Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Practising icing with a cast plaster 'sponge' and lashings of margarine.

Absolutely livid. Apart from the fact I'm nearly 23, I had yet another major disaster with my pâte levée feuiletée today.

The regular reader of the blog will know that every time so far we have made croissants, something has gone wrong: there wasn't enough time in the proving chamber, not enough time in the oven, over-bodied détrempe &c.

Today was our first assault on the pain au chocolat and I was dead keen to get it spot on. I'm bored of cock-ups.

And things were looking pretty rosy: the pastry rolled out well, they rose beautifully in the proving chamber without leaking a drop of butter, they took well to the final glaze and I was in good time. I popped them into the oven at 180 and retreated to ice some mini-religieuses.

Well, I went to check on how they were developing 15mins later, knowing that they had quite a bit longer to cook, only to find them completely burnt and the oven at 215. And no one was taking responsibility (a wise idea, given my rage).

The person who had popped her bits in next to mine claimed not to have done it (after all, she was cooking pains au choc, too) which leaves me with a slight suspicion there might have been sabotage at play.

Anglo-French Tensions have been running a spot high since the rugby, but taking it out on a croissant is just not cricket.

Monday, 30 March 2009


Picked up the fortnightly Rouen magazine at the pool tonight. This little advert seems typically French:

"Candy Floss" evening

The skating rink at the Guy-Boissière sports centre invites you to a "Candy Floss" evening this Friday from 20h00 to 23h00. Usual entry rates, gloves recommended.

What on earth? Candy floss and ice skating. Why are gloves required? I'm almost tempted to nip along just to find out.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sunday = swimming

Here is one of my swimming pools at sunset yesterday. Today the clocks sprung forward so this evening it shut while it was still light.

The French are pretty good when it comes to swimming pool etiquette... everyone showers, for instance, and the other day a boy said, Excuse me, Sir, when he was about to jump into my patch of the deep end. One thing that I cannot abide, though, is when people who have been larding in the shallow end of your lane push off just as you are coming in to turn. They are always slow swimmers, too. It's the aquatic equivalent of a 2CV pulling out of a side-road into the path of a decent Jag. This happens all the time out here and today yielded a bumper crop of such moments. I like to go for the accidental crack in the ribs as I overtake.

Not that I would want to compare my arms-only front crawl to 5th gear in a Jaguar, but I am getting quicker. I've gone up another notch on my belt and I've pretty much worn out my trunks; a problem exacerbated by my 2nd pet peeve:

In all the French pools I've visited, they have a way of keeping a wet side and a dry side with changing cubicles that have two doors. One door from the exterior and dry side, the other leading to the showers and pools. Once on the wet side you have to be in swimwear. I'm not a fan of cubicles in the first place because when you're 6'3 it's quite a mission to dry properly when crammed into a wardrobe. But the corollary of the wet/dry dichotomy is that once you've changed, you've got no way of washing the chlorine out of your trunks because the basins are on the wet side.

Suffice to say my jammers are really reaching their limit. They've gone very thin which makes them mostly see-through at the rear and unfortunately (for most) massively clingy at the front. Problem is, I've not seen a single pair of trunks like mine either for sale or at the pool which means as soon as they completely disintegrate there's only one thing for it... going French.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

A day in Bois-Guillaume

Saturday is quite a relief after Friday's 5am start. Today I slept until 12.30 then prowled around taking photos of my new location. I've moved to Bois-Guillaume, a nice suburb of Rouen, so named because William the Conquerer's mater built a house here in a wood on the hill.

This little shelter is by the local college, plastered in lunchtime grafitti.

Da Vinci might seem a spot bizarre for a hate-figure, but the school is called Lycée Léonard de Vinci. They teach good English.

Can't escape them.

They teach French worse. The small line in white reads, Le canabis est un fléo pour les jeunnes pour vous en débarrasser, fumer-le!!! or "Cannabis is a scourge for the young, to get rid of it, smoke it." Mental.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Frog's legs - wet legs - chocolate eggs

It's not often you see a dead frog lying by the side of the road like a squirrel. Today was such a day.

The frog was probably out because it was raining after a biblical fashion; and it probably rained because I was out, cycling to school at 5.30am this morning. It was dry when I left the house but the torrents soon started and got heavier and heavier until my saturated trousers could have watered a selection of paddy fields.

It seems the lucky black cat that shot out of nowhere on my way to school yesterday has run out of charm (at least I had it for the exam).

As I was peddling furiously away, aquaplaning into central Rouen, I was then stopped by the police. Where were my lights? Where was my luminous safety waistcoat? (Had to get him to say that three times before I understood. Not a combo you hear every day.)

Fortunately they did not fine me. I begged a pathetic innocence and, moreover, I happen to know the night shift ends at 6am, so they were most probably en route to the police station and couldn't really have given two hoots of a lamb's tail about someone cycling on lit roads in the absence of other traffic.

Today we bashed out some brioches with the leftover dough from yesterday and prepared a new entremets. Allegedly it's  called an Ambrosie but the prof gave off a distinct air of having made up the name on the spot.

