Apricots, Comfort & Inspiration

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Apricots were often featured in the intricate dessert displays of 18th-century France. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Two seemingly opposed ideas can, sometimes be compatible. For example, even though this post made me think about traveling to taste the place, I can also relate to Yotam Ottolenghi’s opening paragraph, entirely:

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A tart made with poached apricots, marzipan, pistachios and pastry cream was inspired by the elaborate pastry-making at Versailles. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

People tend to belong to one of two opposite camps: those who like their food to impress and surprise and those who want it to comfort and delight. These days, I find myself steadily drifting from the contrived faction to the comfort camp. This, I suspect, has to do with age and a certain wish to reconnect with my childhood.

But my interest in that other extreme was recently piqued by the exhibition “Visitors to Versailles,” which is on view through July 29 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I am hosting an evening there this month to celebrate the exhibition, and I asked a group of world-class pastry chefs to create highly elaborate cakes inspired by the court of Versailles.

The art of cooking was undergoing a particularly dramatic transformation during the period in France covered by the exhibition — 1682 to 1789 — and nowhere was this more evident than in pastry-making and confectionery in aristocratic and royal houses.

For particular events, tabletops were designed to imitate landscape architecture, using materials such as sweet pastes, pastry dough and colored sugar to create miniature, often edible gardens, broken up by vertical structures or pyramids of food. (Croquembouche, the French wedding cake made of choux pastry balls bound by caramel into a pyramid, is a remnant of these structures.)

These elaborate edifices, and the popular association of pre-Revolution decadence with Marie Antoinette and her famous cakes, made it almost inevitable that I should choose confections to capture the spirit of Versailles. Now, as it was back then, it is often the pâtissiers who push the boundaries of cooking through all kinds of technical and artistic inventions.

The two desserts featured here are loosely inspired by that period. Apricots, and stone fruit in general, were highly regarded and often set into those impressive pyramids. Poaching and cooking down fruit was particularly popular, as was combining it with nuts — almonds and pistachios are prominent — and orange blossom water…

Read the whole article here.

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