Palm Beach, Fla. Walk into the pastry shop in the Four Seasons hotel kitchen, headquarters for some of the county's most decadent desserts, and one question pops immediately to mind:
Why doesn't everyone here weigh 400 pounds?
"I don't have much of a sweet tooth, to be honest,'' confesses Tom Worhach, the hotel's pastry chef. "I taste them, of course, but I don't eat them on a regular basis.''
Must be nice. I think I put on five pounds just spending the day in Worhach's kitchen. But had I been working as hard as the pastry chef and his staff, there would have been no time to gain weight.
On a recent Friday morning, Worhach should be worrying about a cooler full of unfrosted wedding cakes. Fourteen of them are due, fully decorated, at a reception the following day. Instead, a small chocolate cake on the pastry prep table has his attention.
"It's for Hubert's son, Xan,'' Worhach says. "They're having a camp-out sleepover for his birthday, and Hubert wanted a cake with flames like a campfire on top. I've cut out this chocolate piece to look like flames, and we'll have chocolate sticks for logs on the cake. It'll be cool.''
Worhach, 49, pastry chef at the Four Seasons, has his priorities straight: Executive Chef Hubert DesMarais is his boss. They worked together at resorts and hotels in Texas, South Carolina and the Keys before taking over the Four Seasons kitchens in 1991.
Worhach's pastry shop produces breads and desserts for all the dining venues at the hotel. That includes The Bistro, the casual restaurant at the hotel; The Restaurant, the hotel's fine dining room; various banquet facilities; and room service.
"We don't make our own hamburger and hot dog rolls, and I buy bagels and rolls for large banquets,'' Worhach says. "But we make almost everything else that the hotel serves in-house. We are nonstop back here.''
Breads, cookies, cakes, mini-focaccia for hors d'oeuvres at catered parties, and all the fancy desserts, ice creams and sorbets come from his shop.
Worhach supervises a staff of two bakers, six pastry cooks and an assistant. The bakers come in daily at 3 a.m. to make the doughs and bake the breads, croissants, cracker bread, muffins and tea breads the hotel needs for breakfasts, sandwiches and bread baskets.
Another shift starts at noon, when the pastry workers arrive to mix ganache (a rich chocolate icing), stamp out cake pieces and meticulously cut garnishes for the elaborate desserts.
He and his crew work in a white-tiled, galley-like space about 40 feet long. The whole area sits next to steam kettles from the main kitchen. Worhach gets worked up explaining how the heat and humidity from the kettles threaten his delicate chocolate desserts and sugar displays, but turning out the stellar desserts in adverse conditions has made him one of the best in his field.
He was named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in the nation by Chocolatier Magazine for 1997 and '98. His chocolate and sugar creations grace covers and centerfolds in books such as "GrandFinales'' and "Chocolate Passion,'' which profile top pastry chefs and their work.
fresh berry buckle
2 pints fresh berries
(blackberries, blueberries, raspberries work well)
Sugar, to taste (if needed)
For the biscuit:
1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Combine berries with sugar to taste.
Preheat oven to 350(degrees). Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking dish. Using an electric mixer, cream 1 cup butter and 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 egg. Sift together flour and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately into creamed mixture. Spread batter into prepared dish. Cover with berries. Mix streusel ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle over berries.
Bake until top is browned and biscuit is firm, about 35 to 40 minutes. Spoon portion size desired into bowl and garnish with fresh berries. Serve with ice cream.
Chocolate-chocolate chunk cookies
1 cup unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coffee extract or instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped
16 ounces semi-sweet and white chocolate chips, mixed
Preheat oven to 350(degrees). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or use waxed paper, buttered and floured (butter the baking sheet if using waxed paper).
Melt unsweetened chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate in top of double boiler over medium-low heat; set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whip eggs, sugar and extracts until lightly colored, and mixture forms a ribbon when whip is lifted. Add melted chocolate to the whipped egg mixture, then slowly beat in sifted dry ingredients and nuts.
Chill dough for at least three hours.
When ready to bake, use a small sorbet scoop to make 1-ounce balls of dough. Place 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Flatten each cookie slightly. Bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes. Do not overbake cookies. Immediately after removing cookies from oven and while still hot, sprinkle each cookie generously with chocolate chip mix. Allow cookies to set and cool slightly before removing cookies from paper.