At any rate, from the bottom up in French:
- biscuit joconde
- bavaroise à la vanille
- purée de framboise gelée
- bavaroise
- biscuit joconde
- bavaroise
- nappage neutre (shiny, clear glaze)
- décors

All encircled with a ring of biscuit joconde imprimée.

Due to a query from abroad, I'll quickly explain how this kind of entremets is put together. You start with an entremets ring which is a bit like a tart ring but deeper (and without the beaded top, i.e. like a slice through a metal pipe). In this instance, the ring was 45mm deep and 220mm across. It was circular.

- The ring is lined with an acetate film, also 45mm wide and was popped onto a cardboard circle.

- Next a thin strip of the printed biscuit is used to line the ring. Apparently I did not make my explanation of the printed biscuit clear last time, so here's another stab:

You take a large silicon baking sheet and spread out a layer of intensely coloured pâte à cigarette. This is the batter used to make cigarettes. It is a dense, but liquid paste. This is then spread out all over the baking sheet with a painter's comb/false wood stamp to give the desired pattern (which gives something like the 2nd photo here). The whole sheet is then frozen to fix the paste. Finally, the biscuit joconde batter is spread out on top (around 5mm thick) and the whole thing is cooked. You end up with a very flexible sponge with a bright pattern on one side.

The strip is just 3cm wide (i.e. 2/3rds of the height of the finished entremets) and c.5mm thick. The challenge is to try and make the seams invisible.

- Then the various layers (which are all made before assembly begins) are added. The creams are carefully spread out with a spatula and the biscuits placed as flatly as poss.

- The set fruit puree was a new thing for us. Just puree, sugar and gelatin. During preparation, this was set in another entremets ring (200mm diameter) so it was a perfect round with regular thickness. To make it easier to handle it was then frozen (just for the assembly).

- A Bavaroise is a cream which has been set with gelatin. It's traditionally a set crème anglaise. This was the other new component for us which must be why this entremets was chosen.

- The decor was just a quick thing at the end. I was going to fill my white chocolate nest with the Cadbury's mini eggs I carefully brought from England. But I got home to remember I had given them to Thomas for an English tea party at school when we did not have time to make the promised scones.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Exam over

Today we sat our mock exam for our CAP qualification. 'Sat' might not quite be the best verb to use since I was on my feet for 8 hours and didn't have a minute's break. Here was the (admittedly sweet) menu:

- 1 apricot tart, glazed and decorated with almonds
- 1 brioche Parisienne
- 1 brioche Nanterre
- 8 pains au lait
- 8 Kirsch glands
- 8 chocolate eclairs
- 1 mango Charlotte, decorated for a 6-year-old's birthday

Cramming all that into 6 hours (to include washing utensils) made for a damp forehead. About 3 hours in, an enormous ball of pâte sucrée flew across the labo and a large "Merde!" shot out of the mouth of the tall ex-pharmaceuticals rep. He had been defeated by the apricot tart and had already come a cropper on the brioche and eclairs and ended up shedding a salty tear.

For those that gives two hoots, here's a rundown of how my bits went:

- the bottom of the tart was verging on flavoursome, but otherwise all OK

- the brioche went all right (no food colouring this time) and the pains au lait were the best I've made thus far which was a big relief

- the glands were fine but I nearly went completely mad while cramming the eclairs. I had a lump of cacao in my crème pâtissière which got wedged in my piping nozzle and was only letting a tiny stream of cream out. I imagined, because they weren't filling, that the problem was with my pastry and it took me a long time to realize that it was, in fact, fine. At one point I squeezed so hard the industrial strength plastic piping bag burst. In the end, apoplexy was averted when the blockage popped out.

- the entremets was a flipping disaster which just about came through. Despite sneakily cheating and making an extra 20% mousse (I knew from yesterday the recipe was a bit lean) I still did not have enough to properly fill the ring. Then I ran out of time to do the decor after the eclair problem. I did the whole lot in about 4 mins flat, with a really scrappily piped border (far from symmetrical) and rubbish writing.

Well, luckily I passed. Shame it doesn't count a jot.

Forgot my camera so here is an old-school mobile snap...

There was quite an extraordinary man on the bus coming home. I wanted to take a photo of him reading the paper 16ths of an inch from his face but thought it might be a tad obvious. Then he fell asleep. Reflects rather well how I feel at this end of the day.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Exams - transfiguration

More exams!

The course I am currently following at the INBP leads to exams for two different qualifications:
- the national Certificat d'Aptitude Professionnelle (CAP) which legally allows you to open a patisserie
- the Institution's own diploma which is significantly harder to achieve

Both qualifications include written exams on the theory of patisserie, related science and relevant economics/law.

All this to say that although we had a few days of exams the week before last, these were for the INBP diploma which is scored on a rolling basis. Now we are doing a practice for the 7 hour CAP practical we will sit in June at the end of the course.

During the 7 hours (which amounts to 6 + cleaning) you have to make a batch of viennoiseries (a leavened product which might be croissants, pains au chocolat or brioches), a batch either of choux pastry or puff pastry turned into classic products, a fruit tart and a decorated entremets.

We don't choose what we make - that is provided on the exam sheet.

