Interview with Jean-Christophe Duc, European master pastry chef and a Compagnon du Tour de France
"The artisan's imagination is the only limit in the creation of new pastry recipes". An increasing number of you want to convert to lightened pastry. But to reinvent your recipes, it is necessary to know a few basic techniques. Meeting with the master pastry chef Jean-Christophe Duc, who has accepted to reveal his tips to make delicious lightened recipes.
Do you remember the moment when the trend for lightened pastry started to emerge in France?
I would say that it goes back to the early 2000s. Many professionals, mainly based in English-speaking countries (United States, United Kingdom, etc.), as well as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, started to explain that they loved French pastries but that they were too sweet. At around the same time, the French authorities started to discuss the development of nutritional balance. The first adverts encouraging people to reduce their fat,sugar and salt consumption, eat five fruit and vegetables per day appeared. Artisans and industrialists felt that they had to act rapidly and pragmatically to address these new concerns. We therefore decided to optimize the percentage of sugar in our pastries.
Sugar is a powerful taste enhancer. Have you had feedback from your customers?
Initially, it was necessary to explain things properly and state that their favourite desserts contained slightly less sugar. But let's be honest, pedagogy is not enough! Buying a pastry is above all a moment of pleasure, a treat. So we started to think about the best way to reinvent our recipes to keep customers' pleasure intact. And this is far from being simple, as you can imagine. Sugar is an excellent taste enhancer: it reveals and brings out the flavours of other ingredients. That is why, when sugar is reduced too much, the impression is that the cake is less "tasty". Initially, the dosing of other taste enhancers - cream, butter and egg yolks - has been increased. To simplify, in a cake which used to include 250 g of sugar and 15 g of egg yolk, the proportions have simply been reversed. The taste of certain preparations, like confectioner's cream or butter cream, slightly changes when 10 % less sugar is used. These are two simple and effective methods that can inspire all pastry chefs that want to lighten sugar content in their pastries and cakes.
Did pastry chefs need to extend their range to compensate and surprise their customers?
Pleasure can be enhanced by playing on different factors: acidity, bitterness or saltiness. Let's take chocolate for example. Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate. But not all customers necessarily like it. To pep it up, it is therefore possible to add spices and flavouring like Espelette chilli, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc. We can also mix it with semi-candied lemon to give it tangy notes or add a little vanilla to give it a rounder flavour. Personally I have a small preference for chocolate, lime and tarragon. In pastry making it is possible to do lots of things and be bold!
For example gives more room to other ingredients?
Yes, exactly. And it is particularly true for fruit which can fully reveal the delicacy of their flavour. But it is very complicated for an artisan to work with fresh fruit. It takes time, is labour-intensive and can create significant wastage, as fresh products are by nature highly perishable. That is why I use and recommend Les vergers Boiron fruit purees, which offer a very comprehensive range which fully respects taste and maintains all the organoleptic properties of fresh fruit. For pastry chefs who want to optimize the sugar content in their products, it is recommended to choose from the 100 % fruit and vegetable range. A range without any additions - no sugars, colourings, preservatives or thickeners - which leaves them total control over their recipes.
Les vergers Boiron offer a very comprehensive range of vegetable purees: do you use it in your lightened pastries?
More and more. They allow us to surprise customers and bring them towards new flavours which will make them totally forget that the sugar content has been reduced. The pastry maker's imagination is the only limit to really awaken the senses. But we know of a few combinations that work really well such as raspberry with red pepper, lemon or orange with yellow pepper, dark red plum with beetroot or cucumber with dairy products.
Sugar is also a texturing agent that gives cakes their softness, biscuits their crispness and ice-creams their richness. Have you had to rethink your recipes?
Indeed, if we decrease the amount of sugar, we have to add other ingredients to enable desserts to keep all their qualities. The early 2000s were marked by the arrival of molecular cooking, with weird and wonderful techniques at the time: emulsion, gelling or sphere-moulding which is used to create all sorts of "balls" from everyday food. This technique revealed agar agar, a gelling substance made from red seaweed. It has neither flavour nor taste. It is only a binder and can withstand temperatures of up to 90 °C. Today we also use gellan, which is produced by the fermentation of an alga and which has excellent texturing properties. We also have at our disposal carob seed (the fruit of the carob tree, a tree grown in Mediterranean countries). All these products can be found in organic shops but also in an increasing number of traditional wholesalers.
What will be the different innovative ideas to be developed by pastry artisans?
We need to go further in nutritional balance. Artisans therefore need to imagine new recipes with a low glycemic index (GI). As you can imagine, there are some constraints. For starters, high GI ingredients (T45 or T55 flour and excessively sweet fruit) need to be restricted.
Can fibre also help reduce the glycemic index of recipes?
The more fibre a food contains, and soluble fibre in particular, the lower is its glycemic index. Soluble fibres include pectin, gums (guar, carob), and plant or alga extracts (agar, alginate, caraghenan, inulin). All these ingredients are easily found in organic stores. Soluble fibres, which are also abundant in pulses (chickpeas, lentils, beans), cereals (barley, rye, oats and oat bran), fruit (especially apples, pears, plums, peaches, quinces, citrus fruit, strawberries and raspberries) and certain seeds (buckwheat, flax, chia, carob, etc.). As far as insoluble fibres are concerned, they can be found in whole grains (T8 flour), oilseeds (almonds, hazelnuts), fresh fruit (pears, apple, papaya, pineapple, etc.) and dried fruit (prunes, figs, dates). In other words, there is a very wide choice: the only limit is the imagination!