Meet pastry chef Jonas Plangger
From Germany’s beautiful Black Forest to Coworth Park’s scenic Berkshire countryside setting, head pastry chef Jonas Plangger shares his love of rich cheesecake, flaky mille-feuille and Valrhona’s incredible chocolate.
What’s your favourite ingredient and why?
It has to be a good quality vanilla. As a pastry chef, I use vanilla in most things because it just seems to add a touch of magic to everything. I remember as a child my grandmother keeping a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar to infuse its flavour, and that’s what we do here at Coworth Park – it’s a great little trick that’s well-worth trying. Sometimes we soak vanilla pods in rum as an alternative way to infuse the flavour or dry them and create a powder to add to cupcakes.
What’s your must-try dessert?
I’m a huge fan of a traditional mille-feuille and it’s a treat that our guests really love too. Throughout the year we make different varieties including raspberry, wild strawberry and autumn fruits. To sample a selection of our pastries, our popular afternoon tea comes highly recommended. We’re proud to offer a traditional experience with a few modern twists that make it our own.
What’s special about Coworth Park’s chocolate?
I went on a very special trip with our executive chef, Adam Smith, to gourmet chocolate aficionados Valrhona near Lyon, where we created a recipe for our very own Coworth Park chocolate. As you can imagine, this entailed a lot of very enjoyable research and we finally agreed on a specific blend of cocoa beans from Madagascar and Grenada with muscovado sugar. Both Adam and I have a particular passion for chocolate, so there’s always a chocolate dish on the menu and our after-dinner chocolates are also worth saving room for.
Can you suggest an easy yet impressive dessert?
I think a soufflé is always impressive and makes a great dinner party dessert. People assume it’s difficult to get right but if you follow a good recipe it’s actually relatively simple, you just need to get enough air into the mixture. It’s also a good tip to know that you can prepare the mixture and pour it into individual ramekins to store in the fridge until you’re ready to cook your soufflés. Give it a go and I think you’ll be surprised.
What’s the treat you like to cook at home when friends come over?
As our mille-feuille is so popular, people often ask me how to create them at home. If you’re doing it yourself I would recommend using readymade puff pastry for ease. The key is to get the pastry layers really thin and cooked until crisp. Try some different fruit combinations layered with a generous amount of vanilla cream and friends will adore them – I know mine do.
Was there a specific moment when you fell in love with cooking?
Yes, when I baked my first cheesecake as a young apprentice. It stunned me how five simple ingredients could be transformed into something so delicious. It felt like magic and that was the moment I knew I definitely wanted to be a pastry chef. It’s still feels wonderful now when I create something new and know that others will take great pleasure in it too.
What do you love most about your job?
The talented team I work with and our wonderful work ethic of always striving to do to our best. I also like to work with my hands and be creative so being a chef is perfect. I’m a great believer in tried and trusted traditional flavours and techniques. For me, classic French cooking is the backbone of all cooking and its skills and recipes result in wonderfully elevated and refined dishes.
Have you got any handy chef’s tricks or tips to share?
Always use the middle shelf in the oven as it will help to give a more even result. I’m also a big fan of using non-stick oven liners as it makes cleaning easier, which will encourage you to bake more often.
What’s your favourite food memory?
When I went on the Valrhona chocolate trip we tasted their famous Jivra chocolate straight off the production line, which was mind-blowingly delicious. We also visited Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in Lyon and I have to say it was a truly sublime experience. The poulet bresse with morel sauce had a real ‘wow’ to it and the atmosphere was very special too. If you’re ever in the area you really must try it.
Chefs work long hours, how do you like to spend your time off?
I love to work out at my home gym and spend time with my wife and young son. I’m just starting to teach him how to cook so we’re having lots of fun.
What food could you not live without?
Eggs, they’re so versatile in both sweet and savoury dishes. I love a classic dish of scrambled eggs on toast to set me up for the day. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
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