This week, we are taking it in turns to do a dry run using a past paper. We have to make a brioche Nanterre, a brioche Parisienne, 8 pains au lait, 8 chocolate eclairs, 8 salambos, an apricot tart and the entremets, a mango charlotte (with suitable decor for a 6-year-old's birthday).

No mean feat in 6 hours. Of the first group that had a run at this, only one person finished the products on time. And he failed.

The French for mock exam is examen blanc. Our examen blanc is tomorrow but today we had a practice at all the products except the tart (the easiest bit) which makes it a mock, mock exam. Whiter than white.

I am not looking forward to tomorrow, it's going to be very pressured. 

The practice, practice brioche Nanterre.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Croissant - moon

The arse-over-tit croissant saga continues. All was going very well, all according to plan... but I was in the second batch to be ovened, we ran out of time and they had to come out half done. Tasted nice and buttery but were little to behold.

Today we also made a ganache covered sponge (scarcely worth a photo) and some puff pastry (not yet used).

In brief, busy but boring for blogs.

Which reminds me, today the big-boned girl was wearing a lacy blue thong. Shudder. Information gleaned, not from a close encounter, in fact, well, yes, a close encounter with her builder's bum when she dropped a lard-nugget in front of me and darted after it.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Aural Pornography

It being Monday - no time in the kitchen - little to write about. I have had inspiration for a crème brûlée variation which I am very eager to try (more anon.) and I spent our class on Vitamins rolling up paper nets to work out how to create a perfect, hollow chocolate cylinder with wood print all the way around. Work in progress.

None of which is really worth mentioning so I decided not to post. Fortunately something has just happened.

I was struggling to get to sleep (event though it was late) so was browsing the usual YouTube bits and boobs when I hit on this video in the early hours.


I was around three quarters of the way through and the woman was well away with it when I suddenly heard someone get out of bed in the bedroom next to mine. And go to the loo.

Crikey. Did her noise wake them up? Were they awake anyway and listening in and crashing to the loo as a little hint?

Not sure I want to know.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

It's choco time

I've been pacing around all day (well, since waking up at 1) dying to get back in the labo. I couldn't even go swimming as I lost the keys to my bike lock. I ate a lot of Prestige Framboise to make up.

Since I have little better to write about tonight, here is a continuation of the series on chocolate (Part 1, Part 2).

I am going to mention another method of tempering which begins with molten chocolate. Nearly all uses of chocolate begin with molten chocolate whether it's going to be tempered or not. For this reason we permanently keep enormous bowls of molten dark, milk and white chocolate in an étuve (heated cabinet). This way you can gain a lot of time when a recipe/decor calls for chocolate. Hence the practicality of tempering methods which start with molten chocolate.

An interesting by-thought is on the composition of the three chocolates:

Cocoa SolidsXX
Cocoa ButterXXX

By looking at the ingredients like this it's easy to see that milk chocolate contains the essential elements of both milk and dark chocolate. For this reason, if you've been working with white chocolate but it's got contaminated with milk or dark chocolate (e.g. making the decor for the Pavé Royal) you can put any leftovers/cock ups straight back into the milk chocolate bowl in the étuve. And any dark chocolate which may have got a hint of milk or white chocolate can similarly be absorbed back into the milk chocolate mass. Neat-o.


'Tmust be said straight off that this is not a method I have road-tested; but the theory is sound and I've seen it recommended by a Meilleur Ouvrier de France chocolatier, so I think it's probably worth including to make the collection complete (although, NB, there are still more to come). This way of tempering risks taking a long time.

What one does

Put molten chocolate in bowl. Stir it.

How it works (assuming the basic theory here is clear)

As the chocolate slowly cools, assorted crystals will form at the edge (where coolest - think soup). Stirring helps speed up the cooling process. It also redistributes the assorted crystals back into the hotter part of the chocolate where they melt. There will come a time, though, when the mass of chocolate has sufficiently cooled that the beta crystals won't melt while the others will. These will be the seed crystals for the cooling chocolate and once there is a sufficient number, the chocolate is tempered. In a way, it is like the seeding method but instead of adding solid chocolate from without, you're letting it form from within the mass on the sides of the recipient.

If feeling bold, you can leave the chocolate some time without stirring it, until a good crystally crust forms round the edges. You just have to make sure the average temperature of the mass does not fall too far or you risk leaving unwanted crystals in the mix.

The problem with this method is that it's hard to know how you're progressing. There are no obvious indicators like there are with the seeding and tabling methods of how the crystallization is going. So although the method is very simple, it takes a good deal of experience to be able to judge when the chocolate is à point. For this reason, it is probably best to use a thermometer to guide you down to the 32°C you need (making sure you never get as low as 30°C). But, as mentioned before, temperature is only an approximate guide to crystallization...

Also, since chocolate is an excellent retainer of heat, this method could take a boringly long time.


Saturday, 21 March 2009

Tempering Chocolate II

I tried to give a decent explanation of the theory of tempering in this post, where I also described tabling chocolate. Due to the numerous comments left on that post, I've decided to write a little more about tempering chocolate.

What even is chocolate

To understand the best choc to use for tempering (i.e. for uses such as moulding, certain kinds of decor, coating and so on) it's worth thinking about what goes into it. Once cocoa beans have been fermented, dried, toasted, hulled and ground you end up with pure cacao which is about 50% cocoa solids and 50% cocoa butter.

