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The French art of patisserie

by Jesse Kiser

If you’re like me, most mornings begin with a short shower followed by a dash out the door, one arm going in a jacket sleeve and a toothbrush hanging from your mouth. The morning meal, if you even have one, features a run through the drive-thru window for a mocha latté from Starbucks or a sausage biscuit from McDonalds. As long as it’s hot, fast and cheap, most of us don’t care what the ingredients are.

“Americans, we’ll eat anything,” says owner and chef of Ollie’s Bakery Nancy Revzen. The French, she says, “[T]ook food to a pinnacle. Not to say they were the only ones but they were one of the first.”

For the French, according to Revzen, what goes into food is very important. The food and the atmosphere in which they eat are also taken into consideration. Ollie’s, a French bakery, is slower than the rest. The bakery is a small, air-conditioned, historic building with nary a drive-thru window to be found. Ollie’s prides itself on adhering to authentic French patisserie techniques. Revzen, lived in Europe for six years and purchased the bakery within a year of returning home. The bakery has been around for eight years and Revzen has owned it for two. Ollie’s uses only hands and tries to include as many locally produced ingredients as possible. Everything inside the building is baked fresh by Revzen and her crew from midnight until the late morning. What does not get used that morning is sent to the local shelter. She wanted to bring authentic French pastry to the Triad, and she feels she is still doing this to the best of her power.

The French don’t make dough and then bake it. Food for the French is engineered. “European style consist of very technical and difficult dough,” says Revzen. It is birthed from a baker’s hard-working hands. French do not just make dough, they make masterpieces. Food for them is an art form. The croissant is a fine example of this. You enjoy bread by adding butter but for the French they wanted to enjoy them together. Revzen says they took something good and made it better by adding the butter into the dough and folding it over and over until just right. Oh, and only butter Revzen says nothing but real butter will work in her bakery. No frozen yokes or artificial anything.

The croissant, possibly the most commonly known piece of French baking, is the stuff of legend. As the story goes, during the late 17th century, an insomniac breadmaker in Vienna or Hungary or someplace like that, heard strange rumbling noises. He investigated the noises and notified the town guard. It turned out the noises were from the Turks, making a late-night, sneak attack. The baker was made a hero, and in tribute to his king (kings back then loved tributes, even from their heroes), he made a small roll in the shape of a crescent, the symbol of Islam to commemorate the event. The rest is breadmaking history. Either that or the croissant is a recipe that came from Budapest in the Middle Ages. I like the heroic baker better.

“Choosing a favorite pastry is like choosing a favorite song. It all depends on my mood,” Revzen says. Me too. On a sleepy Saturday morning, nothing else but a four-inch thick cinnamon roll will work for me. Hers is different from the usual American style, which can be slathered with more sugary icing than a birthday cake. Well this French twist on an American favorite is different; a smooth, well thought-out honey taste that treats the lips as well as the tongue with its smooth texture. And yes this one I was able to finish – slowly, and broken up into layers, but definitely eaten up.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jesse Kiser at kiserj05@highpoint.edu.

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