Since opening his eponymous N.Y.C. bakery in 2011, Dominique Ansel has been keeping busy. In four short years that he’s been running his rapidly growing brand, Chef Ansel has won countless awards, released a gorgeous cookbook revealing his secret dessert-making techniques (yes, a Cronut how-to is included), and seems to have unofficially claimed 2015 the age of Ansel-Expansion with 3 new concepts launching in the first half of the year alone.
The first new spot to open this past April was Dominique Ansel Kitchen. With the body of traditional retail bakery but the spirit of a restaurant, most desserts here are halfway pre-made, and then finished off once ordered. “I wanted to share the experience of tasting fresh pastries, uncompromised by time, humidity, etc, which can be amazing,” says Chef Ansel. By blending lemon custard fillings and chocolate mousses just before serving, his exceptional dishes always taste the way that they are intended to.
The second addition to the Ansel-empire, U.P., is an after-hours, 8-course tasting experience that occurs in prep kitchen above the new bakery—Tickets go on sale every monday at noon, and the first seating is scheduled for July 17th. And the third will be a Bakery, similar to the Cronut-serving establishment in Soho, opening its doors this Saturday in Tokyo, Japan. Peep at Ansel's Instagram for exciting updates.
Despite a dizzying few months, Chef Ansel and his right hand pastry-woman, Executive Chef Karys Logue, were kind enough to carve out a piece of their afternoon for a chat and generous tasting. We talked baking techniques, go-to ingredients and I got myself a coveted #anselfie, plus learned a few fun factoids about Ansel himself: He once opened a bottle of wine with a pinky (it was painful, but it worked!) and his go-to coffee as of late is La Colombe’s new cold brew.
Read on for 20 more learnings below:
1. For serious emulsifying—for such things as a lemon curd filling—a milkshake blender is more powerful and will result in the smoothest, most velvety texture you could imagine.
2. 5 tools that Chef Ansel can’t live without: A scale, hand blender, microplane, tweezers, and a bottle opener.
3. 4 more items that Chef Logue can’t live without: A 6” offset spatula, a sharp chef’s knife, an accurate thermometer, and a nice spoon for tasting and making quenelles.
4. Making beignets? It’s all about time and temperature: The dough should be fresh and at room temp or slightly warmer, and fried in 375°F oil. Then, eat it right away!
5. Flavor powdered sugar for dusting: Combine 2 parts confectioners sugar and 1 part flavored powder, like cocoa—Vahlrona is his favorite brand—or matcha.
6. The Cronut is not made with a croissant dough. It’s made with a Cronut dough that took Chef Ansel over 3 months and hundreds of tests to perfect.
7. The trick to saber a bottle of champagne: Find the seam and give it a little score first, as illustrated by our friends at Food & Wine.
8. Make whipped cream with cold heavy cream. If it’s slightly warm, you can whip it all day long and it won’t hold its shape.
9. When making meringues, cream of tartar helps to cut the fat from any yolks that may have sneaked in, but if your whites are yolk-free, it’s not necessary to add the powder.
10. How to hard boil an egg like a Frenchman: Bring the water to a rolling boil, drop in the egg and let it cook for 8 minutes. Immediately transfer the egg to an ice-cold ice bath. It should peel easily.
11. When it comes to picking butter, fatter is better. 80% or more is ideal: More fat means there’s less water and everything will taste richer and better.
12. Brewing tea is a lot like baking: It’s very scientific. Depending on what kind you’re making, use a specific temperature and infuse it for the proper amount of time. Here are some pointers.
13. When straining tea, it’s important to strain it gently—don’t press too hard on the leaves or bag—for the most well-rounded, bitter-free flavor.
14. When making pastry cream, never stop mixing it. The minute you do, it will start falling apart and go from pastry-land to wasteland.
15. Macarons are one of the hardest desserts to make, so don’t stress if you don’t get them right the first few times, and be careful not to over-whip them or they will become too fluffy and unstable. You want them to be slightly cakey on the inside, and smooth on the outside.
16. Never make anything you wouldn’t enjoy eating. That way, if it turns out to be a wreck aesthetically, at least you can still enjoy the taste.
17. Up your muffin game—Logue’s favorite classic dessert—by adding a topping of butter, oats, and dark brown sugar. And, have fun with flavors: if you’re adding in blueberries maybe they need a little pepper or lime.
18. Baking with booze: Spirits should add a complexity to the dish and combat sweetness—the same way lemon can—but not overpower it. If it does, use less next time.
19. The most common mistake people make when attempting to make puff pasting is not getting the temperature of the dough and butter right: Both should be chilled when you fold them together.
20. Always use unsalted butter.