Patissiers use pure cacao for flavouring and colouring creams and icing (e.g. for eclairs) since it has both flavour and colour in abundance. However, pure cacao is also very, very bitter. You'd need to be a bit of a nut to eat it.

Incidentally, if you press the pure cacao you can separate it into coca butter and cocoa solids (which can be ground into cocoa powder).

To make the pure cacao more palatable it is sweetened and fat is added (=dark chocolate). Pop in some milk powder or condensed milk and you get your milk chocolate. Take just cocoa butter and add milk powder and sugar and you end up with white chocolate.

Good quality chocolate

For some reason, word on the street is that a high content of cocoa solids means a good quality chocolate. This is what I had always thought. It is true in part but there is another factor.

Because cocoa butter is a prized commodity, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry (notably for the manufacture of suppositories - think about it), many chocolate manufacturers choose to replace some of the cocoa butter in their chocolate with other fats like vegetable oil.

Naturally, this affects the properties of the chocolate. The alternative fats can make the chocolate waxy or greasy, alter the taste and prevent it from being well tempered.

So a good quality chocolate, for patisserie/cooking, may have a high quantity of cocoa solids (mainly a function of taste) but should definitely have a high quantity of cocoa butter.


The kind of chocolate used by chocolatiers and patissiers is called couverture. Couverture has a particularly high quantity of cocoa butter and no veg fat. The high cocoa butter means it can be tempered very well. It also means the chocolate is very liquid at a low temperature. It flows well which makes it ideal for moulding and covering. Melt a Dairy Milk and you'll have something rather more stodgy.

SEEDING CHOCOLATE - a second method of tempering

Seeding chocolate takes much less space than tabling but is a similarly efficient way of going about the mission.

What you do

Melt 3/4 or so of your couverture. While stirring, add the other 1/4 bit by bit (make sure it is well chopped up or use couverture drops) until the chocolate added only just melts into the mixture. Ready.

How this process tempers the chocolate (assuming the basic theory here is clear)

When chocolate comes from the manufacturer it is already properly tempered, a property which can be used to advantage. The aim is, first, to get your chocolate into a liquid state. Melting most of the couverture at 40-45°C makes sure it is well out of the range in which unwanted crystals risk forming. In adding the solid chocolate, you are putting beta seed crystals back into the mix. These will be the seed crystals which will ensure the chocolate crystallizes as wanted (as when tabling).

If the added chocolate melts quickly, this indicates that the temperature of the molten chocolate is high and it is probable that the seed crystals will have completely dissolved. As more solid chocolate is added and melts, the temperature of the mass drops. Once the added chocolate is barely melting, this indicates that the temperature is around 34°C at which the beta crystals can coexist with the chocolate in liquid form (like ice in water at 0°C). With these seed crystals in place the chocolate can then be used.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Prestigiously printed pâte - chocolate mousse

A nice relaxing day in the kitchen, even if it did start at 6. We only had one thing to make which was a new entremets, a Prestige Framboise. I've not fallen in love with any of the entremets we've made so far but this one really hits the spot for me. From the bottom up: a thin layer of viennese sponge, raspberry mousse (nice and thick, almost 2cm), another layer of sponge, chocolate mousse (similarly thick) and a thin chocolate icing. The load is encircled by a red and white striped sponge. It's basically just a pimped mousse so is really light. That's why I like it.

I was talking to my Mum on the phone about this and she had some questions which I will try and field. The first was about the thin layers of sponge which are so typical of French patisserie. They are around half a centimetre thick. It's not a thicker sponge cut down but actually made that thickness from the start. The sponge batter is simply spread out with a palette knife on a papered baking tray and cooked very quickly (c. 7mins).

Naturally, when you are dealing with something so thin, it also needs to be very regular or patches will burn. Learnt from experience.

The French word for this kind of sponge is, confusingly, biscuit. There are many different kinds which have slight variations in texture. They all combine flour with beaten egg whites. Some contain powdered almonds or gianduja while others are flavoured and coloured with cocoa powder. The biscuits we have looked at so far are biscuit à la cuillère, joconde, dacquoise, génoise and viennoise.

The printing around the edge is achieved with a coloured cigarette paste. You start with a silicone baking sheet, apply a layer of cigarette paste and comb it to form lines (red and wavy in the photo above). The sheet is then frozen and the biscuit proper is spread out thinly on top. The whole lot is baked on a doubled baking tray to prevent coloration underneath (i.e. where the printing is). My printed band above is really rather weak and you can easily see a tonne of air bubbles (despite my vigorous tappings of the baking tray before cooking). While you normally want your sponge as light as possible, for this use you need to take out quite a bit of air by stirring with a spatula otherwise you end up with massive pockets as demonstrated.

The chocolate mousse we used for this recipe is really interesting. A classic homemade choco mousse is simply molten chocolate folded into a French meringue (you might also add the liquid yolks to the molten chocolate). The meringue is what gives the mousse its lightness. This mousse, however, has 3 different lightening strokes: Italian meringue, a bomb mixture and whipped cream.

