Its good! Wheeling Patissier Brings French Connection to Valentine’s Day Fare | News, Sports, Jobs
WHEELING – The interview begins with an in-depth discussion of whether Olivier Thiry is a pastry chef.
It’s a definite “no” in his native France, he says, where the term is regulated by law. In Wheeling, where the maker of all desserts for Good Mansion Wines has lived and worked since 2015, customers would more likely respond with a whispered “oh, yeah” over a bite of food.
Despite the fact that we were talking on the phone – the weather is dire – I suspect we each shrugged our shoulders when choosing the term pastry chef. It bodes well that Thiry – a recently created US citizen who prefers his cooking to the media spotlight – is somewhat reluctantly on board.
No pictures of him at work, thank you very much. But he agrees to interpret what makes the red-iced Valentine’s Day hearts that he brings to the tables of the region French. And, to guide this very American home cook—whose French ancestors (in good or bad timing, depending on how you look at it) arrived in the United States in 1775—to something similar if less complicated very good.
AT THE MANSION
“I devote myself entirely to desserts. It takes a lot of time – six to seven days a week,” says Thiry, who is married to engineer Dominick Cerrone, the food entrepreneur who started the store and cooks tasty Italian delicacies for the East Wheeling boutique.
“I think I would say I’m addicted to sugar,” Thiry continues. “It’s exciting to make desserts. Usually what I like is the challenge of doing something more elaborate, like hearts.
The hearts in question — four-layered confections of brownie, raspberry puree, mousse and bright red frosting — are her addition to the store’s Valentine’s Day menu. (The holiday fare will also include macarons and chocolates from confectionery Thierry Atlan on the French side and take-out lasagna dinners from Cerrone on the Italian side.)
These desserts, explains Thiry, are a classic French dessert, much like a cake, at any time of the year. His version of Valentine’s Day reflects that country’s holiday preference for red candies and berries.
“There’s always a little adjustment,” Thiry says, about production fitting for a holiday or going up or down in volume or to an American palate. He explains that French desserts are generally less sweet than American ones. Some customers like it. But, he still tests the recipes on the staff to make sure the sugar level is right.
“I saw times when they weren’t sweet enough,” he says of the taste tests. “It’s always rewarding to find something that works the way you want.”
And the popularity of Valentine’s Day desserts suggests that they are one of those things. They are in demand to the point that Thiry allows a maximum of four cores per household so that more customers have the chance to take advantage of them.
“We are a small bakery and I work alone,” he says. “I’m not going to do 500.”
But, he notes that readers who can’t get one of his desserts but would like a little homemade joie de vivre during their Valentine’s Day celebration have another option. Truffles – the sweet kind, not the mushrooms.
Also French, these decadent combinations of cream and chocolate (and, perhaps, a little berry puree in a nod to Valentine’s Day) are within reach for many home cooks, he says. “There are recipes all over the internet,” encourages Thiry, before adding some general guidelines.
BRING IT HOME
I tend to favor savory and rustic cuisine, but my interview with Thiry is inspirational.
I’m especially intrigued by the idea of making my own truffles because a few members of my family are dairy-free and coconut milk is a viable alternative to traditional heavy cream.
After selecting a recipe from a plant forward site called minimalistbaker.com, I set out to make it more French for Valentine’s Day by incorporating Thiry’s advice.
I start by weighing then finely chopping 9 ounces of dark chocolate (dairy-free) and setting aside in a medium-sized bowl. I do it by hand, with a chef’s knife.
It’s mainly because I prefer to be slow and quiet in my cooking. I also like to think that’s what my French ancestors would have done.
That’s before I realized they would have been long Americanized when chocolate took on its solid form and one or more pastry chefs developed truffles from it – both of which happened in the mid-1800s. shoulders and get back to work.
In a small saucepan, I heat 6 tbsp canned full-fat coconut milk and 1 tbsp smooth, seedless strawberry jam (Thiry’s suggestion for holiday authenticity) to the point where tiny bubbles begin to appear. Before boiling begins, I quickly pour the coconut milk over the mound of chocolate chunks and put a lid on the bowl to trap the heat.
(Thiry combines the two more slowly, but I’m afraid to stray from the recipe because I’m substituting the coconut cream and he was talking about dairy.)
That works. After five minutes, I add ½ teaspoon of vanilla and stir gently until the mixture is smooth and shiny. I cover the resulting ganache with a thick towel (Thiry uses cling film) and let it cool on the counter until a knife inserted into the mixture comes out clean.
(Counterchilling is slower, but Thiry said ganache chilled in the fridge tends to get grainy.)
About two hours later, the ganache is ready. Using a measuring tablespoon, I scoop out the mixture, shape it into balls with my hands, then dredge them through unsweetened cocoa powder.
So ! A dozen truffles look surprisingly good.
And – thank you, Mr. Thiry and minimalistbaker.com – they taste very good for the most part. A hint of berries, a silky big dose of dark chocolate, a little too much cocoa powder. (The truffles are dusted so much that my own sampling team members cough a little between bites.)
Not as good as Thiry’s work, clearly, but better than some truffles I’ve bought in tiny expensive boxes. That could be his advice. Another shrug. Maybe it’s in the genes.