Pastry Today with Nick Malgieri
Nick Malgieri is a prolific cookbook writer and teacher based in New York City. He is currently the Director of the Baking Program at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). I have known Nick for years and he is always ready and willing to share information – basics and minutiae – and his brain is jammed packed with all sorts of baking and dessert related information. A Q&A with him for Bakepedia was in the pipeline and now, with the publication of his new book, Nick Malgieri’s Pastry, the timing was perfect. I caught him during a week during which he was preparing to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. We chatted about making phyllo from scratch, what he is doing with his huge collection of cookbooks, the roots of panforte and why you should consider adding baking powder to your pie crust.
Nick, Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. Moving is so stressful! And you have been the same location for a while…I can’t imagine all the food related books and things you have acquired. Are you taking advantage and cleaning house?
I’m moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn…Bay Ridge. I was on 10th street for 33 years so yes, there is much to pack.
I had actually already been thinking about my books…there are over 8000 of them…about 90% are on food and about 25% are focused on baking and pastry, chocolate and what have you. About 7 or 8 years ago Fritz Blank donated his 15,000 book collection to UPENN. There had already been a rare, antiquarian collection established by Esther Aresty. I have been speaking with the school about donating my books…I’ve selected the ones that I find most essential to bring with me.
I don’t envy you in the choosing but what a lovely idea to have the collection housed where they know and appreciate what they are being given.
Another motivation is that my collection dovetails quite well with his…we are in the process of negotiating the gift…and they will move them! Those books have been set aside.
You know, I am a bit of a cookbook collector as well but now in this world with so much available digitally, sometimes I feel like they are just dust collectors. On the other hand, every now and then I can’t find what I need…just last fall I was trying to research panforte and got nowhere! I reached out to the Schlesinger Library in Boston, called Matt at Kitchen Art & Letters – nothing! It was quite frustrating.
Oh, the Italians have no historical research…I have a story about panforte as well…years ago I was on the road teaching and Lorena de’Medici (cookbook author) was staying at the same hotel. My teaching contact arranged a meeting for us…I had met her before, albeit briefly…we met and had breakfast. I was about to write an Italian dessert book and she lives near Siena and Florence…I was curious about panforte and was quite eager to talk with people who might have an insight. So in her thick accent she tells me, “This recipe, it has 37 spices…”, and I say, “thirty seven don’t exist!”. It made no sense…you hear things like that…I can tell you that the honey in the panforte derives from the fact that initially the kind of fruit used for the panforte was preserved in honey…that is how the link up between honey and panforte came about. When you see the chalky top…it’s a spice mixture and a blend of cornstarch and confectioners’ sugar applied before baking to prevent the top from becoming hard and crusty…
Nick! We need to get the honey board to send us over to Italy for some research!
(He laughs). Now the panforte makers are industrial. They won’t tell you anything.
Let’s talk about your new book, Pastry. I was thrilled to see that it was a Kyle book (the publisher). I have profiled several of their books over the year and I love what they are doing with design, format and images.
They do illustrated books; that’s their thing…I joke sometimes that Kyle would be happier if it were all photos and I just wrote a caption here and there.
What number book is this for you? What made you write this book now?
Pastry is my twelfth. I’ve been investigating a lot of new things lately and there have been changes in ingredients or availability of ingredients. A few years ago I was starting to use olive oil for pastry and I wanted to do a sweet version…use a high end safflower oil. You have to use cold-pressed expeller oils or they start to taste funky when heated. Once you throw in the sugar it changes the oil!
Oil based doughs are a great novice dough because they have a certain amount of elasticity…and no solid fat…nothing to melt; nothing to get sticky. What you see is what you get. I have been very happy with that…and I had always done the international thing…Viennese recipes, Turkish…whatever I was exposed to and fascinated by. It was time to put all of this in a book.