1. Italian meringue is discussed here.  In essence, you mount your egg whites then firm them up with a syrup. 

2. 'Bomb mixture' is a pretty shoddy translation of the French, appareil à bombe. Or rather, it's an excellent literal translation but I think it's miles off the mark. Simply no idea what we call it in English. What one is, anyway, is mounted egg yolks (these take a lot longer to beat than egg whites) firmed up with a sugar syrup. In other words, an Italian meringue made with the yolks rather than the whites.

3. Whipped cream speaks for itself.
Interestingly, when you combine an Italian meringue with a bomb mixture you are producing a parfait. And when you mix a parfait with whipped cream you are making a kind of sabayon (French for sabaglione). All in all, the resultant mousse is super light.

Half my class did pear and chocolate which also worked very well. I quite fancy trying beetroot and chocolate but I daren't tell my prof...

Thursday, 19 March 2009


Another day, another entremets. Today, a pavé royal: 4 layers of cocoa sponge sandwiching gianduja crème à beurre scattered with crunchy crushed nougatine. All together, rather heavy and about as inspiring as a pot of Nutella.

The decor, however, is bloody spectacular. It uses the same false wood technique as the bois vert but this time in pure (tempered) chocolate. First, the milk couverture is spread thinly at one end of an acetate sheet, then the wood stamp (cf. bois vert) is rocked back and forth across the sheet to give this:

Once the milk chocolate has fixed, two thin layers of white chocolate are applied. This double layer offers extra strength. The reason you do the initial decor in milk chocolate is because this has a higher melting point than white chocolate. If you were to do things the other way round, you'd risk melting the wood pattern. Once everything sets, you can turn over and demould the sheet. It is hard to capture with my photography skills but the choc is very shiny and perfectly flat.

With the one simple concentric circle stamp, you can get a variety of different looks:

Once transfered to the top of the entremets and cut to size you end up with your Royal Slab:

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Vol au Vent

Besides working with chocolate today, we also made a vol au vent and little croûtes de bouchée. As you can see, the French vol au vent is not one of those rancid little things masquerading as a canape but a manly, lidded plateful of puff. 

Control your temper - long, complexe post

Many things in patisserie are simple in theory but tricky in practice; take rolling out a perfectly flat piece of pastry or dressing a row of eclairs of exactly the same size. Other things are easily done while relatively complicated science makes them work; like adding lemon juice to royal icing to make it whiter or whipping cream. One thing which is very hard to do and also really tricky to understand is working with chocolate.

As soon as you scratch the surface of working with chocolate you encounter tempering. You need to use properly tempered chocolate for molding and dipping. Properly tempered chocolate is shiny and has a good crack when you break it. It is also contracts on cooling so it is easy to demould. Chocolate which has not been properly tempered will remain soft at room temperature, be dull and liable to form a bloom.

I've read many different accounts of tempering and even heard first hand the explanations of three different chefs. While they've all explained the theory to differing degrees, none was actually able to make me understand why the tempering processes work. This has bugged me for an awfully long time. I knew all the theory, could even do the tempering, but did not quite understand how it happened.

Today, in the library at lunch time, I had an epiphany and suddenly the whole lot became crystal clear. I thought I would try and offer a really complete explanation for those who have been similarly plagued by chocolate doubt. It's not going to be quick... my prof always tries to make out that everything is easy but I cannot count how many times he has rolled his eyes, sighed and said, "C'est complexe, le chocolat."

What is the thing being tempered?

Cocoa butter is a rare polymorphic fat: it can crystallize in several different forms. (Think carbon forming coal, graphite and diamond.) Most sources seem to agree there are 6 possible cocoa butter crystals. Each has a different melting temperature and different properties. 

gamma16-18°CUnstable, soft, melts easily, dull
alpha21-24°C Unstable, soft, melts easily, dull
beta II26Unstable, no crack, melts easily, dull,
beta I27-29°CUnstable, melts easily, dull
super beta36°CStable but takes a long time to form (weeks)

The tempering processes ensure there are only beta crystals in the cocoa butter so the chocolate is stable, firm, cracks when you break it, shiny and melts around body temperature (in ya bouche).

More on crystals

One crucial fact that I was missing in my comprehension of tempering is that one crystal provokes the formation of other crystals of the same type around it. It's a kind of chain reaction.

Here is a clip of a different crystallization (the kind you get in gel hand warmers), showing how crystallization can flow outwards from a single trigger point (and, here, very quickly).

Beta crystals stack very nicely which is why they are stable, the chocolate is firm and it snaps nicely. Here is another way to help visualize those crystals and the chain reaction (and why tempered chocolate contracts!):

With that key thought in mind, it is clear that to temper chocolate you need to form some beta crystals which will trigger the whole chocolate mass to form in the same way.

How does that help?

Hopefully the above leads one to see that if you have some beta crystals pre-formed in your molten chocolate (and only beta crystals) then, as the chocolate cools, these 'seed' crystals will trigger the formation of other beta crystals. Thus the solid chocolate will consist only of beta crystals. Whoop.


Thus we can say that the aim of tempering is to bring the chocolate to a state where the only crystals present in the molten mass are beta ones. This is why some people prefer to call tempering 'pre-crystallization'; you're setting up some seed crystals so when the whole mass of chocolate crystallizes, the right sort form.


