We may all love to cook here at bazaar, but baking is another creature altogether so it was with some trepidation that we entered the kitchens of the renowned Bouchon Bakery with Chef Altieri and founder Chef Thomas Keller. Thankfully they’d done the actual baking beforehand to save us some time, but we still managed to get stuck-in with Chef Keller actually guiding our hands through the piping process.
First the disclosure of a simple hack to keep your work surfaces clean; lay down a large sheet of parchment paper. This way, the pastry dough you’re working with won’t stick to the counter, and you don’t have to keep throwing flour onto the surface as you knead. Pastry is so precise, that adding this non-stick flour, can throw off the exact recipe. Then we discovered the easiest way to roll out cookie dough evenly, by using rods of plastic or steel at either side of the dough, placing parchment paper over the top and rolling the pin over the lot; perfectly even! Only a few minutes into the lesson and we’ve already learned so much.
It feels like we’ve been let into a secret group; a tabernacle of bakers, where confidences are shared. And then Chef Keller divulges yet another trade secret; do they butter the nuts themselves? No! Bouchon Bakery uses Skippy smooth peanut butter in equal parts to butter cream in their famous Butter Nutter cookie sandwich filling. “It’s all about taking you back to your childhood. When your mom made these at home for you, she most likely used Skippy peanut butter,” muses Chef Thomas. This is one of the reasons why the Bouchon Bakery logo is a beach ball, to take one back to their childhood days of summer and the experiences one probably had back then. The evocation of happy times through food is so important to him, that when Chef Keller signed the bazaar Bouchon Bakery cookbook copy he wrote with a flourish, “It’s all about memories!”
I’m handed a bottle of water as we start tasting raw cookie dough and the peanut butter filling and almost immediately, as I raise the bottle to my lips, a black Sharpie is placed in front of me. “Write your initials on the bottle top,” recommends Chef Keller and I do so immediately, impressed that he had been keeping a keen eye on absolutely everything going on in his kitchen.
We move on to the Rosewater Paris-Brest and when we’re asked how the dessert got its name there is silence in the kitchen. “What does the pâte à choux look like?” inquires Chef Keller and I pipe up “a bagel” which it really, really doesn’t—I discover. For Shame. Chef shakes his head and says despairingly, “Bicycle wheels!” So, it turns out this was a dessert created over 100 years ago that came about for the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle race, and the choux looks like the wheels of a bike; like Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, it’s only easy when you know the answer. Bouchon Bakery wanted to create something celebrating local flavor for the Kuwait customer and came up with the Rosewater Paris-Brest. The proportions are perfect in the filling as the scent and flavor is delicate. It is so difficult to work successfully with such a powerful ingredient as pure Rosewater and they’ve met the challenge wonderfully. Mabrook!
Chef Altieri cuts the wheels into two pieces horizontally, which is more tasking than you might think. Try cutting anything spherical in half by going around, not through, and see if your incision meets itself!
On each of the choux halves, a little half-pipe is created by pressing down the inside, creating a perfect furrow for the raspberry fruit coulis and pistachio cream that’s to be piped into the pressed hollow. You can tell who among us has a more sweet or savory tooth, as you really should only go around once, but we chose to quickly go around the choux twice with our pistachio cream and top it off once with the raspberry coulis. Chef Altieri took a huge dollop of fresh Rosewater buttercream and squeezed it into a piping bag, expertly piping over the filling in exact swirls of rippled, rich cream. Bazaar tried to emulate the buttercream piping expertise but instead delivered with a dump, exclaiming, “Iess like petit choux and more like a petit choux de chien!” Thomas giggled, and it’s possible that we had a bazaar moment right there.
The other half choux-tyre is delicately placed over the top of this aesthetic attempt, which helps to hide a multitude of sins, truth be told, and so the end result looks quite good! Another helping of Rosewater cream is squeezed into the center of the top of the Paris-Brest, ready to secure the final decorative flourish to come. We place two and a half juicy raspberries onto the prepared middle of the dessert. With a scattering of a few pistachios, and a circle of white chocolate nestled upright between the fruit and nut decorations, we’re finished. A very important rule: the Bouchon Bakery signature beach ball on the chocolate must always be carefully positioned. The top of the ball pictured on the chocolate, sits precisely at the angle of one o’clock.
There is a glass window that runs the length of the bakery proper, so customers, if they approach, can see the bakers at work, freshly preparing the wonderful breads and pastries on the menu. As the pastry lesson participants continue to experiment on their own, bazaar notices Chef Keller keenly looking out of this window, observing his customers. “What are you thinking?” asks bazaar. “How are they enjoying the croissants,” he truthfully replies. And this is the very essence of why Bouchon Bakery has such an indisputable reputation. Only the most enjoyable experiences create the memories we keep forever and the best trick of the trade of all; Chef Thomas Keller truly cares about every last crumb that is experienced in Bouchon Bakery.
Dine at Bouchon Bakery at the Grand Avenue—The Avenues, opposite Williams Sonoma. Open Sunday to Thursday 9 a.m. – 11 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 8 a.m. – midnight. For more information, please call 2228 3833. To see the latest updates from Bouchon Bakery follow @bouchonbakeryme on Instagram and Facebook. Bouchon Bakery is opening soon at Marina Mall in Salmiya!