The contours of taste

The contours of taste

Sometimes superfluous, often vital, they allow our creations to take their traditional form. They fill drawers and cupboards until their purpose corresponds to the need of the moment: moulds for pies and tarts, cakes, charlottes, soufflés, cupcakes, savarins, madeleines, cutters for cookies and so on.

Ceramic, metal, aluminium, porcelain and now silicone, moulds and shapes come from the heart of regional and family traditions. Virtually indestructible, blackened and sometimes battered with use, they’re passed on like childhood memories with the recipes and the activities they’re required for.

Culinary arts

These humble utilitarian objects lie at the intersection of the most trivial culinary needs and an ancestral folk art of surprising sophistication. They are proof that our century did not invent food design. Their own form is practical, drawn from lived experience and providing an exact and unfussy solution to a recipe that they enable us to perfectly reproduce every time.

A hit from a mistake

The French give the name “moule à manqué” or “mistake mould” to the most basic cake pan of all: round with a flat base. It’s said to have taken the name of a recipe improvised by a 19th century Parisian pastry chef. The story goes that he was making a Génoise sponge cake, but his egg whites failed to rise. He added butter and crushed almonds to the dough he had prepared. When it emerged from the oven, the cake looked good enough for a customer to ask what the new creation was. “Un manqué,” replied the chef, which means “a mistake” or “a failure”. But the cake was a hit, the name stuck and was passed on to the mould itself.

Ancient know-how

Whatever the mould, its size must fit the proportions of the recipe. You’ll also need to know how to turn out the contents after cooking. Chefs recommend buttering and flouring the mould. New non-stick moulds or those with a removable base facilitate the operation, which can ruin a promising result at the very last minute. The substance is important: stainless steel is a good heat conductor. But for certain recipes such as tarts or madeleines, old-fashioned tin moulds like the ones our grandmothers used are still best. In any case, vacuum cooking and overheating should be avoided. When carefully looked after, such moulds are almost indestructible. For cutting fun shapes into pastry, there are cookie cutters of a thousand forms. They can shape shortbread and other dry cakes, as well as bringing gingerbread men to life. They’re also the key accessory for the creative "scrap-cooking" activity currently at the forefront of fashion.

The meaning of pieA pie is usually round and sweet. Its diameter varies according to the number of slices you want to cut: 22cm for 4, 24cm for 6, 28cm for 8, and so on. The French tourtière, which is also round, can be either savoury or sweet. However, there are also rectangular or square pie pans. The low fluted edge guarantees efficient cooking and defines the appearance of the tart, quiche, pie or flan when it’s removed from the mould.

A gourmet anecdote


The savarin mould, which is round with a hole in the middle, bears the name of the cake for which it was designed. It pays homage to the great gastronome Brillat-Savarin, who invented the syrup in which the cake is soaked.

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