There are many different ways to do this. Today I am going to take on the classic method of 'tabling' chocolate.


What is tabling?

I first saw someone tabling chocolate at a younge age on that Lindt advert from the mid-90s. Tabling is when you pour a load of molten chocolate onto a granite/marble/stainless steel surface and work it with a palette knife or two. If you didn't grow up liking chocolate in the 90s, here's a clip of someone doing it on YouTube for an awfully long time with a great soundtrack. Unfortunately the chap's disabled embedding so you'll have to click away to see it. 

Watch clip here.

What's actually going on here?

Very simple: the chocolate is cooling down. Apart from the intense satisfaction, there are good reasons to do it this way rather than just leave it in a bowl. By spreading the chocolate out it cools quicker. By keeping it moving, it ensures the chocolate cools uniformly and no lumps are formed.

How this tempers the chocolate

The tabling action itself is only a part of this method of tempering. Here's what's going on:

1. The chocolate is heated to c.45°C. At this temperature (see table above) all the crystals have melted so we have a tabula rasa.

2. About 2/3 of the chocolate are tabled. As the chocolate cools quickly, it thickens and a variety of all the different crystals form, including our wanted betas.

Now the aim is to get rid of the other crystals and leave just the betas. This is easy since our betas have the highest melting point. All we need to do is gently re-heat the choc. So...

3. The chocolate is scraped off the table and back into the bowl where the remaining chocolate gently raises its temperature. Once the chocolate heats back up to c.30°C all crystals will have melted except our betas. If the remaining chocolate is not sufficient to raise the temperature all the way, the whole lot should be heated very gently. (Since clearly, if heated above 35°C, the whole process has been wasted since the betas will melt, too.)

Thus we have a bowl of chocolate containing only beta crystals. Ready to use. As the chocolate cools, further beta crystals will form around the beta seeds meaning our chocolate will be just as desired.

While you can feel your way through this process with a thermometer, it's not the temperatures that are crucial but, rather, the texture of the chocolate which reveals the state of crystallization. You can actually follow a tempering curve perfectly (45-27-31°C) and end up with badly tempered chocolate. We are learning to do the whole process by touch (which does take time).

In essence, you know you've reached step 1 when the chocolate is perfectly runny and rather warm to the touch. You know the chocolate is sufficiently cold during step 2 when it has got much thicker (but still just flows). You know you're hot enough during step 3 when the chocolate is just below body temp. We always do a little test by dipping some greaseproof paper or a knife tip into the chocolate and seeing that it sets quite quickly, without marbling or going dull.


This method begs a lot of questions like, (a) Why not just gently melt the chocolate until it hits 30°C? or, (b) Having heated to 45°C why not just cool it 30°C? At least, these are the thoughts that crossed my mind. I'll take the questions on in another installment but as a brief, brief answer, these methods ARE possible but to do (a) you have to melt the chocolate very, very slowly to ensure the chocolate is nice and fluid to work with while to do (b) you need a clever piece of kit to balance the fine temperatures perfectly and prevent the wrong crystals forming.

There are also quite a few more details to fill in like the fact that dark, milk and white chocolate need to be tempered at slightly different heats and the fact that certain chocolate (i.e. couverture) is the kind you need for good tempering.

But it's getting late.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Exam results - day in the life of a croissant

So we were given our results for last week's practical exams. I came 2nd by 0.08 points (the French have a thing about standardizing all marks out of 20). This was frustrating because there was only one person I had hoped to beat and I would gladly have come second from bottom as long as I took him to the cleaners.

Sadly 'twas not to be, and it was him who pipped me by a mere smidge of a point. But, on the subject of cleaners, if you include our hygiene marks in the totals (washing your hands is, after all, an integral part of making a bun) then I happily take the yellow jersey. He's a dirty frenchman.

It's not that I dislike the fellow, in fact, we get on rather well. But he has this tremendous habit of offering you unsolicited, unwanted and even incorrect advice with tensing regularity. He'll tell you your things in the oven are cooked when you've only just checked yourself; he'll peer over your shoulder as you mount an entremets and tell you to centre it on the cardboard; and, best of all, whenever a timer goes off, he'll call out the letter of the group it belongs to, in case they are unable to hear it (despite being closer).

It's all done with the best intentions, though, so one cannot be to harsh to him about it. However, nothing to stop one bitching about it on your blog.

After all that excitement we made croissants. Here are some photos of the process.

1. The détrempe after rising for the first hour. This is a dough with low fat content made with flour, yeast, milk, butter, salt and sugar. The ingredients are quickly mixed to avoid over-developing the gluten then put in a warm place (a prooving oven @ 25°C) to kick start fermentation.

2. After it has been knocked back, the détrempe is treated like that of a normal puff pastry. I.e. it is rolled out, chilled and combined with butter. This 'laminated' dough is folded many times to multiply the layers. Here is the butter about to be folded into the détrempe. The top and bottom flap will be folded in and the butter completely incased. The dough will be given a quarter turn and then rolled out.

3. The newly rolled out dough is given a tour double which looks like this from the side (really nailed the auto-focus on this one).

