“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 :)

Christmas Macaron Masterclass- 7th December!

I just realised that it has been over a month since Fabricio and I did our first macaron class at the Faircake kitchen in Greenwich and I completely forgot to blog about it. I hadn’t even edited any of the photos! Well, anyway, here are a few snapshots and my thoughts on the class. As you can see, the kitchen is absolutely beautiful and so well-equipped. This being the first time teaching here, it was a bit of a rush to find where everything was stored and to be set up on time, but thankfully luck was on our side, as per usual at the weekend the tube lines were delayed and so we had a few extra minutes to prepare. We had 11 lovely students join us for the class and they learned how to make lemon, salted caramel and pistachio macarons. Here’s the first lot of macarons coming out of the oven. I breathed a sigh of relief at this stage because, well, macarons are finicky little things which often decide to fail at the most inopportune times!And of course everyone went away with a box of macarons and the recipes. We have another macaron class coming up soon at Faircake and there are still some places left.

Class: Macarons with a Hint of Christmas
Date & Time: Friday 7th December 6-8pm
Venue: 16 Highbridge Wharf, Greenwich, London, SE10 9PS
Price: £75

We will be teaching 3 different Christmas inspired flavours as well as showing you some ideas for decorating your macaron shells (see below). If you are interested do book a place as this class only comes round once a year and there’s not much time left to snap up the last few places! Click here to book!

Brioche and The River Cottage Bread Handbook

I recently met Daniel Stevens, the author of the River Cottage Bread Handbook who gave me a few good bread making tips and also encouraged me to buy his book (no bias there for sure! haha).

I did go and buy the book in the end and it turned out to be a wonderful read. An incredibly informative book with mouthwatering photos and anecdotes which made me smile. Dan has a certain way with words and a knack for describing certain indescribable things about the bread making process. For example writing on when the dough is proved enough:

It is hard to describe the perfect moment in words. The best I can say is that a really well-shaped, tightly moulded, perfectly risen loaf has a certain look and feel about it, as if it is just bursting to be baked.

I wasn’t planning to make brioche until much later in my bread-making adventure, but then the Bread Handbook informed me that “contrary to popular belief, as bread goes, brioche is pretty straightforward”. And who doesn’t love brioche. It’s light, bready, rich, sweet… and if that wasn’t enough it has a soft, golden brown crust.

I made the most deliciously indulgent brioche sandwich for lunch that day and then had it toasted with butter for breakfast the next morning. I’m pretty sure I can feel my waistline expanding with every slice of bread…. :s 

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!

Struggling with baguettes

Baguettes are one of those iconic French symbols. They conjure up idyllic scenes of the French countryside and a moustachioed man wearing a striped shirt and a beret with onions in one hand and a baguette in the other.

Nothing can beat a warm, freshly baked baguette but sadly these things only seem to exist on the Continent. In my local Sainsbury’s we have to settle for bake off baguettes which say they’re artisan, but actually are just a typical industrial loaf disguised by a deceptively rustic looking crust.

I long to be able to make beautiful baguettes, but as with the ciabatta it took 3 attempts to produce something which could acceptably be called a baguette. The first batch, we shan’t dwell on for very long, as they were so hideous I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph. My fatal mistake was using cling film to cover my lovingly shaped loaves for the final proving. As any bread baker out there can probably imagine the cling film got stuck to the dough and in the process of trying to remove it my poor baguettes were completely mangled and misshapen. I baked them anyway and whilst they tasted pretty good they looked a bit like giant, mutant breadsticks.

I’m not one to give up easily so I tried again.  The recipe which I have used for all 3 batches is from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s book, How to Make Bread. Baguette dough is a fairly wet dough, not as wet as ciabatta, but still more challenging to work with than your regular bread dough.

Batch 2

Meet Batch 2. This time I lightly dusted the baguettes in flour and covered them with a tea towel. The upside is that it didn’t stick, but the downside is that the dough dried out slightly. I have since learned that this is the result of having a dry tea towel on top of the dough and also leaving it too long to prove. It caused a thin crust to form on the outside of the dough, meaning that when in the oven there was no “oven spring” (the initial rapid rising of the dough as the heat of the oven gives the yeast more oomph to work). Because of this, Batch 2 had quite a tight texture and (as you can see from the photo) the slashes down the length of the baguette which are supposed to help increase the rise from the oven spring, are completely closed and kind of look like tears in the surface of the bread. Those slashes should be smooth and should begin to open up pretty much immediately, even before the bread is in the oven.

Batch 3

So, onto Batch 3. Third time lucky right? This time I covered the dough with a damp tea towel, something which quite a few recipes do, and for some reason I had never tried. But it worked a treat. After about an hour of proving the dough was risen, and still oh-so-soft and moist. I slashed the loaves and sure enough the cuts began to slowly open up. I only wish I had slashed them a bit deeper. I’ve read that when slashing loaves it pays to be confident and just cut away… I was a bit hesitant and nervous, but next time I think I’ll have the confidence to just go for it :)These are the finished baguettes. The texture is much better, but I think towards the bottom it gets a bit dense. I believe this can be rectified by a liiiitle bit longer proving, and perhaps slightly longer in the oven. You can probably also see a crack along the side of the bread. I believe this is from where I didn’t seal the seam of the bread properly, and so as the dough expanded in the oven it kind of ripped a tear in the side of the loaf.

