The Sweetest Crumb

Archive of ‘Ferrandi’ category

Update and Goodbye for Now

I’ve felt guilty for abandoning this space for a long time now.

I had the best intentions of keeping up with posts and sharing my journey through pastry school in France. But, along the way, writing about the life I was living became time consuming and started to feel like a chore that was taking time away from having actual experiences. I felt as though I didn’t have the energy to devote to Sweetest Crumb, and if I couldn’t do the blog right then I shouldn’t do it at all. Without making a real decision, I abandoned it.

So in an effort to apologize and thank those of you who kept reading my articles, checking for updates or sending comments, I’d like to give you a hugely delayed update:

I did finish pastry school at Ferrandi. It was one of the most fulfilling and unforgettable experiences of my life. I cannot stress how waking up every morning and getting to do something you love for 8 hours makes you feel. I relished every moment of school, tried to take away as much as I could, asked nonstop questions and was entirely aware of how lucky I was every single day. People always say to “live in the moment” and this was the one time in my life when I knew I had succeeded in that.

After school, I completed two internships in Paris. The first was one of the most challenging and downright traumatic experiences of my life. Nevertheless, it taught me so much about myself and I learned to stand up for myself, saying “no” when something just isn’t right for me. The second was an amazing professional experience which I now look back at fondly.

At the end of my first year in Paris, we decided that our hearts had grown too attached to the city to leave just yet – plus I wanted more professional experience under my belt (apron). We applied for a second round of visas and extended our stay for another year. The majority of this year I worked as a commis in a well-known pastry shop in Paris. I felt so lucky to have the job but was flung out of my comfort zone and challenged constantly. I had to work in a language and culture which was still quite foreign to me, often feeling like the outsider. I had to come to terms with being a beginner in a field where almost everyone else was significantly younger, faster and better than me (French pastry chefs usually start their careers at age 14-16 so by their mid 20′s they often have a decade of experience). I worked for minimum wage but for the first time in my life was earning a paycheque doing something I loved. This time strengthened me as a person and as a professional and I wish I could live it all again.

As our second visas were coming to an end, we decided that it was the right time to return to Canada. I cannot explain how difficult it was to leave Paris. The city became my home. This was my first adult home, the first place where I truly felt like I was living a life I chose and answering to no one but myself. It was strangely thrilling to live in a bubble away from family and friends: people who had known me for years and developed expectations of who I was and what I would or should do. It was equally thrilling to not have to live up to anyone’s expectations, judgements or deal with seemingly harmless questions like: “why did you leave your financially awesome (but otherwise crappy) career in accounting? (are you crazy?)” “what are you even going to do with pastry after?” “when are you getting married?” “why haven’t you bought a house yet? Or a car? Or had a baby?” etc. etc… Instead, I got to know myself really well. I learned the value of being happy and learned what I need in my life to feel fulfilled. I can now say “no” to something which just doesn’t serve me with no hesitation. I don’t feel the need to follow the same path as everyone else, and I thank Paris for that.

Living in Paris, I also got swept up by the energy of the city. The beauty of the city is inspiring and unforgettable – art and culture are just thrown in your face at every turn. It makes you feel like life is meant to be enjoyed and anything is possible. While I’ve been back in Edmonton as of January, a piece of my heart is still, and forever will be, in Paris. Leaving was heartbreaking. I never knew I could fall in love with a city like this and saying goodbye tore me up like an intense breakup. Even now, months later, emotions feel raw – it is painful to look through photos, think about the sunset rooftop view from our apartment or sitting with other Parisians, feeling the Friday night energy along Canal St Martin. As sad as goodbyes are, I know that me and Paris are meant to be and I will be back – à bientôt, ma chérie.

