Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Last practical

Today was our last practical. I feel rather ambivalent about the ending of the process. I've been living a little dream -- but there has been a lot of heartache along the way, most of which I've kept off the blog.

We made croquembouches and did some pulled sugar. Neither was at all successful. The croquembouche failed because my English instincts told me to take my choux last (we prepared them at the end of last week) which meant I ended up with a load of random sizes. Trying to build a conical structure from such an assortment was more akin to Cotswold dry-stone walling than classical French pâtisserie.

And the pulled sugar... it's just bloody hard and gives you blisters. So instead of photos of two rubbish attempts, here are some portraits of my comrades over the last 5 months.

Chef pulling sugar. I think it's a bird's beak. He is flanked by maid Marion.

Thibault the class clown sucking on a meringue.

Marion full-on.

Cédric who is very precise and has an earring. And a wife.

Théo who is the most likely to have an interesting boutique in 10 years time. Having one of his many private chats with the chef.

Alan who is just a terrific bloke who takes a lot of care. Which might take its toll on his back. I think he is going to succeed massively but working in restaurants rather than pure patisserie.

Fréd, a real favourite who was my swimming companion for the latter half of the stage. She got the top mark. Her grandmother was one of the first waitresses at the Roux's Gavroche.

Same with sugar.

Na, one of the Koreans.

Nanami, Japanese and wonderful. Very funny girl.

Wen, very lovely Chinese girl. Showing fatigue rather than her usual smile.

This is Pascal wearing Bruno's croquembouche. Picture says a lot.

Antony was one of the youngest on the course and unfortunately did not get the diploma. Nice chap. Usually quiet with quizzical/confused air.

Bruno, miserable sod, but hysterically dry. He was my partner for the second half of the stage and I grew to love his pessimistic outlook. We got on very well.

Thibault and Pascal on the phone by school. We went out after drinks and petit-fours in the labo.

Missing from above: Mi Hyun (ill) and Jae Hyeon (didn't manage to get a snap).

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Chic Paris

Today I went to Paris to see an opera in the theatre where The Rite of Spring was first performed. An interesting place to be, but not ideal for a chamber opera (Britten's The Little Sweep).

There were rabbits on the pavement in Paris. Big ones.

This was a shop in Paris's Mayfair. Is art the ultimate luxury - or a fundamental of the human condition?

I visited one of Pierre Hermé's boutiques again. Hermé is generally regarded as the greatest living patissier. He certainly charges enough. Along with the cakes and macarons he sells little scented nightlights (photo) for €38. His boutiques are very classy, and his usual duck-egg blue and white packaging is stunning. So it was funny to find these pots in the corner. Aren't the labels the spitting image of the Waitrose 'Touch of' packaging (photo)?

Friday, 15 May 2009

Life is rosy

We're approaching the end: no practical today so got a lie in or 'fat morning' as they call them in France. Nice. Turned out to be quite a fat afternoon, too. Got up finally for a meeting in college, and then a swim/lesson in English pastry terms with Fréd.

In the evening we went to see The Boat that Rocked. The naming of foreign films can be quite interesting. The Boat that Rocked, for instance, has a different title in France - but it's still in English. Here it's called Good Morning, England.

Similarly, the French film La Môme was given a different title in England, but still in French: La Vie en rose.

It seems producers often want to keep that touch of the foreign culture while giving a more understandable title for the target country. But this is a spot confusing in the case of La Vie en rose if you do know a bit about francophone culture: there's a classic Belgian film called Ma Vie en rose - about a cross-dressing 10 year old. A long way from Edith Piaf...

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Penultimate practical

At the entrance to the metro this morning some European activists were handing out election materials. Shame they didn't pop underground to see where all the leaflets ended up.

This is going to be a vacherin (NB no cheese involved). On the left is the main mould with a meringue spiral as a base. On the right is the insert which also has a meringue base and is filled with a sour cherry sorbet.

The beast will fit together in the main mould as follows: a layer of vanilla ice cream will go onto the meringue. Then the demoulded insert (upside-down). Then more vanilla ice-cream. Once the whole thing has frozen solid and been demoulded, little meringue fingers are stuck around the circumference alternating with Chantilly spirals.

[Retrospective edit: Unfortunately, when we came back to finish these the following Tuesday, it turned out someone had jettisoned our vanilla ice-cream. So the project was abandoned.]

We also made our own Norwegian omelettes but someone whisked mine into a box before I could photograph it. In essence it's ice cream sandwiched between discs of imbibed sponge. The whole lot is covered in decorative Italian meringue.

And we had a final chance to practise our PLF.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Ice cream, sorbet, jellied fruits, more mille feuilles

Having done so much exam preparation it was fantastic to do something completely different today. (Although, now, with only two practicals left, I'm starting to panic a little about my croissants and brioches...)

We started by polishing off the mille feuilles from yesterday. I had forgotten about this picture post so I took another load of step-by-step photos.

This time we used crème pâtissière for both layers. We pipe it because it's quicker and easier to be regular but you can use a palette knife or whatever.

