Focus on the Flour

As the first month of pastry school comes to an end I’m exhausted. If I could travel back in time, I’d slap that glib, smug version of me who told friends over dinner, “Isn’t it wonderful I’m going to spending the next six months baking French cakes?” Four weeks later the image of me merrily wafting around in chef’s whites producing perfectly executed tartes has been crushed by the reality of pastry school. Training to be a Patissiere is not for the weak – it’s ruddy hard work! How does Nigella make baking look so easy?

I can’t think straight. I can’t remember recipes. Is it eggs and then sugar, or the other way around? My arm aches from hand-whisking meringue after meringue (did I mention that for the first month we were not allowed to use food processors or even electric beaters!) Chef J tells us that The Chef believes this will teach us to respect the ingredients. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know he’s right. Yet, at this moment with pain radiating up my arm, I can’t help but look longingly at the Kitchen-Aid sitting idly on the shelf, taunting me with its siren’s call. Enjoy your siesta, Kitchen-Aid, because next month you will be mine. No longer will I be making pate à choux by hand.


Self-pity aside, the long days spent in the culinary laboratory are filled with joy. I have laughed and cried more in the last month with these people than I have in a long time. We’ve formed a bond. We are now an équipe, and with that our personalities have begun to surface. Nicknames come and go as we shed our previous careers and learn to bake together as a group.


Petit Garcon A is now affectionately known as Maurice (I have no idea why). One day Chef J. started calling him that and the name stuck. The whirlwind Ms. J has named herself ‘The Disaster’. It’s quite fitting as she often has more flour on her face than in her bowl. Ms. N is known as Speedy Gonzales. She’s a whirlwind in the kitchen. Normally by the time I finish scaling the flour and butter (Scaling, is pastry chef talk for weighing the ingredients) she has already made her cake, whipped up her chocolate ganache and is waiting for me and The Disaster (we’re always the last to finish) to move on to the next recipe. I put it down to my Zen approach to baking, but Mr. S would beg to differ. With his steady gaze he always seems to catch me popping choux puffs filled with yummy cream into my mouth. I explain to him in my broken French that it’s vital for me to be constantly eating because I need to “develop my sense of taste.” Sounds good, right? He doesn’t believe me for a second. He’s already worked out that I just love pastries. Which reminds me, I must go to the gym. Okay, if not today there’s always tomorrow.
Well, it is time to head home and start reading up on how to make the perfect sourdough loaf, as next month it’s all about the bread.

It’s been a slice . . .



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