With all the emphasis we place on good bread-making in bakeries, and on getting strong morning sales in the store, we can sometimes assume that our customers’ entire concern is finding something for breakfast and lunch when they walk into a baker’s shop. So we emphasise morning goods and loaves, or snack items, to fit that assumption and sometimes overlook the customer looking for the perfect pudding or dessert.
There are bakers who get a bit huffy when they argue that they’re not pastry chefs, while exhibiting all the skills needed to honestly be one. They make good pastry, they can whip up a delicious, simple custard, they know how to egg-wash and bake a sweet tart or pie, yet there is still a nervousness about making these items a regular part of the production. In France, bakers talk about "boulanger patisserie", the baker’s pastry and I think we can adopt this approach here in the UK.
For many successful bakeries around the world, providing large baked desserts that can serve four to five people or even more is a strong part of their sales. For these bakers, the secret of managing the production has been to avoid overly complex chilled desserts and focus on ambient lines that look impressive the moment they come out of the oven and require little after-treatment. And this suits customers well too, as they’re often looking for a dessert that looks like it’s just come out of their kitchen perhaps with a little more skill than they could muster.
When it comes to ideas, start with apples. Nothing says "autumn dessert" more than an apple pastry, and apples are so cheap and plentiful this time of year that every baker should make the most of them. Apples are one of the few fruit that we grow exceptionally well in this country, and different counties have local varieties that read so endearingly when used alongside familiar baking names.
For pastry, be a little more lavish and use more (or all) butter if you can. The success of dessert-baking isn’t just in the initial sale, but in the repeat sales and if you lift the flavour to something really remarkable, you’ll gain more sales not just from that customer but from the people they invite for dinner as well.
l With thanks to FWP Matthews www.fwpmatthews.co.uk or 01993 830 342 for their Ascot and Barrington flour used in the pastry.
Spiced Bramley Apple Plank
I like putting simple names on rather glamorous baking for example, a cinnamon and mixed spice flavoured sauce of Bramley apples, stirred with chopped dessert apples, filling a long egg-glazed ’plank’ of all-butter puff pastry. For the puff pastry I used Barrington flour from FWP Matthews, a bread-making flour blended from British wheats, which gives a superb lift and colour to the pastry.
All-butter puff pastry
Bramley or other cooking apples1,200g
Tapioca starch, or plain flour20g
Almond cream, ground almonds and egg-wash (see second recipe)
1. Peel, core and chop the Bramleys roughly, toss in the lemon juice and bake in a roasting tin covered with foil until utterly soft (or use a saucepan if that’s easier).
2. Beat in the sugar and tapioca starch (thinned in 25ml water). Don’t use cornstarch as this will break down in the acid. Then mix in the spices and bring to the boil. Peel, core and dice the dessert apples and stir these into the warm apple sauce, so that you have a very thick mixture. Don’t cook it further, just chill it.
3. Mix a quantity of almond cream with enough ground almonds to make a thick paste. Roll one sheet of pastry to about 5mm thick, the other to about 8mm, lay on trays and chill. Then score a thinner pastry sheet with 10cm wide rectangle, spread with 5mm almond paste, and top 5cm deep with apple mixture. Brush water around the edge of the pastry, lay the thicker sheet over and press to seal edges. Brush with egg-wash and chill, then trim off the excess pastry. Score the top lightly and make vents to release steam from the crust.
4. Bake at 200°C for 35 minutes, then reduce the heat to 170°C and bake for about 20 minutes more until thoroughly crisp.
Laxton’s Superb Apple Almond Tart
Though the tart is delicious, it’s actually the apple that’s "superb". Laxton’s Superb is a very old classic English apple variety that has a very sweet strong flavour. Here I’ve put chopped apple in the almond cream and slices of fresh apple on top before baking.
Chefs have been using specific ingredients in dish titles for years. So use any apple, but write it in the title that customers see. For the shortcrust pastry, I’ve used Ascot flour from FWP Matthews, which bakes to a crisp, slightly dense texture.
Sweet dessert apples
For the almond cream
Whole egg, beaten125g
Brandy or rum25ml
1. Line the tart tins with pastry, then blind-bake until golden. Meanwhile, make the almond cream by mixing the butter, sugar and almonds until smooth. Beat in the egg and brandy until smooth.
2. Peel, core and dice a quantity of apples and mix in equal parts with almond cream. Three-quarters fill the pastry case with the apple-almond mixture, then fan sliced apples over the top. Return the tart to the oven and bake at 180°C until the centre of tart has puffed slightly and the top is a golden colour. Scatter the flaked almond over the top, 10 minutes before the end of baking. Leave to cool in the tin.