Thank you again to everyone who has visited, commented or otherwise supported Sweetest Crumb. This space was a source of comfort and a creative outlet for me at a time when I was stuck in a drab accounting cubicle, dreaming of one day quitting to go to pastry school in France. Who knew it would happen? (I didn’t!). And while I learned that writing about pastry is not nearly as enticing to me as actually doing pastry, I am still completely in love with pastry… making it, talking about it, taking photos of it… So please, if you want to ask any questions, chat about techniques, want info about Ferrandi or want to collaborate in any way, I would be so happy to hear from you! You can email me or follow me on instagram. If you want to know what I’m up to next… keep an eye out for Prairie Pigeon in Edmonton (twitter, instagram.)

xoxo

A Crooked Croque-en-Bouche

The croque-en-bouche (croquembouche) is a traditional French dessert which consists of a conical tower of cream puffs. The puffs are filled with pastry cream and attached with cooked sugar. It’s common to see the croquembouche served at weddings, birthdays and other special occasions in France. So of course, we made one at FERRANDI.

In order to make the croquembouche, we first needed to create a base for our piece. The base was made of nougatine, a mixture of nuts and sugar. Nougatine needs to be at precisely the right temperature – it must be warm enough to be workable, not so hot that it melts into a puddle and not so cold that it hardens and breaks into brittle pieces. This proved difficult for us beginners. However, we eventually, after some burnt hands, got the hang of it.

We decorated the base with thin strands of royal icing…

Then we began assembling the cream puffs onto the base, glueing them one at a time with sugar.

This was my first ever attempt at making the croquembouche and I must admit that stacking the cream puffs evenly was way more difficult that I expected. We worked on our croquembouche for three full days in the lab. And in the end, what I had created was a leaning tower of cream puffs. I kept trying to rotate my creation to find its best side only to conclude that it was crooked and wavy from all sides (although that’s probably the perfectionist in me talking… as well as the chef laughing at my final creation). I couldn’t help but giggle too when I looked at it. I decided to embrace its “abstract” appearance by topping it off with some curved, crooked sugar pieces and gaudy pink roses – might as well go all out!

Ta-da!

I used my leftover nougatine pieces to practice piping. I made the bunnies and my partner made them a carrot.

The best part of making the croquembouche, though, was probably when our chef used the leftover sugar to make himself these awesome sugar glasses – never a dull moment with Chef Didier!

Entremets and Confectionary at Ferrandi (Month 3)

Time at school is flying by. When I stop to think about how few weeks we have left, I get a little bit sad. We’ve learned so much in the last few months but yet we are still complete newbies in the field of pastry. During our FERRANDI orientation, we were told that to become a good pastry chef, we would need 10 years of professional experience. If we happen to be exceptionally gifted, we might be able to shave off a few years. Despite the fact that I’ve been baking at home for years, making pastry professionally is entirely different and most days I feel like a complete beginner. Plus, Paris is a city filled with unbelievable culinary and pastry talent. There are famous pastry chefs whose names are on magazine covers, who have decades of experience and whose beautiful shops are scattered throughout the city. Their work is half art, half pastry. It is inspiring, constantly reminding me of how much I have yet to learn and getting me excited for what is to come.

Now, onto what we learned in the third month at FERRANDI!

We started by working on entremets.

entremets – a dessert which consists largely of components which are soft, such as cream, mousse, custard, etc. It can be presented in the form of a cake, such as one made up of layers of creams with different flavours or textures (ie. Black Forrest cake) or can be an entirely flourless dessert such as a crème brûlée.

Here is a selection of some of the entremets we made:

Mogador

(chocolate and raspberry)

(more…)

Viennoiserie, Pâte à Choux and More at Ferrandi (Month 2)

Time at FERRANDI is flying by. Tomorrow I am returning to school after a week of Easter vacation. After not being in school for a whole week, FERRANDI actually started to seem like some distant dream where I was able to do something fun every day. I am so excited to return to the pastry kitchen tomorrow!

