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The Year of the Pastry Chef

With the rise of TV dessert competitions, pastry chefs are new players in the fame game. Here, F&W's favorite desserts and the talents behind them.

Pastry chefs have become the latest food celebrities—starring on TV shows like Top Chef: Just Desserts and displaying their creations at bakery counters in top restaurants. "We're done being the last thought," says Zoe Nathan, co-owner of Huckleberry Bakery and Café in Los Angeles. At her once-a-week dinners, guests order dessert first: "We put the blueberry corn cake in the oven when they sit down, so it comes to the table hot and crazy."

Anne Quatrano, a pastry chef who owns five Atlanta restaurants, believes the rise of molecular gastronomy has made pastry seem more exciting. "Molecular cuisine is an extension of pastry," she says. "Gelatins have been used in desserts forever, but now chefs are using them as stabilizers in savory food, too."

7 Pastry Talents

For all these reasons, F&W profiles seven of the country's most creative pastry talents—both veterans and neophytes—and shares their finest recipes.

Goat Cheese Puddings

Goat Cheese Puddings. © Stephanie Foley.

Dana Cree: The Modernist

Poppy, Seattle

Poppy, known for simple, seasonal dishes from chef Jerry Traunfeld, keeps a molecular gastronomist in the pastry station. Cree uses techniques she picked up at the Fat Duck in the U.K. and New York City's WD-50. "I learned to divorce flavors from their original textures to create something new," she says.

Baked Currant Doughnuts

Baked Currant Doughnuts. © Stephanie Foley.

Christy Timon & Abram Faber: The Traditionalists

Clear Flour Bread Bakery; Brookline, MA

Timon opened her bakery in 1982, hiring Faber to help with deliveries. The now-married couple are revered as early champions of classic European baking. They continue to hunt down rare recipes, like these light doughnuts adapted from Robert Jörin, a third-generation Swiss baker at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Jumbo Brownies

Jumbo Brownies. © Stephanie Foley.

Anne Quatrano: The Purist

Star Provisions, Atlanta

"Like all great desserts," says Quatrano, "these brownies have only three pertinent flavors: chocolate, butter and walnuts." Quatrano, an F&W Best New Chef 1995, is the chef of a small empire of restaurants in Atlanta.

Jennifer Shelbo: The Archivist

Maialino, New York City

Now the pastry chef of Danny Meyer's new Roman-style trattoria, Shelbo was once a financial research analyst. She is still a crack researcher, searching for authentic Italian recipes like this moist, airy cake.

Zoe Nathan: The Free Spirit

Huckleberry Bakery and Café, Los Angeles

Nathan has the zany, freewheeling air of a person on a permanent sugar high. "It's a huge pastry playground," she boasts of her bakery. Her salted-caramel squares are just as bold, with tender caramel atop a dense, buttery crust. "I've always loved salt and sugar," she says. "As a kid, I'd dip my fries in milk shakes."

Jennie Lorenzo: The Reinventor

Fifth Floor, San Francisco

Lorenzo was raised in Manila, the Philippines, but she understands the San Francisco psyche. "People here prefer artisanal foods," she says. "If I do something strange, it won't be a top seller." To stay creative, she morphs the classics, like this riff on the French gâteau basque, a dense cake of almond custard and cherries.

More Great Pastry Recipes:

3 Reasons Why Pastry Chefs Are Stars

1. Because top restaurants now have great pastry counters.

  • ABC Kitchen: Jean-Georges Vongerichten's new NYC café inside ABC Carpet & Home proudly displays Cynthia Bearman's locavore desserts.
  • Tavern: At Suzanne Goin's new Los Angeles spot, diners can buy pastry chef Breanna Varela's brownies to go.
  • Cakes & Ale: This fall, the Decatur, Georgia, spot expands to better show off Cynthia Wong's creations, like Phatty Cakes (cookies stuffed with icing).

2. Because they are the original molecular gastronomists.

  • Il Cane Rosso: Bill Corbett from Il Cane Rosso and Coi in San Francisco draws on his molecular know-how to make stabilizer-free soft-serve ice cream.
  • Red Medicine: A vet of NYC's WD-50, Jordan Kahn is known for liquid crusts and grilled milk. His latest, unexpected project: a Vietnamese restaurant in L.A.

3. Because they're reality-TV superheroes.

  • Top Chef: Just Desserts: F&W's Gail Simmons will host this sweets-only spin-off of Top Chef. Airing this fall; Bravo.
  • Cupcake Wars: The country's top cupcake makers compete. Fridays at 10 p.m.; Food Network.
  • Cake Boss: Buddy Valastro makes cakes with authority at his New Jersey bakery. Mondays at 9 p.m.; TLC.
Published July 2010
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