The Perils & Positives of Testing Pastry Recipes at Home

In retrospect, the idea of testing my professional pastry recipes in my crappy home kitchen so I can self-publish a cookbook seems completely crazy. As a pastry chef with daily access to a spacious professional kitchen and all the tools and equipment that go with it, you probably think it’s crazy to restrict my recipe development and testing to my home kitchen too! But, I thought, if I’m going to make a cookbook for home bakers, full of fool-proof recipes anyone really can make at home – no matter how crappy their kitchen is – then I needed to face the challenges of actually baking at home.

Pastry Chef Jessica Massias of Bosie Tea Parlor in NYC, preparing to test her recipes in her “crappy home kitchen” (Image courtesy Jessica Massias)

More than just publishing my own cookbook, I also wanted to inspire home bakers to develop and test their own recipes too, and maybe even self-publish their own cookbooks! Today we don’t need to keep generations of family recipes on little old note-cards or even in Word documents, today we can actually publish print-on-demand family recipe books for our friends and relatives. So I really wanted to prove that testing and making amazing pastries from your tiny or sadly equipped kitchen is doable for anyone.

To tell you the truth, my apartment is really big, but my kitchen at home is the typical New York City tiny “kitchenette,” this city is infamous for expensive apartments with “kitchenettes!” This is why many New Yorkers don’t even use their kitchens, we get delivery and eat in restaurants. My kitchen is probably 1 square meter footprint with even less counter-space, and this is pretty typical in NYC. I joke that my oven is 100 years old, and I can’t count the number of recipes that failed because of my oven. There’s not even a window on the door so you can see what’s going on inside. So to make a Soufflé, I better get it right and know how long it bakes, because if I open the oven to check, then it’s bye bye Soufflé!

I struggled and cursed a lot in my kitchen, especially when I was developing my puff pastry since I have zero room to work my dough and obviously I don’t have a sheeter. I even used the bathtub in my guest bathroom to proof the dough because there was no other space in my apartment I could dedicate to hours proofing. As we say in French – “Système D” – think fast, adapt, improvise!

Jessica’s croissants and pains au chocolat rolled and ready to hit the bath for proofing (Anne Brooks | Image courtesy Jessica Massias)

On top of the challenging space issues of a mini NYC kitchen, I had to convert all of my professional recipes to smaller quantities and often just redevelop them completely. It’s a different game on a different scale. A home baker doesn’t want a recipe for 500 croissants, they want a recipe for just a couple dozen that can easily be doubled, or halved, as needed. Plus, although I detest this fact about home baking, I also had to convert my recipes from weight to cups and teaspoons, although I’ll give my readers the choice of weight measurements and encourage them to at least get a scale!

The author’s beautiful croissants, proofed in her guest bathroom tub and baked in her “100 year old oven” (Anne Brooks | Image courtesy Jessica Massias)

As a French pastry chef who worked years in professional kitchens in Paris, I of course couldn’t think of writing a cookbook that wouldn’t include macarons. And while they’re not so hard to make in a professional kitchen, at home, figuring out how to make macarons was like solving a Chinese puzzle. I was so used to my professional environment and so in love with my huge convection oven, that I had to establish a new relationship with my home oven, to be patient with it, to understand it better. We are not best friends yet, but now I shout and curse at it less, and I’m able to make the magic of the perfect macaron happen at home!

The miraculous macarons bakind by Jessica Massias in the worst oven anyone could possibly possess (Anne Brooks | Image courtesy Jessica Massias)

Another issue a professional pastry chef will find challenging about developing and testing recipes at home is simple logistics about free time. We work a lot of hours, usually six days a week, so it’s really hard to make time – or to even want! – to bake more at home. I tried for 2 straight years to bake at home every time I was free or not too tired. When I just wanted to go home and pass out on the couch, I had to talk myself into standing on my feet another few hours to bake something I knew would bring a lot of frustration if – and when – it didn’t work out right. But my passion for this project and for pastry prevailed!

Clearly, baking at home is challenging when you’re used to professional everything at work. But the challenges a pastry chef will face at home are important, because they give you an understanding of what home bakers may face, including frustration and worrying all your hard work won’t even come out right in the end – and this isn’t something I’m used to feeling at work! Then you can incorporate these lessons into your recipes and instructions, and these experiences into your narrative. Your readers will thank you for it.

Now that I’m somewhat recovered from this two-year trauma, I can say that this experience definitely led me to produce recipes that are totally reliable no matter what kitchen my readers have at home. They’re also not too intimidating for even a novice home baker, and they’re do-able even under the worst of culinary circumstances. That should be the aim of any cookbook. The next challenge on my plate? Navigating the publishing part of the project!

 

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