By the second month at FERRANDI, we were all getting a bit more used to being in the kitchen. Part of working in the pastry kitchen is sharing in the cleaning duties. At the beginning of each week, our chef posts the weekly schedules for us. These schedules let us know what we’ll be making each day as well as who is responsible for which duty that week. The tasks include: washing the tables and floors, washing dishes, taking out garbages, operating the ovens and being the chef of the week. Washing dishes is definitely my least favourite task – no one loves scrubbing pots with burnt on pastry cream. Plus, you have to be quick at baking AND scrubbing pots, otherwise you fall behind and the dishes just pile up! Being in charge of ovens is also not too fun. You are in charge of taking things out when they are baked which seems easy but can be quite stressful. We’ve already had numerous incidents involving burnt cakes as well as several cakes being accidentally dropped and destroyed while being removed from the oven. Chef of the week is surprisingly a really easy duty. You just need to check that everything got cleaned at the end of lab and check the temperature of the fridges and freezers to make sure they are working properly and within the food safety standards.

Another regular part of being in pastry school is constantly having your work critiqued and graded. Every week or two we have to prepare something for grading. We generally get a chance to practice the item once or twice before grading. Usually our baking is also lined up from best to worst. Before getting to FERRANDI, I heard that’s how things were done and found it really intimidating. Now, I think its the best way to go. Having all the baking lined up really helps to identify the differences in the products and better understand what the chef is looking for in a professional product. Plus I think it leads to the most fair grades. I can’t lie and say that grading days aren’t a bit stressful – I seem to always be less happy with how my products turn out on grading days than regular lab days. But overall, the grading and feedback is really useful. For example, I thought that my chaussons aux pommes turned out great but the chef docked me marks, saying the leaves looked “dead” because I scored the dough with straight instead of angled lines. However, the brioche I thought turned out ugly, got the top mark in the class for being extra airy and light.

The “Dead” Chaussons aux Pommes // Top Mark Brioche 

So here are some of the other things we made in our second month at FERRANDI:

We finished off working on mille-feuille with a few more recipes including a chocolate praline and raspberry-anise mille-feuille. Mille-feuille is best eaten the same day as it is made. Some of the mille-feuille we made was used for restaurant service but I still had way more than I could eat. I spent my Friday night after school searching for a homeless person to give my remaining mille-feuille to – I couldn’t have them eating day old mille-feuille!

Next, we had a day scheduled for the French macaron. We were only supposed to spend one day on macarons but after convincing (annoying) our Chef, he agreed to let us have two days to work on them! The first day we each made our own batch, using FERRANDI recipes. The second day, we paired up and were allowed to make whatever type of macaron we wanted to.

Matcha Chestnut Macarons // Passionfruit Chocolate Macarons // A Collection of Everyone’s Macarons

We worked our way through viennoiserie. Viennoiserie is pastry made from yeasted doughs.

Kougloff // Brioche Suisse // Criossant // Croissant Cross Section // Pain au Chocolat // Pains aux raisins (minus the raisins and plus pistachios and almonds)

Next we tackled pâte à choux.

Chocolate Eclairs // Coffee Religieuse // Paris Brest 

While I am taking the Intensive Professional Program in French Pastry at FERRANDI, we still get an introduction to bread baking as well. We have a total of 5 half day classes in the bakery. During our first class at the bakery we learned about different methods to make bread (i.e. with yeast, poolish, fermented dough, etc.), different loaf shaping techniques and other bread making basics. Time in the bakery is very relaxed compared to the pastry kitchen. Sometimes you just wait for the bread to rise and enjoy the smell of yeast and fresh bread – very different from the pastry kitchen!

During the second month of classes, we also had our first art class. We were given watercolours and other art supplies, but also a lot of homework :( (More on the art classes in a future post).

I’ll do my best to continue sharing my next batch of culinary adventures in a timely manner! First though, I have a pile of chocolate egg concept sketches to finish and an apartment move ahead of me :)

The Beginning at Ferrandi

Thursday marked one month since we got off the plane in France. It was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to everyone I love back home, but at the same time it is exciting to start a new adventure in an incredible city.