4. And, after resting in the cold to relax the gluten, a tour simple. Many recipes advise giving more folds to the pastry but our chef recommends fewer since it helps keep the layers in the finished croissant more distinct.

5. After chilling the dough is then rolled out to 50 x 60cm which is a huge size to work with and very tricky. Although we have rolling out machines I decided to practise working by hand since this is what we will have to do for the exam. To get the base that large, I had to chill the dough twice in the middle of rolling out. As the dough heats up, the gluten becomes more elastic which makes the dough retract and well on nigh impossible to work with. Here it is cut into two strips 25cm wide (the length of a croissant).

6. The croissants are then cut out with a kitchen knife. They are 12cm wide and 25cm long. The length of the hypotenuse is the root of the sum of the squares of the two other sides (assuming a right-angled triangle). Before rolling into shape, each croissant is gently teased along its length to maximise size. The notch helps give a little bit of extra length to the finished croissant. If the last two sentences are not clear, you can see the moves in action in this clip (not me).

7. The croissants are placed directly on a baking sheet, glazed with egg then left to prove for a couple of hours. Then re-glazed. I had to really rush my glazing because prof had started a demonstration so it was a pretty amateur job. Here they are about to go into the oven. Boob of a photo.

8. Sadly I was a little after the others in ovening my croissants. This meant they were scarcely cooked when everyone else started bashing around taking theirs out. Mine took a bit of a pounding, deflated and came out looking pretty pants. Really rubbish, actually. Och, aye, you win some, you lose some (occasionally by just 0.08 of a point...)

PS I've not detailed the full recipe since I doubt anyone would actually want to try this. But I would happily post it if there is a sod who fancies it.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Monday Blues

A monumentally boring day of theoretical lessons beginning with the structure of French government and concluding with the difference between mono and poly-unsaturated fats. I find this information helps me make better croissants.

Back in the kitchen tomorrow, thank goodness.

In other news, I have been sniffing out how people are getting to this blog. I can find out what search terms have been leading people here (not many, it turns out). The best so far is: "cheap kitchen worktops"

In keeping with Saturday's example of French statuary, here in a snap from the other weekend in Honfleur...

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Ze weekend continues - more snaps, further swimming pool reflections

There was an 'aquathlon' at my pool today. I didn't know until I got there having taken a puncture and lost the keys to my lock en route. Friday the 13th cropping up a few days en retard. Caught the podium though.

Further to my last post about French swimming pools and the speedo law, I went swimming in Paris last weekend when I was there for a salon. I thought this sign was really taking things a spot too far - why do they never get natives to do translations?

Although, as it happens, a friend's father was at a wee Scottish prep school where the boys used to swim naked. As a Sunday treat, the headmaster would jump in too, similarly attired. (Just after confession...)

Also subsequent to the last installment, we have acquired some spectacular swimming goggles. This had led to some underwater eye-opening experiences. First discovery was that there are cameras all around the interior of my lido, peering into the pool through reinforced windows. Where do they link to? Who watches (apart from Hamish McHamish, PGCE)?

Second discovery which may help to explain part (A) is that many of the (often unfortunately older/uglier) women swim topless. They slip into bikinis to flit to the showers but whip them off once in the water. I like to take on the odd breaststroke.

Ze weekend - a few snaps

Just a wee statue from the local sports ground.

And what on earth does this mean? All I can make out is a rather funny jet ski. Surely there can't be that many jostling to take on the Seine?

Friday, 13 March 2009


NB Congratulations to the clever reader who spotted the deliberate test spelling of pair for pear. A prize Belle Hélène on its way as we speak...

Today we attacked something totally new which was a great pleasure after a week of high-pressure revivals. We took on a raspberry charlotte.

A charlotte is a type of dessert incased in a spongey layer which, as my Dad rightly informs, can even be bread. A summer pudding, if you're pushing your defs, could be considered a charlotte. Our one was very much removed from that monstrosity, glad to say.

A classic patissier's Charlotte is made with a ring of sponge fingers lining the circumference of a mould. We used the nifty trick of piping our fingers just a few mms apart so as they spread during cooking they auto-stuck together - a top tip. Freshly baked fingers are soft with a little bite on the outside and easy to make. No point wasting time going to the shops to buy plastic ones.

Anyway, having lined our entremets ring with a 6cm high ring of sponge fingers, we lined the bottom with a 1/2cm layer of sponge imbibed in an alcoholic raspberry syrup, added a layer of raspberry mousse, then another alcoholic sponge, then some more mousse topped with a layer of whole raspberries then glazed. A sprinkle of pistachios for decor.

I shall try and photo this tomorrow. [UPDATE: Try being the operative word as I only remembered halfway through its being cut up and could not get my camera to focus in the half-light. It'll have to go down as an arty snap.]

As we move onto more fruit based produce, it is even more frustrating that we do no taste. For instance, in making the raspberry mousse a great deal of sugar is added to cancel the acidity of the fruit. But we are just expected blindly to follow a recipe without thinking about what we are doing or checking if the balance is good on the palate. True, we are working with frozen puree which is homogenized and regularized to death so you might be sure of its acid content but I, personally, feel that is rather besides the point.

