Where “Chef’s Table: Pastry” Star Will Goldfarb Finds Sweet Inspiration in Bali

Long before his episode debuted in the new season of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table: Pastry,” chef Will Goldfarb told AFAR how he dreams up delicious pastries with help from Indonesia’s local sugar source.

Where “Chef’s Table: Pastry” Star Will Goldfarb Finds Sweet Inspiration in Bali

Photos by Martin Westlake

Outside the kitchen door at Ku De Ta, a beachfront resort near the southern tip of Bali, palms line the parking lot. Throughout Indonesia, the coconut palm is an all-purpose plant, its nuts collected for milk and flesh, its husks woven into rope, its shells fashioned into bowls, its fronds transformed into religious offerings. Yet when Will Goldfarb looks out at those palms, he sees none of those things. He sees sugar.

Goldfarb is one of the most creative pastry chefs in the world. He learned the peculiar magic of sugar, butter, and flour from Albert and Ferran Adrià at elBulli, their groundbreaking restaurant in northeastern Spain, and went on to open his own all-dessert restaurant, Room4Dessert, in New York City (both restaurants have since closed). In 2008, he moved to Bali to become Ku De Ta’s executive pastry chef. Throughout his career he has specialized in the kind of culinary wizardry that lesser mortals call molecular gastronomy; Goldfarb prefers the phrase “avant-garde.” He has created an eight-course dessert menu, for instance, which includes a cotton-candy terrine tinted blue and sculpted in waves to look like the sea. Prone to giving his dishes such peculiar names as En Attendant Brigette and Voyage to India, he is a guy who really thinks about dessert. So it makes sense that Goldfarb would invent a dish that is a meditation on the very essence of dessert.

“What’s more fundamental to pastry than sugar?” he asks. “Caramelization is what gives pastry its flavor; caramel is the meat of pastry. I wanted to develop a dessert that reflected that.”

The result is the Sugar Refinery, a dessert that manifests sweetness in all its guises. The base—a walnut tuile piped with caramel cream—seems like a French classic. But in a brilliant upgrade, instead of a puff pastry requiring tons of butter, Goldfarb makes a cookie from caramelized walnuts mixed with a bit of tapioca maltodextrin (a modified food starch). The dessert’s other building blocks include a sugary ice that becomes a kind of tubular granité, thanks to the addition of gelatin; a sheet, made from ginger palm sugar and white chocolate, which takes on the crumbly texture of a Toblerone bar; mangosteen sorbet; and espresso caramel sauce.

On the plate, Goldfarb stacks the components and sets them at angles to one another, and then adds a manic postmodern twist: He smashes the structure to pieces. “When we first put it together, it looks like a Pierre Hermé mille-feuille,” he says, referring to the revered French pâtissier’s picture-perfect pastry. “And then we put it on crack.”

The Sugar Refinery also embodies Goldfarb’s awareness of his physical surroundings. “One of the things I’ve realized is that sugar has a terroir—it tastes completely different here in Indonesia than elsewhere,” he says. In part, that’s the nature of coconut palm sugar, the predominant form on Bali, which is made by extracting nectar from the coconut blossoms and cooking it until it crystalizes. The resulting flavor is darker and nuttier than beet or cane sugar, and less sweet. Molecular gastronomy and local, terroir-based cuisine are often portrayed as opposing trends in the current culinary world. But Goldfarb, who gets his palm sugar from a local outfit called Big Tree Farms, isn’t buying that. “It’s a false dichotomy,” he says. “When you’re working with sugar, flour, and chocolate, it can be harder to be close to your producers, especially in a major city. It’s not like meeting with the fisherman who catches your halibut. But in Bali it’s possible. Here, I know the guy who makes my sugar.” What could be more local than that?

