29 Mar 2012

The life of a baking novice is made of great joys...and massive disasters

Since I've started baking, I've discovered and been following some great foody and baking blogs. Beautiful, well written, featuring lovely recipes and most of all packed with amazing photos of perfect cakes, each one more beautiful than the previous one.
I had all the reasons to be full of hope. I can cook, even quite well...so baking could not be that difficult.
Coming from the land of Tarte fine aux pommes, Eclair au Chocolat and Opera, having croissant butter running through my veins, I surely had to be gifted for baking in some way. I would nail the whole project in few months....easy.
It was not long before I discovered how wrong I was, little pretentious Frenchie that I was (I wonder where this reputation of ours comes from though? ;-))
Firstly, baking is about precision and discipline, which I seriously lacked. I was putting a bit of this, a pinch of that, oh and why not some more of this. This, mon ami, cannot be when you bake (unless you really are a bad ass and can create your own recipes, which I still can't). Whatever the recipe says; you don't question it, you do it, in the right order and with the exact quantities.
Secondly, even if you do everything as stated, chances are that as a beginner you'll end up with a disaster rather than the nice looking cake you see on the recipe picture. It will also probably be too dry, or too dense, or something worse.
These wonderful blogs are not entirely truthful. They only show the successes ; the cakes you are so proud of you would dream of The Queen popping around for tea just because she happened to be in the neighbourhood. 
Where are the pictures of the burnt pavlovas? The double headed muffins? The spread out cookies? And the macarons disguised in tuiles aux amandes?
So here I am, not afraid to tell you the ugly truth : a baker's life is sometimes made of well risen victoria sponge ; voluptuous salted caramel sauce, fluffy yet chewy and crunchy at the same time meringue...and of horrible disasters.
Once you got your head around the fact that the real achievement is actually just to try and keep the successes ahead of the disasters, you can recover from everything.

Sensitive eyes to be closed now, some shocking pictures are to follow. I think this is self explanatory. I might just want to add that yes, these pictures were taken less than a month ago, yes I have been baking for 3 years, and that I have quite become not so bad at it....most of the time at least.

The one known as 
The Shrek Scary Macaron
I don't get it, the book says 
"recipes with pictures,
success guaranteed" 
For those interested in learning how to make macarons, l'Atelier des Chefs in London offers a 3 hour hands-on masterclass. I took it and highly recommend it (even if the example above is not the best publicity!)
You can visit the website of L'Atelier des Chefs in London

27 Mar 2012

The day Mr Muffin came into my life

I have always liked cooking.
When I was a kid, I used to spend hours watching my step mum cook and bake.
And on Sunday mornings, with my brother Bertrand, we used to make pancakes before our older sisters woke up as a surprise breakfast.
But to be honest, oustide chocolate mousse and chocolate tart (in my family, you have to like chocolate and to know how to make some basic desserts with it, this is not open for discussion), I was not really interested in baking.
I'd love eating desserts of course (I really have a sweet tooth), but I'd rather leave my dear friends Ryan, La Laitière or Miko (industrial desserts manufacturers) or the pastry shops make them for me.
But then...everything changed...the day I arrived to London. 
From supermarket aisles to Starbuck coffee counters, United Kingdom can fullfill all one's dreams of junk food. 
It is, the United Universal Kingdom of Junk / Indulgent Food
(and from somebody who can easily spend 2 hours in an M&Ms store, I can guarantee this is big a compliment)
So here I was, immigrating to the homeland of oatcakes, scones and caramel shortbreads, feeling like Alice in Wonderland and I could not wait to try every one of all the delicacies of my "new country".
Flapjacks, cheesecakes, muffins; banoffee pies...2 months later, I was still far away from having tried half of what the Kingdom of Baking has to offer, and I was getting fatter everyday.

And, truth be told, I was luring at the Super Power.
Yes, you name it : The Super Power that makes you create Cakes-that-make-you-fill-so-guilty-but-that-are-so-indulgent-at-the-same-time-that-you-could-literally-have-a-food-orgasm-on-the-spot.
(what, you don't know about food orgasms? Either you lie or you haven't really lived yet!
In both cases, I'll give you a shortcut to my favorite food orgasmic foods in London in a next post) 
So, there was only one thing for me to do: I popped at WS Smith round the corner and bought myself my very first British Baking Book (an easy one to start with) : BBC Good Food's 101 Cakes and Bakes. 
I also registered to a gym (I was about to go on a tremendous calories creating and eating process for at least few months, so that came quickly clear as a definitive necessity), and I started baking!

Every friday from now on, I would bring to work a traditional British cake that I had made myself.
What was soon to become the Friday Cake tradition had just came to life.