Pastry Chefs Explore the Many Shades of Sweet

Sugar. As a pastry chef you'll have full license to explore all the magnificent properties of this powerful ingredient. Sugar represents a complex palette of flavors--and pastry chef school offers an excellent opportunity to experiment with them.

The Pastry Chef as Sugar Sommelier

Sugar's dictionary definition fails to capture its complexity: "a crystalline carbohydrate having a characteristically sweet taste." Sugar is "sweet" as wine is "red" or "white." Its subtleties demand a language of 'complex overtones,' 'rich hues,' and 'melt-in-your-mouth texture.'

New Sugar Frontiers in Pastry Chef School

The sugar varieties you'll encounter in pastry chef school will lead you into territory far beyond brown, dark brown, granulated, and powdered. Grocery store sugars are heavily processed and bleached to remove minerals, molasses, and color. In the process, the sugar also loses its depth and character.

The Refined Character of Unrefined Sugar

Pastry chefs recognize a place for refined sugar--meringue, fondant, syrups--but most prefer the depth and character of unprocessed varieties. Master pastry chef Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, lists the following pastry chef school standards:

  • Golden Castor--slightly less refined, slightly more flavorful than the standard, with a pristine white color and fine texture
  • Amber Crystal--a burnt caramelized sugar liquor, slow crystallized
  • Muscovado--a professional pastry chef favorite, muscovado is a true brown sugar (molasses inherent rather than 'painted' onto refined white sugar)
  • Jaggery--a highly flavorful unrefined sugar imported from India

Pastry Chef's Choice

And then there's Wasanbon, a scarce sugar so exquisite it demands its own paragraph. The apex of the sugar world, this artisanal beige powder derives from a rare Chinese sugar cane grown only on the Japanese island Shikoku. Wasanbon is the secret ingredient of Wagashi rice candy, the legendary sweet central to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Access to Wasanbon alone may be worth the price of admission to pastry chef school. In any case, pastry chef school will introduce you to new frontiers in that most essential of pastry ingredients, sugar.