François Payard is a third-generation pastry chef (his grandfather owned an acclaimed shop on the Riviera, Au Nid des Friandises) with a string of eponymous bistros as well as a chocolate bar. His gorgeous plated desserts capture the essence of seasonal ingredients in complementary pairings. His philosophy is in using only as many ingredients as are necessary and no more; a great dessert should reflect "the subtle interplay of flavor, texture and temperature, along with a streamlined presentation that conceals its complexity."
This gorgeous volume is clearly aimed at professional chefs (the serving yield is frequently 6-8 servings, and many of the desserts can't be held after assembling) as well as very ambitious home bakers (I would put myself in the latter category). Many of the recipes have multiple components that will need to be prepared / assembled in advance, and like any professional pastry book, a large number of special supplies are required (acetate sheets, chocolate sprayer, whipped cream canister with N20 chargers for creating molecular gastronomy foams, etc.). Similarly, many recipes call for specialty ingredients such as licorice powder, passion fruit puree, pistachio paste, hyssop, silver grade gelatin, etc.
The desserts, divided into frozen desserts, fruit desserts, pastries, custards, tarts, and crepes, soufflés and other desserts, are a combination of classical French pastry (vacherin, charlotte, napoleon, apple tatin, tuiles) married to Asian and tropical flavors (star anise, tempura, lemongrass, pineapple). Fresh, seasonal fruit is truly the star, as many recipes call for poached pears, quinces, roasted summer apricots, poached winter fruits, etc. (it would have been helpful to also have a quick index of recipes by season, as there is such an emphasis on seasonal produce for maximum effect). The basic recipes for various base sauces, creams, tuiles, garnishes etc. are straightforward; I liked his take on the chocolate tart dough, which uses a combination of all-purpose and almond flour to add a touch of flaky crispness. Some of the techniques could have benefitted from additional photos, such as the patterned tuile loops on page 27; I had a hard time picturing the steps and had to refer back to the plated photo before I finally "got" it (I had to rely on my standby The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry, 4th Edition and The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef a couple of times for a refresher on technique and plated desserts).
Overall, there are plenty of beautiful, delicious pairings to inspire budding pastry chefs; I particularly enjoyed the chocolate shell filled with coconut sorbet and star anise sabayon and the many creative interpretations of cheesecakes and cheese tarts paired with marmalades and roasted fruits, as well as Payard's ideas for the cheese course, including black olive macarons with Gorgonzola ice cream, apple tatin with aged white cheddar cheese, and feta cheesecake with red wine-poached dates. Even if you never make a single dessert, it is a feast for the eyes (and imagination), and the base recipes such as the caramel balsamic sauce, basil oil, and spiced fig pulp, will surely find their way into my kitchen in one form or another!