Humble tins of chickpea may have helped Malaysia win the 2019 Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, also known as the World Pastry Cup.
The fermented water from these tins, known as aquafaba, enabled the Malaysian chefs to create a vegan dessert – a first for the prestigious competition.
The team beat counterparts from 20 other countries in the biennial awards in Lyon, France, in January. They also received the Vase de Sevre prize, donated by the French president for countries who scored most points for the tasting criteria.
Chef Otto Tay says having a vegan dessert was a curveball for the team, so they researched long and hard to find a dish that they thought would impress the discerning judges.
Aquafaba can replace egg whites when making a meringue. But the team found that making fermented chickpea water from scratch didn’t work.
“When I made the water [aquafaba] myself, it couldn’t be whipped up, so instead I used the water from the tins because it worked better as the water had a longer time to ferment,” says the 31-year-old chef.
Tay says the Malaysian team wasn’t fussy about the brands – they all delivered a consistency that resembled an egg-based meringue. He used vanilla to mask the chickpea taste and to substitute butter they used coconut oil.
These vegan techniques produced “La Floraison” – one of the three winning desserts presented at the competition.
La Floraison was a plated dessert presented in a cup form made of granita. The cup was topped with almond nougatine and dressed with exotic meringue and coconut meringue, and the filling was made up of mango cubes and almond dacquoise. Tay says the team drew upon Japanese techniques to produce the meringue cup and flower.
The French touch, he says, was finding a fresh taste to cut through the rich creams. The Malaysian team used pomelo, which mimicked the effect of lime or lemon in typical French offerings.
But the Malaysian pomelo was also picked to showcase Malaysian fruits. The team got a special delivery from a farm in Ipoh, some 200 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, that was then flown to the competition in Lyon, France.
But surely durian is more symbolic? Tay’s teammate, chef Tan Wei Loon, 31, says that while the durian is famous in Malaysia the team had to consider how all of the judges might react. To be successful, teams need a high score in every criterion, but a durian might wow 10 judges and turn off just as many.
“We needed to consider everyone’s taste. Some judges may not have liked the flavour of durian, which is tricky to get right in this kind of competition,” he says.
Hitting the sweet spot
The team also produced “La Nature” – a chocolate dessert inspired by the lotus leaf.
Chocolate and honey were mandatory in this year’s World Pastry Cup, so the Malaysian team chose to work with chestnut honey. Tan says this is because when honey is cooked the flavour tends to get lost – particularly if it is then added to a rich chocolate cake. Chestnut honey, in contrast, manages to retain its flavour without overpowering the cake.
The team used chocolate mousse for its lightness but depth in chocolate flavour. A thin layer of mango and yuzu jelly was also added to refresh the palate. To form the many layers in the cake, the chef included a chocolate cream, sponge and ganache finished with a chocolate glaze.
All three desserts had a crispy streusel base for texture.
The third dessert was “La Papillon”, a frozen fruit dessert inspired by Pierre Herme’s Ispahan which features a butterfly on a flower. This was prepared by the third member of the team, 30-year-old chef Loi Ming Ai.
This dessert comprised a raspberry and lychee sorbet served in a cylindrical parfait made up of lychee. A pistachio meringue formed another layer. A final layer of vanilla yoghurt ice cream completed the dessert.
Practice makes perfect
For pastry chefs around the world, winning the World Pastry Cup is like winning an Oscar.
This was Tan and Tay’s third time competing, and the first for new teammate Loi. Sunway University’s head chef of the School of Hospitality Patrick Siau was their coach, taking care of logistics and funding.
Their success was all the more notable given they were not even working in the same country prior to the event. Tay is based in Vietnam, and all four members held full-time jobs as chefs.
Practice could only take place after they clocked off at 5 pm, and would often run until midnight or the early hours of the morning.
The team communicated their sketches, ideas and feedback via email, video chat and WhatsApp texts.
Practice, dry runs and trial desserts began in April last year. The team agreed on their three entries just a few weeks before the competition.
Carting nearly 900 kilograms of equipment, ingredients and luggage to France was a challenge, but their love for pastry and sportsmanship put the four in competition mode.
They faced time challenges, physical challenges and even having their chocolate warmer catching fire during showtime.
“But we were in it to win it,” says Tan. “That’s why we brought two of everything [equipment].”
Siau says Malaysia was an underdog and winning the title had been sweet. The team dedicated the award to all past contestants, young assistant chefs and sponsors that helped them get to Lyon.
“As a head chef of a university, I can finally take this win to tell parents that being a chef … [means] you are doing a skilled job,” he says. “The team is an inspiration to all young chefs.”