I am a big fan of Pistacia Vera and I was excited to see that Spencer Budros, the head chef and co-owner was teaching a class in the Dispatch Kitchen. Anyone who knows anything about Pistacia Vera’s macarons could have guessed that we would not be learning how to make them in a 2 hour class. Indeed Spencer admitted that even he can’t make them as successfully at home. They require a 5 day process perfected over years as well as some top of the line professional equipment. As Robin Davis pointed out, not everything is better homemade.
We were spared the torture of having to wait until the end for some dessert, with some delicious treats as interludes. To introduce the concept of a multi-faceted dessert we were given a plate of Lake Erie Goat’s cheese with a delicate shortbread cookie, some cherry pate de fruits and a sliver of dried mission fig. It was an interesting combination of textures and flavors and demonstrated that desserts do not have to be over sweet or complex. Spencer talked about the importance of texture and color as well as flavor.
The next interlude was a luxurious flour-less chocolate torte with layers of flour-less chocolate cake, chocolate ganache and a Chambord black raspberry chocolate mousse. It was made with Valrhona Manjari 64% bittersweet chocolate from Madagascar. This will be made with cassis instead of chambord over the winter.
What we learned to cook was poached pears in zinfandel with gingerbread spices, fresh tangelo sabayon, toasted brown butter financiers, almond croquant and candied tangelo peel. It sounds like a lot but these five separate items together form a sophisticated dessert that you can make at home. Definitely a recipe to wow dinner party guests.
As Spencer explained each component, they seemed do-able and the keys to success are time and planning. Most of these components require a 24 hours head start as things are left to rest or poach between stages. This is not a dessert you can rustle up in the last couple of hours before a dinner party.
Spencer and his assistant Robyn made the dishes seem straightforward with clear instructions and lots of helpful hints (how to tell when things are done, how to keep the pears submerged etc). We learned that financiers are so called because the shape of the mould is like a gold bar. Spencer also talked about how versatile each of the recipes is and how different flavors can be added to the sabayon and financiers.
The poached pears were probably the highlight and I definitely want to try making them at home. The spicing was subtle but delicious and the color was stunning. One of the nice things about this dessert was that even if you didn’t want to attempt the whole composition you could definitely make some of the component parts and they could stand alone or served with fruit.
Sabayons are usually made with wine, but because the pears were poached in red wine Spencer chose a citrus juice to complement the almonds and the wine. This is a dish where nothing is wasted. The egg yolks are used for the sabayon while the egg whites are used in the financier. The tangelo juice is also used in the sabayon while the peel is candied. Voila the finished dish:
There was a lot going on, but the flavors complemented each other as orchestrated. The moist and fragrant financier, succulent pears, sweet sabayon, crunchy croquant and chewy peel made every bite an explosion of tastes and textures but the only sounds in the room were murmurs of pleasure.
We finished with a couple of Pistacia Vera’s signature dishes, a pistachio macaroon, and some pistachio nougat. Robyn explained the process of making nougat which sounds amazingly sticky and messy and Spencer described the 5 day macaron process. I’m looking forward to trying to make the dessert at home, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit German Village.
Another great Pistacia Vera event I went to was a tasting at Hills Market in February, pairing desserts with wines and I believe that Hills has another dessert tasting scheduled for October 20th with Pattycake Bakery. yum.
If you are interested in a Dispatch Kitchen cooking class, there are lots of great options, either taught by Robin Davis or by guest chefs from around the city. I highly recommend them.