Frederic Oger is a cheerful, bubbly man who smiles constantly and always has something sweet to say. Which is apt, considering he is a pastry chef.
Oger owns and runs the Pastry Institute of St Honore in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur. He has worked all over the world including the Maldives, the Middle East, London and his home country of France.
As a result, he has picked up a skill base that is eclectic and in some instances, seemingly at odds with his profession.
For example, he is a huge proponent of “healthy desserts”, two words which instantly bring to mind another word – “oxymoron”. And just what is a healthy dessert anyway?
For Oger, a healthy dessert is one which people can consume without immediately feeling guilty about after.
It requires a wee bit of thinking to find substitutes for less healthy ingredients while also delivering maximum flavour, but Oger thinks it can be done – and done well.
Oger started to befriend healthy desserts when he was working at a luxury spa resort in the Maldives, where the calories of each meal were calculated and documented with an accuracy bordering on military precision.
Oger had to learn how to adapt his pastry recipes and concoct delicious desserts that were also healthy.
“Like any French chef, I love my cream and I love my butter, but also, at the end of the day, I won’t develop a recipe that I won’t like to eat. So that experience actually inspired me to use more natural products, and get the best flavours,” he says.
These days, Oger even conducts a part-time class called “Healthy Desserts” which aims to show people how to whip up delicious, easy-to-make pastries that also help keep waistlines trim.
“A good dessert doesn’t need so much effort. If you choose something with low-sugar ratios, your product will actually be healthy at the end of the day. So take the time to understand the raw products you’re working with – it’s not about putting more sugar or more butter,” he says.
Oger says there are many ways to make desserts healthier. For example, sugar can be replaced with stevia (which is four times sweeter than sugar but has zero calories), dairy cream can be done away with in favour of non-dairy cream, flour can sometimes be omitted and fresh fruits should be incorporated wherever possible.
“Very often, people have a negative perception of healthy desserts, because not everyone takes the time to think, ‘Okay, I want the same texture, but how can I replace the ingredients with healthier ones and still get a similar result?’ You can actually make the flavour stronger by using more raw fruit or dark chocolate, which is more impactful in flavour and will make your cake flavourful and healthy,” he says.
Oger’s Cherry Smile Cookies, for instance, are made using a stevia-enhanced cherry jam, but he says the cookie is versatile and yields itself to experimentation.
“This is actually very straightforward, but even though it’s simple, this cookie can be taken in many different directions – you can change the filling by putting non-dairy cream and dark chocolate to make a healthy ganache. Parents can give them to kids without any guilt at all,” he says.
The Fruit Tartlet is another dish that Oger is extremely proud of, as it is chock-full of fresh fruits and can be assembled in 30 minutes!
“The ingredients are easy to find, and it is super fast to make. The only thing you need to spend time doing is choosing the fruits. If you don’t have strawberries, that’s okay, just put mangoes. It’s not about putting a particular type of ingredient – you need to be open to the idea of putting fresh, seasonal ingredients that are really flavourful because they are in season,” he says.
At the end of the day, Oger says he simply wants to show everyone – sceptics especially – that healthy desserts can taste good and be prepared quickly.
“That’s why I created recipes that are easy to duplicate – you can go into any local supermarket and find the ingredients. It’s all about pushing the culinary experience to the next level.
“Pastry can be healthy – it’s a choice,” he says.
FRESH FRUIT TART
For the tart base
160g brown sugar
1/2 of a whole egg
1/2 of an egg yolk
A pinch of salt
1/2 tsp sodium bicarbonate
1 tbsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp ginger powder
250g all-purpose flour
For the Chantilly
300g non-dairy cream, chilled
1 orange, zested and juiced
40g gula Melaka
For the topping
125g fresh raspberries
125g fresh blueberries
500g fresh strawberries
1/2 a bunch mint leaves
To make tart base
In a large mixing bowl, mix margarine and brown sugar until creamy. Gradually add in egg and egg yolk. Once incorporated, add in salt, sodium bicarbonate, cinnamon powder, ginger powder and flour. Add water and mix until all the powders are incorporated into the mixture. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Pre-heat oven to 160°C. Roll dough out into 1cm thickness and make one big round tart (like a pizza base) or cut into smaller discs if making mini tarts. Bake for 20 minutes and leave to cool completely.
To make the Chantilly
Whip all the ingredients together until stiff peaks form. Scoop mixture into a piping bag and use straight away or refrigerate if using later.
Place tart base on a clean surface. Pipe Chantilly in the centre of the base. Place fresh fruit and mint in between the Chantilly. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge and serve later.
GLUTEN-FREE GREEN TEA CHOCOLATE SWISS ROLL
Serves 6 to 8
For the chocolate sponge
9 egg whites
285g caster sugar
9 egg yolks
85g cocoa powder, sifted
For the green tea Chantilly
250g non-dairy cream
10g green tea powder
20g caster sugar
To make Swiss roll
Pre-heat oven to 190°C. Line a Swiss roll baking tray with baking paper. Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites. Add sugar and egg yolks and mix well.
Using a spatula, fold cocoa powder into the mixture until well incorporated. Pour into the lined tray and bake for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, unmould and remove the baking paper and place the sponge on a clean sheet of baking paper.
To make the green tea Chantilly and assemble roll
Whip Chantilly ingredients together until stiff peaks form. When Swiss roll has cooled, use a palette knife to spread Chantilly all over the sponge.
The sponge will be soft, so carefully and slowly start rolling it tightly until you reach the end. Chill in the refrigerator. Slice before serving.
CHERRY SMILE COOKIES
For the cookie dough
425g all-purpose flour
125g icing sugar
For the cherry jam
1 tsp pectin
250g cherries, blended into puree
1 lemon, juiced
To prepare cookie dough
Mix flour, butter and salt with a mixer or by hand until you get a sandy texture. Add the icing sugar and mix until fully incorporated. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Roll dough out into 3mm thickness. Divide into two equal parts. Use an 8cm round cutter to cut each dough into 16 discs.
Use a nozzle to punch eyes into 16 of the discs and use a cutter/sharp knife to shape the mouth. Bake at 160°C for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and aside to cool.
To make the cherry jam
In a bowl, mix stevia and pectin together. In a large pan over medium high heat, warm the cherry puree and honey.
Slowly add the stevia mix and keep stirring. Bring to a boil and keep at a boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Stir to incorporate and set aside to cool.
To assemble cookies
Scoop cherry jam mixture into a piping bag and pipe jam (about 1mm to 2mm thickness) onto plain cookie.
Take cookie with smiley face carved into it and place on top of cookie with jam on it.
Repeat with all the cookies. If not consuming immediately, keep in the refrigerator.