“Stressed” is “Desserts” Backwards


It’s our fourth week in the pastry kitchen and things are getting a bit stressful. Chef has started applying the pressure a little, pushing us to finish things within a certain time frame- often things we have never done before.

This week we were constructing traditional mille-feuille with puff pastry we made last week. Admittedly mine looks a little “rustic” (a word we like to use instead of “messy” haha) but we did only have about 10 minutes to do the final decorations and clearing down of the kitchen.


The mille- feuille is filled with creme mousseline, a pastry cream with added butter to prevent it from melting/soaking into the pastry. The design on top is done by smoothing fondant icing on the top layer of pastry, piping thin lines of melted chocolate along the length and then drawing a toothpick widthways to create the feathering.

You don’t often see this kind of traditional mille-feuille these days and feathering has become somewhat old-fashioned. But we are told time and time again that we have to learn the classics before we can move onto anything else :)


In the Bakery


Monday is one of my favourite days at college. We spend 6 hours in the bakery with Chef Courtis who was Richard Bertinet’s head chef in Bath for 5 years. She teaches Bertinet’s own special method of bread making; Westking and Bertinet’s Kitchen are the only places which teach this particular method.

It means that there is no vigorous kneading or slapping the dough around, neither is there any use of machines to mix the dough. The water content of these breads is quite high meaning the dough is harder to work with, but the kneading method helps and the resulting bread is moister than usual. (I was going to try and include a video of this, but when we’re in the bakery we’re supposed to be baking, not struggling to get the best angle for a video! But if you’re interested there’s a short video on the Bertinet Kitchen homepage which shows a small clip of the process.)

The bakery is a huge room with wooden work surfaces (Chef Courtis prefers using wood to any other surface) 4 ovens with steam functions, a prover, a laminator (don’t ask me what that’s for!) and a few other bits of equipment which we haven’t been introduced to yet.

So far in our classes we have been learning the simple stuff; a basic white dough recipe which we have made into fougasse, olive breadsticks and rolls.






And the wonderful thing about baking on a Monday night is that we can bring in cheeses and cold meats the next day to eat with our bread at lunchtime :) #simplepleasures

The Chocolate Laboratory

One of the most exciting places at Westking is the brand new chocolate laboratory and its industrial sized chocolate tempering machines and cupboards filled with all sorts of moulds and chocolate making accessories.

We had a few new pieces of vocabulary to learn: 

  • couverture: high quality chocolate used for tempering and moulding
  • cacao: the “proper” term for cocoa :p
  • cacao nibs: what’s left of the cocoa bean once the shells have been removed


We began our classes in the chocolate lab with the basics; how to temper chocolate without using the machines.

Why temper chocolate?

If you heat and cool chocolate at random temperatures the cocoa butter will crystallise into crystals of varying sizes and the chocolate will bloom once set (there will be white cloudy patches all over it), and it will not have that sought after shine or “snap”. Tempering, a process of controlling the temperature of the chocolate, means that only one type of small crystal (known as the “V” crystal) is formed, resulting in a glossy finish and a smooth melt-in-the-mouth texture.

How to temper chocolate?

There are two methods of tempering, one is by seeding (melting the chocolate then adding (seeding) more chocolate to bring the temperature down). 

And then there’s table top tempering, infinitely more fun, messy and impressive (if you can actually do it!). It involved pouring the melted chocolate onto the table top and swilling (for want of a better word) it around with a palette knife to cool it down before somehow scooping it back into the bowl ready for use. When we attempted this there were copious amounts of chocolate dripping onto the floor…. whoops!


Chef Whitson about to demo table top tempering


 Once the chocolate is correctly tempered it can be used in so many different ways. We made chocolate bars, bunny lollipops and chocolate curls using transfers to “jazz” it up a bit and over the next few weeks we will begin to design and make chocolate centrepieces for display in our diploma assessment at the end of the course. 





I’m back!

Hello all, it’s been almost 10 months since my last post, but I am officially back! Blogging is one of those things that requires spare time, motivation and interesting subjects to write about and back in December when I stopped blogging I was just losing interest. I sort of felt obliged to write entries rather than doing it because I wanted to, and if I hadn’t felt like baking for a while I felt guilty and forced myself to bake just so I’d have something to post.

Well after a break of almost a year, I have decided to return to Almost Always Hungry and give it a bit of a make over because, well, whilst I don’t have any spare time whatsoever, I do have some interesting things to write about. If you know me personally you will probably know that I have just started studying for a patisserie diploma at Westminster Kingsway College (Westking for short) in London. My eleven classmates and I have just finished week 3 of 24 and constantly my mind has been turning to this blog and all the exciting things I could fill its pages with. So this is me, getting back on the blogging bandwagon :)

A recap of the past 10 months:

I was given the idea to get a pastry qualification when I finished my work with L’atelier des Chefs last December. New Year 2013 I was pretty much jobless and had to make some sort of decision as to what I wanted to do with my life. When the opportunity came up for me to undertake a formal patisserie education it seemed like the best choice to make. No more guessing why my bread hasn’t risen or why my macarons are hollow, it was time to learn once and for all from the pros! I had to choose between Le Cordon Bleu and Westminster Kingsway and whilst Le Cordon Bleu name is infinitely more famous around the world, Westminster Kingsway offers a much more practical and comprehensive course with the opportunity to make many contacts on the culinary scene. Once I’d made my decision I had a long 6 month wait for the course to start. I spent my time working part time for the wonderful Beverley Glock and her company Splat Cooking which provides cookery classes and parties for children. I taught an after school cookery club every Wednesday at a school in St. Albans and also did parties on the weekends. It was a lot of fun and gave me the impetus to open up more opportunities for myself. Whilst I’m by no means set on what I want for the future my aim (at the moment) for once the course is over is to get some experience in the industry, ideally in an independent bakery or patisserie and then ultimately to help expand Rose Apple Bakery or open my own place (and I’d also love to get into teaching and of course cookery events as well!)

So, welcome back to Almost Always Hungry. If you’ve been subscribed for all these months and become accustomed to the total radio silence, I do hope this isn’t a shock, but do stay tuned as I try to catch you up on what’s been going on on the International Patisserie Diploma course at Westking over the past few weeks.

Here’s some photos of a few bits and pieces I’ve done this year (warning: these are mostly “phone shots” so expect slightly grainy quality, extremely casual backgrounds and weird lighting)


Hello Kitty macarons

Raspberry crepe cake


Honeycomb and chocolate robots with Splat Cooking


Lemon and blueberry chiffon cake


The biggest cake failure I’ve ever had!


The most elaborate cake I’ve made!


A wedding cake I helped deliver and set up


Baked eggs and chorizo with asparagus and fresh sourdough for brunch :)