Tuesday, 12 April 2016

SPEECH: Le Cordon Bleu ask me back to speak to and inspire students. Help.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. It's been SUCH a long time since my last post but with good reason. Work really does get in the way of blogging but I can't and won't complain. I love my job and I'm incredibly lucky. My post this evening is in honour of my time at Le Cordon Bleu. I left almost a year to the day and so much has happened in that time. Some good, some not so good. As ever, I've learnt a huge amount along the way, and this post is really all about that. 

Just before Christmas the team at the school got in touch with me. They'd read my blog and wanted me to speak at their next graduation ceremony. To the students. And be THE guest speaker. Not the warm up but THE guest speaker. ME! Not being one to turn down an opportunity, or a meal at a fancy hotel I said yes even though the inner me was saying no, on repeat and rather loudly. It was deafening but 'yes' won and it was agreed that I would speak at the March graduation ceremony to be held at The Intercontinental Park Lane to the graduating students, their friends and family and the entire teaching staff from Le Cordon Bleu. Approximately 300 people they said. Fuck. (Sorry, I know it's rude to swear but its allowed when public speaking is involved, don't you think?)

I spent weeks putting the thought to the back of my mind and such is life, the next thing I knew, the ceremony was happening the following week. I opened the lid of my Mac and like magic the pages began to fill and what looked like a reasonably well structured speech came out. I'd been tasked to inspire the graduates and to talk to them about careers in the food industry outside cheffing. As you know, I'm not a chef and so they felt it would be interesting for those also wishing to explore alternative avenues to know what might be possible. 

I thought it might be a nice idea to share my speech with you. Why not?! I got up there and said it out loud to frankly way too many people, my Mum included who I was actually quite glad to see in the front row, smiling back at me. Reminded me of dance recitals when I was little. I got up on stage, even though the last time I'd done anything like this must have been some 15 years ago when I was at school and after many hours spent practising with my drama teach, Miss Neave, and even after the headmistress, sat next to me had commented that one of the fathers was 'rather disappointed' that the school hadn't selected a celebrity alumni to speak....I die. 

So here it is, I hope you find it interesting! Do forgive me if there are any spelling or grammatical errors. I'm dyslexic and the English language is confusing. 

Thank you Miss Grey for the wonderful introduction! And thank you to Le Cordon Bleu for inviting me here to speak to you today. I feel very honoured to be sharing this special moment with you.

I was a little surprised however as I’m not a chef! But, as it turns out, that’s why I’m here – to tell you all about life after Le Cordon Bleu if you decide to take your career in a slightly different direction, but one which of course uses the skills that you’ve now gained.  

When I enrolled in 2014, unlike many others, I already knew that a chef’s life wasn’t for me. I’ll tell you all about that in a moment or two but first, having been in your shoes just less than a year ago, I appreciate how tired, happy and in need of a drink you are so let’s first raise our glasses and toast to your success!! Just think, unless you want to, you never have to make a Gateau Opera ever again!

You should all feel incredibly proud of yourselves.

So, as I mentioned, I never wanted to be a chef and therefore I’m not. Before enrolling, first I achieved a BA honors degree in Marketing from the University of Plymouth. Following this I moved to Bristol and went on to work in the design and advertising industry for 8 years. Whilst working in this field I had the opportunity to work very closely with my client, Unilever, assisting with the development of many of their large-scale advertising campaigns for brands such as Persil, Lynx, Dove, Carte D’Or, Flora and Knorr. It was whilst working with the food bands that my passion for all things food began to grow and blossom. I was becoming a “foodie”.

The more projects I was involved in, the closer I became to the chefs I was working with, chefs such as Jean Christophe Novelli and the great Marco Pierre White, and the more I learnt from them. I thrived on their passion and this drove me to want to learn more. But it wasn’t only them who I looked up to. I was also working very closely with food photographers, home economists, food writers and journalists, all whom shared my passion for food – for making it, for preparing it, for dressing it and for making it look as appealing to others as possible. I couldn’t get enough.

At the same time, like many others in the UK, I was caught up in the Great British Bake Off whirl wind and I was spending a large proportion of my spare time baking for fun, and testing out new recipes on rather willing friends and family. The more I baked the better I got and the more compliments I began to receive. When the show came to an end in 2013 many of my friends encouraged me to enter for the following year and so I did. I thought that by entering I might gain more exposure to the industry and for a moment thought I might even be able to change the course of my career to focus solely on food.  