The top is glazed with a bog-normal apricot number. This stops the pastry flaking into the icing when you spread it out.

And a beautifully focussed final snap.

We then made some pâtes de fruits. I can't recall what we call these back in Ol' Blighty but I think jellied fruits might be the ticket, at least where I come from.

The jelly is simply moulded into a rectangle then patted in sugar. Here it is being tranched in the 'guitar'.

There is a LOT of sugar inside the darn nuggets but a gentle lashing on the outside gives a nice texture and stops them sticking all over the shop. Literally, in the real world.

And then we prepared a sorbet mix and an ice cream mix to freeze tomorrow (these things are always left to mature for as long as poss). A vanilla ice cream (custard base) and a Morello cherry sorbet.

Here's a French variation on a Baked Alaska called a Nowegian Omlette (made by a different group). It is meant to be on fire.

All this ice cream being so seasonal, the heavens opened spectacularly at the bus stop. Luckily I was in time to get the last bus home but I still got thoroughly drenched just getting back to the front door.

I'd say it's one of the top 5 heaviest rainfalls I've ever seen. So.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Long thyme no Vitamin C

Been jaunting all over the shop of late. 5 days at home in England mainly. Major updates needed.

Today was our first day back in the kitchen since our mock exam last Tuesday. We're still being tested and now for real. Today it was puff pastry for our diplomas.

We had to make 6 small vol-au-vents (or Queen's mouthfuls as they call them here), a large conversation (a rather unpleasant type of iced galette) and a long thin thing called a jalousie which is also essentially the same as a galette. Certainly nothing to write home about -- I think the name is an example of classic patisserie marketing.

Although it's only a week it feels like a bloody age since I've been in the labo. I even started by overworking my détrempe while fetching a bowl from the other side of the room. I've never done that. I had to work out how to dispose of a kilo and a bit of flour and water without being spotted.

The rest all went swimmingly. Sort of. For the first time my vol-au-vents rose right up and touched the wire rack above. This was in fact a little frustrating, as the rack damaged the rim decor a little.

I was also rather peeved with the jalousie. It looked really good and I was delighted to find I had 5cm spare (we had to serve 10 x 5cm portions). The prof told me to put the spare bit in the bin, so I duly did. Then, when it came to marking he deducted points because I had served the end crust! The two extremities are meant to be discarded (which is why there was 5cm spare...) If only I had known. Very frustrating.

You can see all our products laid out and awaiting marking in the mirror.

And finally we welcome our latest visitor who arrived after googling: "how to make a puff the magic dragon cake".

Monday, 4 May 2009

Big day tomorrow

Today we had a massive exam on all our science and hygiene work so far.

Tomorrow we have our final mock practical exam but due to one of the chefs doing in his ankle, it is also going to count for real towards our final diplomas. This is a bugger as it adds a layer of reality to the stress.

Also need to be at school by 5am.

Not quite sure how that's going to happen, yet.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


It's the first time I've had a third day off in a row since January so I didn't really know what to do with myself.

Certainly nothing worth photographing.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Paris, paris, paris

Today rapidly turned into one of my worst days in France. We (the father of my first host family and my current host) drove to Paris to visit the big Andy Warhol exhibition at the Grand Palais. We couldn't get in. Enormous queues and our attempts to book ahead on the Internet had failed.

We went to look round the Palais Garnier instead. I've been a few times to see stuff there and it's always quite striking. But if you remember when it was built (1875) it does seem a little bit naff. Too much gold and corinthian columnage. A latter-day Versailles.

After a decent lunch, we nipped off to Ladurée for some macaroons. I had three superb flavours: salted butter caramel, lily of the valley (the traditional French mayday flower) and bergamot (for the hint of home). I also shelled out a shocking €4.50 for a Violet religieuse. It was excellent but overpriced. And an average cannelé.

At Pierre Hermé, having split with the others to save them queuing (there were queues along the pavement at both Ladurée and Hermé), I invested in €10 worth of macaroons for us to taste together later (including his version of the salted butter caramel). I also bought myself a jasmine macaroon and an olive oil one for immediate munching. And an average cannelé.

The jasmine was pretty decent but the olive oil was really sensational. Due to the accompanying sugar and fat it's pretty hard to pin it down as olive oil. I think one would struggle in a blind and uninitiated tasting. But it was really first class.

I carefully put the other macaroons in my bag so as not to squash them, then winded my way to a swimming pool.

Passing this old dear was the high point of the day. She came sauntering along with no trousers or skirt, an enormous cigar and odd socks.

Then things turned bad. First, all the swimming pools shut by 7. Even in provincial Surrey the pool is open until 8 on a Saturday. So having walked an age between a few to check none were open, I decided to console myself with one of the remaining macaroons. I opened my bag to discover every single one had been crushed and smeared to a paste. Bloody waste of €10. I ate the smears to avoid some tramp fishing them out of the bin. And promptly started to feel sick.

So I set off to find the other Hermé boutique on Rue de Vaugirard to undertake a replacement operation. This, I have now discovered, is the longest road in Paris. I walked for half an hour with gusto and finally arrived to discover the bloody shop had shut.

