A Tale of Two Pastry Books

As I’ve been promising for a while now, I recently had the fortune to read one long-awaited book, and the bad luck of buying the first pastry book that made me physically seething with anger as I was reading it.

Damien Wager’s Breaking The Mould gets started with a terrible “oh-so-poorly-done-arty” cover that can’t even seem to get the text to work right against the artwork. But even before you get to that, you have to go through the ordering process. I don’t believe I’ve seen a more hostile order page. Sure, point out that the book has different distributors outside of the UK meaning that you personally can’t ship it to other countries, but is there a need for this?

UK PURCHASE ONLY. IF YOU WISH TO PURCHASE OUTSIDE THE UK, PLEASE READ BELOW. REFUNDS WILL NOT BE GIVEN FOR YOUR LACK OF UNDERSTANDING.

The eBook is a much more reasonably-priced £15, and you can buy it direct from the UK shop from anywhere in the world. If you do plan on getting the book, I highly recommend this, because I don’t care what quality paper the book is printed on, if I spent $90 (US list price) on it, I would feel very cheated. The design and typography of the book is shockingly poor. And sure, you might think that it’s a bit churlish to criticize the look of a recipe book. But in printed form I’m paying almost $100 for a mess of fonts1 and photography that often just looks…bad.

Here’s an example - the picture for the “tonka, macadamia & caramel” chocolate bar.

tonka, macadamia & caramel

Yes, somebody actually chose that mix of fonts. And why would you photograph an all-white dessert on that sort of plate for a book? There’s no contrast at all between the background, the plate or the sodding dessert! You think that’d fly in one of the fancy places that the author is in love with? The font choices look even worse when they’re repeated in the actual recipe as well. It’s readable enough, but feels very cheap (again, this is a $100 book).

For comparison, let’s take a look at William Curley’s Nostalgic Delights. Now, I’m not saying that this is an exemplary piece of book design, but, consistent & complementary typography choices, full-bleed pictures, and the use of contrast make it really quite nice to look at.

Nostalgic Delights

And then there’s Migoya’s Elements of Dessert (US list price: $65)

Elements of Dessert

Plenty of white space this time, and again - complementary font choices and amazing photography hold it all together.

As for the recipes themselves? They’re fine - I’d say there is over-reliance on silicone molds to make the visuals that he seems to be priding himself on - can you wax lyrical about your ‘fake fruit’ concept if most of the hard work of making that shape was performed by Pavoni? It makes something of a mockery of the title, too! But aside from a few eye-raising bits where Ultratex is added with no measurement, and something I’ll come back to shortly, they seem like reasonable recipes.

But what really got me angry with the book, to the extent that I had to stop reading to shout about it, is a section in the middle of the book entitled “Imitating a Pastry Chef in the UK”. It’s a rant against how pastry is considered as an afterthought in the UK and this wild piece of gatekeeping:

‘Chocolate’ has (unbelievably) only just been added to the advanced patisserie syllabus for college students in the UK. Could this be the reason why we suddenly have a swathe of UK based youngsters with the self-proclaimed title of ‘Chocolatier’ on their social media after playing with a bag of low quality chocolate.

This dismissiveness, from an author that makes a big deal in their bio about how they learnt to temper by watching YouTube videos, is infuriating.1 If they’re producing consistently tempered chocolates, they’re every bit as much as a chocolatier as you or I. And Valrhona is not the be-all and end-all of the chocolate world, so get over yourself.

As for how the rest of the world is so much better than the UK…well, you can point out that the life of a pastry chef in the US is pretty similar except for a few of the superstars like Bachour. They’re the first to get cut when budgets tighten, and yes, in most US restaurants, they’re responsible for the bread baking and the Viennoiserie. Even Bachour has a bunch of croissants on sale! The people you see in so good… are a small part of the world of pastry chefs.

I feel like the entire three-page section would have been better if it was junked and, say, replaced with a quick guide to tempering. The notes at the start insist “this book is designed to be accessible and understood by all levels of pastry chef & enthusiast,” yet despite many mentions of tempered chocolate throughout the book, it only mentions the ‘seeding’ method in the penultimate dessert recipe. Put the soapbox away and provide actual help for the next generation of chocolatiers if you’re so down on them.

(after going back to the website, I found that there’s a video course for basic tempering. I would suggest using YouTube instead, and if you still have problems, email me, and I’ll tell you tempering secrets for $0. I’ll even tell you how to temper milk chocolate too!)

Now, let’s turn towards Ramon Morató’s Files. And it does have a unified aesthetic. Admittedly, that aesthetic is “font foundry catalogue from the late 90s”, but if you’re into that (and for my sins, I am), it’s a good first impression. Unified typography, clean photography and generous, well-spaced blocks of text.

Files

And generous is a good word to describe the book in general. The first set of recipes both show off Morató different approach to forming ganaches, but also new ways of using things like glucose syrup and honey that make you want to close the book, go downstairs, and try them out right now. Then there’s the generosity that comes across when speaking about other members of his team or other pastry chefs. Even when he’s critical (there’s a very interesting section about mid-way through which does not shy away from criticizing one of his employer’s products), it’s in a constructive manner as he feels his way to getting the best out of the materials he’s working with.

It’s not perfect; there are a few odd translation errors scattered throughout - the continual insistence on calling a chamber vacuum sealer a “sous-vide machine” is a bit odd, though you can work out what the book really means via the context of aerating pralines. Also, if you’ve got some recent issues of so good… magazine, some of the big things in this book - like long-life water ganaches and chocolate-free ganaches - will not be new to you, and the sections here mostly repeat the same text in those articles. And lack of an index is a little annoying.

But you get so much here that complaints seem a little churlish; a COVID-19-themed section finds Morató devoting twenty pages to experimental cheesecake creation, leading to four amazing cotton-style recipes, and there’s a detailed examination of how to formulate desserts for a wide profile of sugar usage.

Some of the recipes you’re unlikely to attempt; instead you come away with your head brimming full of ideas that you want to incorporate in the things you’re making. I can’t wait to try some of these things out in the cooler months to come.

Now, of the two books, Files makes no pretence of being for beginner pastry chefs or confectioners. But if I had to chose between the two for somebody starting out, I’d easily pick it over Breaking The Mould. It is complex, yes, but there’s pages of explanation, context, and assembly details that you just don’t get in the other book. You never feel insulted, and there’s no arrogance there at all. And these days, I’d rather promote that sort of book rather than somebody who is very full of themselves.


  1. If we’re going to get all Four Yorkshiremen about it - I learnt tempering from a book, built my own tempering machine with a Kitchen Aid, and have been using silk-based cocoa butter held-temperature tempering methods for just a bit longer than most of the industry. Plus, I don’t see any bean-to-bar in the book… [return]