Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Death of an oven

I saw the signs but never thought about it. Then it finally happened. Our oven at home has finally stop working after 21 years.

Okay I'm exaggerating. It works. But someone has to stand by the oven switching it on again every 2 minutes. And that includes pre-heating. I made apple tart and scones. And yes I was there every 2 minutes, switching it back on. I finally gave up when the apple tart and scones were under baked even though I gave it an extra 20 minutes of baking time.

I wasn't sure how my dad was going to handle the fact of a new oven. I was back for two days and I was already thinking of asking for something new.

But after my parents watched me sitting by the oven pressing the start button, I think they got the point. So hopefully the new one is coming next week. No more screw ups.

My mum said she'll miss the oven. I guess I will too. Most of the baking I've done so far was with that oven. I remember shortbread cookies topped with an almond. My mum made that when I was about 5 and we would bring some along during trips to Europe. It tasted amazing next to plane food.

It was always a process to prepare the oven before baking. The oven also acts as another table when not in action. So first of all, remove the random stuff on top, clean the insides then preheat the oven. I hated doing that. Wayy too mafan for me.

My mum didn't let me bake until I was trustworthy enough not to burn down the kitchen, which was around the age of 13. I felt so happy after my mum taught me how to preheat the oven. It meant she wasn't going to fuss about and left me alone to my baking. I baked shortbread cookies for the first time.. I think.

Goodbye dear Sharp Carousel Convection Microwave Exceller 120.

Caramelized pear and crisp almond crust tart

I like this tart. Long impressive name and it lived up to it as well. But somewhere down on the ingredient list calls for 8 egg whites. And I knew what that meant during the practical. Whisking egg whites... again.

The thing is, when you depend on a mixer most of your life to do the dirty work, whisking egg whites to a stiff peak by hand is murder. Repeat. Murder. So this was probably the second time I was whisking egg whites by hand, ever! But hey practice makes perfect. You start to learn things after going through the hard part. I found out that:
  • few day old egg whites are easier and faster to whisk. So keep those egg whites after you made that fondant
  • my left arm was actually capable of helping me
  • when you're near death, at least move the whisk side to side to mix it continuously
  • a chef massaging your shoulders actually helps only if he does it to the whole class lol
So after training dear left arm and doing some breathing exercises, that dream of a kitchen aid is far behind me. It's nice not to need technology sometimes. Feels like an accomplishment of some sort.

So back to the tart. Let's do an analysis shall we? The base is made of sweet pastry dough with a filling made out of chopped canned pears, raisins, blackcurrants, heavenly smelling pear brandy, butter and sugar. On top of that is the crisp almond crust which is sort of a almond meringue then sprinkled with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Chef stressed that the egg whites need to be perfectly whisked to a peak and folding in the ground almonds has to be done as gently as possible. Otherwise you won't get the markings of the star tip.

We also learnt how to make honey filled barquettes which tasted alot like the pecan pie from Alexis, KL. And I'm having some of the pie now! Hopefully i can recreate a pecan pie recipe from the barquettes. They taste like nut brittle. Like the ones from Jakes, Damansara Heights after a good steak meal.

My tart turned out okay i suppose. The markings weren't very clear probably because I was rushing to finish to catch up with the class. My tart:

The best looking tart was made by the slowest person. And I was happily taking pictures while she whisked her egg whites. Lesson learnt.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Don't give up on me yet!

It has been 21 days since my last post. Yes I know, it's horrible! But if you know me well, you'll understand that I am the laziest girl in the world.

I am taking a break from packing, in London. I'm heading back to KL tomorrow for two months of eating and sleeping :)

So....I have graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with a Basic Patisserie certificate! The last two weeks were very intense. I broke down at one point, feeling what I expected to feel emotionally I guess but not physically. Aches everywhere from the whisking, rolling and being chef's assistant during the last week. Cuts and bruises? You learn to move on. Got a burn while taking out that Mogador cake? Slap on some vinegar and stop complaining. The cake ain't gonna ice itself. I have learnt alot. The patience, the discipline. I felt the environment of a kitchen. A professional kitchen.
The tight space and heat taught me to work in the worst condition possible with tips like putting your bottle of water smack in the fridge before you start to survive the occasional heat wave.
Clean while you work! Keeping the station clean was key to finishing on time.

I tried applying all of this during the final exam. It was a practical exam where we had to make one out of 10 recipes chosen. I got Pethivier, a puff pastry cake filled with almond cream. Not one of my favourites but it was generally easy to make. We also had to line a tart ring with sweet pastry as a technical part of the exam. It was pretty crazy but I manage to finish first out of the group of Pethiviers with a good decoration of knife scoring. I was quite happy with my finished product but somehow my puff pastry didn't rise as well.

I can't believe this course is over and I wish that I had the time to write about it as it went along but there was just so much to do! Paris was waiting outside and I couldn't bear to sit down in my room. So I decided to start from where I left off, referring to pictures and remember what happened. I mean if Bourdain can write about his oyster experience when he was a boy, I can do this!