After many phone interviews I was invited to the studio in Bristol and asked to bring my wares with me. Terrified I did so and although the show producers loved my wild rabbit pies and celebration cake, sadly I wasn’t selected. Making it down to the last 100 from 16,000 felt like an achievement in itself but of course, it wasn’t quite enough. I hadn’t even met Paul Hollywood!

Feeling a little disheartened that the chances of my becoming the next Mary Berry now seemed dashed, I returned to work and discussed my experience with my colleagues and the chefs I’d been working closely with. One of them looked me square in the eyes and said, “Is that it? Are you going to give up just because a TV show didn’t see the passion you have?” He was right. We spoke more about my career and what it was that I wanted to do and he pointed me in the direction of Le Cordon Bleu and encouraged me to fully immerse myself in the world of food. He told me that by training at culinary school, but not any old culinary school, this culinary school that the opportunities following my studies would be endless, and again, he wasn’t wrong.

The next thing I knew, the papers were signed and my Mum was measuring my head to make sure my chef’s hat would fit! Before joining I shadowed food stylist, spent time with food photographers and turned my hand to writing and blogging. Jumping in with both feet really helped me to gain confidence.

Before I go on to tell you a little more about what it is that I do now, I want to share a couple of success stories with you from those who graduated alongside me;

·      First - Charlotte. We were stood next to one another during our intermediate exam. We were assigned the dreaded gateau Opera and we had that moment of confusion as to whose ganache was whose. Luckily we managed to work it out before it melted in the heat of the patisserie kitchen! When I saw Charlotte’s masterpiece next to mine I knew she was going to go on to achieve great things. Charlotte now works at Sexy Fish. For those of you who know of the restaurant, you’ll know that she’s in a fantastic kitchen. For those of you who don’t, Sexy Fish is one of the most on trend restaurants of the moment. The work she posts on Facebook and Instagram is phenomenal.
  •      Ling works in the pastry kitchen at The Shangri’la Hotel in the Shard
  •      Graf is at The Langham
  •      Cat has gone on to work at London’s most delicious bakery, Gails
  •      Julia has set up her own business in San Paulo, Brazil  
  •      Omri has gone to Lyle’s of London
  •      And Malak and Sundus have joined forces and set up their own supper club, which they run alongside their day jobs! 

And this is just a very small snippet of success stories and all in under a year. But not everyone has gone on to become a chef, as you know, I haven’t, and neither have others, such as Ryane, nor Hollie who I also studied alongside. Rayne is now a full time recipe writer, photographer, stylist and chef at Andaz Hyatt, a boutique hotel and Hollie has worked alongside the great Mary Berry!

As for me, I continued to gain as much experience in the world of food as I possibly could. Whilst studying I worked at Crosstown Doughnuts so that I could continue to learn from baking experts and understand more about food presentation. Here I learnt the importance of social media in the modern food industry and how new food business start from their online appearance and work out, taking into consideration the lighting and surfaces they fit within their shop or restaurant and how this will translate in a photograph. I continued to shadow food stylists and even landed a three-day styling placement on the set of the Great British Bake Off, in the actual tent, which entirely made up for the previous years rejection.

Following my intermediate exams and intense celebration cake course, I very quickly landed a position at Sauce Communications, a PR agency dedicated to food. How? I emailed them explaining that due to my slightly random collection of skills…That I didn’t really fit anywhere else and that they needed to strongly consider hiring me. Without a live job role available, they heard my plea, asked me in for an interview and the next day offered me a job and I absolutely love it.

I’m surrounded by like-minded people every day and the knowledge of the culinary world gained here at Le Cordon Bleu really has put me in incredibly very good stead. Rather than working as chef, I work with chefs’ day in, day out. At Sauce Communications we work with chefs such as John Quilter, Michel Roux Jr., The Hairy Bikers, James Martin, John Torode, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, Tom Aikins, Tom Kitchen, Ben Tish, Tom Kerridge, Theo Randall and Jason Atherton to name but a few.

My role at the agency is rather unique. I work with restaurants, event such as the BBC Good Food Show and food and drinks brands, some well established and others on the road to success. I’m there to consult them, help them with their digital image, their branding, their packaging and in some cases advise them on the product its self. I then help them to communicate their brand and product to the press and eventually to the consumer.

Every day is different; this morning for instance I had breakfast with Alice Lervine and Laura Jackson, who you’ll know of if you’re a fan of Radio 1 or the London supper club movement. We met to talk about a new frozen cocktail ice lollipop brand at The Dean Street Town House – the food was amazing. A great perk to the job.  

Last week I spent the afternoon with a client of mine, Chef James Walters, in Borough Market, learning about the diversity of tahini and Levantine foods and I'm feel very lucky to be able to work closely with Instagrammers such as Clerkenwell Boy, Symmetry Breakfast and Food Feels, and bloggers such as Nicola Milbank.

No two days are the same, and like most jobs there are challenges but finally, after 10 years, a degree in marketing, 8 years in design and advertising and qualifications in Patisserie I finally feel that I’ve found something that I’m really good at, and something that I love doing. My clients, when they discover that I studied here, seem to respect my opinion far more as they understand that it comes from a place of experience.

As I mentioned, whilst studying towards my patisserie diploma I wrote a blog, detailing my experiences week by week. I’d like to read you a very short extract;

It seems crazy to me that only a matter of months ago I was stood in the patisserie kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu, dazed and confused having just quit my job and moved 120 miles down the M4 to the city of London. I’m surrounded by 18 year old school leavers, wearing Crocs, something I swore upon the fashion bible that I'd NEVER do, a pristine white jacket and a hat not too dissimilar to that of a naval officer.

When I met my form for the very first time I was prepared to have to work twice as hard as the school and university leavers surrounding me, those who still remembered how to revise, and three times as hard as those who'd worked in the catering industry prior.

I was prepared to have to grasp the sciences and tackle my inability to retain the French language. You see, I gave up studying towards my French GCSE after scoring 2% on a test paper. The marks gained, I believe, were for correctly naming and dating my answer sheet. The rest was utter tripe, but I felt ready to learn all that Le Cordon Bleu had to teach me about the art of French pastry, which now, in theory, I know. My time at Le Cordon Bleu was by no means easy, but it was worth it in every way.

Finally I’m going to say this to you. Well done. What you’ve achieved already is incredible and I’m more than confident that you’ll all go on to achieve great things. If you want to become a chef, become a chef – go out there and be the best chef you can be! Take inspiration from Mother Nature, push boundaries, and don’t be afraid of the competition or the hard work. Instead let it drive you. And if you don’t want to be a chef, don’t be a chef! The options really are endless and the name ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ is like a golden key - it opens so many doors. This is just the beginning – all you need to do now, is to carve the right path for you.

The way I like to think about it, is that sometimes your passion is who you should be, and it is so amazing to wake up in the morning and know that what my passion is, is what my job is. What ever you decided to do after today, make sure that you’re passionate about it, and then it’ll never feel like work. I promise.  Good luck and thank you for listening!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Ready, steady, bake! Week 2

Last week on The Great British Bake Off it was biscuit week. Contestants spent the weekend whipping up arlettes, ginger bread, biscotti, macarons and sandwich biscuits. Having never made arlettes, and wanting to repeat only the recipes studied whilst at Le Cordon Bleu, I opted to repeat making pistachio macarons. 

Many weeks ago, when sat in front of chef watching him whip up hundreds with ease, the task seemed simple, easy even. Back in my own kitchen, with only my hand written notes for assistance and less than professional ingredients lined up, I was dubious as to how these patisserie delicacies would turn out. 

If you'd like to find out how I got on many weeks ago when making macarons under the watchful eye of Chef, have a little click here: Le Cordon Bleu Week 9 - Macarons they were pretty rad. This weeks...not so much. 

Now with macarons there are hundreds and hundreds of recipes floating around, every baker worth their weight in salt has one and they differ only slightly but those slight alterations can make a world of difference. Opting to follow the recipe provided by Le Cordon Bleu (foolishly perhaps as I could barely read my own handwriting), I first scanned my comments. Whilst studying I enjoyed making a side note, to remind myself if I liked or disliked the bake. On the macaron page sat two recipes, the first for French macarons and the second, Italian. My side note next to the French recipe read "approach with caution, crunchy and not at all delicious". Next to Italian "chewy pillows from heaven". 

Pillows from heaven won and so I went about making the Italian meringue base and sieving the ground almonds. This is where I felt that shop brought ingredients let me down. At Le Cordon Bleu, not to boast, but the ground almonds were so finely ground which resulted in a gloriously smooth macaron shell. My ground almond was not, it was corse and full of lumps. I'm sure you can imagine the consequence of using such an ingredient. 

Regardless, I powered through adding green food colouring (gel) to my stable Italian meringue base and gently folding in the dry ingredients. Lastly, before piping I levelled the mixture with a little additional whipped egg whites then I went for it. Once piped, I baked my shells for 20 minutes at 140 degrees during which time I made my creme au beurre, which was sweetened and flavoured with emerald green, Sicilian pistachio paste. 

After 20 minutes of baking, I was greeted by which can only be described at giant macaron shells. Clearly I'd gotten a little over excited whilst piping the mix that I forget that these sweet treats fall under the category of petit four...SMALL oven. Small. As soon as my giant shells were nice and cool, I sandwiched them with the butter cream and popped them in the fridge overnight for them to set and absorb the flavours. 

So here they are...my corse and bumpy, giant but delicious, Sicilian pistachio macarons! Tah dah! 

They went down a STORM at work (I now work for Sauce Communications - these guys; saucecommunications.com). They flew off the plate which is lovely but I really need to work on my piping and as soon as I track down finely ground almonds I'll be onto a winner. 

Next week on my path to patissiere it's bread week! Not my strongest area but I'm excited to get some practise in. I hope everyone is hungry! 

If I have time, I'll even give arlettes a go using Paul's recipe which you can find here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/programmes/b06643k5


Monday, 10 August 2015

Ready, steady...BAKE! Week 1

Along with a greater number of people than the World Cup final managed to pulled in, last week I sat down to watch The Great British Bake Off. Being such a popular TV show in the UK and now further afield, and as I’m such a cake fanatic it may not surprise you to hear this. But, for the past two years I’ve had a Bake Off chip on my shoulder. Two years ago I submitted my 30 page application to the show and from a pile of 16,000 entries I was selected to bake for the producers and have a screen test. After weeks of radio silence from the show I received an email letting me know that I’d gotten down to the last 100 but sadly my application wouldn’t be taken any further as there were too many similar girls in my “box” who’d applied and one of those other girls had a better story than me. I was gutted, although in hindsight I don’t think I’d have enjoyed watching myself back on TV but that aside it wasn’t easy to hear quite how generic I am.

I forgave the show in June when they invited me to work on set. Quite frankly this was the best compensation I could have asked for. I was able to spend time in the GBBO tent without the pressure of any cameras in my face and I was able to do the thing that I love…BAKE!

I was excited therefore to watch this episode in case I spotted any of my handiwork (which I did but exactly what is a closely guarded secret) in the background and then it dawned on me as I saw the 13 bakers attempt to impress Paul and Mary with their Black Forest Gateau’s – why don’t I do a weekly bake a long? And so that’s exactly what I’m going to go. Each week I shall bake one of the cakes featured on the show, just for fun and just to share with my friends. This will force me to experiment with my styles and techniques and of course it’ll provide me with no end of fun.

Having covered the Black Forest Gateau some 37 weeks ago (eeekk) in basic patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu, I thought this would be a great cake to begin with. If you’d like an in depth history lesson into the origins of the Gateau Au Forest Noir then take a look over here. It’s a truly fascinating story and a dish steeped in tradition.

Being a chocolate based cake featuring tempered chocolate decorations I chose the worst day to make my gateau. Dressed in my shortest shorts and loosest top I went about making my light, airy and fat (butter) free genoise sponge. Starting off the egg and sugar mix over a bain marie, I then very lazily popped my batter onto the Kitchen Aid. In basic patisserie this would have been a huge no no but now qualified I think I’m allowed to take handy time saving short cuts. I beat the mi to ribbon stage and then went about gently folding in the flour and the coco powder. As soon as the batter was ready I poured this into my gateau ring and popped it in the oven to bake at 180 for 25 minutes. After testing its readiness with a knife the cake went straight into the fridge to cool whilst I prepped the cherry compote and soaking syrup (which included a rather hefting helping of delicious Kirsch).

Once cooled using my trust bread knife I cut the cake into 4 pieces. My knife skills came flooding back to me as I spun the discs around the knifes blade with care and precision. After a soaking I set the discs aside, whipped up my cream and began the assembly. On to the first disc I piped a double layered ring of cream, followed by a small ring and then a blob in the middle. I filled the negative space with cherry compote, threw on the next layer and repeated, topping the gateau with the cakes original base. Back into the fridge it went whilst I attempted to melt and temper dark chocolate in the sweltering kitchen heat.

Having only just moved house I came across my first hiccup. No ice. I did however have a delicious joint of frozen belly pork purchased from Waitrose the night before and as such has to improvise using the frozen block of meat to cool down the chocolate to a Nutella like consistency. Back onto the bain marie for a couple of seconds and it was ready to be spread onto my pre chilled tray. I even managed to pipe a chocolate tree. An hour or so later the chocolate had cooled to its perfect snap and the remaining chocolate was at just the right temperature and consistency to be poured over the gateau and ooze elegantly down the sides of the cake.

I topped my effort with gold coated cherries, shards of chocolate, my chocolate tree, a red rose and pink rose petals. With the sponge scraps I made a mini gateau which was intended for someone special but sadly it won’t be making it into his belly any longer. I suppose I’ll just have to eat it myself. What do you think? A gateau fit for GBBO?

Oh and in case you didn’t click on my basic patisserie Black Forest gateau post, this is what my first attempted looked like.

I think that the results are much more visually pleasing now that I’ve applied my own style and finishes. To my eyes at least. Next week on my path to patissiere… who knows! All that I do know is that it’s biscuit week, but how exciting having a choice of three recipes but not having a clue what the three could be! If you’re baking along too tag me in on Instagram, I’d love to see everyones work. Who doesn’t love a cake picture!?!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

"Normal" life week 2 - No sugar, no cry

Over the past few years we've learnt a great deal about processed sugars and, rightly so, the sweet stuff has gotten itself a very bad rep. Whilst studying at Le Cordon Bleu I learnt all about sugar and its importance to patissieres the world over AND, on the flip side, I read a huge number of news reports and many healthy lifestyle books which told me, loud and clear that sugar is a poison and a drug that should be avoided at all measures. Having heard both sides of the story its hard to know which way to turn. I feel stuck between a sugar lump and a hard place! On one hand, refined sugars have been used for many years now in cakes and pastries and everyone has, on the whole, been OK. We can reply upon them from a consistency point of view, supply is high, costs are low and...well... the sugar we know and love does taste pretty darn good. 

All that being said, I appreciate that the scientific reports can't be wrong, not these days, we just know too much and so I've been trying out a couple of alternatives in my baking in a bid to lower mine and my friends sugar intake. And let me tell you, whilst working at a gourmet doughnut bar, lowering my sugar intake has been challenging to say the least. My first sugar tweak came about when I made a friends birthday cake. Rather than using my trusty friend, Tate & Lyle caster sugar, I tried substituting half the quantity with coconut sugar. Coconut sugar, although not advertised as being good for you is significantly better for you in comparison to its refined cousin. Coconut sugar is a far more natural product, made from the dried sap of the coconut tree therefore it goes through less processing and retains its nutrients. The taste of coconut sugar can be likened to demerara - its sweet, caramelised, nutty and has a delightful depth to its flavour. 

The cake went down a storm and it was lovely to think that those eating it weren't being subjected to quite as much nasty, processed white sugars and would actually be retaining some natural nutrients as a result of my ingredient tampering. 

I had some great feedback so thought why stop there! A couple of years ago, after a trip to Australia and my discovery of real chai tea, I designed a recipe for spiced chai latte cupcakes. Made using refined sugars, they have always been a hit but I wondered if made the recipe in the form of a loaf cake (cupcakes have so had their day), with only coconut sugar, if this moist and tasty sponge would still be as popular? 

When making my chai cupcakes I'd usually whip up a batch of light and fluffy Italian meringue buttercream to pop on top but like the sponge, this also contains a large amount of white sugar so I thought I'd try making a very lightly sugared, desiccated coconut glaze instead. For the chai, I used second hand spices from the lattes made at Crosstown. Having only been steeped once there was plenty of flavour left over and the chai blend they use, Prana Chai is heavenly and only full of the good stuff.  

With far less sugar, this loaf cake still isn't healthy, but it was super tasty and if you were to argue it out with a scientist, it is better for you.

If you fancy giving the recipe a go, here it is:
150g butter or Stork with butter baking margarine 
150g self raising flour (I only ever use Shipton Mill http://www.shipton-mill.com/)
150g coconut sugar 
3 eggs 
40ml milk - warmed and steeped in chai spices (2 chai tea bags soaked in the milk for 10 minutes will do the job if you don't have a chai blend to hand) 
¼ tea spoon cardamon 
¼ tea spoon cinnamon 
¼ tea spoon cloves 
¼ tea spoon nutmeg 
1 tea spoon vanilla extract

1. Grease and line your loaf tin  
2. Measure out 40ml milk into a cup or pan and warm (on the hob or in a microwave) - once warmed, pop the chai blend or two chai tea tea bags into the milk and leave to soak for a good ten minutes
3. Cream together the butter (or Stork e) and coconut sugar until light and fluffy
4. Lightly beat 3 eggs and pour in a third of the egg mix along with a third of the flour stirring gently into the sugar / butter mix so as not to knock out too much air and so as not to over work the gluten in the flour. If using a mixer, use a low setting. Continue this process until the eggs and flour are fully incorporated into the mix
5. Next add the 40ml of chai steeped milk, a little at a time. You may not need the full amount, use your good baking head to tell you when you have enough. The mixture should be soft, a little drippy and batter like, as with any cake mix but not too runny
6. Next, lightly mix in the spices, again on a low speed if using a mixer 
7. Finally, add the vanilla extract, mix in and spoon out into the prepared loaf tin
8. Bake for 50 minutes, or until cooked all the way through - test with a cake pokey stick to ensure the batter has set. The sponge will be light and fluffy and speckled with delicious spices   

For the glaze I simply mixed equal quantities of desecrated coconut and icing sugar, adding water a little at a time until I achieved the perfect glaze consistency. Let me know what you think if you decide to try it out! 

For my third and final sugar medaling experiment I made a traditional rum cake but, you guessed it, without refined white sugars. Rum loves coconut so I wasn't nervous at all when making the switch. The recipient of the cake was none the wiser and it tasted delicious if I do say so myself. 

With my bag of, rather expensive, coconut sugar all used up I returned to my trusty friend Tate & Lyle to whip up a birthday cake for a very special lady. My Nan. 

Sadly I can't say much about it as I'm NDAd up to my ears but a few weeks ago I was invited to THE bake off tent to spend a couple of days on set working with the home economist working on the show. Not only was this, for me, the ultimate baking experience but I also had the absolute pleasure of meeting The Mary Berry and The Paul Hollywood during my time in the tent. My Nan is a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off and as I was on set on her birthday I didn't feel I could let the opportunity to do something special for her pass me by. 

The cake I made for her was simple, a deliciously light and fragrant Grand Marnier soaked orange cake topped with wild flowers from the garden. This alone would have been enough for Nan but when accompanied by the card you'll see below, it was met with tears of happiness and birthday joy. 

To conclude, sugar isn't good for you. Cake it's good for you either but my heavens it tastes amazing, it makes people smile and if we can't enjoy cake whilst living out our time on planet earth why are we here?!! I've said this many times on my blog, if you are going to indulge in a sweet treat try not to worry too much about the sugar content, unless of course you need to do so for medical reasons. Instead, hunt out the best of the best and enjoy patisserie for what it is. By all means experiment as I have done and if you feel you need, but I'd recommend that you try and lower your sugar content else where in life and don't begin your compromising with patisserie, I beg of you :o) 

Next time on my path to patissiere who knows what I'll be covering! Regular readers may have noticed my lack of posts over the past couple of months. Now that I'm no longer studying my opportunities to bake have significantly diminished but I have plenty of birthday and wedding cakes in the diary so I hope not to disappoint. I was over the moon to discover that I've now had over 10,000 hits on this site and thank you once again for taking the time to read my cake ramblings. 

