Thursday, November 29, 2012
Yann Lusseau plunges a lean forearm into a 40-quart stainless-steel bowl and whirls a thick pool of fresh custard, melted chocolate and whipped cream. The motion is as artistic as it is athletic: Decadent brown swirls with fluffy white, transforming into a creamy chocolate mousse.
“It gives me a feel,” Lusseau says of his technique. “When I feel it’s going to break down the mousse, I stop.”
Lusseau, who co-owns Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Cafe with wife Anne Parker Johnson, custom-sizes his bûches de Noël, or French yule logs, from four to 16 servings at $4.25 per slice (making a complete log $68). The price reflects his perfectionist and time-consuming approach to the dessert, which is offered in five flavor combinations, from chocolate espresso to chocolate mousse with raspberries and pistachio cake.
He prepares this last flavor on a recent morning in the bakery’s kitchen, starting with the baking of a pistachio biscuit, a thin French sponge cake. Next, he and pastry chef Alfonzo Aquino assemble the log layer by layer – mousse, biscuit, raspberries, biscuit, mousse – in upside-down molds. Each combination is decorated to reflect its flavors; this one gets Swiss-meringue mushrooms, pink macaron cookies, chocolate leaves and raspberries.
Lusseau scoops meringue into a pastry bag and expeditiously squeezes buttons onto a paper-lined baking tray. His motions are almost mechanical, creating evenly spaced rows of three-quarter-inch-diameter puffs which he dusts with cocoa powder. These will be the caps of the decorative mushrooms.
Yule logs may be his flashiest holiday confection, but his other seasonals are popular too: stollen, or German fruit cakes ($12.95), chocolate truffles ($1.80) and candied orange peels ($6-$7.50/bag).
Bill Bennett, executive chef at Corral de Tierra Country Club, orders up to 20 logs (and a number of Lusseau’s other desserts) every winter for holiday parties.
“We all think about pumpkin pie or Mom’s apple pie around Christmas, and I think [Lusseau’s desserts] bring an elegant European touch,” he says. “You can eat a couple of pieces from a buffet, and you don’t feel like you ate a Jawbreaker. It’s well balanced and flavorful.”
Monterey resident Marilyn Fox, another Parker-Lusseau devotee, says she’s been buying yule logs every Christmas for the past 12 years: “It’s something you can take to somebody’s house. It’s a fabulous gift.”
While the bûche de Noël is a holiday dream on par with Santa Claus, it’s also just as fleeting: Lusseau stops making them Dec. 24. But there’s no rest for this chef, who turns swiftly to his next baking tradition. A fleet of quince cakes must be prepared for the post-New Year’s Day holiday of Epiphany, and such decadence demands perfection.
Order Christmas confections by Dec. 21 from one of Parker-Lusseau’s three Monterey locations: 731 Munras Ave., 643-0300; 539 Hartnell St., 641-9188; 40 Ragsdale Dr., Suite 100, 655-3030. www.parker-lusseaupastries.com