PITTSBURGH — Adam Bates didn't set out to be a pastry chef, let alone one creating gorgeous European-style desserts.
His mother, a good cook, always made dinner for his older brother, Colin, and him when they were growing up in Hampton, Pennsylvania. So he didn't have a clue about baking or cooking until he was well into his 20s. As an artistic kid who found joy in design, he had wanted to be a tattoo artist, or perhaps a painter or illustrator.
Although that didn't happen, he pursued his artistic creativity in a different direction by launching Harrison's Fine Pastries in East Liberty in 2018.
He landed his first job at age 18, and it was a thankless one in a commercial kitchen. He washed dishes for chef Chris Bonfili at Avenue B in Shadyside. However, he didn't have dishpan hands for long.
Bates soon progressed to being a line cook and then to a catering chef after being trained on all the stations. When the pastry chef left on a pregnancy sabbatical, he filled in making to-die-for plated desserts. In addition to producing petits fours, breads, ice creams and sorbets, he created menus for private parties and off-site events for as many as 250 guests.
In 2012, New York magazine's Grub Street editors included his banana bread French toast on a list of America's most "Crazy-Awesome New Desserts."
The 31-year-old's culinary treats have gotten even more awe-inspiring in the years since. During the holiday season at Harrison's, he makes elegant classics like black and white forest boche de noel, along with delicate tartlets, chestnut and vanilla mont blanc tarts and mousse-filled cakes shaped like tree ornaments.
Bates' passion for these well-crafted balances of art and science — you have to be both imaginative and a whiz at measuring to be a pastry chef — was ignited on a family trip to London in 2012. He was blown away by the mouthwatering patisserie displays in Harrods famous food hall, and decided he wanted to learn it as a trade.
In 2014, after a backpacking trip across New Zealand, he got a job at a French bakery, eventually becoming its executive sous chef. In 2016, he headed back across the Pacific Ocean to become the executive pastry chef at the luxury lodge Blanket Bay in Glenorchy, New Zealand.
"It was the first time I ever did anything super high-end," he said, which he found both challenging and exciting. Another pastry job in Los Angeles followed, but he ended up leaving within months because he was homesick for family.
Ever since his trip to England, Bates harbored a desire to open his own pastry shop. In 2018, he got his chance, when the owners of The Twisted Frenchman in East Liberty (rechristened as Grazing Rights last August) — who he had been outsourcing desserts to — agreed to become minority partners in a business he ended up calling Harrison's Fine Pastries.
He and his sous chef, Lisa Wilson, work out of the restaurant kitchen in the mornings, creating European-style pastries. Many of the desserts are inspired by Parisian classics, but it's not entirely French, he said, because people often find French food scary and expensive.
"We wanted to make it more accessible so people could see this stuff is out there and not feel intimidated," he said.
To that end, each item is crafted by hand, without pretentious airs or hefty price tags. An intricate apple rosette tart filled with almond cream and apple compote runs $45 and serves eight. A dark chocolate sponge cake soaked in espresso syrup with a fresh mascarpone mousse filling is $40. He uses natural flavorings and colors to add a modern feel.
Looking at Bates' gorgeous handiwork, it might seem impossible for a rookie home baker to create a treat for a special occasion. That's not true, he said, but the recipes should be picked wisely.
Bates suggested two easy favorites that are relatable and completely doable: a cream puff (choux) filled with a chocolate-Nutella ganache and a dark chocolate molten lava cake known as a moelleux.
A moelleux, he noted, combines the airy appeal of a souffle with the liquid chocolate center of a lava cake. It only appears difficult because its presentation is magnificent. Anyone who bakes cakes or cookies can pull it off with a little planning and organization.
A choux (pronounced shoo) is easier still, especially if the puff is split in half and piped with ganache between the layers instead of being filled from the inside out.
To make Bates's recipes more user-friendly, we have used measuring cups and spoons instead of a scale. A bit of advice: Don't worry if the end result is not Insta-worthy or super trendy.
Since a celebration cannot be all about just sweets, we also have two savory recipes with French appeal — an easy mushroom pate to spread on slices of baguette and cheddar gougres, a type of cheese puff that pairs well with a flute of Champagne.
Good food, Bates said, is all about contrast. Different favors, colors and textures are married into one delicious bite.
"Create something visually interesting," he said, "and you'll get people to try it."
Moelleux (pronounced moe-low) is a classic French dessert that is a cross between a souffle and a molten lava cake. Adam Bates' recipe is easy to make, and perfect for a dinner party or family dinner. He recommends using a high-quality chocolate, ideally 64 percent or 70 percent cacao. Chocolate chips will not work for this recipe.
Both the chocolate sauce and the almond caramel crisps can be made beforehand. Know that the crisps will spread while baking, so be sure to place them several inches apart on the cookie sheet. If they melt together, no worries. They can be broken into small pieces or shards.
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 cups dark chocolate, 64 percent cacao, finely chopped
15 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more to line the ramekins
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
Powdered sugar for dusting
Fresh berries, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees for non-convection, or 325 degrees for convection.
Thoroughly line eight (4-ounce) ramekins or oven-safe mugs of a similar volume with some of the room-temperature butter. (I used four 8-ounce ramekins, and had enough batter left over for three 8-ounce ramekins.)
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix eggs and sugar together and whip on medium-high speed for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is a very pale yellow and tripled in volume.
In a large bowl, melt chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler, stirring often, then add the softened butter, mixing with a spatula until no chunks of butter remain.
Carefully fold in the egg and sugar mixture. Then add the flour and fold in just until combined. Using a ladle, fill the prepared ramekins, leaving a 1/2-inch gap from the top.