So don't give up on me yet dear readers. I will be back posting more pictures and posts. Au revoir!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The cabbage rose

We had a student dinner yesterday night at Atelier Maitre Albert with the intensive cuisine students as well. It was nice to finally dress up after being in uniform all the time. Apparently if you're doing Superior Patisserie, the student dinner is held at a michelin star restaurant! Hmm oh well I'll get there.

Sadly, food was average but the company was in a word, amazing.

I've never met such a variety of people at the same time. Different countries, age, jobs, marital status etc all sitting on one round table. All here in Paris for the love of food. I felt comfortable here. No weird looks or that question "I thought you're doing engineering??"when I start talking about my research project about understanding texture perception in the human mouth.

Ahh it was indeed a night to remember. Dessert was below par by the way or maybe I'm just sick of cream lol.

It was nice to have a break but lessons continued the next day. This time it was Dacquoise, a meringue sorta cake with praline cream in between. This was what chef made:

And drum roll please! This is mine:

A product of 20 minutes of whisking eggs and cream continuously. It is painful! Basic level aren't allowed to use electric mixers. It's like 1st year of mechanical engineering all over again. I look like any right handed guy now lol.

So when everyone was done, we lined up our cakes to compare. Chef took a look around and stopped at mine. He asked who's was this. I felt confident and put up my hand. He smiled and said my rose looked more like a pink cabbage.

*Heart breaks into two* Thanks chef! That was 15 minutes of marzipan shaping. Honestly, this guy doesn't speak much English and he knows the word "cabbage". And not to mention that the chef's rose looks like Japanese pickle.

I guess mine could have look better. It was a first attempt!

I'll definitely practice more on weekends. I loved doing it actually. Can't wait to try it on birthday cakes :)

I'm gonna really look at roses now and dissect them to see how it comes together.

Oh yea definitely gonna get some weird looks from family when I'm back. Heh.

Until next time folks!

The delayed post

Bonjour! Apologies for the late post! Some people have been bugging me to start updating which is great!! Thanks for the support guys, it means alot :) Please leave any comments or suggestions for anything at all. I would truly appreciate it :)

It's been crazy lately. 5-9 hours a day of baking makes you sleep like a baby at night. Okay loads to talk about. First of all, let me introduce you to my babies.

Nice huh? The sharpest knives I've ever used. Not sure how I'm gonna fit this in my luggage though... Hmmm

Anyway after our tart lesson, we made tea cakes:

Pound cake with candied fruit


Lemon pound cake

The madeleines were really good, moist and so cute! I'm quite excited to experiment with flavours when I get the chance. Been thinking of trying local malaysian flavours, like coconut or pandan, maybe a gula melaka centre.

I think it was in this demonstration when the translator was winking at the chef's assistant and she's all miss smiley throughout the lesson with the chef in between. Tsk tsk so unprofessional but it provided much gossip for me lol

Something amazing happened the next day! I got to meet Julie Powell, author of "My year of cooking dangerously" which inspired a film called " Julie & Julia".

Check out the trailer at

Basically Julie used to be a lost soul until she came upon one of Julia Child's books. She decides to try over 500 Julia Child recipes in one year. So she wrote a blog about it and then a book.

Okay the truth is that I only knew who she was cause I saw the movie trailer. So I bought the book from the reception after finding out she was coming to visit!

I didn't get to finish the book yet as Mr. J has it at the moment. Oh yes, J came to visit during the weekend. My pantheon pillar of support :)

Julie was really nice, down to earth and looked well, happy! As I was lining up for an autograph, everyone was asking her the same question: "Have you watched the movie yet?". Poor gal, so I asked her what she's been up to lately. She mentioned that she just finished an internship.... being a butcher! How crazy is that? I love this woman! I had way too many questions but people were queuing to see her.
Oh well, maybe she'll come to my future bakery. One day :)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Feeling Tarty ;)

Amazing lesson today. We covered three apple tarts: Classic french apple tart, Normandy tart and Tarte Tatin. I haven't made one before. An apple pie, yes but not a tart. And not to mention that I always use ready made sweet short pastry. Heh yea if I was doing a course at LSE, I would make it from scratch heh. Kidding, G :)

So same techniques we learnt from shortbread the day before like Sablage (Rubbing butter into dry ingredients like flour and sugar). Okay so is the butter FIRM?? CHECK!

We learnt how to make a lip edge for the tart and used tweezers to make decorative markings. Apricot glaze is like magic btw. It gives it that nice shine on tarts that makes you want that tart to be tarty. haha.. Okay bad joke. But really take a look at this:

That was made by Chef C which is the Normandy Tart. Another jolly guy with a cute belly heh.

Classic French Apple Tart:

Normandy Tart with icing sugar on top:

Tarte Tatin ( My fav) :

This is my view from my seat. Check out the mirror at the top which gives us a bird's eye view.

Right. My turn. It's like having an exam after a class about the topic. So I started off great making my pastry and filling. I didn't prepare the garnishing until much later, worried that the apple will brown and it won't look too nice. That slowed me down alot since the whole class did it earlier. It was a horrible feeling, being the slowest but the best thing was that everyone was willing to help out, washing my equipment and getting melted butter for me. I got to know a few people better after that. And I manage to finish it off before our chocolate piping lesson.

