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WASHINGTON Most Americans would expect that the White House has a grand and spacious pastry kitchen to turn out desserts for receptions, state dinners, or family dinners for the President and his family.
In fact, it is smaller than many home kitchens: about 250 square feet. In this small space, White House executive pastry chef William Yosses, a Toledo native, and his staff turn out magnificent desserts to meet the entertaining needs of the White House and the personal dinners planned by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
The pastry kitchen is one-and-a-half floors above the basement-level main kitchen. The pastry kitchen used to be a galley where the pots and pans were washed, Mr. Yosses said in a recent interview at the White House.
The narrow, L-shaped room which is reachable by an elevator has maximized its space with storage and equipment. It holds Miwe commercial ovens a deck oven and a convection oven. There s a red KitchenAid mixer, a Hobart mixer, a Rondo dough machine, and a four-burner gas range.
When working at a 12-foot-long marble counter there s barely enough room for one person to squeeze by another.
Still, Mr. Yosses and his staff, which included Lauren Haas of Washington, who was making caramel butter cream frosting that day, and Andrew Rucker, who was working on a chocolate figure for the Easter Egg Roll (which was yesterday), manage to produce thousands of delectable desserts.
We use rolling racks and refrigerators downstairs, said Mr. Yosses. We make use of space quickly.
Ms. Haas used the caramel butter cream frosting on caramel cake served in individual portions for the five or six guests that the President and Mrs. George W. Bush had invited for dinner that evening. I make a few extras in case there are any additional guests, said Mr. Yosses as he garnished the individual serving cake with nuts and caramel.
There were actually three layers: sponge cake, butterscotch pastry cream, and dacquoise almond meringue. Each was elegantly served on the Millennium china with a garnish of fresh raspberry, a swirl of caramel, and a chocolate lattice.
The President loves desserts, says Mr. Yosses. He likes very traditional desserts such as huckleberry cobbler or crisp, which the pastry chef calls a little bit like a pie without a crust. Date Walnut Cake is also a favorite of President Bush.
When the Bush daughters, Barbara and Jenna, are visiting, they often ask for a large selection of fruit, says Mr. Yosses. President and Mrs. Bush love simple, fresh ingredients. They like recognizable desserts such as cobbler, crisp, and pie.
One favorite recipe is a coconut cake recipe made with seven-minute frosting, a recipe from Mrs. Bush. It is a vanilla chiffon cake made with coconut milk, he said.
There s also a family chocolate cake recipe we make here, says the pastry chef. We always have cookies. I make them several times a week.
They make a small selection of chocolates, fruit jellies, and even homemade gummy bears.
In the course of his culinary career, Mr. Yosses was greatly influenced by the way the French could elevate even the simplest dessert, like a pound cake, to the realm of the divine.
Chocolate Pound Cake with Dark Chocolate Glaze is a great portable frosted cake because the glaze sets to a smooth, nonstick consistency, according to Mr. Yosses, who shared the recipe with me. For the glaze and the cake, he uses a combination of cocoa, which adds a bitter, earthy background and a lot of color, and bittersweet chocolate for the chocolate taste and texture.
When buying chocolate, aim for a cacao percentage in the range of 55 and 70, he advises. Anything over 70 percent I find overly bitter. For reference, your basic bittersweet baking chocolate is about 58 percent and most of the gourmet chocolates are 63 percent and up.
He notes that while Old French pound cake recipes call for equal weights of four ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, he s found it works better if you lighten up some of the ingredients; he favors eggs over flour. Lightness is achieved by whipping air into the butter and adding baking powder.
This chocolate cake is one of his first choices for a buffet or any other large gathering. It s one of the first things people reach for unless there s a big plate of brownies on the table, he says.
Date-Walnut Bars have a shortbread crust. These are great for picnicking because they are sturdy enough to hold together for the journey to the park or the beach, he says. They still melt in your mouth. Mr. Yosses recommends medjool dates, which are fat, moist, and practically candied in their own sugary juices. The savory herb rosemary tempers the sweetness of the recipe.
Orange and Olive Oil Cake is one of the pastry chef s favorite cakes. It is based on a Sicilian recipe in which oranges are preserved by simmering with a small amount of sugar, which can be done in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator. The candied oranges and olive oil make the cake moist; flaky crystals of fleur de sel (French sea salt) accentuate the flavor, according to Mr. Yosses. Use a very good extra virgin olive oil for this cake.
As his recipes show, Mr. Yosses prepares classic desserts and also uses interesting twists and ingredients with traditional dessert recipes, such as pairing rosemary with date and walnuts and the fleur de sel with the orange.
There s a willingness on the part of the public to be adventuresome with unusual combinations such as tea and chocolate, he told me. He has used the combination in ganache as a filling in a cake.
In addition, he notes the openness to cuisines from other parts of the world. Often there are occasions for exotic foods. At the White House, when there was a reception for Greek Independence Day, we made a recipe with kadaifi, shredded phyllo dough, he said.
For Mr. Yosses, who moved to Washington from New York City, living in Washington has been about being at the White House, he says. One of the most striking things is the dedication of the staff. In every department there is a devotion to what they do and a sense of legacy. It s extremely rewarding.
The pastry chef may meet with Mrs. Bush periodically regarding the dessert menus. [The staff] tries to protect their privacy, he says. President and Mrs. Bush are warm, genuine, considerate people not only to me but to all the staff.
In a job in which every day is different, the White House pastry chef s desserts are a sweet note for whatever event is planned.
Contact Kathie Smith at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.