Never under-estimate exactly how much time, both mental and physical, will be taken up by building work on your house. I had thought that while my kitchen was being redone and I couldn’t work I would have the opportunity to properly plan out how I want to expand my business and streamline my life. Turns out that just making a cup of tea can be a lengthy process. When the water is in one room, the electricity is in another and the cups are in a third, when going from one to another requires you to go out the back door and in the front door and when it’s only polite to offer the builders one at the same time, it can be a real effort. And then there are all the decisions that need to be made: where to put the plugs, what type of lighting, tiles, appliances, etc, etc, etc. Oh and the small matter of the kitchen design. Plus the work includes other rooms in the house so it’s not a small project. In an ideal world it would have been easier if I had moved out but in a strange way I’m quite enjoying living through the process.
One of the few things I have managed to do – and blog posts has not been one of them – is a French Patisserie course run by the talented Mark Tilling at Squires Kitchen in Farnham. If you watched Bake Off: Crème de la Crème you might recognise his name as he and his team won the first series. I did a cake decorating course at Squires the week that the final was televised and Mark came in the next morning with the trophy, making the course even more memorable. This time he was the teacher who made everything look ridiculously easy. French patisserie is typically made up of lots of different elements: sponges, mousses, glazes, syrups, pastries, creams, pralines… We spent two days making all the elements for five French classics: Gâteau Opéra, Macarons, Fruit Tarts, Choux Buns and Chocolate and Praline Mousse Domes. We then spent the third day assembling them all.
At this point my kitchen had been out of action for a couple of weeks so it was a real treat just to be baking again, plus I learnt some really interesting new skills and techniques. We froze uncooked choux paste in silicon hemisphere moulds before chilling a brightly coloured sablé biscuit dough and cutting out discs of it. By placing them on top of the frozen choux dough before baking, the sablé melted and glazed the choux pastries as they rose as perfect red, crackled domes. Filled with a raspberry mousse and topped with a tablet of decorated white chocolate they make a stunning alternative to the average choux bun:
If you’ve never made a mirror glaze before – and I hadn’t – I think this would be the most intimidating aspect of the course. There is nowhere to hide: it’s all in the finish. We made a chocolate and caramel mousse, a hazelnut sponge and a hazelnut praline. Using silicon hemisphere moulds again we layered up the mousse and discs of hazelnut sponge spread with hazelnut praline and froze them. Mirror glaze needs to be poured over a perfectly smooth, frozen surface:
There are a lot of similarities between French patisserie and building works. A bit like icing cakes and plastering walls, the skills seem to be transferable. The work in my kitchen is layering up and it is slowly beginning to resemble a kitchen again. And it’s only when all the elements come together and the proper finishing touches are done that I will be able to see the full effect.
It’s a lot like assembling a Fresh Fruit Tart, if a little more stressful:
I think my favourite pastry of the course was the Coffee Gâteau Opéra, because the layers are so precise and perfect, and precise and perfect is not generally my strong point. There are five elements to this gâteau and each one has its place: almond dacquoise sponge, coffee syrup, coffee buttercream, dark chocolate ganache and dark chocolate glaze. It still amazes me that it cuts so beautifully, keeping all the layers as it should:
And then of course there were the fresh, summery and unusually shaped Lemon and Poppy Seed Macarons filled with a lemon mousse, a lemon curd and a lemon cream.
I’m really hoping my kitchen works out as well as the patisserie did. It’s still in the assembly stage so until it’s finished I won’t know for sure but I really can’t wait to get back in it and start baking properly!