Too bad.

PS Thanks for the various requests for photos of me in my uniform.  More cash will need to be forthcoming...

Thursday, 12 March 2009

End of notation - more bloody brioche

Phew, it's all over and not without palpitations. As predicted, today we had to do our 6 hour brioche. Bother. Mine was heading for a train crash right from the word go. I did my initial mixing at a smidgen too high a speed (unawares), causing the dough to heat up so that when I added my butter, everything went greasy. Then, when I was knocking the dough back on my work surface I managed to roll it in some very strong powdered food colouring which I must have spilt when practising my paintbrush writing. The dough ended up with large dark brown/orange streaks and spots all over it. Was in a big rage.

Fortunately wile the dough was proving, I cooked my Pithiviers which came out nicely and shows the tricky decor I mentioned which is done with a paring knife. At around 10 o'clock you can see where someone slammed the poor thing into the oven and nearly sent me into orbit.

I then managed to burn yesterday's pear tart due to everyone fannying around with the oven. This did not help feelings of good fortune. My dough was taking an extremely long time to rise and I was now getting concerned that not only would it be multi-coloured and greasy but also just rubbish.

What joy, then, to slip them into the oven and return to find them looking glorious. They turned out really well and a lot better than deserved and all was a great relief. The little ones all had upright heads and the loaf did not deflate at all... I did not over-raz the little pains-au-lait which is so easy and the couronne, while lacking a huge deal of finesse, was deffo my best yet. Phew.

For my lunch, I bought these:

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Notation 2 - pressure cooker

Our tests continued today with a lot of tasks to complete. We started by preparing some crème d'amandes and some pâte sucrée. We then had an hour to line 6 tartlets, one large large tart ring (with fancily pinced edges), line with the almond cream and garnish with apricots and pears. That was all right on the time front.

We then had half an hour to produce 5 each of 4 different piped shapes for fours poche like these (i.e. spiral, rosette, tear and double tear with mini rosette). In the same half hour we also had to knock out a marzipan rose with leaves. This was very testing time-wise because to get the piping sufficiently regular (not only amongst the pieces of the same type but maintaining the proportions between them) is monumentally tricky. I restarted several times and got very hot and nearly sweated through my paper hat.

We then had half an hour to produce three marzipan plaques (for want of a proper English word) inscribed in chocolate with birthday, easter and, curiously, baptism wishes.

Writing with a cornet (and attempting French cursive script at the same time) is bloody hard. If you've never tried/seen, imagine writing with a paper pyramid from which flows a thin ooze of chocolate you cannot stop. You cannot rest your hands on the writing surface so you have to hover and the tip cannot touch the plaque so you have to squeeze the stuff out from a cm above and hope it drops in the right place. There are several surgical procedures I would sooner attempt under pressure.

I popped my accent on the wrong vowel of baptism (not a word I often use in French) and had to scrape it off. Not entirely successfully as you can see below. And I left an 's' off the end of Joyeuses. Trust the French to make Easter a plural noun. Apparently no one told two of the natives either.

I was, however, happy with my marzipan. Everyone else was doing random cut-outs with corrugated pastry-cutters so I thought I would try and be arty.

I love the fact the French will wish you a joyful Easter, a happy birthday but just a 'baptism'.

Our hardest task was just an hour to give the last turn to our puff pastry, crimp out a Pithiviers (with its impossibly tricky decor) and produce 6 decorated apple turnovers. This is really not a lot of time given everything needs to rest after each phase of production and between the two layers of glaze. These shall be cooked tomorrow. I was dead chuffed that in its raw state my Pithiviers looked better than the ones I've made before. But I hadn't set a very high standard. And the cream will probably leak out in the oven while the pastry deflates.

So it was quite a pressured day. And once again we are glad that pastry kitchens are air-conditioned.

Unfortunately, unless I am very much mistaken, tomorrow we will have to whip up brioche from scratch to cooled final product in just 6 hours. Not so fun.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Notation - spatula haircuts

This week we are being marked on our practical work. This means producing items under test conditions and submitting them to the chef for criticism.

Today my group had to make our usual pâte à choux trio (religieuses, eclairs and salambos) and prepare some feuilletage for tomorrow. I was not at my best on the dressing front, producing one eclair which exceeded the others in length by a good 15% (taking after its maker, I suppose). No idea of marks yet (still have various tests to undergo) but I certainly shan't be top. I doubt whether an English type would be allowed to come top, anyway, so it's not too much to cry about.

Since there are already endless photos of nuns on my blog, no photos of today's produce. Here is a little snap of a hairdresser which mildly tickles my goose since maryse is the French for spatula. Tempted to nip in for a snip just to see what you get.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Pizza Venda

First I brought you a supermarket in a vending machine. Now I give you an ATM-thing which sells you pizza cooked to order. It's unmanned. Fully automated.

This is a real pizza hut.

Sunday, 8 March 2009


Today I went to the Salon National de Boulangerie, Pâtisserie, Glacerie et Traiteur, a big industry trade fair in Paris. Didn't take any good photos but here is a wee soupçon of what you could have seen if you'd been there, by my side:

That tash alone made the trip worthwhile.