People 3 minutes 28 August 2018

5 Questions With Hilton Singapore’s Executive Pastry Chef Cindy Khoo On French Pastries

The newly appointed executive pastry chef is inspired by her trips to Paris and Tokyo.

5Qs pastry desserts

Not many people would expect an engineering graduate to trade maths formulae and graph charts for an apron and cake mixer. But Cindy Khoo was enticed by the world of pastry after a barista stint.

Of her unexpected foray into making gateaux and glazes, she says: “I was inspired by the cakes behind the counter at the cafe where I was working part-time and I started studying pastry and creations by other chefs.”

As a lover of architecture and modern art, she was thrilled to be able to make edible art in the form of cakes and desserts and relished the challenge of improving her pastry-making techniques.

In 2009, she enrolled in the Baking Industry Training College. Two years later, she kick-started her career with stints at the luxury hotels here such as the Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and Pan-Pacific Hotel. Now 27, she is one of the youngest executive pastry chefs in Hilton Singapore.
(Credit: Hilton Singapore)
(Credit: Hilton Singapore)
Khoo launched her collection of pastries and desserts at D9 Cakery at Hilton Singapore earlier this month. The 14 confections showcase classic French pastry-making techniques in making feuilletine, meringue, bonbons and joconde sponge, and lighter Japanese flavours such as matcha and sakura flower, with unique shapes and splashes of colours.

Her new collection is an ode to the desserts, pastry-making techniques and ingredients from two of her favourite cities — Paris and Tokyo. She says: “I draw inspiration from the visual cues all around me such as architecture, nature, colours and textures, and my travels, which open my eyes to whole new worlds both in terms of design and taste.”
The Ma-chakura Azuki is inspired by the gentle folds of a geisha's kimono and obi. (Credit: Hilton Singapore)
The Ma-chakura Azuki is inspired by the gentle folds of a geisha's kimono and obi. (Credit: Hilton Singapore)
Take the Ma-Chakura Azuki for example. The baby pink confection is a matcha joconde sponge that is layered with ethereal soft matcha-infused mousse, red beans and sakura crémeux. The cake is then dipped in white chocolate and finished off with brushes of light pink edible plaint. She explains: “The cake is designed to mimic the gentle folds of the geisha’s kimono and obi (traditional dress sash), and the dessert is also crowned with a chocolate twist, which is inspired by the demure slight tilt of the geisha’s head as she walk down the streets.”

Standing out from the dessert display with its eye-catching mint-green hue is Belle, which resembles a gigantic jelly bean. The pillow-shaped confection has fragrant bergamot and Bavarian coconut cream resting on a base of crispy streusel studded with lightly roasted pistachio. To capture the clean minimalist look of modern art pieces, a triple-glazing technique is employed to give the tropical-flavoured cake a tri-coloured hue and glossy sheen.

An artistic soul, Khoo, who also plays the saxophone, has found her calling in making pastries. She says: “I especially love that I get to be creative and experiment with different flavours, textures and ingredients that are integrated into the desserts along with my unique style.”
What are your favourite ingredients when it comes to making pastries and desserts?
Recently, I have been experimenting with using fresh herbs, which helps to create an added dimension and aroma to my desserts in a healthy and organic way. I also like to use pure white Opalys chocolate, which is not too sweet for the local palate, as well as fruit puree that is made with seasonal fruit and less sugar. More consumers are becoming health conscious these days, and, as pastry chefs, we take that into consideration when curating our dessert menu as much as possible.

What is the most challenging pastry technique to master?
Making a meringue-based sponge. You have to fold the meringue very quickly into the batter in order to prevent it from collapsing and to keep the sponge soft and fluffy after baking.
Pomme has diced apple bits inside an golden apple-shaped confection. (Credit: Hilton Singapore)
Pomme has diced apple bits inside an golden apple-shaped confection. (Credit: Hilton Singapore)

Which pastry chef is your biggest inspiration?
French chef Gabriel Paillasson from M.O.F. Patissier in France is a legendary chef. At 71, he is still participating actively in competitions such as the World Pastry Cup. His spirit of lifelong learning keeps me going and drives me to push boundaries in pastry-making.

If you were given an opportunity to present a dessert to Paillasson, what would that be?
I would present a citron tart. Being a fan of this classic pastry, I have experimented ceaselessly and changed the recipe six times to achieve a filling that is light and flavourful, without an overpowering “eggy” taste. The recipe that I am using now is a result of years of fine-turning so I am especially proud of the outcome.

You enjoy travelling to Tokyo and Paris for inspiration to create pastries and desserts. Share with us some of your favourite sweet haunts there.
The last time I was in Tokyo was in August last year and I was lucky to visit the pastry shops that I wanted to go. One of them is Un Grain in the Minato district. The visit was so memorable as the pastry shop only does petit gateaux (small cakes). Each of the pieces by chef Fumiyuki Kanai are extremely intricate and exquisite. I particularly enjoyed the strawberry shortcake there.

Another favourite Tokyo hang-out is Café Dior by Pierre Hermé. Besides its famous macarons, I enjoyed the panna cotta with mixed berries and crispy croissant sticks that are the perfect balance of crispy and buttery.

Every couple of years, I make a trip to Paris or Lyon and I absolutely love the creativity and innovations that the pastry chefs there have. My go-to pastry shops there are the chocolate praline pie from Philippe Conticini in Paris and the Fraisier cake filled with strawberries and crème pâtissière in Shangri-La Paris.

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