I did notice the homemade phyllo dough! Gorgeous photos with that one…
I believe this is the first real treatment in English of all of the confusing and frustrating differences between Yufka dough and an egg enriched version for baklava. The ancestral dough is simply flour, water and salt…Yufka is often sold prepared (in Turkey)…it is sometimes baked on one side…other times it is baked all the way on a grill…this is lavash, which is sometimes slightly moistened to make flexible to make an ancient version of wraps…or sometimes it is moistened even more and becomes a base of a bread soup. If it is made to be a pastry it is rolled out and then torn and stacked…and it is not just butter between layers…it’s a combination of milk and water, eggs and butter…in a pie, like a ground lamb pie, the inside becomes like cooked pasta…outside it becomes crisp, wonderfully crisp, but stays tender inside…these amazing foods are sums of very simple ingredients.
Talk to me about flour…unbleached versus bleached…
I don’t really get into it. I use unbleached and you know I can’t use cake flour because they don’t have it in the UK (Kyle is a UK based publisher). And Kyle publishes simultaneously with an imprint in Asia and they don’t have cake flour there either…
Nick, what are the 3 things every home baker should know that will help them make better pastry at home?
The most important thing is taking your time…people want things to be ready in no time but you have to be careful and take your time.
There is absolutely no replacement for experience you have to mix and handle doughs and you will gain confidence…no videos, books or anything else will replace you doing it over and over again. Repetition.
The 3rd thing is don’t make substitutions; follow the recipes…it is unbelievable when you read negative comments on a blog and the baker is changing the recipe…leaving ingredients out; substituting at their whim.
Oh, I’ve been there! This does happen a lot… Let’s talk about teaching and students. You have taught for years. Have students changed? I am thinking especially because of the amount of content – videos, recipes, images – that is available online that maybe by the time students are in your class, they think they already know how to do things. Does this happen?
Not really. And in fact the best by product of all the TV exposure is that people get to see and realize that there is this whole world of food out there. They see things they might not have at home or in their family. So it’s a good thing! They get exposed to recipes and ingredients and cultures and it can create an interest. They see that the world isn’t all Krispy Kreme doughnuts…and, by the way, I hate when TV presents certain foods as redneck or whatever…you aren’t forced to watch or eat the food. Change the channel! Turn it off. You can say, “That doesn’t appeal to me”.
Pains au chocolat are one of the first things I ever taught…I had a class over two consecutive Saturdays and we would focus…
When was this?
1979…I began with brioche dough, and then after I was a little bit more confident I progressed to croissant dough, which I use for that recipe now.
What chocolate do you like to use?
We used Callebaut batons but you can use so many different chocolates. Some of the higher cocoa butter or cacao content don’t work…often batons (the individual sticks of chocolate meant for the purpose) are of a lower cacao percentage and they hold their shape.
And the Cranberry Pecan Pie? Pretty straight ahead?
It’s tart! We were making them for a commercial company…we had 20 orders…and 20 came back (laughs). They tasted them and thought they were too sour!
When it comes to lemon and cranberry desserts, I like that tartness to be present!
You would think that there was a mistake with there not being enough sugar, but no, it was and is correct. So, 1 out of 50 restaurants thought it was not acceptable.
I write in the headnote about the flavor profile. You have to tell the truth! It’s like with poppy seeds…I always tell people if you haven’t eaten something that is all poppy seed try something small with some poppy seeds first! (Ed Note: Nick was referring to a fabulously poppy seed dense strudel in the book). There are flavors that people really like or really don’t…that’s okay…and different flavors appeal to different cultures… that whole eastern European sensibility; sometimes I get lost there…
Oh, I can get sucked into a great poppy seed dish. I love it. But you are right, they can be bitter – in a pleasant way – and that’s why I am thankful for variations of pastries! Everyone will find something in your new book. Nick, thank you so much for your time. And good luck with the move!
Thank you, Dédé. This was fun…
(Ed. Note: I followed up with a question I had meant to ask Nick about his use of baking powder in pie crust and wanted to share his answer – just in time for all your fall and winter pie baking).
Can you speak a little to the fact that you like baking powder in many of your pastry doughs? Pie season is coming up and this would be great info.
When baking powder leavens a pastry dough in a pie or tart, it pushes the dough against the hot bottom of the pan (as it can’t really expand upward with the filling on it). This ensures a well baked bottom crust. It’s especially useful in a flaky dough that has a tendency to shrink a little and in doing so might shrink away from the pan bottom.