Overall I’m fairly happy with the outcome, but being a perfectionist, there is always something that can be improved. Baguettes will be revisited again at some point in the future.

In Pursuit of Ciabatta

I started off my bread journey last week by making several white loaves, which were achieved without too much difficulty. I have discovered that kneading bread is a very therapeutic process and also incredibly satisfying when what was once a sticky mess comes together into a smooth, springy ball of dough.

I have since ventured out further to try my hand at ciabatta ….in search of that perfect chewy, spongy texture and those elusive air bubbles.

Batch 1

My first attempt used a recipe taken from the book How To Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. His book teaches a kneading method whereby the bread is kneaded little by little throughout the long proving time. This is a particularly useful method when working with ciabatta dough which is very wet and cannot easily be kneaded in the conventional way.

The finished bread was ok, although the loaves needed to be in the oven for much longer. There were some large air bubbles, but not nearly as many as should be to give the ciabatta it’s unique texture.

Batch 2

I decided to try again with a different recipe.

I found this one online. It uses a different kneading method where you stretch the dough upwards out of the bowl and smack it back down onto itself which helps to create more air bubbles, a real work out for the upper arms. As you can see from the photo above this did result in a more open crumb structure (sounds like something Paul Hollywood would say!) and the loaf had a beautiful chewy crust and a soft springy inside. The one thing I did notice however was that the large bubbles were not spread throughout the loaf. The ends were nice and holey, but the centre was quite close.

Batch 3 (before baking)

At the same time as the second batch I decided to have another go at the Emmanuel Hadjiandreou recipe. These things take quite a long time to prove so why not save time and do two different methods at once!

As you can probably tell by the third attempt, I’m getting better at shaping the loaves :)

Batch 3

I was quite disappointed with the results. The loaf was dense (still soft though) and did not even look close to what a ciabatta should look like neither did not have the lovely springy texture of batch 2.

So I decided to go for batch number 4. Five stars for perseverance.

Batch 4

This recipe, from the brilliant website The Kitchn, uses a starter which is made the night before. A starter is a simple dough, which is left to ferment for a long period of time (usually between 10-12 hours) and is then incorporated into the bread dough. Because the yeast is allowed to work for a much longer time the use of a starter can create better flavour in the bread and also, with ciabatta, is meant to help with the texture as well. The starter used for Italian breads is called biga and is much drier in consistency than the French poolish,  often used for making baguettes and other French artisan breads.

Using a starter definitely helped the proving process, after only 1.5 hours the dough was tripled in size and bursting with huge air bubbles. But again, as you can see from the photo of the finished bread, the air bubbles are mostly concentrated towards the top of the loaf. This definitely was the best out of the 4, it had a lovely flavour and an incredibly soft, spongy texture, but just no air bubbles. Maybe I’ll just call it Italian bread and leave it at that…

I saw a Youtube video of a woman making ciabatta who turns the dough upside down before baking to redistribute the bubbles. Perhaps that’s what I need to try, but for now I am moving on to the next challenge and shall revisit ciabatta sometime in the future.

Adventures with Yeast

Ok, I admit it. I’m scared of yeast.

It’s alive. It needs looking after. It’s possible to kill it.


Up until 2 weeks ago I hadn’t ever baked a loaf of bread from scratch and actually up until a few years ago I had a fairly strong dislike of bread.

I mean, I’m Chinese and so growing up there was a distinct lack of bread, save for soggy homemade sandwiches (with crust, oh the horror!)  for school lunch and the bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip which was served at the Italian restaurant we went to every now and again.

These early experiences, especially the dread of being forced to eat sandwiches at school (slightly squashed and with huge blobs of butter), left me very disdainful of bread (and indeed butter…). In fact I even remember carefully opening my sandwiches, lifting out the ham and cheese filling, painstakingly scraping off every smear of butter and then sneaking the bread into the bin without the dinner lady noticing (and woe betide you if she did notice as you’d quickly find yourself being made to eat whatever you’d just thrown away, straight from the bin).

But then about 3 years ago everything changed. A German friend of mine invited me to her house in Munich for Oktoberfest. Every morning a selection of local breads of every shape, colour and flavour appeared on the kitchen table. The first morning I ate 10 rolls piled with sliced meats and cheeses. And from that point on for the rest of the time we were there, I ate more bread than I had ever eaten before or since.

Upon returning home I finally understood why my German friend was constantly complaining about the bread in the UK. Supermarket bread is shockingly bland and proper artisan bakeries are few and far between.

Three years have passed since my eye-opening trip to Munich, and I have returned to my former ways of eating little to no bread (it’s probably better for the waistline that way). But then it dawned on me that if I could just get over my dislike of yeast then a whole new world of baking would be open to me.

So, with National Baking Week starting today I hereby end my boycott of all things which require proving and thus will I begin my adventure with yeast.