Yigit Pura fell in love with desserts as a child by his mother’s side in the kitchen — via rich, silky creme caramel. Since then, the pastry chef has opened Tout Sweet Patisserie in San Francisco and took the winning prize on Top Chef: Just Desserts, and his passion for sweets is stronger than ever. Now, he’s introducing his first cookbook Sweet Alchemy, full of baking primers and elegant, innovative recipes that celebrate the unique magic of pastry.
We asked Yigit all about his love of desserts, his inspiration for the book, and his go-to treats for dinner guests. He also shared a couple of his favorite recipes from Sweet Alchemy. Read on, try them yourself, then meet Yigit at one of our upcoming store events — scroll down for details!
Sugar and I were destined to be. This story is how I open Sweet Alchemy and introduce the reader into my sweet-obsessed brain. Basically since the age of four, the kitchen was where I felt most at home. I used to follow my mom obsessively in every step of mixing cake batter and watching crème caramel bake in the oven while taking in the custardy-burnt caramel aromas. But I also used to ask A LOT of questions, so my mom found that by giving me a spoonful of hard caramel, I was happy as a sweet clam sucking on its sweet indulgence for hours, while giving her some quiet and peace of mind. To this day, a really great deep-burnt caramel dessert — and crème caramel, for that matter — is still one of my favorites. That’s the real beauty of food: it’s where nostalgia and cravings meet, especially with desserts. And that meeting place — as a chef or a home baker, if you can bring this to people, you’ll always be their favorite person.
How did growing up in Turkey influence your cooking and your food philosophy?
In Turkey, people love sweets and baked goods. Like really love them. A great loaf of bread in the morning with your breakfast; with cheese and jams; in the afternoon, having pastries with friends while catching up; and picking up a really great cake or tart from the corner patisserie to have at dinner with your family. I think this is the case with most Europeans in general. And my family was definitely no stranger to sweets. I have some of my fondest memories revolving around chocolate icebox cakes, and sugary sweet baklava layered with Sicilian pistachio.
Although my training has been very precisely French in its origin, I not only take from the Turkish kitchen for influence but from all kitchens around the world — especially Japanese, Vietnamese, and what we like to call “California” cuisine. I think that’s one of the greatest pleasures of being a chef: having a constant source of inspiration all around. You just need to be curious enough to seek it out every day.
What about your professional foray into kitchens — what inspired you to choose a job in the culinary arts?
It really was destiny. I have always loved cooking and food; I truly believe it’s been my calling since I was a kid. And through serendipity and a lot of hard work I have been lucky enough to work in some of the best kitchens in the country, and now constantly creating in the kitchen of Tout Sweet with my staff. A friend of mine just asked me if I feel I “missed anything, not having had the traditional college experience,” and my instant response was “absolutely not.” Looking back on my career, it’s been such a colorful and crazy-sweet journey. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!
Who were some of the people you learned from along the way?
It definitely takes many great kitchens and people along the way to raise a good chef! My first pastry mentor was Luis Robledo Richards, with whom I worked briefly at Le Cirque in 2000 and then at the Four Seasons Hotel in NYC. This man was how I got obsessed and fascinated by how so much of pastry and baking revolves around ratios and food chemistry. I was determined to get every last gram of knowledge out of his brain. I was hungry to learn.
Later, working in the kitchens of Daniel as a sous chef, I worked with some incredibly talented people including their master bread baker Mark Fiorentino, pastry chef Eric Bertoia, my friend Dominique Ansel, and of course Daniel Boulud himself. Working for Daniel, I not only learned to appreciate and respect food heritage, history and one’s absolute dedication to his or her craft in the kitchen, but I also learned that even the best chef should always create for his audience. And above and beyond all things, the chef should make sure that people should be able to connect to your dishes. This is a hard lesson for most young and budding chefs, but one that must be learned.
Having moved back to Northern California, my biggest teacher is Mother Nature. She’s a true diva, and has the sweetest lessons of all; you just have to pay attention with each season.
What’s the story behind your patisserie, Tout Sweet?
Tout Sweet literally translates to “All Things Sweet,” and this is precisely what I wanted to do my whole life: to create a space and an experience in which people can celebrate their love of all things sweet. But I really wanted to do this with a child’s curiosity and intrigue into the world, without fear or learned confinements of what’s right or wrong. So in my kitchen I constantly try to create things that are inspired by life, and by my experiences. I’ve always HATED being told no, and being told I COULDN’T do something. So I’ve made it my life’s mission to create without fear, and to do it with love. Sure, sometimes you fail in the process, but when you succeed at creating something that is unique and genuine, the rewards of seeing people’s reaction while eating these sweets — it’s truly priceless.
What are some of your most popular treats at the patisserie? Your favorites?