I shall leave you with a selection of bakes that I've whipped up recently, and a few of cakes that I've had the pleasure of indulging in. Eat cake and be merry! x


Sunday, 24 May 2015

"Normal" life week 1 - Ljubljana

It seems crazy to me that only a matter of months ago I was stood in the patisserie kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu, dazed and confused having just quit my job and moved 120 miles down the M4 to the city of London, surrounded by 18 year old school leaves who seemed more interested in discussing which band was their favourite, McBusted or One Direction (without even an ounce of comprehension that McBusted is actually a fusion band made up of 00s teen pop sensations McFly and Busted, a fact that upon informing them made me feel 100 years old), rather than discussing their love for food and more importantly patisserie. Wearing Crocs, something I swore upon the fashion bible that I'd NEVER do, dog tooth baggy trousers, which again is not really what I'd ever imagined myself wearing (expect perhaps during the 90s), a pristine white jacket and a hat not too dissimilar to that of a naval officer - I was ready to learn all that Le Cordon Bleu had to teach me about the art of French pastry, and now, in theory, I know.  

My last day wasn't easy. As soon as I'd seen my wedding cake whizz off to France in a Fiat 500, I knew that I only had one final task to complete before walking out the door for the very last time and that was to empty my locker. As I experienced on my very first day, boy the books and folders they give us are heavy!  

Thankfully I didn't have much time to dwell, I'd come to Le Cordon Bleu to learn and that objective had been met. A Devon wedding later and I was back in London packing my bags for a long weekend in a city I'd never heard of and accidentally mistook for a new club opening when I signed up for the trip. Before I knew it, two of my wonderful friends, Zoe and Kay were knocking at my door, bags in hands looking to be fed and a place to sleep before we flew off to the mysterious land of Slovenia the next day. Having been swamped with exams and baking practise I knew absolutely nothing about our destination which is SO unlike me but at the same time, felt so very refreshing. Rather than taking on the role of leader, chef clip board and important document holder and general mother hen I could sit back and enjoy my pre flight cider and hugely delicious burger with a carefree mind, and that is exactly what I did. 

Upon arriving at Ljubljana national airport I walked up to the customs desk, nails freshly painted and begged the stern faced man to stamp my passport. Naturally the girls thought I was ridiculous but this request didn't come as a surprise to them. It's not as though this was the first time I'd done so in an EU country... I'm not even ashamed. I like to remember the places I've been and the dates travelled and one day I won't be able to rely upon my brain for this type of information. They'll be jealous in 50 years time when they've forgotten ;o) The customs inspector looked as though he hadn't smiled since the 80s but after I'd cracked a few, frankly dreadful, jokes and sweet talked him, he obliged and stuck a lovely stamp on page 6. What a gent. 

In case, like me, you love the nail colour, it's by Rimmel London and it's called Bestival Blue. Bestival isn't my festival of choice, I'm a Glastonbury girl through and through but the nail polish is a bit of alright. Stamp in hand we trotted off happily (I must add that both Zoe and Kay, my travel buddies declined having their passports stamped. I am a massive loser and I still don't care) to find our Air B&B inner city apartment. 

Driving into the city it was clear to see that this was a beautiful land, full of rich agriculture and tumbling alpine landscapes. The city we felt was small, friendly and architecturally very pretty and steeped in history. Having had no real time to plan I only had three objectives and they were; 1. to enjoy quality time spent with two friends who I see fairly rarely but who I love dearly, 2. to find and try Slovenia's national cake 3. to find and try Bled cake (which I had read about). Our first adventure out was to castle which stood high up a hill overlooking the city. 

We were blown away by the views and upon our decent decided to treat ourselves to some not very local Japanese sushi for dinner. 

The following day we awoke to grey skies and rain but being British we didn't allow something as insignificant as a little precipitation ruin our day. Boots and jackets thrown on and it was off to brunch we went, the girls were on the hunt for good food and vintage clothes and me, I was on the look out for Slovienia's national cake which I soon learnt goes by the name of 'prekmursua gibanica'. It was neither easy to say nor easy to swallow. Following a delightfully weird baked eggy, cheesy dish at Le Petit I got speaking to the waiters who wrote down where I could find the prekmursua gibanica cake the nation spoke of with such fondness. A cup of oddly made tea later and we decided to risk another outing in the rain for the reward of a slice of delicious cake. 

When we arrived at the cafe we excitedly asked for three slices of prekmursua gibanica. When it comes to cake we don't mess about so naturally we decided to commit to a full slice each. The waiter winced and reluctantly informed us that he didn't think we'd like it and as such recommended that we order only one slice between us and he'd bring us two alternatives to try. Not like it? How could this be possible? We love cake! Thinking it was best to take his advise, we ordered just the once slice and allowed him to use his best judgement in order to choose us an additional two slices. 

