Molten Sugar and Burns

Molten Sugar and Burns

Over a painful three week period we were introduced to sugar work. I’m not going to pretend I enjoyed it (or was good at it for that matter); for our virgin hands it was a rather unpleasant experience which left … Continue reading

Christmas at Westking


In the run up to Christmas we were also hard at work putting together our Christmas chocolates. After a couple of weeks of deliberation and testing the flavours we settled on were mince pie, lemongrass & white chocolate, Speculoos & marshmallow, gingerbread, salted caramel and chilli chocolate. We ordered the boxes, ribbons, box dividers and recruited my brother to help with the art work.

It was a really fun process, deciding on the flavours, testing out the recipes and figuring out which moulds to use. We made up about 70 boxes in the end, a total of 840 individual chocolates. The flavours were initially supposed to be Christmas inspired, but there were so many flavours we wanted to include that we ended up just putting together a box of our favourites.




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And then of course in our other classes we also made Christmas related goodies:


Clockwise: Christmas cake, Yule log, mince pies and stollen

It’s Not Easter But…

I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas and New Year. I have fallen hopelessly behind with blogging so here’s making a start at catching up.

Ages ago we made Easter eggs! :)

We used coloured cocoa butter in a spray can on the inside of the mould before lining them with tempered dark chocolate. Then they went into the fridge to set. Meanwhile we used cocoa butter transfer sheets to decorate some chocolate ribbons and swirls to embellish the final egg.



The colours from the cocoa butter spray and the shine of the chocolate really are amazing aren’t they? Then we heated a baking tray and held one side of the egg onto it for a few seconds to melt the edge so that we could stick the two sides together.



My egg :)

Updates from the Chocolate Lab

We have done so much in the weeks since I made that first and only post about the Chocolate Laboratory. Since we have now learned the basics of tempering chocolate by hand, we are now exclusively using the tempering machine (and thank goodness because it’s so much faster and easier!)

We have been learning how to make ganache filled chocolates using a myriad of different moulds:




The ganaches: White chocolate & lemon, pistachio, salted caramel and dark chocolate

We have also been conching our own chocolate from the cocoa bean in order to produce a unique “Wesking chocolate bar”. A conche is an insanely expensive piece of equipment which scrapes and mixes cocoa butter and chocolate so that the cocoa butter is evenly distributed. It is at the conching stage that other flavours such as vanilla or coffee essence and sugar can be added to give the chocolate a distinctive taste. A large part of the taste is also dependant on the type of cocoa bean being used and where it is from.

We experimented by varying the percentage of cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa bean to produce a smooth, yet tasty chocolate. We learned that the longer the bean stays in the conch machine the more of its flavour it will lose, but the smoother it will be. We also had to consider how sweet or bitter we wanted it and also how much “dryness” we wanted to feel on the tongue. Supermarket chocolates have a much higher percentage of cocoa butter (or even vegetable oil) to make them feel smooth, creamy and sweet, but so-called “designer” chocolates tend to be more bitter and flavourful. So it’s really a balancing act between the taste and the texture. Personally I find the Westking bar to be slightly too dry for my liking and also a bit acidic on the tongue, but it is an interesting experience to really see the difference in taste and texture when more or less of certain ingredients are added.

This Westking bar is a semi-production and marketing project for the class. We have to make up about 500 bars, decide on the packaging and then sell them in the college shop (when I say shop I mean tiny cart by the front entrance which usually inexplicably only sells pick n’ mix and deodorant). It was an interesting project, if only for the fact that we all had to try and work together to come up with one cohesive idea.

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The draft design

As the packaging says our chocolate is conched for about 36 hours (chocolate can be conched for anything up to 70 or 80 hours) and as it can’t be left running overnight at the end of each day Chef scoops out all the chocolate and turns off the machine. Then each morning in the Chocolate Lab begins with one of us being allocated to “hairdryer” the chocolate. And by that I mean blasting the conch machine with a hairdryer to melt the residual semi-conched beans and cocoa butter left from the night before so that when the machine is turned on the wheels and scraper run smoothly, ready for the chocolate to be poured back in for further conching.


In a fit of creativeness a small group of us have started our own project; designing a box of chocolates to give as Christmas presents. We have Friday’s off and Chef allows us to spend that time in the Chocolate Lab just playing around and doing whatever we want. It’s been a lot of fun testing out different flavours and coming up with ideas…. but there’ll be more on that in a later post…. :)

She bakes at midnight


You know you’re in the Kan household when it’s midnight, the oven is still blasting away and we’re all dozing in front of the tv, timer in hand waiting for the baking to be done. Tonight I had to finish using some leftover short crust from our first assessment on Tuesday.

For our assessment we had 5 hours to make a lemon tart and 12 profiteroles topped with caramel and filled with chantilly cream. We did lemon tarts right at the start of the course, and the profiteroles, well, if you are friends with me on Facebook you will have seen what happened to my poor profiteroles. This is how I got from the first photo to the second:

We had made St Honores that day. It is a traditional French pastry, named after the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs (yes, there is such a thing!), consisting of a puff pastry base with a ring of choux pastry round the outside, filled with creme chiboust and topped with profiteroles. It had been a long and stressful day in the kitchen. Chef had been shouting a lot and there had been some burnt caramels and some people having to start their choux pastry over again. I was heading up to the changing room, St Honore plus some eclairs made from the extra choux, and of course you only ever trip up the stairs when you’re carrying something that cannot survive a trip up the stairs. It only took a split second, then I was staring at the box sitting on its side on the stairs. And that’s how I ended up with soggy choux buns partly submerged in a sea of creme pat. But hey, it still tasted good!

So back to our assessment, everything was mostly ok, though I made a couple of errors, I didn’t quite blind bake my tart case long enough, it was only juuuuuuust cooked, and then I left my filled tart in the oven slightly too long so it began to separate from the sides of the pastry. My profiteroles were fine, just a little on the large side.


After presenting our work we had to leave the kitchen whilst Chef examined and tasted what we had done. Kind of like the Great British Bake Off except without any glamour or Paul Hollywood or Star Baker award. Well, I passed :) as did everyone else in the class. There are more photos of our lemon tarts plated up in a modern style here.

We each made a double recipe just in case anything went wrong we would have extra to do it again and so that it how I ended up making a lemon tart and tarte aux pommel (recipe here) at midnight. Tonight’s lemon tart corrected everything I did wrong in Tuesday’s assessment, though I have now made 4 lemon tarts in the last month so I fear will not be making or eating them again for quite a while!

“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 :)

Apologies, it seems my blog was hacked :(

I suspect that some of you may have seen a post on this blog entitled “Im excited! Sweet, my opinion is worth MONEY!! LOVE IT!”. My sincere apologies. Firstly for the flagrant disregard of the need for an apostrophe in “I’m” (Her Majesty would be horrified!), secondly for the use of the word “sweet”, which on this blog would only ever be used to describe dessert and thirdly for the horrendous overuse of capital letters. Kids, don’t capitalise entire words in cyberworld, it’s rude.

And whilst I’m pretty sure that many of you do “Have Internet On Your PC, Laptop or Phone” and would find earning $250 per day fairly useful, I very much doubt that you can do that by “filling out surveys and giving your opinion on today’s most popular products” as the cheeky so-and-so who decided to hack my account is claiming.

So if you saw that post, please accept my heartfelt apologies. I shall endeavour to make up for the intrusion with promises of upcoming posts including macarons for movember, brioche and sachertorte. :) see you soon!