People go gaga over our macarons, which I love so very dearly. We create them over a 3 day process, and each one is made with insane attention. I love French macarons because they are such a long-lived classic, yet they lend so beautifully to being re-invented through flavors and colors. And we now ship these around the country on our website, so in a way I feel like my children are all around the country in people’s homes and kitchens. It sort of makes me smile with pride.
But our cakes and our small desserts (petit gateaux) are my real babies. If you ever make it to the San Francisco Bay Area, do come in, sit down and take the time to enjoy the crazy story and inspiration behind some of our signature desserts. My favorite is one of our first creations at Tout Sweet called “5th Element,” which is fashioned (pun intended) after one of my favorite French sci-fi cult films. It’s a dessert that’s inspired in part by sci-fi, in part by fashion (all costumes were designed by Jean Paul Gaultier), and in part by the strong female lead played by Milla Jovovich. It’s a marriage of creamy white chocolate, sweet and tart white chocolate and soft vanilla genoise, all enveloped with a hint of Wu Long Red Fruit tea. She’s really quite something!
Tell us about competing on (and winning!) Top Chef: Just Desserts. What did you take away from that experience?
I took away the fact that, yes, I in fact can do anything I put my mind to. Mind you, towards the end I was so delirious and tired, and I was never certain that I would win — but looking back on it, it was really spectacular. And in some twisted way I really think it further prepared me for all the curve balls that come with opening your own patisserie: from last-minute wedding cakes to constantly being under everyone’s telescope to not only create, but create beautifully. But I say this like it’s a new revelation. The truth is, I’ve always loved a good challenge. I get bored when I feel as though I’m becoming complacent. I think I push myself harder than I’d push anyone else. I suppose it’s a blessing and a curse.
What was the inspiration behind this book, Sweet Alchemy? Why did you want to write it? What’s special about the recipes featured?
My friend Gail Simmons said it best, I think: this book is really a declaration of love for me. In traveling around the country and doing many food and wine events and demonstrations and classes for people, I was blown away by how much people love desserts, yet how intimidated they are to get in the kitchen and bake, the thing I love doing the most! So I wanted to write a book that would not only make you salivate, but hopefully inspire and encourage you to do just that. Get in the kitchen, have fun, and bake your sweet heart out!
I really wanted to make baking and pastry approachable for people in a fun way. Each chapter focuses on one element of pastry, and each chapter is its own “Pastry 101,” in an essence. So, you can choose to make something simple and delicious, and as you become more and more confident you can make more intricate recipes, and put different recipes together and create something that is multi layered and really impress people. Basically, you can tell your friends you were in the kitchen slaving all day creating these beautiful desserts, when only the baker and I will know they did it effortlessly — and hopefully while having a blast!
Why alchemy? How do your desserts combine disparate elements to create something new?
Love is a sort of alchemy, and for me, what I do really is an extension of love. So yes, alchemy happens in my kitchen every day. I do think baking really is a sort of magic. The fact that you can take such simple and humble ingredients like flour, water, salt and yeast, and create so many different varieties and textures of breads that warm the soul. Or by simply picking the best fruits in season, cooking them in the simplest fashion, you can create something that is out of this world. And in a way, before we had a way of explaining nature around us with science, we believed in alchemy and magic, so perhaps the alchemy is the gateway for the reader to really decipher and learn baking foundations.
What are some surprising flavors/ingredients that you’ve found work well in desserts?
I could write an entire book on this subject alone. The great thing about desserts is that I think they lend for complex and invigorating flavor combinations, much more so than savory food ever could.
Lately, here are a few of my favorite things: Tonka beans, yuzu citrus, curry leaves, varieties of cinnamon (Ceylon is still my favorite), black muscat wine, Wu Long Tea, Star Thistle Honey, oven roasted flour, high gluten rice flour…. I could really go on. I constantly read books and blogs from around the world (Google Translate comes in pretty hand when you copy-paste), trying to see what people are playing with and what people are inspired by. After all, food is a global experience; it’s meant to be shared.
Say you’re having a dinner party. What is your go-to dessert to make for company?
Honestly, I know people are afraid of making soufflés, but the chocolate soufflé recipe I have in here is my go-to dessert for friends. First of all, soufflés are magical for most people. They think you either have to be a four-star chef – or a unicorn – to be able to make tall, rising (and standing) soufflé. But honestly, it is super simple to make, inexpensive (as it’s mostly egg whites) and so tasty! And it’s definitely a show-off dessert. You can make chocolate soufflés, and while they are baking in the oven you can whip up the 3-minute chocolate sauce in here as well, and you will literally blow your guests away!
Choose a recipe from the book for us to share, and tell us what you love about it.
This is like picking a favorite child, because I think there is a dessert for everyone. So I will pick two!
