"You're going for a cookie being like 'I know this cookie isn't going to round out my diet, but it's what's going to bring me joy'," extols New York chef Christina Tosi in the trailer for the latest series of Chef's Table. Judging from the upbeat montage of gelato scooping, precision pastry shaping and saccharine sauce dripping against a head bobbing I Want Candy soundtrack, she's probably right.
As reported in our paper this week, the award-winning documentary series is back on Netflix this weekend with an ode to all things sweet. Following four chefs regaled for their innovative dessert trends or faultless technique, this series of Chef's Table promises a more playful look at some of the world's leading chefs and how their lives have influenced their sacchariferous work.
Chosen for their outstanding, taste-making contributions to the sweeter side of service, each of the four chefs takes us on a mouthwatering hour-long tour of their culinary masterpieces.
Featured in the series is expert cookie-crafter Christina Tosi of Milk Bar, New York – a cult figure in the city’s foodie scene known for her “crack pie” and moreish “compost cookies”. “I love baking because it reminds me of my grandma’s,” she says in the trailer, a sentiment shared by so many cake-obsessed home cooks.
Corrado Assenza’s gelato-centred episode will have you longing for a summer of indulgence in Sicily. “He has pastry in his genes,” goes the narration over shots of Corrado’s effortless cannoli rolling. While the fantastical desserts of Jordi Roca at her family-run restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Spain call for a double-take (think delectable treats shaped like body parts or surprise flavours and textures you have to crack a pearlescent egg to discover).
Also prepare to feast your eyes on beautifully composed sugar-coated art served up by master of precision Will Goldfarb, the head chef at the dessert-only restaurant Room 4 Dessert, in Bali. “When I was in Paris for pastry school, they were pretty clear that this was a bad career choice,” he says.
Here’s hoping his teachers catch his episode.
How to get the perfect pastry
Inspired by the streaming site’s latest culinary foray, we’re wondering exactly what makes the perfect pastry, where to find it and how we can get our very own sugar fix right here in the UAE.
If you've endured the torment of taking the time – and spending money on all those ingredients – to bake a cake or make a tart only to find a soggy sunken dip in the middle or a tooth-cracking base and a sad, uncooked filling, you'll know the precision required in pastry-making. "Precision makes the perfect pastry and it's probably the dedication to this craft that makes it so hard to master," says Dubai-based chef and River Cottage alum Chloe Ride. "The processes involved in making pastry means one missed step and you could end up with a totally uncalculated outcome. But it's the slowness of the process that brings the joy."
It pays to read the recipe and fully understand your process before diving in to the first step ,instead of realising you should have left the butter at room temperature three steps in.
"If you're trying out your pastry skills at home, always follow the recipe to the T, be it butter or egg temperature, flour type or measurements – the smallest adjustment can make the biggest difference," says Ride.
Rushing your bake is also an absolute no-no. A Sunday morning whiled away in the kitchen listening to the radio is ideal. The best time to flex those pastry-rolling fingers is when you’re relaxed and can commit to your sweet treat fully. When you’re looking to master the art of crafting the perfect pastry at home, it pays to have patience.
“Take your time and never rush the process,” says Chef Emilly Sanchez Araya, the lead pastry instructor at SCAFA – Dubai’s School of Culinary and Finishing Arts. “Trainee chefs who usually have no experience are always rushing. The most important skill to develop in pastry is patience. With experience, you will gain speed and confidence.”
Sanchez's top tips for wannabe pasty chefs are, first, to be organised. "A pastry chef who is disorganised or unstructured will result in inconsistent pastry products. Pastry is an art and a science, which requires the ability to follow rules and instructions and be able to measure precise quantities," she says. Also essential is impeccable organisation and time management as well as creativity.
“Pastry is a science,” says Sanchez, “it requires you to follow specific steps and tools, a pastry chef should have the ability to be creative when it comes to design, taste, and presentation and always be up to date with modern trends and new approaches in the patisserie world”.