So I went off to the train station to get my ticket home only to be told there were no trains back to Rouen that night. I was curtly informed there was no way at all for me to return and I would have to wait until morning. Bugger.

I thought it might just be worth double checking at St-Lazare, so nipped off that way in an almighty strop. The departures sign said there was a bus replacement, the man at the information desk said there was a train and the woman at the ticket desk told me there was nothing on the system but she'd sell me (thoughtfully) a ticket anyway.

I strolled back to the Palais Garnier to console my humour and kill the 2 hours until the train/bus moment. There's a cracking little bar just outside so I had a couple of Kirs and took a snap of the excellent view from my table outside. Felt a little better.

Made it home finally at 1.30am after the stopping train took me half way to Rouen and an astonishingly uncomfortable coach took me the rest.

Friday, 1 May 2009


How nice for it to be a bank holiday instead of getting up at 5am to go to school. We went to Honfleur and it was nice and sunny.

The house underneath this painted tarpaulin was being majorly restored. 

I checked my stats recently to see how people get here. My favourite searches this time are

- "patisserie frogs"

- "wet legs"

You can almost understand the former. Almost. But why would anyone have typed the first one in and, having typed it in, how on earth did they end up chez moi?

Shall update the last few days soon.

Thursday, 30 April 2009


Today we put together the fraisier I mentioned a little while ago. Here it is being put together. A layer of Viennese biscuit is placed in a circle, imbibed then covered with a layer of crème diplomate (crème pâtissière lightened with whipped cream and set with gelatin). Then the half strawberries are set into the ring.

Then there is a layer of diced strawberry, another layer of imbibed biscuit and then some more cream.

A very thin layer of marbled marzipan goes on top (not a fan of this, but it is good and kitsch like most classic French patisserie).

Spot of decor in the shape of a marzipan carnation and some huge, clumsy writing. The acetate is still around the entremets hence the condensation covering the strawberries which is a shame for this photo.

We also revised the hideous Moka. Made even more hideous by my ropey inscription. Need to do some practice before the exams...

So exhausted, glad tomorrow is a bank holiday in France.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Hidden Fruit

The above are known as fruits déguisés. They are marzipan combined with various dried fruits such as dates, hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds (nuts qualify as fruit in France). The ones on the left have been candied (i.e. left in a very concentrated syrup) while the ones on the right have been been dipped in cooked sugar (just before it colours and becomes caramel).

I think they are hideous and do not understand the name. What are they disguised as?

We did another little practice for our exams today, knocking out 20 eclairs, 10 carolines, 12 palmiers, 6 apple turnovers and a pear and chocolate charlotte. Nothing there aren't already photos of before.

Starting to get very tired.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Raisins breads

One good thing about getting the hang of the croissant dough I posted about the day before yesterday is that it forms the basis of a host of different Viennoiseries.

Here, for instance, are some pains aux raisins under way. The dough is rolled out as per usual (this is half of a half-batch rolled to 45 x 30cm), spread with some crème pâtissière (except for the margin at the bottom which will be used for sticking) and sprinkled with some macerated raisins. The pastry is rolled from the top down to form a loose sausage, it is chilled and then cut into rounds every 3cm.

Similarly for pains aux chocolats. Base is 45 x 27cm (again, half a half-batch) making the goodies 9 x 15cm each.

An interesting fact is about the chocolate in the eponymous pains. Normally you see them with two batons but sometimes, as here, with one. When there are two batons, they are usually what are known as bâtons boulangers, which are rubbish quality chocolate. The batons in the photo below are not only twice the weight (hence only one) but also made of a much better quality chocolate. So these are the ones to look out for.

We also knocked up another Black Forest Treat to amuse ourselves while the PLF rose.

And here are the goods cooked. Almost over-cooked. While talking to the prof about the best way to cook Viennoiseries, I forgot they were in the oven.

Monday, 27 April 2009


I keep meaning to write a post about the mad people in France. There's a fair amount to say.

On the way to the cinema on Saturday, for instance, I bumped into one of the boulangers from the school (who share science lessons with us). He stopped me in the middle of the street and set off one one about the history of French celts, the oriental origins of the English language and how our problems all started when we dispatched the Jews to Wales.

And yesterday, on the way to the swimming pool, a really odd case came and sat next to me at the bus stop. He told me he was an artist of life, that he'd trained as a lawyer in England in 1986 and how, now, it was terribly funny to think he'd been depressed for so many years. Every now and again he'd pause gravely and try and come out with an English word. When, encouraged, I'd correct him, he'd write it down on a different scrap of paper each time. Very odd words like "bench" and "ambassador" and "rug".

Either nutters or my French is considerably worse than I'd thought.

Here are some flowers in the rain at the swimming pool:

And here I discover my town (really a close suburb to the city centre) is twinned with Edenbridge, right next to my prep school. I'm not sure it's actually that close unless you're a crow. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I discover a Frenchman pretending to be one.