I love the Earl Grey Chocolate Truffles, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a perfect, chewy ganache to bite into? The Earl Grey tea doesn’t only give a really lovely citrus hint to the chocolate truffles, but it really highlights the distinct bitter-sweet flavors of the chocolate. It’s a really great complementary relationship.
My other favorite is the Bosc Pears Roasted in Caramel & Indian Spices. If you take it all the way and roast the pears in the syrup after they’ve been poached, you really have something spectacular. The deep sweet and spicy flavors of the pears stand alone on their own just fine, but you can take it all the way and serve it with the layered Crepe Cake, as I have it in the final chapter, or just simply put a cold scoop of good vanilla bean ice cream over the warm roasted pears. I promise you the experience between the hot and aromatic pears, and the cold ice cream as it melts and creates a pool of custardy sauce… it’s truly a sensual experience!
Bosc Pears Roasted in Caramel & Indian Spices
Hello fall! Pears are the first indication that summer is out and fall is around the corner as the last of the stone fruit leaves the market stands and pears and apples take over. In the Buddhist spirit of letting go of the past and embracing the present, I like to go full spice and fall spirit ahead. When I make this dry caramel, hearing the popping and crackling of the cinnamon and spices is extremely satisfying, and then the smell that fills the room is heavenly. In this preparation, you have the option to stop after the pears are poached, but I highly recommend that you take it to the next level in full, extravagant flavor and roast the pears as well.
1.6 kg/6 1/2 cups water, plus 375 g/1 1/2 cups
1 vanilla bean or 12 g/1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
425 g/2 cups plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
6 cardamom pods
4 cinnamon sticks
5 black peppercorns
2 star anise pods
2 whole cloves
3 to 5 whole Bosc pears
In a large stainless-steel or enamel-coated saucepan, bring the 1.6 kg/6 1/2 cups water to a boil. Once it is hot, set aside and keep warm. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a paring knife, and then use the knife to scrape the seeds from the pod. Reserve both the seeds and the pod.
In a separate 6- to 8-qt (5.5- to 7.5-L) stainless steel or enamel-coated saucepan, combine the sugar and remaining 375 g (1 1/2 cups) water. Cook the sugar-water until it is a dark amber color and begins to lightly smoke, creating a caramel, 365°F (185°C).
Remove the caramel from the heat. Use a heat-resistant rubber spatula to mix the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, star anise pods, and cloves into the hot caramel. The intense heat of the caramel will release the essential oils of the woody spices. The spices will pop and crackle when they first hit the caramel. Be brave and be prepared. Moving quickly so that the spices do not burn, pour one-third of the reserved hot water into the caramel mixture. Whisk to combine and then immediately pour in the rest of the hot water. The caramel will expand and release steam when you do this, so be cautious.
Return the saucepan to medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. As the mixture heats up, use a whisk to stir the caramel to dissolve it into the water. If the caramel lumps up on the whisk, fear not; just keep stirring. The sugars will naturally melt into the hot syrup. Remove from the heat and place the scraped vanilla seeds and pod or vanilla bean paste into the caramel poaching liquid. Cover and let infuse for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight if you’re feeling spicy.
Strain the poaching liquid into a bowl and discard the spices. Return the liquid to the saucepan, place it on the stove, and bring it back to a boil. While the liquid is heating up, peel the pears. Reduce the heat down to a low simmer. Place the pears into the syrup.
Poach the pears slowly and evenly until cooked through their centers, 20 to 45 minutes, depending on their ripeness (a more ripe pear will take less time). Cover the pears with a parchment paper lid and keep them evenly submerged while they are poaching. Alternatively, every once in a while use a wooden spoon to gently roll the pears in the liquid to ensure that they are evenly flavored and poached.
As the cooking time will vary depending on the ripeness of the pears, after 20 minutes, check the pears with a sharp paring knife to test doneness. It may take up to 45 minutes. When they are 85 percent done (the knife will slide easily into the pear but meet resistance in the center), remove them from the heat and allow the entire saucepan to cool to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. This process will ensure that the pears poach beautifully to their center and will avoid overpoached, mushy pears.
Remove the pears from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon, then cut the rounded bottom off to give each pear a flat sitting surface. Either serve or go on to roast them.
To roast the pears, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the pears on a roasting pan or glass pan. Reduce the poaching liquid over high heat until it achieves a light, syrupy consistency. Pour the reduced poaching syrup over the pears while it is hot. Place the pears in the oven and roast for 7 to 12 minutes, basting with the syrup every few minutes to ensure nicely coated, glossy, and gorgeous pears. Makes 3 to 5 whole poached pears.
Sweet Note: Unlike the other spices in this recipe, vanilla bean is not a dry spice, so it is infused into the liquid just at the end of cooking and during the resting period.
