In 2013, Molly Wilkinson followed her passion for pastry by studying Pâtissière at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Upon graduating, she spent time working in pâtissières across the United States and France, chateaux, cooking schools and French farmhouses, soaking up everything she could. Now, she teaches small, private classes at her home in Versailles and she’s taking the next step in her pâtissière journey with her debut cookbook, French Pastry Made Simple: Foolproof Recipes for Éclairs, Tarts, Macarons and More (Page Street Publishing, Co: June 8, 2021; $22.99).
Through the book, Wilkinson helps unleash readers’ inner pastry chefs with approachable recipes for all their French favorites by taking the most essential techniques and making them easy for home bakers. The result: a collection of simple, key recipes that open up the world of pastry. With friendly, detailed directions and brilliant shortcuts, bakers can skip the pastry shop and enjoy delicious homemade creations.
Master base recipes like 30-minute puff pastry, decadent chocolate ganache and fail-safe citrus curds, and readers are on their way to making dozens of iconic French treats.
“I’ve been baking since I was 3 years old,” Wilkinson shares. “Well, I guess then it was more like eating cookie dough than actually baking, but that is when my interest started! I was constantly baking as I grew up, but I actually didn’t go to culinary school until after I’d been working a 9-to-5 marketing job for about seven years. I decided in 2013 that it was time to follow my passion, so I moved to France to attend Le Cordon Bleu for one year to get my pastry certification. After that I worked at several bakeries in both France and the US before I decided to start teaching.”
While studying in France, she learned the classical way to make French pastries, which have been around for generations.
“This for me created a foundational base for everything that was to come. After I graduated it was all about finding the techniques that worked best for me by working in different shops, watching closely and just soaking it all in,” she shares. “For example, for lemon curd, I found that it was much faster and easier to cook it straight in a saucepan instead of using a bain marie method.”
Her favorite pastry to make is a croquembouche or pièce montée: a tower of cream puffs that are held together with caramel to make a stunning centerpiece. It’s the traditional French wedding cake but you can have it at any celebration.
“I love to make it as its spectacular and really fun to put together,” Wilkinson says. “It’s a bit like playing Tetris, as you quickly handle hot caramel and juggle cream puffs. That might sound a bit dicey but if you learn the technique, it’s not difficult and actually becomes quite exhilarating.”
She is inspired by different pastries she sees as she passes by shop windows either where she lives in Versailles, or on our trips around France. There are a lot of regional desserts that she has yet to discover so she always makes a point to go into as many pastry shops as she can while traveling.
Opera cake is an excellent example of both texture and flavor; several distinct layers of Joconde cake, chocolate ganache, coffee French buttercream, and a gorgeous glaze all come together into the perfect bite each time. Flavor is also where you can have a lot of fun and really change up recipes.
“I love when it’s berry season,” Wilkinson says. “There are so many things you can do with them! The easiest is to add them as a decorative finish to a staple dessert. They can also be used in so many ways to change it up like instead of plan strawberries in a curd, roast them!”
Her inspiration for her new book came from her students, and also how she normally bakes. “I don’t like finicky pastry desserts and I love teaching shortcuts. The book combines this and presents beautiful, delicious pastry in an easy no-fuss way. It was the perfect extension of my classes where I break down the classics and make them easy to whip up… and fun!