry

The air was heavy with the scent of vanilla, and a whiff of freshly baked goodies wafted along the corridors of the Academy of Pastry Arts in the City on a sultry afternoon. As I entered through the double doors, a class on French pastry was in progress. Steel trays laden with madeleines and croissants reeled me in. Right in the middle of the room, students were gathered around a table surrounding chef Mukesh Singh Rawat, as he poured a glaze on a beautifully baked cake. Students looked on with bated breath as the shiny lime-green glaze coated the cake, dripping along the sides. The chef made it seem so effortless. "See how simple it is?" he exclaimed with a smile on his face, admiring the delicious work of art. But baking is no mean feat. And executive pastry chef Mukesh knows it.

Sweet beginnings

Though his love for cooking is what prompted him to take it up as a career, a snide remark from a colleague during his learning years is what pushed him towards pastries. "I was working in the Indian cuisine section of a five-star hotel when one of the chefs there taunted me saying that since I hailed from Uttaranchal, I can only be good at Indian food. That day, I decided that I would do something different and break the stereotype," he recalls. And what started as an obsession soon became his forte and passion. Having worked at Oberoi Bangalore, he later joined the Taj, worked at Radisson, Claridges in Delhi, and Hilton Chennai. He now trains budding pastry chefs at the Academy of Pastry Arts and competes at international cooking tournaments.

"Earlier, people would find baking intimidating. But now many are drawn to it. People have started experimenting and taking risks in the kitchen. They are more aware of the techniques and ingredients. This is evident, as the number of people enrolling for baking classes has doubled, and the beginners are more enthusiastic about trying new things. This motivates me to innovate in the kitchen as well," he says.

The desserts are not restricted to cakes and ice creams anymore. Souffles, brûlées, sorbets, crumbles, pies and tarts have added that much-needed complexity to all things sweet. "A new dish is invented everyday. We are exploring a variety of flavours and textures. Whether it is the use of savoury ingredients in desserts, or a play of soft and crispy textures, the possibilities are endless. I cannot claim that I know everything there is to know about pastries, as each day is a new discovery. It is a healthy atmosphere for pastry to thrive," he admits.

Flavour files

And the dessert revolution is gathering steam, thanks to all the home-bakers. "The market is open. You don't necessarily have to be professionally trained to make a name for yourself in the food industry. Social media has become that perfect platform for home-bakers. They can post pictures of their creations on Facebook or Instagram and get noticed."

Chef Mukesh's trick to stay ahead in his chosen field is by competing in international tournaments like the World Pastry Cup. "I challenge myself constantly by creating something technically difficult and over-the-top. This one time, I created a Jungle Book theme display. Sugar showpieces take a lot of time, and are also labour-intensive. I had to do several practice runs to get them right. I kept doing trials almost seven months prior to the event to reach a certain level of perfection."

However, outside of the five-star kitchens and pastry competitions, the chef prefers simple, clean flavours, and desserts like tiramisu, kheer and jalebi remain his favourites. Flavours are a key to any good dessert. Keeping them simple always works. But if you are in the mood to do something out-of-the-box, it is best to keep a few pointers in mind. "While experimenting with flavours, first try out different combinations. Think about ingredients that go well with milk chocolate or dark chocolate. A hit of citrus in chocolate is also a good idea. Always try to balance the sweetness with acidity. Sometimes just adding sugar can make a dish too sweet. So dextrose is a better alternative, as it lends a certain freshness to the dish. Jelly, crémeux, mousse, ganache and sponges give you contrasting textures. It is all about finding the right balance to create a perfect symphony of flavours on the plate," he signs off, revealing that his go-to ingredient these days is a pinch of sea salt.

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