Sometimes I have fantasies of piping batter into madeleine molds while wearing a fleur-de-lis printed shirt, sleeves rolled up to my elbows, an apron tucked snugly around my waist and some kind of gorgeously ornate cake stand waiting to receive the delicate, powdered sugar-dusted confections.
This is easy to visualize when you pick up Dallas-born Molly Wilkinson’s French Pastry Made Simple: Foolproof Recipes for Eclairs, Tarts, Macarons and More that came out in June (Page Street Publishing Co.). She penned it from her apartment in Versailles, where she lives and teaches in-person and, since the pandemic, virtual classes.
Her Dallas roots show in the book’s dedication to her mother, who nurtured the budding crumb artist who baked chocolate chip cookies and brownies incessantly. “My mom would just stock the refrigerator with butter, and I would bake all summer,” Wilkinson says of her childhood in Richardson. In college (at TCU), she was the friend who would stay up until 3 a.m. making you a nine-tier birthday cake.
After working for a digital marketing agency in Fort Worth for five years, Wilkinson whisked herself off to Paris to pursue studies at Le Cordon Bleu—basic, intermediate, and advanced diplomas in pastry—that she entwined with long walks in the city eating pastries on a tiny budget. Diploma in hand, she created desserts in a château in the Ariège region snug up against the Pyrenees and in a farmhouse in nearby Gascony. She started teaching classes out of her home. And when the pandemic hit and her classes went virtual, a publisher reached out about the book. It was a match made in heaven: the class participants would be the guinea-pig recipe instruction testers for the book.
And “I knew what measuring equipment [American home cooks] have, how they think about things. I was able to break things down and say, ‘Okay, you don’t have to have these special molds; you can just have a muffin tin, and we’ll make it work,’” Wilkinson says.
In the book, interspersed with photos taken in her apartment with its herringbone parquet and marble tabletops, she’ll teach you the building blocks of a hundreds-of-years-old French pastry tradition. It’s not a tome with the heft of Julia Child’s work, but it’s divided thoughtfully into sections with 10 elements you can mix and match to learn to whip up pâte sucrée (the glorious base of tarts), crème pâtissière, meringue, or pâte à choux. With these, you can create the oeuvres displayed on dainty cake stands: a rolled raspberry sponge cake, a chocolate-walnut pear tart with caramel sauce, cream puffs, macarons, feather-light éclairs, and the absurdly fabulous caramel-drizzled tower of a croquembouche.
Ten elements reconfigure into more than 60 desserts. It’s a dizzying, whimsical whirlwind. But her motto is also not sweating it. “My style is not those perfect, clean-cut lines. It’s more about the celebration of the beauty of French pastry. It’s this rustic elegance. You know that it’s well done, and the flavors are going to be good, but there’s not this intimidating perfection to it.” But she does add “a little drama or height,” billows of meringue or whipped cream that are more befitting of Texas. It is, she says, laughing, “my style, which is kind of Alice of Wonderland” meets Marie Antoinette.
So if you want to release all that pent-up creative energy from watching far too many episodes of baking shows or flaunt all those pandemic-honed baking skills, dip in. If you desire to turn your Dallas kitchen into a Parisian patisserie wonderland, she’ll help.
But, says Wilkinson, “if I want something that reminds me of home, it’s chocolate chip cookies.”