How to Make the Sugar Refinery

(SERVES 12 to 20)

Recipe by Will Goldfarb

What you need: Metric kitchen scale, double boiler, acetate sheets, acetate tubes (made by rolling 4” x 9” acetate sheets into tubes and taping), food processor, pastry piping bags, hand mixer, stand mixer, rolling pin, ice cream maker

Ginger-White Chocolate Sheet

  • 150 g raw white chocolate
  • 150 g ginger palm sugar

MAKE IT: In a double boiler, carefully melt the white chocolate, then remove from heat. Mix in the sugar. Roll out thinly between layers of acetate, and chill. Cut into a 1½” x 3½” rectangle. Keep cold (or if you live in Bali, frozen).

Walnut Tuile

  • 30 g butter
  • 10 g walnut oil
  • 50 g walnut puree
  • 5 g Willpowder tapioca maltodextrin
  • 30 g confectioner’s sugar
  • 30 g egg white
  • 35 g flour

MAKE IT: Using a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the flour, until well mixed. Fold in the flour by hand. Roll out the dough thinly between two pieces of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. Cut into 1½” x 3½” rectangles. Bake at 320°F until deeply tan.

Caramel Cream

  • 360 g heavy cream
  • 106 g sugar
  • .76 g Willpowder iota carrageenan
  • .14 g Willpowder kappa carrageenan

MAKE IT: Melt the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until it caramelizes and turns deep brown (but don’t let it burn). Meanwhile, heat the cream. When the caramel is the desired color, add the hot cream, stirring constantly. (Be careful: It will foam up.) Add the carrageenans and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, pour into a mixing bowl, and mix with a hand blender for two minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another mixing bowl. Allow the strained mixture to set for 2 to 4 hours. Whip at high speed in a stand mixer, and reserve, refrigerated, in a pastry piping bag.

Muscovado Granité

  • 250 g water
  • 83.3 g muscovado sugar
  • .66 g Willpowder methylcellulose f50
  • 1.2 leaves gelatin

MAKE IT: Soak the gelatin in a bowl of cold water for 5 to 10 minutes, until it softens. (This is called “blooming.”) Add the water and sugar to a saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Sprinkle the methylcellulose on top, stir to mix. Add the bloomed gelatin, then pour the mixture into a shallow container. Freeze until set. If you can vacuum seal the container, do so; in either case, keep cold for 2 to 4 hours. Mix again with a hand blender and whip over high speed until very fluffy. Spoon into a pastry bag, pipe into acetate tubes and freeze until ready to plate.

Espresso Caramel

  • 125 g sugar
  • 250 g brewed espresso
  • 1 piece of kluwak (an Indonesian nut, optional)

MAKE IT: Melt the sugar in a saucepan until caramelized. Deglaze with espresso. If using kluwak, stir it in. Reduce over low heat until you have roughly 150 to 175 milliliters. Strain through a fine sieve and reserve.

Sorbet Mangosteen

  • 80 g glucose
  • 130 g water
  • 160 g sugar
  • 3 g Willpowder blend stabilizer for sorbets
  • 300 g pureed lychee
  • 700 g pureed mangosteen

MAKE IT: Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan over low heat; stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mix is slightly reduced to syrup consistency, taking care to mix the stabilizer in well. Remove from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, then mix well with the pureed fruits. Process in an ice cream maker immediately.

Assemble the Sugar Refinery

  1. Using a pastry bag, pipe the caramel cream in thin strips onto 1 x 3-inch sheets of acetate.
  2. Using another pastry bag, pipe the sorbet in waves onto 1 x 3-inch sheets of acetate.
  3. To present the dish as a traditional mille-feuille, layer the components in the following order: caramel cream; ginger-white chocolate; sorbet; granité; tuile.
  4. For a more abstract, “on crack” presentation: Place the cream, sorbet, and granité on the plate in a way that pleases you, then break the tuile and ginger-white chocolate into shards and place around the creamy elements.
  5. Drizzle espresso caramel sauce over the layered components as you see fit.

This article originally appeared online in September 2012; it was updated in December 2017 to include current information.

>>Next: This Chef Will Make You Fall in Love With Soviet Cooking
Lisa Abend is a journalist based in Madrid and the author of The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli. She is also a contributing writer at AFAR and correspondent for Time magazine.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR