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:

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. 

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