North London's Cultural Guide

Kentishtowner Kitchen: Patisserie Diaries (Part 2)

We begin and I’m feeling overwhelmed. After being unceremoniously dumped, the future I had envisioned now has a decidedly sunken middle. In a new environment with new people and an anxiety-inducing ten grand fee, I’m deliberating if I’ve made the right decision. I want to run home and hide under the duvet. And I’m even more worried about my enthusiasm levels than the money. After saving the fees renting my living room, money is tight but bills are covered, and with inordinate amounts of food to bring home, at least there’s no risk of student-esque malnutrition. I just want so desperately to love it. Friends tell me to give it time; despite my agitation, I know it’s what I want.

So thankfully I do. Like a Victoria sponge, my mood begins to rise from one of desolation to excitement for my new life and all its possibilities.

‘I wish I hadn’t had that last glass of rose’
Being the course’s pilot year, we’re an intimate class of three. The college is eerily quiet and hard to envisage teaming with 16-18 year olds. We settle into our own kitchen and surrounded by a mountain of baking paraphernalia, the sugar-fest kicks off with: pastry.


We learn modern and classic techniques for savoury and sweet shortcrust pastry, choux, puff and other laminated dough-like croissants. It’s dawning on me that there’s a lot of information to absorb and that patisserie really is a science with correct proportions, procedure and temperature all necessary for the perfect bake. I haven’t learnt so much in years and, nervous of whether the stream of information is actually sticking, I decide to conduct my own at-home bake-off. It’s one thing following chef’s instructions, another to go it alone in your own kitchen. So several pasties, a quiche and toffee apple tart later, I’m chuffed (along with my drooling flatmates) to discover I have improved. I can do it!

The bake-off conquering Quiche

Top Pastry Tips

There’s just so much to pastry, and a plethora of great recipe books so instead I want to share a selection of the best tips I’ve learnt along the way. Hopefully they’ll help avoid the soggy bottoms Mary Berry’s worst nightmares are made of.

1. All pastry requires precision so it’s important to weigh ingredients carefully including water.

2. Coldness is key, so keep butter in the fridge until needed and you’ll find it far easier to rub into the the flour. Whack a few times with a rolling pin to soften. Voila, soft yet cold!

3. As well as relaxing the gluten to help prevent shrinkage, chilled dough is also far easier to handle. Wrap in baking parchment to prevent sweating and chill for at least an hour. Overnight is ideal. Spare shortcrust pastry can also be frozen for later date, or add flour and hey presto, crumble top.

4. When flouring a surface you’re looking for just enough to prevent sticking without affecting consistency. Throw the flour diagonally using the same action to skim a stone across water. Give it a little welly for the lightest coating.

5. To keep thickness even when rolling, start from the middle and roll upwards, then again from the middle downwards. Turn the pastry as you go rather than working it left to right. Patch any tears by moistening with water and pressing a little dough on the ‘wound’. Dust with a little flour before you begin rolling again.

6. Use your rolling pin to move the pastry and use excess dough to push it into the corners – it’s less likely to tear than with your finger. For tins under 10cm in diameter, roll the dough to approximately 2-3mm thick, for anything over 10cm leave it a little thicker, about 5mm and leave an overhang to compensate for shrinkage, any excess can be cut off later.

7. Don’t forget to prick the pastry with a fork to let steam escape before blind baking then make a cartouche by screwing up baking paper several times, laying it over the pastry and filling with beans before blind baking.

8. Melted chocolate brushed on blind-baked sweet pastry then left to set before adding filling will prevent leakage and add flavour. For savoury pastry use egg yolk then give it another few minutes in the oven to seal.

9. Remember to keep a watchful eye on your dish as it’s cooking. Despite recipes stating certain times, every oven is different and it’s frustrating to over bake by just a couple of minutes.

Savoury Choux Beignets
Basil & Parmesan Beignets
I had no idea that choux pastry, synonymous with eclairs and profiteroles, can actually be used to make savoury fritters called beignets. The difference is the pastry is deep fried rather than baked. They are utterly delicious, easy to make and when served up at a recent K-Town soiree, everybody loved them. To add a little elegance they can be made into quenelles which, in the classic French repertory, are delicate dumplings – a paste formed into an oval shape then poached. These days, a quenelle can be just about anything so long as it retains that classic shape.

Choux Pastry Recipe
200g water.
150g butter
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
150g strong flour
4 eggs

To make the Beignets
Vegetable Oil for deep frying
Kitchen Towel
Baking paper cut into 12/8cm pieces on a tray

Flavour ideas
Basil & parmesan – chop the basil and grate the parmesan
Spinach & goats cheese – chop the fresh spinach and goats cheese
Halloumi, sundried tomato & chilli – chop halloumi, tomato and chilli
Sift the flour, salt and sugar. In a pan bring the water and butter to the boil before turning down the heat and adding the dry ingredients. Keep stirring for two minutes, so the mix cooks out. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Meanwhile chop your chosen ingredients and add to the choux once cool. Be sure to chop the ingredients fine enough so they cook through during deep frying.

To make the quenelles, take two dessert spoons and dip them in hot water before scooping out a spoonful of the mixture. Take the second spoon and scoop out the contents of the first – you should now have a rugby ball shape. Repeat the process as many times as necessary, dipping the spoons in the water when necessary to keep a smooth finish. Put two on each piece of baking paper – you should get about 14 altogether and chill in the fridge to firm up till needed. Heat the oil in a pan or deep fryer to 190°C, then ease the paper with quenelles into the oil, keeping hold of one end and removing the paper once unstuck. Fry on both sides until golden brown then rest on kitchen towel to soak up any excess oil, sprinkle with salt and serve.

Words & Photos: Clare Zerny

For last month’s inaugural Patisserie Diaries click here.

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.