Bake for 20-25 minutes in a non-convection oven, or 15 minutes in a convection oven — the centers should still be slightly runny. Remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm directly from the oven, with the warm chocolate sauce, almond caramel crisp and a few fresh berries.
For chocolate sauce
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup dark chocolate (at least 64 percent cacao), finely chopped
Heat the milk, cream and sugar until nearly boiling. Then remove and pour over the chocolate one-third at a time, mixing to combine with a rubber spatula between each addition. Keep warm until ready to use.
For almond caramel crisp
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon apple pectin
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons water
2 cups sliced almonds, toasted
Preheat a traditional oven to 370 degrees or 350 degrees for convection.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, pectin, butter, corn syrup and water in a pan and bring just to a boil, ensuring that all the butter is dissolved. Add the sliced almonds and mix to combine with a wooden spoon.
Using a small spoon, drop nickel-sized pieces at least 2 inches apart onto a tray lined with a Silpat or wax paper. Bake for approximately 15 minutes until well-browned, then remove and leave to cool. Remove from the tray when cooled.
— Adam Bates, Harrison's Fine Pastries, East Liberty
A choux is a delicate pastry dough used to make cream puffs. These are filled with a creamy Nutella ganache.
Filling a piping bag can be messy without help, but this hack makes it less so. After securing the tip and coupler, place the bag in a tall drinking glass or empty Pringles can, and fold the sides down over so the bag stands up. Scoop the ganache into the bag with a spatula until it is half full, remove it from the glass, and then press the frosting toward the tip with a bench scraper. Then, twist the end of the bag closed and squeeze to dispense the icing. If you don't have a piping bag, spoon the ganache into a plastic one-quart Ziploc bag and snip off the corner.
This recipe calls for filling the choux from a small hole in the top until the ganache oozes out, but you also could also slice the choux in half and fill them like sandwiches.
If they are unbaked, the choux can be frozen. If they are baked but unfilled, they can be left out at room temperature until ready to fill. You also can freeze baked and filled choux, but they will be a good deal softer when they're defrosted.
The ganache recipe makes about 3 cups, or a lot more than you'll need to fill 4 dozen choux. You can half the recipe if you like, or use the leftovers as an icing for cookies or for pancakes or waffles.
Makes: at least 48 choux
For pastry dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 whole eggs, blended with a fork
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees for non-convection, or 325 degrees for convection oven.
Sift the flour and set aside. Combine milk, water, sugar, salt and butter, and bring to a boil until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the sifted flour all at once, and mix with a wooden spoon steadily until all of the flour is combined.
Return the pan to the heat and continue to mix for 2-3 minutes to dry the dough slightly. Transfer the choux dough to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes to cool the dough slightly.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the blended eggs in four parts. Wait for each addition of eggs to emulsify before adding the next. When all of the eggs are combined, fill a piping bag fitted with a round (No. 804) tip and pipe 50 cent piece-sized drops of choux onto a tray lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Dust with powdered sugar and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the choux are well-browned. Remove from the oven and cool.
For Nutella ganache
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons honey
450 ml heavy cream
2 cups dark chocolate (64 percent cacao), finely chopped
1/2 cup Nutella
Heat the butter, honey and cream to a bare simmer. Combine chocolate and Nutella in a heatproof bowl and pour the hot cream mixture over it in thirds, stirring with a spatula to combine before adding the next third.
When all of the cream is combined with the chocolate and Nutella, pour it into a clean container and lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the top of the ganache. Refrigerate until the plastic wrap can be removed cleanly and the ganache is set, but still pliable.
Fill a piping bag, and cut a small hole in the top of each of the choux. Fill each puff completely with ganache from the piping bag.
Serve the same day.
— Adam Bates, Harrison's Fine Pastries, East Liberty
These delicate cheese puffs pair wonderfully with Champagne or any sparkling wine. The puffs can be frozen before baking and then popped into the oven on the day of your party. Serve them hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Then reheat in a 350-degree oven until piping hot.
Makes: 40 gougeres
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking sheets
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss or Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup water
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and position racks in the upper and middle thirds. Lightly butter two large baking sheets.
In a large saucepan, combine the butter, water and salt and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly. Then, using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between additions. Beat in all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese.
Using a 1 tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop level mounds of the dough onto the baking sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese and bake for 12 minutes, until golden and risen. Shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking.
Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Pierce each gougre near the bottom with a skewer and return the sheets to the oven. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, until crisp, puffed and deeply golden. Transfer the gougres to racks to cool. Serve the gougres warm or at room temperature.
— Adapted from foodandwine.com
This make-ahead vegetarian appetizer can be served on crackers, toast points or with crusty bread. I used cremini mushrooms and several pinches of red pepper flakes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
2 stems fresh thyme
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or more as needed
1 pound fresh mushrooms (such as portobello, cremini or shiitake), cleaned, trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons dry sherry
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon cream cheese
Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the garlic and shallot; cook for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the thyme sprigs and crushed red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute.
Add the mushrooms and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Increase the heat to medium. Continue to cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid released from the mushrooms has almost evaporated. Add the sherry and season lightly with salt and black pepper. Cook for 10 minutes more, or until all the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
Discard the thyme stems, then transfer the mushrooms to a food processor along with the parsley. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cream cheese and pulse just until incorporated.
Taste and add more salt, black pepper and/or crushed red pepper flakes, as needed. The paté is ready to serve or it can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
— Adapted from "Apéritif: 100 Recipes for Drinks and Snacks" by Rebekah Peppler (Clarkson Potter; October 2018)