Named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America 2015, Chef Zac Young has taken the pastry world by storm with his irreverent takes on classic American desserts. From his beginnings working in the wig department at Radio City Music Hall to his all-in-one viral Thanksgiving sensation, The PieCaken, Zac’s career has been anything but ordinary. Now the Pastry Director of Craveable Hospitality Group (formerly known as David Burke Group), we were thrilled to sit down with Zac to enjoy his signature wit and pastry wisdom while he whipped up the perfect surprise just in time for Donut Day: a coffee and donut tart.
FROM WIGS TO WHISKS, WHAT WAS IT LIKE SWITCHING CAREERS?
Scary? I was kind of naive coming into this industry. I didn’t really know what I got myself into. By the time I figured it out, it was too late. I was hooked.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST DESSERT YOU EVER MADE?
Cookies are actually what sparked my interest in pastry. I started playing with recipes, and fell in love with creativity within the confines of science, which I think is the heart of pastry.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TRIED A PASTRY OR DESSERT THAT COMPLETELY BLEW YOU AWAY, AND WHAT WAS IT?
Dominique Ansel is best known for the Cronut, but I’m obsessed with his Kouign-Amann. It’s basically an extra sugary croissant baked into a ring so the edges are crispy and the center is gooey and buttery. They are even better hot out of the oven!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE QUALITY ABOUT PASTRY?
Creativity within the confines of science. Every dish is a challenge, a puzzle, an equation. It is mental, physical, and artistic.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS TART YOU’RE MAKING US TODAY?
It’s a play on my French training mixed with my slightly over-the-top American style of desserts. It also glorifies the donut.
HOW DO THE TOOLS THAT YOU USE AFFECT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
I love tools and toys! Sometimes, I’ll see a Flexipan® and the shape will inspire a dish. I’m also always looking for inventive ways to use the tools that I have, like baking on the back sides of a Silform®, or setting a panna cotta in a glass placed on an angle in a French Bread Pan. I actually got the idea for the tart by looking at the Savarin Exopan® Molds. I thought, “Hmmm, that looks like a donut… what if I made a kind of finessed but fun coffee and donut tart?”
WHAT 3 INGREDIENTS DO YOU USE ON A DAILY BASIS?
Aside from the obvious like AP flour, butter, and eggs… crème fraîche, blueberries, and bourbon.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITHOUT BUTTER?
I’d survive, but life would not be as great.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COFFEE TO USE IN YOUR BAKED GOODS?
Something that is fresh. Coffee has a shelf life. I like to use something that’s locally roasted.
HOW DO YOU BAKE WITH COFFEE WITHOUT OVERPOWERING THE DESSERT?
I like to do a cold infusion. I take the beans, gently toast them in the oven to wake up the oils, then add them to cold cream or milk and let it sit overnight. It gives a lot of flavor without being acidic.
DO YOU TASTE EVERYTHING THAT YOU MAKE?
I do… but just a taste… except for ice cream, then I have a very big taste.
WHAT IS A PASTRY CHEF’S SECRET TO STAYING FIT?
It’s all about balance. I’m not willing to sacrifice delicious food, so I have to work extra hard at the gym. I alternate between Pilates and Hot Yoga, which also gives me time to clear my mind.
HOW DID IT FEEL TO HAVE YOUR #PIECAKEN GO VIRAL?
Strange. I actually had no clue what was happening. My friends kept texting me, “Hey, you are on Kelly & Michael.” “Hey, you are on the Today Show… In Australia!” It took on a life of its own. I was focused to keeping up with orders.
WHAT WOULD BE THE ULTIMATE MASH UP DESSERT?
Bourbon, ice cream, and a nap!
TOOLS FOR THE TASTE
As a master chef, the tools you use matter. Add the following items to your kitchen to achieve outstanding results: Exoglass® Tart Rings, Exoglass® Pastry Cutters, Exopan® Steel Non-stick Open Savarin Mold, Petit Bowl Ludico, & Petit Bowl Evaz.