Kentishtowner Kitchen: The Patisserie Diaries (Part 1)

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16Shares So here I stand in my spotless chef whites, tool box in hand and taste buds at the ready. …


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So here I stand in my spotless chef whites, tool box in hand and taste buds at the ready. This column will follow the highs and lows as I attend 6 months of pastry school in a valiant attempt to start building the business I’ve always dreamt of. It’s the beginning of a journey that will undoubtedly be littered with blunders and triumphs, from sunken middles to the perfect crumb.

As a single woman at the symbolically-loaded age of 33, I’m doing this for me. I’ve lived in my beloved Kentish Town for 8 years and have the support of wonderful friends and family who’ve endured my misery and indecision long enough. I’m excited, determined and scared, but the overriding factor is simply the regret of not trying.

I’ve always had an affinity for baking; one of my most visceral childhood memories is eating raw cake mix straight from the bowl – or covering everything within a 5 mile radius with luminous hundreds and thousands. I vividly remember coming home after a morning spent baking fairy cakes for Brownies only to discover that everything, including the paper cases, had disappeared. With the guiltiest expression an animal can muster, my dog crawled out of the kitchen in slug-like fashion and went straight to her bed. Undeterred (and with the dog shut out) I whipped up a second batch to the later admiration of my fellow Brownies.

At 16 I won a national modelling competition. A skinny, gawky redhead, I was never a hit with the boys, and winning was as shocking to me as everyone else.

Sat in Kings Cross waiting for a train home after the first competition shoot and with a doughnut half in hand, half in mouth, a woman approached me and revealed she was a scout for Models 1.

That was it – the bright lights of London and a new exciting life beckoned, and as soon as school finished I was off travelling and working in New York, Paris and Milan.

Back in London I took a degree and having glimpsed the magazine world, decided that was for me. I landed my first position as Beauty Assistant at Marie Claire and enjoyed a couple of years there until the novelty of the perks wore off, the excitement turned to boredom and the monotony of office routine set in. When I started suffering from anxiety I quit and entered what I call my ‘wilderness years’, working where I could to pay the bills while pondering my next move.

After volunteering at an Oxfam shop, I took a job managing an Oxfam Boutique. The stable income was a relief and in my spare time I started to cook again: dinner for friends, birthday cakes…basically any excuse I could find. There were some disasters but mostly my tasters’ reactions were positive. It was ‘baking therapy’, and it prevented me sitting around worrying about everything. I ploughed though cookbooks for inspiration, religiously followed numerous cooking shows, and simply thought ‘I can do that.’

So at the beginning of this year I started a part time introduction to patisserie at Westminster Kingsway College and found out I loved it. Laden with baked goods each week, I tested them on friends and found myself convincing people the items really were made by me. Their reactions spurred me on and when it was over I knew I had to keep going. I handed in my notice and in July progressed onto the International Patisserie Diploma. It is a big commitment but it’s hugely important to me to train properly and feel confident that I really know what I’m doing.

So, for the next six months the pastry kitchen will be my home. I’ll report back on my experiences as I progress and add in some recipes, photos and tips from the chefs along the way. To kick things off? Raspberry & Lemon Curd Madeleines. Yum.

This is box title
I’ve adapted the batter recipe taken from The Art of French Baking by Ginette Mathiot.

The great thing about Madeleines is that the batter is even better prepared in advance, chilled, baked in time for tea and served warm. They are made from a whisked sponge mixture piped into moulded tins that give the finished cakes their characteristic shell like appearance. (You’ll need to buy a madeline tin. These aren’t too tricky to hunt down and shouldn’t cost much more than a tenner).

Preparation time – 20 mins & 2 hours chilling time
Cooking – 8-10 mins
Serves 6

125g butter, melted and cooled plus extra for greasing
2 large eggs
150g caster sugar
150g sifted plain flour, plus extra for dusting
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
Punnet of raspberries
Lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Grease the madeleine tin with butter and lightly dust with flour, removing any excess that hasn’t stuck.

Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk for 5 minutes until pale and tripled in volume. Slowly fold in the flour and butter, then the lemon zest and pinch of salt. Chill the batter in the refrigerator for 2 hours before baking.

Fill the madeleine shells no more than half way with the batter, either piping or spooning it in. Press a raspberry into the centre of each one, so the rim and hole at the top are just still showing. Don’t be tempted to overfill the shells as they’ll spill into each other and lose their lovely shape. If you have more batter than will fit in your tin just bake them in batches. Bake for about 8-10 minutes.

Pop the madeleines onto a wire rack and once cool enough to handle, fill the raspberry centres by piping in some lemon curd.

So please, drop me a comment if you have any baking questions and I’ll do my best to help you out. Happy baking!

Words & Pics: Clare Zerny

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  • James Houston

    Sounds like a great adventure – best of luck with that and I look forward to the updates. Can you recommend any good shops for baking / general catering equipment near Kentish Town? I know of the shop opposite Boots on Camden High Street (quality varies) and Nisbets on Shaftesbury Avenue which is great but quite far.

  • fiona sant

    What a fantastic column! can’t wait to read it..I’m just starting to sell my cakes again but I only have three, so am not much competetion to anyone (apart from people that only have two). I look forward to all your updates and hope you have a brilliant experience at patisserie scool!

    • Clare Zerny

      Hi Fiona, Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.
      Good luck with your cake venture and if you are unsure about anything, drop me a message and I’ll ask one of our chefs if I can’t help you!
      Clare

  • Clare Zerny

    Hi James,

    I spoke to our chef today and other than Nisbets in Covent Garden there is also a place called ‘Home Chocolate Factory’ near Staples Corner that has loads of moulds and other patisserie equipment too. http://www.homechocolatefactory.com

    Online you can also try –
    http://www.squires-shop.com – they have lots of cake decorating and sugarcraft paraphernalia
    http://www.lockhartcatering.co.uk/ – who deal with light and heavyweight catering equipment
    http://www.chefs.net/ – CCS chef supplies have good quality catering equipment and clothing

    Hope that helps!
    Clare

  • Claire

    So glad I stumbled across this brilliant post… I am about to start a part time patisserie course at Westminster Kingsway too (perhaps the one you did!) in the hope of building the courage to break away from the office job and pursue my pipe dreams. So thank you for sharing your journey; I can’t wait to read all about it!

    • Clare Zerny

      Brilliant! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, the chefs are all lovely and I made good friends there too. Good luck!

  • fionasant

    Clare, that’s very lovely of you, thankyou! v much looking forward to next column!