Out came the prekmursua gibanica in all its strange glory. Not quite a cake, not quite a strudel and not quite edible if I'm being truthful. The prekmursua gibanica is made up of the following layers; filo pastry, ground poppy seeds, ground walnut paste, spiced apples and raisins, cottage cheese and repeat, topped with another layer of filo pastry and dusted with icing sugar. Once the ingredient and flavour combination had been explained to us, we reluctantly raised our forks and dug in. It wasn't for us, but the two alternatives our waiter had surprised us with were!

Upon returning home I looked into the prekmursua gibanica further and although I couldn't find much, what I did discover is that in 1828 writer Jozsef Kossics wrote that no wedding was complete without gibanica. He went on to write that for a wedding the dough would be rolled out thinly, sprinkled with grated cabbage, turnips or ricotta cheeses, these ingredients would then be covered with a second layer of dough and sprinkled once again as previously done so. 10 or 11 such layers would be made up and thus composed and formed a delicious wedding cake. I suppose the word "delicious" is subjective...I can't say I'd ever be serving that concoction up at a wedding! 


With bellies full of cake, we turned our thoughts to our next sweetmeat quest, to find the Lake Bled cake. The clue as to where to find this was in the name so off to Lake Bled we went. Positioned on a pagan lay-line, as soon as we arrived at the lake, a relatively short train ride to the north of Slovenia, close to the Austrian boarder, we felt relaxed, at peace and full of happiness. I could only liken the feeling to that which I experience upon arriving at Glastonbury festival, which actually isn't too crazy, as Glastonbury too is positioned over a positive energy line. 

Just look at the view! It's hard to feel even an ounce of negativity whilst gazing upon such a beautiful lake. 

A short walk around the lake and we came across the famous Bled cake. Made simply of compact puff pastry, cream and custard, the Bled cake was a delightful alternative to the prekmursua gibanica. Both easier to pronounce and much easier to stomach! 

As well as discovering the bled cake, I found a collection of tiny little ceramic cake pans for sale within the church on the island. We were hoping to row ourselves across the lake but a lovely gentleman offered to do so for us and really, we couldn't refuse his offer. We'd have most likely fallen in anyhow. Along the way he told us tales of the lake, the church and of course the pagan lay-lines. Interestingly, he told us that the church at Lake Bled has been standing for some 400 years. Upon entering we were taken aback by its decor. For a very small church it is very extravagantly decorated with remains of Gothic frescos from around 1470 in the presbyterium along with rich Baroque equipment. Legend has it, if you ring the church bell three times and make a wish, that wish will come true. Of course we all had a go but I can't say if our wishes have come true yet! Mine's a secret :o) 

With five minutes left until our boat was due to sail back to shore I decided to give a home to one of the ceramic cake pans named Poticnik. Its tiny so I should imaging its more for decorative use than actual baking, but of course I'm going to try making a cake in it. I'll report back with my progress. 

Back in Ljubljana, following a fun filled night out in the very eclectic district of Metelkova, I treated the girls and I to a filling breakfast and was delighted to find a fresh batch of original recipe, Viennoiserie croissants for sale at the local bakers. Having spoken about these way back in week 2 of my intimidate studies, if you fancy a Viennoiserie recap heres the link: http://www.pathtopatissiere.co.uk/2015/01/le-cordon-bleu-intermediate-patisserie_25.html

As I'd read, the original recipe croissant was far less flakey and buttery to those made using the more modern French recipe and it was much more bread like than I'm used to. It was certainly tasty but I wouldn't swap a classic French croissant for one of these.    

Before our flight home we managed to fit in one final sweet treat in the form of a plate of macarons, chocolate hedgehogs and fondant ghosts, naturally. We found this unusual selection at Tivoli park and what a delightful surprise it was. A short flight later and we were back on British soil with tummies full of cake and minds full of wonderful memories having discovered a relatively untapped European city. I couldn't recommend Ljubljana more highly - its a delightfully small city, meaning you can walk around with ease. The people are friendly, the food is good, the alpine sites are breathtaking and the buildings, beautiful. My only watch out, read the menus. Ice tea is priced per 100 decilitres....we learned the hard way. 

Thanks for the memories ladies! x 

Next week on my path to patissiere I will be covering the history of birthday cakes, having made a few recently and having promised to do so last week... I'll also be sharing a few doughnut tales with you.