Man is by nature a gourmand. Some people prefer to eat fruits, some eat nuts, some eat delicious desserts… The latter does not grow on trees and bushes, they are the product of many efforts and financial investments of our ancestors.
There were fruits and cakes on the tables of the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, due to international relations, were enjoying refined overseas dishes, in the Roman period appeared sigillaria, who proposed intricately decorated cakes to nobility. Then on the culinary scene came Poles, Austrians, Italians, Chinese and, of course, French chefs. The last were the greatest inventors in the methodology of cooking and decorating and gave the world reference cooks.
The technologies of preparation of fine cakes, like any other technological breakthroughs, were developed for the elite, who generously paid them, and with the development of industry some masterpieces became a familiar serial products: ice cream, eclairs, meringues… Some, but not all.
Still desserts for special occasions require masterful manual skills and knowledge of the secrets of making, filing and serving, especially if honorees would like to have historical reconstruction of the food served to the Royal tables. Pastry chefs of this level are rare, and we were lucky enough to meet one of them, Aldis Bricevs. See how looks a miracle-cake he prepared for the Round table, dedicated to the artistic casting in the Museum-reserve Kolomenskoye (MGOMZ)!
Aldis in an interview with cultural and political magazine “E-Vesti” told about the history and the present the preparation of cakes of the highest level.
E-Vesti: What is the most important for your profession?
Bricevs A.: When I started advancement in the art of confectionery, I realized that I wanted to surprise.
For example, one company bought a mansion in the suburbs, and they ordered the cake of pre-revolutionary merchant style 20 square meters long. And in the middle of it was a copy of their manor of chocolate, around the chocolate cake.
E-Vesti: You take on the challenging restoration of the historic gourmet dishes, where did You get such skills?
Bricevs A.: I am the master pastry chef. This title is given to the bakers who work more than 11 years and confirm it before the international commission. In the West, this skill is not lost, they remember it and support.
When the wealthy people in Russia got need in cakes and compositions like that, I was called by several museums which were interested in history. Here, in Russia, this art is forgotten. For example, how to raise hot chocolate, which for 200 years was sitting on the throne of desserts… the Secrets of these recipes is strictly kept, and only the monks of the Capuchins made them for the Spanish king.
E-Vesti: How does it happen? People come to You and ask to do a cake with peanut cake with cream, like it was in average noble family?
Bricevs A.: We discover recipes. I have copies of cook books dated from 1536 until 1911. Russian books are rare, there are more foreign books: French, Polish, Austrian. We offer recipes and ask what the customer wants.
For Russia the largest made cake is 11 meters long and 6 meters wide. It was the cake for Tsarskoye Selo. It was prepared first for the 300th anniversary of queen Elizabeth, and we reconstructed the recipe on sketches by Rastrelli, but made it edible.
E-Vesti: The cost of a cake for private orders, not literally, but the idea?
Bricevs A.: Price is always a trade secret, but the idea is a few million rubles.
E-Vesti: But it will be a virtuoso performance, high-quality ingredients, authentic recipe?
Bricevs A.: Yes, we select the best among available in the market. For example, in this cake the chocolate was imported from Sweden, the cream came from France.
E-Vesti: That is, it is not the Russian farm products?
Bricevs A.: You see, to call a Russian farm product “organic”, you should have time to check its origin. For example, in Europe neither the farmer will not receive a bio-certificate there is any plant in 100 km around it. Austria will not issue a certificate of bio-honey, if in a radius of 300 km there is at least one of the neighbours pollinating his fields with chemicals. But here everyone can receive a bio-certificate.
In our cakes we can guarantee absence of “chemistry”.
E-Vesti: This is the most important thing for a buyer, for example, for me.
Bricevs A.: In the past, instead of “chemistry” cooks used alcohol: liquor, brandy. This cake contains 750 grams of cognac. It is necessary is you keep it for hours, it serves as the oxidant, which balsamroot this product. For Royal receptions, they also impregnated with the alcohol, because the king wanted some ready product and didn’t want waiting for the cake.
E-Vesti: I was told about the occasion when cream on the cake ordered at the restaurant during the event suddenly collapsed. You have methods against such misunderstandings?
Bricevs A.: It’s clear, cream melted. Anything can happen, of course… I’m always aware of such things and try to think how not to be ashamed to present the cake.
E-Vesti: It must have been the secrets in the days of the kings to avoid confusions?
Bricevs A.: Queen Elizabeth, when she started to write out the cookers, demanded that their level of skill was higher and that they had a responsibility. Because if the local confectioner could be somehow persuaded, or frighten, or bribed, the newcomer has always represented the honor of his country.
For example, the desserts of the Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 years… They played political games. When Talleyrand arrived at the section where Europe powers have already agreed that France would be divided after the failure of Napoleon’s campaigns, he was able to turn all back with a help of famous French desserts. Everyone tried to come to French techniques and to see the incredible beauty and luxury of French patisserie. Desserts were built up to 2-3 meters.
You can come to Arkhangelsk to see the desserts made up to their inventory. Princes Yusupov (the former owners Arkhangelsk – approx. ed.) kept a list of what was used on the arrival of emperors. Everything was selected and described by the curators of the exhibition, which was planned for six months, but because of the high attendance was extended.
Interest for culinary topics is very large. After all, I’m not making this up, I do authentic.
E-Vesti: How long takes the preparation of this cake and how many people help you?
Bricevs A.: 3-4 days. And I always make cakes alone.
E-Vesti: How is it possible in this case to do without a cook-helpers?
Bricevs A.: Here every detail is important.
Today’s cake is decorated with the fresh flowers (this showed that the home owner is rich, has a gardener and can afford fresh flowers in winter and in summer), which is filled with vodka the day before. Then they keep the form. They will stay a few days and then turn into a herbarium.
In today’s cake there is 260 chocolate decorations, and only 115 grams of white chocolate.
Biscuit goes to the cake the next day after baking. When you eat it, it melts in your mouth. There is a starch.
E-Vesti: Who, in Your opinion, is the best chef You follow?
Bricevs A.: As for living, I do not see them. And those who are already dead, I wouldn’t want to name. The fact is that they have large books, which are estimated at several hundred thousand dollars, and now there is a hunt for knowledge.
But I can name a cook whom king Alexander I at the Congress of Vienna called the “king of kings and the king of pastry”. It was Marie-Antoine Carême, who began to put in order appearing recipes, to organize them.
Sources: Palace cooking // AVT.-comp. I. E. Gusev. – Minsk, Harvest, 1998.