Talk to an amateur baker or professional pastry chef, and they’ll probably tell you that the bane of their existence resides in the creation of multiple baked goods.
More specifically, French ones. Choux pastry, the basis of many eclairs and croquembouches scarfed down over the years, requires a boatload of eggs (six to twenty-four. Six to twenty-four!) Souffles require a precise temperature and a well-heated oven to puff up properly. And lest we forget, macarons are notoriously picky to make. Weather’s too hot? Humidity is on the rise? The almond batter mixture was mixed thirty times instead of twenty-nine?
You, my good friend, are going to have a set of ruined cookies on hand.
As someone who has been baking for three years now, and spent more than two years in the French expatriate community, it still astounds me how painfully precise the chemistry of the baking art can be. And also as someone with East Asian and Southeast Asian heritage, it is just as equally fascinating to see how typically European-dominated culinary arts have been adapted. Notably, most Asian pastries use less sugar, and less butter in relation to more typically heavier European pastries. Singapore’s speciality pandan cake, a tried and true recipe I know by heart, is a fluffy meringue-based cake that’s almost resemblant of angel’s food cake – but not quite. Japanese shokupan uses far more milk content than regular loaf bread. And if you haven’t been living under a rock in NYC, places like Tous Le Jours and Lady Wong are popular staples within the city, bringing their own contributions to the culinary table from Korea and Malaysia.
And now there seem to be two brand-new contributors to fusion patisserie in the city: Lysee, a Korean-French minimalist-looking bakery on the outskirts of the Flatiron Building, and ANDO, a Chinese-French patisserie, just a short walk from my own dorm. Both, especially Lysee among Soho’s regulars, have started to gain popularity in just a short amount of time despite their novice statuses. The former was established by chef Eunji Lee, and the website totes the pastry gallery as a “sweet museum derived from the French word Musée. Lysée’s menu, like chef Lee, is influenced by three cultures – French, Korean and New York City.”
Chef Lee certainly wasn’t lying about mixed influences. You’ll find pastries called things like Full Moon, which are chocolate croissants uniquely shaped like – well, full moons – and Lysee’s signature Lysee mousse cake, made with Korean brown rice mousse with caramel. Their famous Corn pastries, shaped like mousse corns, are a brand-new invention made out of sabre and grilled corn cream. Chef Lee certainly wasn’t lying about mixed influences.
ANDO offers a sweeping selection of even more visibly fusion foods, such as durian tarts, their basque pistachio Lava Cheesecake, and more. Ingredients from both cultures are integrated into both menus, and though they’re technically the farthest from ‘authentic’ French pastry, their statuses as innovative and creative bakeries have put them on a permanent to-watch-for list.
But what counts as ‘authentic’ French patisserie? Does authenticity even matter to begin with? Dominique Ansel infamously made its mark on the NYC culinary scene back in 2013, when it developed the croissant-donut, or cronut, the likes of which is most certainly not traditional patisserie. I remember baking with my mother two years back, making buche de Noel for a French club meeting, and forgetting heavy cream for the traditional ganache coating.
“Just use this,” she said, and poured down a can of coconut cream into the ganache mixture.
“That’s not going to work,” I protested.
(It did, in fact, work, and now I never use heavy cream in my ganaches.)
Even French bakeries themselves aren’t going traditional. l’Appartement 4F on Montague Street in Brooklyn, run by the Gauthier family, invented the croissant cereal, something you might’ve seen going viral on baking Tiktok here and there. That is most certainly not traditional, which leaves us with the question: what does tradition even mean?
When asked about her creative choices, Chef Lee also states that her bakery partially began as a result of wanting to put forward “the idea [of] a modern way in New York, with the slices of cake making one shape reminiscent of the diversity of NYC as well.” Do we cultivate and reinvent the canon tradition? Or did the tradition never exist in the first place?
Whichever one it is, I argue the current Asian-French culinary scene is one out of many that disrupts that so-called canon, one that brings its own cultural influences to the table. One, arguably, that crafts its own canon.
And as for the future of modern French patisserie: it can be safely said that here, there are no more ‘rules’.