Baking or pastry work relies less on instinct and more on precision than any other type of cooking. While it's fine to be inventive with your ingredients or slapdash with measurements when preparing a stuffing for a roast chicken, veer away from the recipe when making tart au citron and there is likely to be trouble.
Head chefs in most well-established restaurants tend to appoint a pastry chef to run their dessert section and it is generally thought that the job requires certain qualities: a creative mind, perfectionist tendencies and absolute attention to detail. These characteristics were found in abundance on Sunday morning, when a chocolate and pastry workshop was held as part of Gourmet Abu Dhabi, with six internationally renowned female patissiers taking to the stage.
What followed was an informative and impressive few hours, with some spectacular-looking desserts. Loretta Fanella spent a number of years working at the famed Spanish restaurant El Bulli, and she created an unusual dish called "time for cake" which featured blackberry foam, raspberry numbers and chocolate clock hands, among other elements. The UK-based patissier Ruth Hinks served chocolate delice with blood-orange jelly, white chocolate and ginger foam and citrus salad; quite the mouthful, in more ways than one.
Angela Pinkerton, the executive pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park in New York, said that she is fascinated by the connection between food and science and explores this idea in her cooking. Her simply titled "milk and chocolate" dessert actually consisted of caramelised white-chocolate sorbet, dehydrated milk foam, dehydrated chocolate mousse, frozen chocolate foam, browned milk solid and aerated chocolate (which was frozen in liquid nitrogen).
The idea of the workshop was to give an insight into the scope of the cooking of these patissiers and while much of what they do is beyond the reach of the home cook, it is possible to recreate one or two elements of the dishes. The recipe for Pinkerton's dehydrated chocolate mousse is below and would be delicious crumbled over good-quality vanilla ice cream.
Janice Wong is the chef behind 2am:dessert bar, an innovative, much talked-about restaurant in Singapore where the emphasis is on all things sweet. Like Pinkerton, she is interested in the idea of food as "art on a plate" and says that the inspiration for her desserts comes from all over. She and her team are due to open a food laboratory later in the year and are dedicated to "developing new techniques and ideas for future generations".
Wong prepared a chocolate dish featuring chilli chocolate coral (which actually did have the appearance of sea coral), chocolate soil and a light chocolate water sponge, which was apparently created for the women who come to her restaurant late at night, craving chocolate but not wishing to eat anything too heavy.
Those who fancy trying the sponge will have to invest in an espuma gun (the must-have gadget at this year's event) but if that seems too much effort, why not do as Wong suggested and have a go at making your own peanut butter. Her version is sweet and salty, as well as being free of preservatives. Eat on toast, with crudités or stir into chocolate-chip cookie batter.
40g Valrhona equatorile (or semi-sweet 55 per cent cocoa solids chocolate)
20g Valrhona coeur de guarana (or 80 per cent cocoa solids chocolate)
20g egg yolks, at room temperature
75g egg whites
20g caster sugar pinch fine salt
Preheat the oven to 165¿F/74¿C. Place both types of chocolate in a heat-resistant bowl, suspended over a pan of barely simmering water - don't let the bowl touch the water. When the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to form soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar, whisking continuously, until the meringue is firm and glossy. Stir the egg yolks into the warm chocolate. Gently fold the meringue into the chocolate. Spread the mixture out on to a tray lined with an inverted, acetate sheet, silpat (silicone) mat or non-stick baking parchment. Leave in the oven overnight, to dry out. When the mixture is completely dry, crumble into small pieces.
30g cocoa powder
56g caster sugar
7g milk powder
1.5g egg-white powder
3 eggs 44ml water
Mix together all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the eggs, followed by the water. Transfer to a blender and blend well. Pass the mixture through a sieve and pour into an espuma gun canister. Charge with two gun gas cartridges and leave to set in the fridge for an hour. Pierce the base of a plastic cup several times with a small skewer. Pipe the mixture into the cup and microwave on full power for one minute. You will be left with a very light, aerated sponge.
200g unsalted roasted peanuts
50g white chocolate (optional)
30ml peanut oil salt, to taste.
Break the white chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl suspended over a pan of barely simmering water - make sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. When the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat. Tip the peanuts into a blender and pulse until smooth - scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the peanuts. Gradually add the peanut oil, blending continuously. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, stir in the chocolate (if using) and season with salt. Cover with cling film and use within a week.