Whither Pithivier? Why Chefs Are Buffing Up Their Puff Pastry Skills

Even by the standards of time-intensive, retro food trends such as baking bread, the resurrection of elaborate savory pastries is remarkable. Dishes like beef Wellington were last seen dominating conversation in the Mad Men era, but chefs today are back to wrapping crusts around ingredients in a manner that would make Henry VIII hungry. With restaurants currently restricted in the ways they can wow diners, a grand-looking, belly-filling presentation that attracts attention on social media is a smart business model.

At his New York Cityflagship, Daniel Boulud puts a towering crown of puff pastry on consommé studded with chunks of braised duck leg and foie gras. Quail baked in brioche and then presented tableside is a specialty atthe Nicolett, which opened in November in Lubbock, Texas. “It’s a culmination of key regional ingredients, classic French cooking, and a little nostalgia that transports you to a simpler time,” chef-owner Finn Walter says.

But if there’s one yesteryear pastry that chefs are gravitating to, it’s pithivier. People who recognize the name at all might know it from The Great British Baking Show or as an almond-cream-filled galette de rois (“king cake”) with its starburst-patterned top. Pithivier’s backstory is unclear, though most people point to the town of the same name in France’s Loire Valley as its birthplace.

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For the opening of his new U.S. brasserie,Francie, in Brooklyn, N.Y., chef and co-owner Chris Cipollone put a pithivier with curried honeynut squash filling on the menu. “A crust enveloping anything evokes comfort,” he says. “If you grew up eating a chicken pot pie, breaking something open with a nice hearty filling feels especially good right now.” Across the East River in Manhattan, chef Fabian von Hauske says his pithiviers, filled with mole and cheese or beef birria, a Mexican stew, have been very popular. And Sean Brock has been using a variety of game birds to make individual pithiviers at his latest restaurant in Nashville,the Continental. “These old traditions are so difficult to master,” he wrote on Instagram about his dramatic dish. “We’re having a blast trying.”

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