Rachid Zaouia versus The Swashbuachaill’s Sweet Tooth

There’s an awful lot of stuff to be found in The Swashbuachaill’s head. What some may call weird, others call wonderful (that would be Dear Old Sainted Mother Swashbuachaill leading the charge on the latter) but all agree the biggest thing in The Swashbuachaill noggin is the Sweet Tooth.

I’ll always reserve judgement on a body who declines dessert at the end of a meal, something about leaving a job half-finished, and reckon it’s best practice to give all the taste buds an equal workout as often as possible. Indeed, the one glaring deficiency in an otherwise excellent cookbook I reviewed earlier this year was the writer/chef’s confession to not being overly fond of dessert.

So, all in all, no surprise the announcement of a new cookbook, Simply Pastry by Rachid Zaouia, Executive Pastry Chef of the Fota Island Resort Hotel, had me hotfooting it down to the hotel on a spectacularly cold night in December. Inside, glowing fires and Christmas lights soon set about warming body and soul and there was even time for a quick chat with remarkably relaxed Rachid before proceedings began.

The Frenchman certainly has the CV – beginning a baking apprenticeship at just 15 years of age, he then went to work for Raymond Blanc in his two-star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in England then on to the K Club, in Kildare, before heading to Australia and Gary Mehigan’s The Fenix Restaurant, which carries the Oz equivalent of three stars.  After stints at another couple of English restaurants, Thyme, in Sheffield, and the Hoste Arms, in Norfolk, he eventually landed his current role in Fota, beginning three years ago.

Like all launch crowds, this was a mixed one, as many there for the wonderful cocktails as in fervent pursuit of the definitive recipe for Tarte Tatin but Rachid wowed the lot of ‘em with an effortlessly dazzling demonstration of sugar sculpture, crafting all manner of delicate shapes and structures for enhancing the visual architecture of his incredible sweetmeat concoctions.

And with delighted jaws well and truly dropped, there was nothing to do but to fill them with an array of petit fours made earlier by Rachid and his staff, ferried around the room on elaborate trays with a bowl of dry ice smoking dramatically in the centre of each display.

Unusually, the book is independently published by the hotel with additional sponsorship from some of their main food suppliers – all in all, a very smart idea and far more effective than many more traditional advertising routes.

ClairePaulDesign are responsible for an extremely tasteful layout and Roger Overall’s photographs, some of them quite excellent, complete a very professional and appealing package, more than capable of holding its own alongside other culinary tomes in the bookstores.

The recipes are a mix of breads and baking, desserts and petit fours, some very straightforward and eminently achievable by the most callow of amateurs and others requiring a far more assured hand.

The presence of an experienced cookbook editor wouldn’t have gone astray at times –  a vital stage in a recipe for a Custard Tart with Freshly Pressed Nutmeg is slightly unclear, not a problem for an experienced cook but a potential pothole for the rank amateur.

Bread recipes instruct us to use an “electric mixer, mix for five minutes on speed one and five minutes on speed two”. But exactly what type of mixer Rachid is referring to remains a little cloudy. One of the ‘mixers’ in my kitchen has seven speeds and a turbo boost, but it was an Aldi purchase so all speeds are identical. Hypersonically fast, it is only good for turning cream to butter in nanoseconds and a potential outboard motor should rising sea levels become an especially pressing issue round my neck of the woods. Anywhere near dough, it shall never, ever go! Rachid is probably referring to an industrial mixer, a Hobart, maybe, pretty standard in most professional kitchens but a rarity in the domestic set-up so hand-kneading times would have been … em, “handy”?

But these are minor quibbles and as many of us discovered on the night, Rachid combines assured technical audacity with a marked talent for hitting the ‘sweet spot’. Rhubarb caviar in chocolate cups with cream, anyone?

Rachid hopes this book will be the first of many and that sentiment is to be echoed. But for those of us in search of the definitive Tarte Tatin, let’s hope he secures some professional editorial guidance and maybe delves deeper into some of the pro cheffy tricks of the trade that enables him to turn out such glorious looking creations, food for the eyes as much as the belly.

As for the Tarte Tatin, he has a nice little knack of making the caramel before adding the apples which eliminates that nervous hovering around a pan wondering if you will judge perfectly the moment just before exquisitely-oozing caramel tips over into bitter, burnt sugar. Some nice Bramleys downstairs from the Douglas Farmers’ Market shall be playing a starring role later on this evening when I take Rachid’s recipe out for a test drive!

Simply Pastry – All Year Pastry Treats

by Rachid Zaouia

(published by Fota Island Resort Hotel)

Price 14.95

You can also see Rachid demonstrating some of his recipes on videos available at http://www.fotaisland.ie

 

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