OK, granted I haven't baked from it yet, I only received it today having pre-ordered it from Amazon, but I couldn't resist sharing my first impressions. At the time of pre-order there was no "Look Inside" available, the write up is fairly bland and there wasn't even a cover photo on the jacket to inspire me. As a keen home baker who's done some semi-professional baking, I was looking for a book which would give me half a chance at reproducing at home, the magnificent and perfectly presented French pâtisserie that I so love. The write up not being the most inspiring I googled Christophe Felder and found a string of accolades and gourmet credentials and decided to take a chance. The book arrived today and having had no great expectations about how good it would be I am bowled over. Entitled the "Fundamentals" of French Pastry, I was expecting a far less weighty tome introducing the basics, this is more akin to a professional pâtisserie course in words and pictures. Whilst this will never be the same as attending full-time Parisienne Pâtisserie School, I'm betting it will be as close as you can get from the comfort of your own kitchen. I've done some Masterclasses at cookery school so whilst a mostly self-taught enthusiast with a few classes under my belt, I've seen and learnt enough to be confident that this book is going to deliver.
For a start it is nearly three inches thick, so comprehensive it is. There are 207 "lessons" on 800 pages each illustrated with step-by-step detailed photos complete with guidance on how to achieve the professional standards of presentation and finish which epitomise French Pâtisserie. Thankfully in this case, the publishers have resisted the irritating norm of reducing professionals' recipes onto a single page per recipe by editing out the finer nuances that deny home-bakers the opportunity to recreate truly great cuisine. Bravo to the Editor who granted Christophe Felder the respect of typically four pages per recipe (two of text, two of photos). All those times you've seen beautiful finishing touches and thought "I wonder how they do that?" - it's all here. Divided into nine chapters it covers all the classics of French pâtisserie:
Chapter 1: Les Pâtes et Les Tartes (Basic Pastry and Tarts) Chapter 2: Les Crèmes (Creams, Custards and Puddings) Chapter 3: La Décoration (Decorations) Chapter 4: Les Gâteaux Classiques (Classic Cakes and Desserts) Chapter 5: Les Chocolats et Petites Bouchées (Chocolate Desserts and Candies) Chapter 6: Les Gâteaux de L'Avent (Holiday Cakes, Cookies and Other Sweet Treats) Chapter 7: Les Macarons Chapter 8: Les Brioches et Viennoiseries (Brioches and Breakfast Pastries) Chapter 9: Les Mignardises (Petits Fours)
In addition to pastry work, there's sugar work (from spun sugar to sugar paste and everything in between), chocolaterie, piping techniques, sponge work, producing layer cakes, syrups, you name it it's here. The index is now available on the "Look Inside" feature so I'll leave the interested reader to peruse the list of classics at their leisure or I'll be here all night.
I'll update this once I've had the chance to bake from it but I'll be extremely surprised if I am disappointed. Certainly this book does not have the coffee table beauty of Pierre Herme Pastries or Bouchon Bakery but I'll hedge my bets and predict your dinner party guests will be so busy drooling over the edible works of art this book will enable you to produce at home, they won't even notice the book on the coffee table.
Update 1: As soon as I posted this review, two further reviews from Amazon.com (USA) became visible. Since the other reviewer had problems with the Tarte à L'Orange I shall be trying that recipe first to compare my own experience with that of the other reviewer. I've currently given this a four for what it promises but will review my star grading once I've tested a few recipes.