-In the Night Kitchen, Maurice Sendak
Who Wouldn't Like to Wake Up to This Every Morning?It was my first job out of high school at a local bakery, where I learned to love coffee. No, scratch that, not love, started to need it's power punch of caffeine early in the morning. I would often start work at 5am and first chore on the list was brew the coffee. All the donuts and pastries were already made by a night shift that had started at midnight and finished some time before I arrived (it was a very small shop). Once I got to fill in on the donut making shift. I came to work at Midnight and Finished around 4am. In my young mind, at first I couldn't understand why the donuts had to be made at night. Then it occurred to me, how else would they be ready for those first customers at 6am?
It's now 6:30 am Paris time, do you know where your favorite Pastry Chef is??? I'm just finishing my 8 hour night shift at Laduree. All the lovely little pastries have been decorated, garnished with fresh berries, and the tiny little Etiquettes (little gold oval pieces of paper with Laduree Paris on them) have been properly placed. I see carts of fresh-from-the-oven Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, Brioche Sucre and Canneles ready to be sent up to the store front for Petit Dejuener of many Parisians. I can't decided if I'm more hungry or more tired, but I'm happy!
So I have survived my second week at Laduree (first on the night shift). I hasn't been as difficult as I imagined. I am almost nocturnal now, working all night and sleeping away most of the day. It helps that Redbull is available in France. The night time staff is mostly young men (younger than me). Everyone has been nice. I feel I had a better start with them. Maxim is the head chef on my first night. He asks (in French) if I speak French. Oui, I speak just a little, but I explain that if he speaks slowly and simply, I can mostly understand. He seems to take this into consideration, as does most of the staff. I find myself understanding them better than some of the day staff.
I am told to work with Bastien. We start with assembling the Isphan. Rosey rounds of biscuit meringue, topped with a dab of Rose Buttercream, fresh Raspberries and Litchis and topped with another round, so it almost looks like a fancy round Raspberry sandwich. It is explained to me to turn all the tops so that the end where the spiral of meringue was finished being piped is in the back. I sigh a happy sigh, this is the level of precision and detail in pastry that makes me giddy, I get it! Then 2 dabs of buttercream are added to the top; one to anchor another fresh Raspberry, and the other to anchor the Rose petal. It's midnight and I'm tearing petals off of gorgeous, deep red roses. Instead of chanting, he loves me, he loves me not, I wonder how many customers (American tourists in particular) try to eat the Rose petal, or a try to ask if it is edible? The Etiquette is rested against the Raspberry. The final touch is little dots of gelatin-like mixture piped from a frosting bag onto the Rose petals so they look as if they have been kissed by the morning dew. After 2 nights of doing this, I"m over the novelty, but I think if I could take a picture of it and send it to my mother, she would sigh.
The Laduree Etiquette
Next we start the Harmonie. Much like the Fraisier cake, it combines the flavors of Pistachio and Strawberry. I love it. We take the pistachio green meringue rounds from the freezer and fill them with a little Pistachio mousseline. Then we thinly slice Fresh Strawberries and place them on top of the mousseline. Then another layer of mousseline. Halved Strawberries have been sprayed with a vanilla glaze, and are arranged just so on top of the mousseline. One night I am shown by Bastien to arrange 2 in the back, 1 in the middle, and 2 laying sideways in the front. Three nights later, Fabian observes me doing this and says, no no no, comme ca..... I stop and just shake my head. I can't even begin in my little French to tell him, that it was how I was shown before. I just say Bastien, and point. We laugh. I think he gets it, but I do it his way with the Strawberries pointing up in front. I think it looks better anyway.
After finishing the Harmonies, if we are doing well on time, we take a short break. Sometimes Maxim finds some food for us, probably left overs from the Laduree kitchen. I now carry a fork in my pocket because of this. Otherwise I have to eat with my fingers, it's like camping. When the break is over, I usually get sent to another kitchen to help with finishing the tarts and this is where I end my long night.
In tarts I fill small pate sucree crusts with a Rhubarb compote and then carefully arrange tiny Frais de Bois strawberrys on top. I don't understand the Frais de bois. I don't think they are pretty, the coloring is never consistent, and they are often very mushy. I ask Damien if they taste good. He doesn't think so. I finally taste one and it's not bad. Sweet, and almost kind of floral tasting. I try to imagine it with the Rhubarb. Once the tiny Frais are all placed perfectly, I pipe a spiral of Strawberry gelee on top and of course, don't forget the etiquette!
About 5am the early morning staff starts to trickle in. One by one, coming in to say Bonjour and give a kiss, or grasp your wrist for a shake if you are busy working. Damiem tells me to go ask for the Cuit Sucre, or cooked sugar. I am given several plaques of hardened caramel colored sugar that I then break into pieces to be melted down. Several kilos of butter and a small amount of pectin is added, we are making the caramel for the Tart Tatins. I tried one the other day and it was good, but way too buttery for my tastes. I'd prefer to taste more of the apples. I find it clever the way they make the individual Tart Tatins. Large silicon flexi-molds. A laddle full of the caramel goes in each round mold. Then 1 and 1/2 apples are pushed in on top of the caramel. Someone, probably in the oven room places the butter rounds of dough on top before baking them in the oven. Then the following night I may have to take them out of the flexi-molds before starting the process over.
I am now bleary eyed and thinking of my bed. We clean the kitchens, mopping the floors and washing the marble counters. Make sure things are put away. Our aprons are collected to be washed and I make my rounds saying goodbye to the staff before I go change out of my uniform. Then its up the stairs and into the day light on the Champs-Elysees. I walk to my metro stop, passing the fruite and vegetable vendors setting up there stalls, deliveries are being made to the restaurants along the street and everyone is getting ready for the day. At Laduree there are lots of fresh buttery Croissants, Brioche and other delights waiting for the first of the day's customers.
So next time you are up early and visiting your local bakery or pastry shop, enjoy the first cup of coffee or tea, keep in mind all the work that went into making sure that pastry was fresh and waiting for you that morning.
In steaming on into Week 3 at Laduree with the night team. Lots of other exciting things happening as well, that I will share after I catch up on a little more sleep.