18 April 2019
In a professional kitchen, the pastry chef is responsible for making all the fancy cakes, pastries, breads, and other dough based sweet treats.
Emma Cruickshank holds this esteemed position in The Tower kitchen, where she has worked on and off for ten years honing her pastry-making skills.
We spoke to Emma about her vital role at The Tower but before we move on to her answers, let’s run through a fleeting history of pastry making:
A brief history of pastry
The art of pastry making – or ‘pâtisserie’ in France – is one of the most ancient of cooking skills and remains a highly respected specialism to this day, with leading pastry chefs in high demand at top restaurants and hotels the world over.
Pastry chefs enjoy more creative freedom than most other kitchen staff as they work closely with the executive chef and team to devise dessert menus that will perfectly complement the savoury dishes. They then oversee the preparation and presentation of these desserts, usually to exacting levels of excellence.
Pastry and bread making has its origins among the first human farming societies and the early civilisations that followed with ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all using a filo-type pastry to create honey cakes, fruit pastries, sweet tarts, and dumplings stuffed with dates and nuts.
Evidence of these sweet treats has been found on ancient tomb paintings or mentioned in classic writings such as in the comic plays of Aristophanes.
But it was not until hundreds of years later, during the Medieval period that pastry advanced from being a utilitarian mix of flour and oil to a flavoursome food with recipes that more closely resemble the shortcrust or puff pastry we love today.
In the 17th century pastry-making became more fashionable with British and French bakers refining their techniques.
The first ‘celebrity chef’ was French pastry master, Marie-Antoine Carême (1784–1833), who is credited with bringing pastry into the world of grande cuisine.
His elaborate creations bought admiring crowds to the windows of his Paris patisserie shop and he went on to cook for European leaders including George IV.
Carême’s exquisite confection was instrumental in building France’s reputation as the home of fine dining and the best patisserie which high society then imported to British shores.
Many of these French desserts from tarte Tatin, Mille-Feuille and traditional crème pâtissière and frangipane fillings remain firm favourites today and are still used by pastry chefs including Emma and her team at the Tower Restaurant.
Here’s what Emma had to say about her creative career serving up sweet treats:
How long have you worked as a pastry chef?
I’ve worked as a pastry chef for over 10 years
Where did you train?
I started with an apprenticeship at Falko Konditormeister – a famous German bakery in Edinburgh - when I moved to Edinburgh from Shetland. Then I was offered a job at The Tower. I have learnt a lot through different stages of my career, with stints at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons and Alain Roux’s The Waterside Inn.
What (or who) inspired you to become a pastry chef?
I always found the pastry section exciting and creative. I came to study Art in Edinburgh at eCA, then found it in the form of being a pastry chef!
How long have you worked at the Tower Restaurant?
Around 10 years. I left a couple of times during that period to gain experience elsewhere but kept coming back.
What do you think sets the Tower restaurant apart?
The people! We have such a great team in the restaurant and in the kitchen. Obviously, the food is amazing, and I will never get bored of that view from the terrace which overlooks the castle and old town – it’s so beautiful whether its sunny or spooky and misty.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The freedom to be creative. I love preparing the cakes and pastries for afternoon tea and we are always changing things up. I am never bored. I love that I get to enter competitions – I won dessert of the year in 2015. I also recently completed a chocolate masterclass with world chocolate master Ruth Hinks and am enjoying working with chocolate.
What is your favourite dish to prepare and why?
Rhubarb and ginger cheesecake. I love the classic combination and the presentation; I think it’s very colourful and pretty.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Going on a diet surrounded by tasty food and sweets.
Where do you get your dessert inspiration from?
I have a few favourite pastry chefs who I take inspiration from like Thomas Keller, Antonio Bachour, Adriano Zumbo, and Nancy Silverton (for baking). I am also a sucker for Instagram. I follow a load of pastry chefs and get lots of inspiration there.
How do you source your ingredients?
We use local Scottish suppliers and buy our chocolate from Belgian chocolate maker Callebaut.
What would be your dream dinner menu?
A seasonal tasting menu with lots of chocolate for dessert and whimsical creations to add to the experience.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
David Attenborough, Quentin Tarantino, Simon Green, and the band The Kills – not sure if I’d have them all together though!
What are the key ingredients to a truly great restaurant?
Teamwork, passion, and always having a fresh and exciting menu.
Sample Emma's work at The Tower Restaurant
The Tower Restaurant serves up brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner daily so if you would like to sample Emma's work, then simply book a table online or by calling +44 (0) 131 225 3003