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Just simple desserts

FRENCH chic, style that's old fashioned but with a new look, applies not only to fashion but now as well to the creative world of French dessert and pastry.

Long famous for being elaborate, intricate, highly decorated (and, of course, delicious), French desserts are taking on a new simpler taste and look, according to highly decorated pastry chef Nicolas Boussin.

"French dessert is always trendy, filled with creation, but also inherits its classical tradition. This is the way the sweet-tooth loves it," he told Shanghai Daily, outlining the latest trends - purer, simpler taste, less fat and sugar and fancy decoration.

Boussin was in Shanghai in mid-June, holding a dessert demonstration class in Le Diamant, a new French cafe. In 2000 he was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), the highest honor in the French dessert world. He is now the ambassador of a fruit liqueur brand, dedicating himself to promoting French way of making dessert abroad, especially, adding spirit in the cake to enhance the taste.

Boussin, 46, started his pastry career when he was 16 and over 30 years he has both witnessed and contributed to the development of French desserts.

To describe the new take on a classic, he described Paris-Brest, a dessert made of choux pastry and a praline-flavored cream. It was created in Paris in 1891 and has become popular worldwide.

"Recently a French pastry made a brilliant innovation on this more-than-a-century-old dessert, using a new technique to break the creamy monotony and giving it a new design," he said, without deliberating on the innovative technique.

The lighter flavor has been welcomed by many Parisian diners.

Adding alcohol to the dessert is another venerable French tradition. However, the strong flavor of alcohol can easily overwhelm other flavors of a cake or other dessert.

Boussin said that through experiments and technical improvements, he has successfully combined alcohol and cake.

I tasted a dessert he presented called "Grapefruit Dacquoise," which used orange liqueur. Surprisingly, there was the delicate aroma of orange with a bit of zest, with no taste of alcohol.

This new kind of French chic, drawing on both old and new, will influence the dessert world in the next few years, according to Boussin.

First, the true flavors of food will be emphasized and artificial flavors will be out. Simply, a lemon tart should taste like lemon.

"In the past, we mixed a lot of different flavors in the dessert. A chocolate cake probably presents flavors of chocolate, coffee, vanilla and banana. It's nearly impossible for tasters to know exactly what they eat," the chef said. "In the future, I think the variety of flavor will not be over two."

His prediction is shared by Alain Ducasse, whose restaurants are showered with Michelin stars, including three-star rankings. He told a dining forum last March in the Philippines, "Before cuisine, there is nature," adding that each chef should clearly appreciate the original flavors of the ingredients.

Second, less sweets and fat will be used in desserts because more people are concerned about their health, but real butter, cream and sugar will never be abandoned.

"I know many pastry chefs now use vegetable margarine and sugar-free cream," Boussin said, "but don't expect those things to give you the same sense of satisfaction brought by traditional ingredients. Moreover, pastry chefs now are very knowledgeable about techniques and chemistry in desert making, hence, we can reduce the portions of sugar and fat and still keep the good taste."

Third, chic desserts will look more elegant and less fussy; many of those colorful and fanciful, and often overdone, flourishes of decoration will be gone. Whipped cream will still be used for decoration but it will be less ornate. Compared with sprinklings and shavings of chocolate and candies, fresh fruits such as cherries, pineapple and strawberries may become more popular.

Before the conclusion of our interview, Boussin shared his views on food additives, a hot news topic in China these days because of scandal after scandal about food safety, toxins and illegal or overused additives. Additives are used to preserve, add color, thicken, add texture and make food more desirable.

"It's inevitable to use additives in making dessert - they do give the dessert a bright color and good mouthfeel," he said.

"However, as a pastry chef, you should clearly know about each additive you use, including molecular constitution and the probable chemical reaction, to make sure it will not damage the tasters' health."

Recipe Collector


1/4 kiwi; sago (starch from sago palm, available in supermarkets), 100g mango puree; 1/6 watermelon; 1/8 hami melon (also called mush melon from China's far west); fenyuan (a sweet ball made of tapioca and sweet potato flour, available in supermarkets); coconut jelly (according to preference); 1/2 mango.


Soak sago and fenyuan separately in water for 15-29 minutes.

Boil them also separately.

Cool, place in dessert bowl.

Add mango puree.

Cut the kiwi into 3cm fan-shaped pieces and set aside.

Use a spoon to scoop out watermelon balls and hami melon balls, cut mango in pieces and place in the bowl.

Top with kiwi and coconut jelly.

Kiwi mousse


1 kiwi; 25g castor sugar; 7.5g gelatin; 50g still water; 22.5g sweet cream; 15g milk


Dice kiwi into 2cm squares.

Add castor sugar and gelatin to water, stir till smooth.

Heat mixture, stirring until very smooth. Cool to 30 degrees Celsius.

Blend with milk and refrigerate for 20 minutes until it becomes mousse.

Serve and top with kiwi.


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