The UAE’s best sweet treats
The Chef's Table round-up is definitely one to travel for, no doubt about it, but if you're in need of a quick sugar fix, we've spoken to the UAE's pastry insiders for a must-visit list of some of the best dessert spots in this part of the world.
Look to the UAE’s food bloggers, pastry crafters and foodie insiders for the region’s finest croissants, cookies and cakes. Loosen those waistbands and prepare for the on-set of a sugar coma. Following are our suggestions.
Baker & Spice
"My favourite pastry spot in Dubai is Baker and Spice, who always have an amazing range of cakes," says Ride. This organic cafe at Town Centre Jumeirah, Souk Al Manzil, Dubai Marina and Souk Al Bahar is the spot to head to for everything from decadently decorated desserts, traditional favourites (tea cakes and moist sponges) and innovative pastry combinations – think brioche doughnuts and crepe cakes stacked high and filled with pistachio, chocolate or hazelnut fillings. Spoiled for choice does not even come close.
Saif Alnasur and Danna Abrahim of Dubai Bites recommend a trip to the new Treej Café in La Mer. This fusion restaurant comes from the people behind Al Fanar, Dubai's first Emirati restaurant chain. "The fusion element of the restaurant means their desserts and pastries blend the old styles and flavours of Emirati culture with some of the more modern techniques," the duo says. Recommended are the Emirati-style cookies shaped into shot glasses and served with cold milk or Karak tea – aptly named Karak Shots. Also try the Rangina Mont Blanc, "an interesting take on the classic date cookie in tart form rather than cookie form, topped with a light date cream".
"A tender crust with a crumbly finish is the epitome of what makes a good pastry," says Jovel Chan, head of marketing at Jones the Grocer. This self-confessed foodie is a fan of the Japanese patisserie scene, insisting on Chaterais as the ultimate spot to indulge your sweet tooth. "The flavours of their pastries are so unique, visually appealing and of premium quality as well. Many of their ingredients are sourced from Japan and everything is made in-house. I highly recommend the baked cheese tart – I've never left the store without one!" she says.
Impossible to leave off the list is Yamanote Atelier in Dubai Mall, another Japanese bakery to obsess over. It blends Western baking techniques with Japanese flavour for hybrid pastries you won't find anywhere else. Colourful, characterful (some actually have faces drawn on to them) pastry and unthinkable combinations (ice cream and pastry topped with hundreds and thousands). Be warned, they do deliveries.
A firm favourite on the foodie scene is Chef Izu Ani's Izu Bakery at City Walk and Jumeirah. Recommended by pastry chef and food blogger Nadia Parekh at Melange Dubai, this bakery delivers fresh viennoiserie (think croissants, pain au chocolat and fruit-filled Danish pastries) for a saccharine breakfast infused with European style and flavour. "The UAE is a difficult region right off the bat because humidity and the hot weather in general don't do pastries any favours. On top of that, the flour and butter need to be imported making it very expensive to perfect," says Parekh, regaling Izu's high-quality ingredients and slow-rise bread methods, resulting in perfect pastry, despite the region's challenges.
For coeliacs, vegans and the gluten intolerant, Wheatfields Café in Khalifa City is the one. Think wholesome sweet treats made from raw ingredients for a sugar hit that's light on the stomach. Empty calories, these are not. "This was an ultimate gem to find," say Alnusir and Ibrahim, recommending the vegan pumpkin pie made with nutrient-dense cashews, gluten-free oats, coconut oil and cold-pressed carrot juice. "Having these options alone, in an Emirates full of chocolate molten dishes, is awesome."
Another spot that comes highly recommended is the Abu Dhabi-based bakery Keki. This Japanese bakery on Khaleej Al Arabi hits the sweet spot between traditional Western pastries, like fruit-filled Danishes, and Japanese flavours. "The second you walk into this cafe you'll instantly be hit with a sense of authenticity. They have their Japanese cheesecake-making process down to a factory-precision level – it's quite impressive. This spot is a newcomer to the UAE, but definitely one that deserves recognition," say the bloggers, rating this cheesecake the best you'll find in Abu Dhabi.