Eiffel Tower as seen during an evening stroll

Less than a week after arriving in Paris, I started pastry school. The first few days in class were spent with orientations, kitchen tours, getting our tools and uniforms (which include a stylish hair net/bonnet as well as shoes which look like they’re from the 80′s).

This year there are 27 international students in the Anglophone pastry program (and about the same number in the cuisine program). Each of the programs were split into two groups (Pastry Anglo A for me, with 13 other students). My classmates come from a variety of countries: the US, Canada, Taiwan, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Brazil, Kuwait and Thailand. Since the program doesn’t require any prior industry experience, I was surprised to find that a lot of the students have previous experience working in bakeries, restaurants or have previous culinary or pastry schooling – a little intimidating from someone who hasn’t really baked anywhere outside their own kitchen. Our chef is amazing – he has so much experience and knowledge, is so helpful and hilarious. I constantly find myself cracking up at his jokes.

Our days consist mostly of time in the kitchen, with hands on experience. However, we also have classes covering theory, French language, wine (with tastings and dessert pairings to come) and art classes. Our schedule varies on a daily and weekly basis. We alternate having kitchen time in the mornings at 8:00am or in the afternoons starting at 2:00pm. The other half of the day is usually filled with theory classes, French, etc. Sometimes we have half days. Lunch is served for free at the school, but is really disappointing. At first I found it really surprising that the food served at a culinary school is so terrible, but I later learned that the lunch services are subcontracted out to a third party (no Ferrandi student would make vegetables so mushy and tasteless!). Other than these subpar lunches, everything at school has been fantastic so far. I have been fascinated by everything we’ve learned and can’t remember the last time I took notes so eagerly on a topic I am so passionate about.

Sample weekly schedule:

The program is called the Intensive Professional Program in French Pastry and it definitely seems intensive thus far. Most days are hectic and busy, with us often leaving the kitchens an hour later than scheduled and making it to the cafeteria with only minutes before they close. The standards for our work are high. Our work is constantly criticized and sometimes (part-seriously, part-jokingly) called “disgusting” – there is no sugar coating here, so to speak. But we’re told not to take the criticisms personally, learn from them and improve our work. It is clear why this program yields such well-trained professionals, and why the employment rate for graduates of Ferrandi is so high (97%). Despite classes being occasionally overwhelming, I absolutely love every part of it so far. I don’t remember the last time I was able to wake up each morning and go do something I’m passionate about for the entire day… over and over again. There have been a few times when I was standing in the lab, rolling out dough and I was struck with the realization of how lucky I am to be in pastry school. It’s hard to believe that had I not found the courage to take this leap, I would been dragging myself through yet another stressful, unfullfilling busy season of auditing right now. Hopefully that’s a sign that I made the right decision in coming here!

So you’re probably wondering what we’ve learned in the first few weeks of class. We started with tarts, working with pâte sucrée and pâte à foncer.

pâte à foncer - a basic shortcrust dough which has a sturdy texture, retains its shape well when baked

pâte sucrée – a sweet dough, more crumbly and soft than pâte à fonder, puffs out when baked

We worked with some traditional French recipes as well as some contemporary ones, such as the famous vanilla bean and coffee tart recipes developed by Pierre Hermé. We learned proper techniques for rolling the dough, lining the tart ring and pinching the edges. When I realized on the first day in the kitchen that all the tarts would be baked not in a tart pan but in a ring (with no bottom!) I was sure that the dough would just fall right out through the bottom. However, no major tart casualties ensued.

Tarte aux Pommes // Flan Parisienne // Tarte au Citron, Tarte Orange // Tarte au Chocolate // Tarte Dacquoise // Coffee Tart

We then moved on to working with puff pastry dough. I had never made my own puff pastry before, so I found the process really interesting. We made both traditional and inverse puff pastry dough, with the butter either on the inside our outside of your dough respectively. We learned the techniques for folding, turning and relaxing the puff pastry dough and came away with these delicious treats:

Tart Bands // Pithivier // Palmiers // Mille-feuille Traditionnel

The above photos are just a sample of all the things we’ve made at pastry school so far. Essentially, I come home each day with boxes filled with baking. My biggest concern so far is finding people to give away all these sweets too. Everyone from our neighbours, the owners of the small restaurant we live above and homeless people in our neighbourhood have all been helping us polish off the past month’s baking. So… if you’re in the Paris area, you should definitely say hi and take some sweets off my hands!