Earl Grey Tea-Infused Chocolate Truffles
I love tea! I’m not sure if it’s my Turkish heritage or my hero worship of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but I’ve always loved tea, and through the years Earl Grey has remained my favorite. It is the king of teas. It harnesses the dark, bitter flavors of a great black tea, while the bergamot oil that gives Earl Grey its distinct flavor imparts the fruity and citrusy notes that make this tea so complex and wonderful. What happens when you marry this lovely flavor with the complexities of dark and milk chocolate and butter? I created these truffles to answer that question. The basic truffle recipe is just a ganache that has butter added to it, and it can be infused with various flavors. I invite you to experience the divine.
80 g/1/3 cup unsalted butter
370 g/13 oz 66% to 70% dark chocolate
480 g/2 cups heavy cream, plus more to replenish after steeping
20 g/1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves
75 g/3 tbsp plus 2 tsp corn syrup or glucose syrup
150 g/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
Cut the butter into 1/2-in (12-mm) chunks and set it on the counter about 2 hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.
In a large stainless-steel or glass bowl, melt the chocolate over a saucepan of simmering water. Alternatively, melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium power for about 45 seconds, or until melted. Stir the chocolate every 20 seconds with a rubber spatula so that it doesn’t burn. Keep warm.
In a medium stainless-steel or enamel-coated saucepan, over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Whisk the tea leaves into the hot cream. Remove from the heat. Cover the saucepan and let steep for 7 to 8 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth and discard the tea leaves. Add more fresh heavy cream to bring it back to the original volume (the tea leaves will have soaked some up). Clean out the saucepan to remove any leftover tea leaves. Return the strained cream to the clean saucepan, add the corn syrup, and bring it back to a boil.
Place the bowl of melted chocolate on the countertop with a towel underneath so it doesn’t shift around when mixing. Pour half of the infused cream over the melted chocolate and begin to emulsify with a rubber spatula. Stir quickly at first to begin the emulsification process. Pour in the remainder of the cream and continue mixing to emulsify the mixture. Finish by mixing with a handheld blender to obtain a silky emulsion. Set the ganache in a cool space on the countertop and allow it to cool to 95° to 104°F (35° to 40°C).
Add the butter to the ganache. Use the handheld blender to emulsify the mixture completely, until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like a silky, thick chocolate mayonnaise.
Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ganache to prevent a skin from forming. Keep at room temperature overnight to cool and crystallize. The ganache can be made in advance and held in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days. When ready to create the truffles, take the ganache out of the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before using and set it on the countertop to allow it to come to room temperature.
Sift the cocoa powder into a large, shallow bowl; line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a small #60 scoop to make 1/2-in (12-mm) balls of the ganache. Roll each ball in your hands (powder-free latex gloves work great for this process) until rounded and truffle shaped. Place a few truffles into the cocoa powder and roll them around to coat, shake off excess powder by tossing them in a fine-mesh sieve, and then transfer them to the prepared baking sheet. Work in small batches so the truffles do not stick to each other in the powder.
Pile the truffles in a glass bowl and enjoy. The truffles can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Roll in fresh cocoa powder before serving. Makes 50 truffles.
Sweet Note: Truffles are named after a mushroom that is found in the mud by pigs or dogs trained for the scent. Keep this fact in mind when forming the balls; it is okay if they are oddly shaped and a little lumpy. The chocolate truffle betrays a pastry chef’s envy of a savory chef’s upscale ingredients. Savory black truffles are known for their aroma and the flavor they bring to dishes.
Join us at your local Williams-Sonoma store for a special book signing and dessert tasting with Yigit Pura. He will be signing copies of his new cookbook, Sweet Alchemy: Dessert Magic.
Yigit was crowned the winner and fan favorite on the premiere season of BRAVO’s Top Chef Just Desserts – a spin-off of the popular Emmy-nominated and James Beard Award-winning Top Chef. Yigit recently opened Tout Sweet Pâtisserie, a high-end pastry shop located in San Francisco’s Union Square. Tout Sweet is a fresh new concept marrying traditional American flavors with extensive French technique, while infusing a young and fresh perspective. Yigit is planning on expanding Tout Sweet nationally, as well as into China and Japan.
Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:00pm
1705 Annapolis Mall, Annapolis, MD 21401
Please visit EventBrite to purchase tickets.
King of Prussia
Friday, August 22, 2014 at 1:00pm
160 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, PA 19406
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Sunday, August 24, 2014 at 12:00pm
1550 N Fremont St., Chicago, IL 60622
Please visit EventBrite to purchase tickets.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 6:00pm
4060 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77027
Please visit EventBrite to purchase tickets.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 6:00pm
339 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Please visit EventBrite to purchase tickets.
Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 12:00pm
340 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94108
Please visit EventBrite to purchase tickets.
We hope to see you there!
*Yigit will only be signing copies of Sweet Alchemy purchased at the Williams-Sonoma store where the event is being held or via EventBrite. Proof of purchase required.