Learning from the master: Baking tips from Chef Nick Malgieri
“It’s primal. It’s like that smell people really kind of identify with. It’s from your childhood,” muses celebrated pastry chef Nick Malgieri on the irresistible pull of baking.
On TV and blogs, baking is shown as a glamorous affair what with all the gorgeous presentations and lip-smacking flavors. The flipside is a lot of backbreaking hard work that involves dirty dishes and frayed nerves.
Yet still, bakers (whether professionals or home-based bakers; those who went to culinary school and the self-taught ones) keep coming back for more. “It’s from the family; about what’s good about being at home,” he replies.
Illustrating how universal this response is, he shows me a video clip of a 90-year old woman; a local treasure in her village in Switzerland. She is shown baking Vully cake, a “local specialty I was especially interested in because somebody has once given me a recipe for this specialty but it didn't turn out right.”
It’s a short video. Her simple declaration towards the end of the clip on why she has focused on this one particular delicacy stayed with him: “Ca a la gout de terroir.” or as the subtitles say “It tastes local, a dish from here.” I prefer Chef Malgieri’s own interpretation: “This is a taste of who we are.”
Chef Nick Malgieri is acknowledged as one of the greats in the world of baking.
A Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America inductee, he has 13 cookbook recipes under his belt (including the James Beard Foundation awardee, How to Bake.) An educator for nearly 40 years now, he directs the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education. He is a familiar face on TV appearing in numerous food shows of Martha Stewart and Julia Child, among others.
He’s also a Chevalier d l’Odre de la Channe du Valais for his efforts in promoting Swiss gastronomy and culture. It’s a dizzying spectrum of accomplishments and the 70-year old chef (although you won't think it looking at him) shows no sign of slowing down.
Just recently, he was in Manila for his much anticipated baking demonstration at the World Food Exhibit (WOFEX) 2018 held at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia.
This is his fourth visit to the country, the third under the aegis of Innobake, distributor of quality baking chocolate products. In a presscon held earlier, he generously shared some valuable tips for both newbie home bakers and those who would love to level up their baking game, so to speak.
A typical dilemma when it comes to baking with chocolate for the first time (or in fact, baking for the first time) is what recipe to go for. A not too intimidating way to start according to Chef Malgieri are brownies because “90% of the time, they’re really easy to make.”
Also, everybody likes brownies.
You don’t have to wander far as he has his own killer brownie recipe. Aptly known as Supernatural Brownies, it is one of the more popular recipes online.
“Brownies are a very, very big thing with me because my recipe for supernatural brownies has been repeated and stolen and I swear if they make brownies in Mars, they will use that recipe,” he says with laughter. He’s not overstating it, either. A quick Google search yielded over 1M results.
For a great brownie recipe to work (as with everything else), it’s important to use the best quality ingredients possible.
But how do you know which ones are the best? Word of mouth is a good indicator and he says as much: “You might want to trust a good brand.” While this is a great guidepost in choosing ingredients, he also acknowledges that a baker’s own preference is as important.
“But aside from that you really have to taste. So many people they want to be told. ‘Eat this.’ ‘Use this chocolate.’ People feel more comfortable about that but it’s really what you like. People should have the courage to do what they like to do,” he says emphatically.
Equally important is knowing how to properly handle these precious resources. “It’s unfortunate that sometimes people have access to good ingredients but it’s either they don’t take sufficient care with them and actually ruin them," he says.
You can’t have one and not the other. This is where having the proper technique comes in. While it may seem daunting to be told this on your first forays into the kitchen, it is important to latch on to this fundamental quickly. It’s the difference between having chewy cookies and an inedible, dry batch to show for your efforts.
Take advantage of youtube tutorials. Our venerable pastry chef goes to the site for his own research but does so with a twist. A polyglot (he speaks French and Italian, too), he is more partial to video clips posted by locals. “The thing about researching recipes on youtube is you have to do it in the original language. So that you get the stuff that the native actually make. Rather than something that has been translated, through the filter of somebody else’s culture.”
Above all, don't be too hard on yourself. As Chef Malgierie puts it “If the cake comes out of the mold and it doesn't collapse and it tastes good then you hit the mark.”
Give your presentation a bit of oomph and you have it made. Just remember: “taste and appearance are the two main things about baking.”
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of taste, he has one advice for all bakers, which maybe a bit tough to follow for us Pinoys: “Tame the sugar… It’s really important for it to taste good and not too sugary.”
At his baking demo dubbed “A Date with Chocolate,” Chef Malgieri is in his element, effortlessly commandeering the stage’s makeshift kitchen. He is aided by a number of pastry chefs headed by none other than friend and former student, Chef Jill Sandique-Ong. On his to-do for the day are four chocolate cake recipes, copies of which were given to the capacity crowd full of appreciative bakers, me included.
A true educator at heart he is able to make complicated recipes manageable and more importantly, doable. It’s fascinating to watch his hands deftly move from one thing to the next. He has a calm, relaxed manner about him cracking jokes here and there. Even when things go awry, as it inevitably does, he is able to troubleshoot without missing a beat. Suffice it to say, Chef Malgieri makes baking accessible and fun.
Watching a master baker in his environment is inspiring and reassuring. Those difficult baking stages that terrify? They become a little less intricate, a little more comprehensible. Thus, you are encouraged to try and experiment yourself, to venture outside your comfort zone. Who knows maybe you will achieve it, too?
So, please excuse me while I try out his recipe for Chocolate Cherry Mousse Cake. It is more complicated than what I am used to making but here’s to trying. – Rappler.com