 

My Long Absence and Big News

For a long time I dreamed about going to pastry school in France, but this far-fetched dream was always buried in the back of my mind by far more rational, responsible thoughts. Finishing my practical Bachelor of Commerce degree and going on to obtain my Chartered Accountant designation has occupied my mind for the last 5 years or so. These goals have since become accomplishments and while I am proud of these achievements, I was exhausted from a job that I found unfulfilling. I was left feeling unsatisfied both personally and professionally. I was over worked and so stressed that my career started taking a toll on both my health and relationships. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point I decided that I should no longer be at a job where each day I struggled to force myself to get out of bed. While it became clear that this type of work was just not right for me at this point in my life, I left my firm with the utmost respect for my peers and mentors, and haven’t closed the door on returning to professional accounting later in life.

I simply decided that I needed a change for my own well-being, if nothing else. I was terrified to make a huge, potentially life-altering change. But one day, perhaps during a bout of insanity, I decided to apply to FERRANDI l’École Française de Gastronomie for their Intensive Professional Program in French Pastry. FERRANDI is one of the leading pâtisserie schools in France with a reputation that makes it more than a little intimidating. Also, did I mention it is situated right in the middle of Paris? The professional French pastry program involves pastry schooling for 5 months, followed by a 3-6 month internship in Paris. I applied not knowing whether or not I would get in, nor knowing if I was brave enough to actually go if I was in fact accepted.

A few months after applying, I received confirmation of my enrolment. After talking it over with those closest to me, I decided to take the plunge. Sean was able to join me for my year in Paris, working in a field where working remotely is often possible. Slowly we started checking off to do’s: applying for visas, booking our apartment and buying our flights. By Christmas I had left my job and by the end of January we were officially living in Paris. The craziness of relocating halfway across the world left me too busy to post, but I am hoping to have more regular blog posts from here on out (including more updates on the challenges of moving and how our first weeks in Paris have been.)

Before I get into talking about my first few magical weeks at FERRANDI, I just wanted to quickly recap some projects from my last few months in Canada. The annual cookie baking tradition with my bestie went off without a hitch once again. Here are some of the cookies our week-long baking spree yielded:

Also, for Christmas my nephew asked for a lollipop. Refusing to purchase some store-bought, preservative-filled candy, I decided to make my own. We’re all pretty focused on natural foods in my household, so I wanted to make my lollipops as natural as possible. I knew that this could be a challenge. I didn’t want to use corn syrup and I wanted natural flavouring. I used agave syrup and raw cane sugar as sweeteners and organic grape juice for flavouring. Sadly, my first shot didn’t go so well. While the lollipops looked and tasted great once they were removed from the moulds, overnight they became gummy and this is what happened:

I quickly learned that agave is mostly fructose, which absorbs moisture quickly (hygroscopic). This makes your lollipops gummy and saggy as opposed to hard and shiny. To achieve the perfect lollipops, a mixture of fructose and glucose should be used. For my second attempt, I scrapped the agave and cane sugar, and instead used a mixture of granulated sugar and glucose purchased from a local specialty baking supply shop. These lollipops turned out perfect and were a hit with the kids.

Having finally figured out the right sugars to use, I decided to play around with a few “adult” flavours. Inspired by Sprinkle Bakes, I made red wine lollipops and sriracha lollipops. I substituted the glucose I already on hand for the corn syrup. I thought both flavours were fantastic, but, be warned, the sriracha candy is definitely something you either love or hate ;)

Have a good week, guys! And stay tuned for a post on my first weeks at FERRANDI.