Our supervising chef, Chef W was amazing. He gave everyone equal attention and told us on the spot if we were doing something wrong, then showed us how it's done. Learnt plenty from him today. He gave me good feedback about my tart saying that it's not bad but could use more apple slices on the top to give it that nice "step" shape.

Okay don't compare to the pictures above. This is what I made. First time okay....

Madeleines tomorrow! Wish me luck !

Dustin Hoffman?

The date was 29th of June 2009 when I had my first day at culinary school (orientation and lessons). M and I were pretty nervous and didn't talk much during our 20 minute walk to school. We were really worried about the language barrier and how good the translators would be.

The admin staff welcomed us with open arms and led us to the Winter Garden which is a common area for students. We met the rest of students who are taking the same course. About half of the class are middle-aged, not surprising since this is an intensive course. Four guys i think, again not surprising for a patisserie course. What really blew my mind was that there are about 5-6 people who left their jobs to do this. I really was expecting one or two with a real killer inspirational story about how they always wanted to do this and now they're doing it la dee da.. Well, I guess I'm not too late eh?

We then took a tour around the school, checking out the demonstration and practical rooms. As we were walking up the stairs, there were pictures of the alumni like Julia Child and Giada De Laurentiis (from Everyday Italian, Food Network) smiling at us. And wait, is that Dustin Hoffman? wtf? LOL I didn't know he was a foodie.

After checking out the prep kitchen in the basement, it was time to receive the goodie bag, our equipment. Sadly, as I am writing this, my uber cool equipment bag is sitting in my smelly locker. So will definitely take some pictures later.

And of course our uniform! Check it out:

We were all set for our first lesson. Chef Cotte taught us basic pastry preparations which were raw almond paste, (33% almond paste (marzipan), apricot glaze, coffee extract, fondant and praline. Every demo lasts for two and a half hours. I got pretty sleepy when he started talking about how chocolate is made from picking of the cocoa pods to getting the cocoa butter which gets filtered, tempered then molded. Boring stuff really. We got to sample everything the chef made:

For our next lesson, it was all about shortbread. Chef Tranchant, jolly sort of guy was telling us how he could imagine the sea and the breeze even though it was boiling in the room, while he was rubbing butter into dry ingredients (Sablage). Funny french men. We learnt how to make:

Nantais Shortbread


Chocolate Shortbread

Britanny Shortbread

Diamonds (far right)

My favourites were the diamonds and the britanny shortbread. So it was then our turn to replicate one of the recipes, diamonds in our first practical. Diamonds are shortbread biscuits with lemon and vanilla, coated with sugar to give it that bling.

It was crazy, 15 minutes after the demo, we had to rush to our lockers to get our equipment and put on our aprons, hats and towels. All this at 35 degrees. Great. I was sweating into my neck tie by the time I got to the 3rd floor practical room. We then had to get all the equipment we needed. Oh did I mention I now have an electronic weighing scale, accurate to the gram! All these fancy equipment. I even have the stuff the cuisine people use like a sharpening stone and a cleaver.

Okay anyway, we weighed, sablaged, kneaded and rolled. It was not easy. Why? Well,

A. I'm not in my own kitchen wearing what I want
B. I'm squashed between two people, sharing whatever space there is
C. Everyone's looking at each other's work and rushing
D. I've never rolled a 35 cm cylinder of dough before and placing it on a rack was not for domestic me.

So, hey a few mishaps but I managed to survive:
Okay I was really disappointed that my shortbread was a little spreaded and they didn't look that round. I looked around and found that everyone had that problem too. M and I discussed it and agreed it was the butter that was too soft due to the horrible weather. We swore never to repeat the same mistake. Always, always refrigerate the butter till it's firm enough to be diced for shortbread.

Definitely one of the best shortbread recipes I've tried. It's a keeper :)


Engineering + Culinary Arts = A cross road for me.

Yup, that's what I thought about during my second year of university at Imperial College. Hoping to run away from the numbers and head home to make that heavenly chocolate meringue topped with whipped cream and strawberries, then grated with dark chocolate, ever so lightly. Don't get me wrong, I started loving engineering in third year after working with a formula student car and four of the best groupmates I could ever have :) .

It dawned on me a year later when I realised I could do both. Well, the plan is to be an engineer hopefully after I graduate and open that bakery I've been dreaming for a long, long time.

So I applied to Le Cordon Bleu Paris, one of the leading culinary schools in the world. It took me months after staring at the same application website for me to finally take the leap. What was holding me back? The tuition fees and well, the family support.

J, my boyfriend and some great friends gave all the support I needed and my family caved in later after getting excited about all the pastries I'll be making.

So voila! I am now in Paris doing a intensive course in basic patisserie (which is 1/3 of a diploma) during my summer break with a foodie friend, M .

If there's anything I should remember for the rest of my life, this would be it. Hence, this blog. Enjoy :)