Ultimate secret in European pastry -- make small amounts
In her small, immaculate main-street shop, Lica Brill is setting out warm Danish apricot loaves, Swiss rolls, and chocolate-glazed croissants. Her mother emerges from the kitchen downstairs with a spectacular trayful of tortes and small pastries.
Customers breeze in, enjoy a friendly chat and a laugh with Lica, and leave with a parcel of creamschnitt and petit fours. Meanwhile, a college student lingers over a brioche and the morning newspaper.
Pretty baskets of silk flowers adorn the walls, and the sweet, rich aroma of pastry mingles comfortably with the melodies of Mozart and Liszt.
A cafe in Vienna? A Parisian patisserie? It might well be, except that this little bit of Europe is in the middle of New England - in Wellesley, Mass.
Every day by 6 a.m. Lica's mother, Sophia Haim, arrives at the Continental Pastry Boutique on Washington Street. She plans the day's baking, checks on special orders, and prepares charlotte mousse tortes and an incomparable creme patissiere or custard.
The recipes are well-guarded family secrets. Sophia is every bit the executive chef, the exacting eye under which each delicacy must pass for a careful quality inspection.
Tom Joanides is the talented baker, and he arrives a little later in the morning. His swift and skillful potter's hands are set in motion mixing, rolling , shaping, and cutting all types of dough, including puff pastry. No mass-produced, machine-rolled dough is allowed here.
Petite, energetic Lica flies down the stairs last, having gotten her family off to school and work, and the team is complete. Working together they are the picture of organization, precision, artistry, and even fun.
From an unpretentious basement kitchen they turn out an impressive array of French and Viennese pastries that could rival Europe's finest.
Some people, Lica admits, have told her that even in Europe they haven't tasted such good pastry.
''A while ago two Swiss professors at Babson College came into the shop before returning to their homeland. What did they want to take back from the United States? Five of my linzer tortes! That, to me, was the supreme compliment.''
Lica and Sophia insist that authenticity, quality, and a personal touch distinguish their work. A handpainted notice to customers hangs on the wall in the sales area: ''We shall spare no effort to keep our high quality to your full satisfaction.''
They keep their word, and it shows. Only the finest and freshest ingredients qualify for their kitchen. They take no shortcuts; use no lard, preservatives, artificial colorings, or additives. They wouldn't think of considering the powdered dairy products used by most commercial bakeries.
Everything is done from scratch with fresh cream, butter, eggs, and milk. They even make their own chocolate from Bensdorf cocoa powder.
Flavors are delicate, understated, never cloying or overwhelming. True to the Viennese tradition, they never, never use vanilla extract -- instead, they keep a broken vanilla bean in the sugar canister to impart a subtle, delicate flavor.
Lica delights in pleasing her customers and goes out of her way to do so.
''Customers will say to me ,'Ten or so years ago we were in France, or maybe it was Switzerland or Austria. We had a wonderful torte there, I wonder if you make it. It had layers, some light, some dark, do you know what I mean?'
''They don't usually know the name, so I let them try combinations of cream and pastry to see if we can duplicate it. If not, I give them a sample of charlotte mousse torte, and they invariably say, 'I don't know if that's it, but I'll take some home anyway'!
''Charlotte mousse torte is one of the most popular items. So are Napoleons and framboise, delectable variations of puff pastry and creme patissiere.
It's been about two years since Lica established her business. Thirteen years ago her family immigrated to the US from Romania, where her parents ran a pastry shop until 194l when the government took control of private enterprise.
What do they feel is the ultimate secret to success with fine pastry?
''Experience, experience, experience,'' nods Mrs. Haim. ''Don't get discouraged, be patient, keep practicing, and be sure to work with small quantities. You just don't get the same results with volume in pastries.
Lica is not interested in developing a large operation; she wants her business to retain the charm and personal touch characteristic of the small European-style shop. Almost every offering at the Pastry Boutique is distinctively continental, except at the end of the display case is a mounded trayful of -- could it be? -- chocolate chip cookies!
Lica concedes with a sigh, ''My teen-aged daughter confronted me one day, 'How can you have a pastry shop without chocolate chip cookies?' So this is our American concession!
''Here is Lica's recipe for Lindsay tarts. She counsels, ''Be sure to keep the dough cold, and work it quickly. Work with small quantities, and refrigerate what you're not rolling. ''Lindsay Tarts1 pound butter (1/2 salted, 1/2 unsalted) 1 cup sugar 4 cups flour 1 cup pure raspberry preserves
Mix softened butter and sugar well in mixer. Add flour, work it in quickly with your hands. Refrigerate to chill.
Roll out a layer 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick on floured board. Cut dough with 3 1/2 to 4-inch round cookie cutter. In the center of half of the pieces, cut a small hole about 1 inch in diameter.
Bake at 375 degrees F. 9 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully. They must stay very light in color, or they will crumble.
Place on a paper towel set on a tray and cool, upside down.
Warm raspberry preserves carefully, stirring occasionally. Spread a thin layer on bottom (holeless) half of each tart. Add top, then sprinkle with powdered sugar through a fine sieve.
Warm preserves again, this time almost to the boiling point. Using a teaspoon , carefully pour in enough to fill the hole.
Note: the cookie dough can be baked, then frozen, and filled and sugared at a later date if you want. Fresh Fruit Tart 8 to 10 unskinned plums or peaches, washed, pitted, and halved 7 ounces (1 3/4 cups) unsalted butter or unsalted margarine at room temperature 1 cup sugar 4 egg yolks 1 1/2 cups flour 4 egg whites, beaten till stiff
Cream butter with sugar in mixer. Add egg yolks, then flour. Fold in egg whites. Pour batter in a well-greased and lightly floured 12 by 10 by 2-inch pan or a springform pan.
Place fruit halves on top of the batter with skins down, toward batter. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 to 40 minutes until tart is golden brown.
Note: In the winter, use canned peaches in light syrup, well drained. Use paper towels to absorb the liquid thoroughly, or tart will be soggy.