Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that I was capable enough to create gorgeous, flowery, and fantastical pastry just like Julie Jones does. Like many, I’ve been following along with each pastry and pasta post that Jones showcases on her Instagram feed. And, if you’ve followed along with Jones, you also know about her deep commitment to her family. Her online space is filled with warmth, beauty, and creativity. Looking nothing like the pies I’ve seen in real life, Jones creates elaborate-looking pastries full of whimsy. When I first saw her apple tarts where apple slices are rolled to look like roses, I was amazed at the level of detail she puts into her work. Even on the cover of her latest cookbook, The Pastry School, the tart is covered in sliced rhubarb that is perfectly tessellated and, adorned with pastry leaves and swirls of apple.
Getting back to my wildest dreams, it turns out that with good instructions and much patience, I could, in fact create a tart equal to those that Jones posts to her Instagram feed. The Pastry School is aptly named because it describes the focus of the book — to instruct home bakers on the finer points of making pastry dough, then filling it with all manner of both sweet and savory fillings. In some ways, receiving this cookbook during quarantine was perfect because I had time on my hands to devote to pastry making (and, in the words of my friend and podcaster extraordinaire, Lindsay Cameron Wilson: “If not now, when?”). With so many options (and not as much flour as I would have liked), I settled on trying one sweet recipe and one savoury. Going with an iconic choice, my daughter and I decided to try our hand at making the Apple Rose Tart (2020) because when I think of Jones’ work, the apple tarts immediately spring to mind (also, they are so beautiful too).
What Julie Jones does well is to demystify the process of making pastry and she does this through clear, step-by-step instructions as well as including series of photos that show different points in the pastry making process. It’s as Jones says in her introduction, “Patience with pastry is key!” — there is no instant gratification here. At times, I found myself having to take a breath and remind myself that if I wanted to have a final product worth eating then I’d need to take it slowly, one step at a time. I really appreciated how Jones breaks down the process into different steps so that making the crust, filling, and rolling apple roses doesn’t have to happen in one day. My daughter and I, in fact, completed this tart over a few days. As a beginner, I found doing this especially helpful because it stopped us from trying to rush to complete. And, as this tart has three distinct parts — the Sweet Shortcrust Pastry, the frangipane filling, and the apples — there were natural points at which to stop at without effecting the final tart.
One of the ways that Jones ensures the success of the home baker is to provide ingredient measurements in weights — the only way, in my opinion, that a home baker can have success and consistent bakes. Her precision even goes as far to provide weighted measures (in grams) for eggs (as she does for the frangipane filling recipe), rather than just provide the number of eggs (which she also does for some recipes, like in the Sweet Shortcrust Pastry recipe). All of this to say that when I made a batch of the Sweet Shortcrust Pastry, it turned out beautifully! We got it filled and then spent time learning how to roll apple roses. At the beginning Katie and I felt like we were ‘all thumbs’ but as we practiced, we could see the tart decorations take shape. Again, we exercised quite a bit of patience as we rolled (what seemed like hundreds of) apple roses. As you can see from the pre- and post-bake photos of the tart, we did really well!
The recipes are organized into seven chapters: Pastry Recipes & Methods, Fruit, Cream & Cheese, Nuts, Vegetables, Meats & Fish, and Crunch & Crumb. Take note — there are recipes for vegan as well as gluten-free pastry too! She offers additional information on where to source supplies and what equipment you may need (Jones uses a free-standing mixer for her recipes). I was lucky to have found a square tart tin at a thrift store that was the perfect size for the Apple Rose Tart (2020) and, since I didn’t have decorative cutters I cut out the leaves with a knife. It may seem like a big investment upfront to buy equipment or bakeware but, I think, it will make a big difference with the end results. Jones is based in the UK so the specialty bakeware she uses is different than what I can buy here in Canada (that won’t stop me from lusting after those oval pie moulds she uses from Silverwood!)
What really caught my attention is the amount of the book that is devoted to savoury recipes as well as the sweet (I’d say it’s close to a 50/50 split) — making this book a little more versatile. For our savoury choice, we went with the Beetroot Tarte Tatin. If you’ve never tried a tarte tatin before, it’s a puff pastry dish, where the filling is on the bottom and is topped off with a disc of puff pastry. After it is baked, you flip the baking tin over so that the puff pastry is on the bottom with the saucy filling on top. I’ve tried different kinds of tarte tatin before — apple, onion, plum — but this was my first time tasting a beetroot version. To prepare the beets, they’re boiled until tender, then mixed with oven-roasted onion and garlic and arranged in a baking tin that has a lovely, mouth-watering caramel sauce made from pomegranate molasses (tart in flavour), vinegar, and brown sugar. The resulting dish is a bit sweet, saucy, and buttery and, I served it with a side salad.
After all my descriptions and discussion about Julie Jones’ The Pastry School, what you are really wondering about is: was all that effort worth it? After smelling those beautiful pastries baking in the oven and, thinking about the time spent making them, I will tell you that it was totally worth it! Not only are the finished results beautiful, they taste delicious — whatever else Jones intends for her bakes, she intends them to be enjoyed. There is something to be said for eating and enjoying beautiful baked goods. Even during all this time spent at home during the global pandemic, now more than ever, I think people are turning to home baking to pluck up their spirits and improve their skills. And The Pastry School offers tangible ways to achieve these intentions.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Manda Book Group and Kyle Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Please not that this post does not contain any affiliated links.