Thursday, August 26, 2010

A little bit of This, A little bit of That

 Laduree Shop on the Champs-Elysees

It's August! Almost the end in fact.  Where has my summer gone?  Once again as my time in Paris winds down and my departure to the US approaches, I start to reflect on the events of the past few weeks.  This Friday I will be saying goodbye to my new friends at Laduree.  Many of them will be saying goodbye to Laduree as well.  The kitchen is moving to another location and many people have taken this as an oppurtunity to move on to other places as well. I'm saying goodbye to a lot of new friends already.

Last I had written I was working in the Bandes kitchen, filling the round Pate a Choux for the Religeuse, dipping finger-like Eclairs in fondant, and assembling the bases for the St. Honore's.   I fell into the routine quickly and felt at home.  This was after two weeks in the craziness of the Morning Entremet team.  Entremet does everything, and everything in large quantities.  I've made and measured coulis, pouring them into various shapped flexi-molds, piped fluffly meringue dacqouise in to spirals, I've seen the Laduree cupcakes through the entire production process and taken part in each step.  I've frozen my finger tips from removing coulis from the molds directly out of the blast freezer, I've stacked and arranged multiple compents of all the Laduree pastries.  I've learned short cuts and quick tips, and most importantly how to use both hands at all times!

Last Thursday I switched to my final post of my stage: Tour.  Tour is the kitchen where everything croissant or bread is made, and then some.  We are the earliest starting team of the day, beginning at 6:30 am.  On my first day I rolled many croissants and found out that Laduree has two types of croissant: the Laduree and the Ancienne.  The Ancienne has slightly more butter and an different turning process then the Laduree, giving it a flakier texture, where the Laduree has been described as being a bit more doughy.  I plan to do a side by side comparison soon.

In Tour we also make a components of other desserts as well.  The bases for the St. Honores and Tarte Tatins, Quiche crusts and little sales petit fours for the restaurant kitchen, Coconut Sables that are packaged and sold, and Tart shells that are filled later by the night team.  This post is probably the most physically demanding. There is lots of lifting and turning of large patons of Croissant and Feuilletage.  Overall the department is calm, things run pretty smoothly and there is a bit of a rhythm. Roll the Croissants, fold the Pain au Chocolat, set aside the pastries that need to baked off for the night crew, turn the patons, cut out various doughs, measure ingredients for the next day's batch of dough, clean, rinse, repeat.  And thankfully in this department I work with a native English speaker.  Its nice to have someone who can translate when I just can't figure out what they are saying, but it's also nice to have someone to share a little conversation with while working as well. 

My lack of fluency in the French language has been the cause of most of my frustration and humor during this stage.  Thankfully, I've forgotten most of the low moments already and the funny ones I'll never forget.  I hope my coworkers have gotten as many laughs at my mispronounced words as I have of there's.  This stage has been the most physically, mentally and emoitionally challenging thing I have done so far in my life, and I've so thankful for this oppurtunity.

Tomorrow is my last day in the Kitchen on the Champs-Elysees.  I'm a little sad.  Over the past few weeks as people have been slowly leaving, I've learned the custom is to bring in a bottle of Champagne on your last day to share with your coworkers.  Everyone gathers around and makes a little toast and has a little drink to wish the departee well.  Tomorrow is also the last day for several regular employees.  I'm leaving the Champagne up to them.  3 months in France may have increased my understanding of French, but I still have to leave a nice American impression for them (as if I haven't left enough of one already).  So in lieu of Champagne, I'm taking Chocolate Chip cookies.  I'm sure they will go great with the others' Champagne.

 It's Quite the Busy Place

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


This is Why I Wear an Apron

Mistakes happen; even in professional kitchens.  And when bad luck, miscalculations, loss of balance or other acts of God occur, the laughter is faint and restrained- because we're all thanking God it wasn't us, but know that next time it could be.  It's almost a kind of kitchen respect.  Make fun of your coworkers for their personal lives, but don't rub in big mistakes in the kitchen (or at least I haven't seen it yet any place I have worked).  

I am now working in the Bandes post of Laduree.  I don't know what Bandes really translates to in English, have not bothered to look it up or ask.  However at Laduree, Bandes is the little kitchen where the Pate a Choux pastries are filled and finished, and large slabs of lovely Plaisir Sucre and Carre Chocolat are cut into the individual portions and finished as well.  It's not exciting work; it's more routine like it was in Decor.  But I do love referring to the tiny choux puffs as La Tete (the head for the reglieusse) and laughed when I saw the etiquette on the plaque that said, "corps de religeusse" I at Laduree or the catacombs?  

My first task this morning was to mix the various flavors of Creme Patissier for the filling of the choux.  Cafe, Pistache, Rose, Violette and Chocolate.  I take 2 large tubs of creme patissier from the Entremets Kitchen and scoop all of the creme into a very large mixing bowl (Cuve in French).  I whip up the pastry creme and then tote it back to the Bandes kitchen for weighing and mixing with the flavors.  Most of the cremes are flavored with very extracts and sirops.  The Chocolate is mixed with, you got it, Chocolate.  Mixing chocolate into Pastry Cream is not an easy task.  You have to melt the chocolate and then temper it into the cold pastry cream in order to get it to mix completely.  At Laduree very hot milk is involved in melting the chocolate....and this is where today's ooops! happened. (Thankfully I was not involved, except that I was waiting for the milk.)

One patissiere is working dilligently cutting the Carre Chocolat into the perfect sized squares.  Just above his head is the Micro-ondes (microwave).  Things are coming and going in and out of the microwave like clockwork.  He is doing a little dance to the tune of, "Pardon, excuse-moi" while performing his cutting task.  He gets a brief 4 minute break while the milk is heated to tres chaud in the microwave.  Other patissieres come in and out of the kitchen looking for keys or ingredients they couldn't find else where.  A third patissier, trying to be helpful (he is taller than me) goes to retreive the very hot milk from the microwave.  We now have three dance partners.  Someone missed a step and the rest is a blur of white. Afterwards there is hot milk streaming from microwave, onto the counter, over the blocks of Carre Chocolat and spilling onto the floor.  The kitchen is quiet, we exchange nervous glances and NO ONE dares to laugh.  
I say a silent THANK YOU GOD IT WASN'T ME.  
Composure is quickly regained, the mess is promptly clean up and the tasks are restarted, and I think everyone is a little more careful in their movements as the day's work continues. 

It's not the first big mess I've seen, nor will it be the last.  During the my two weeks on the night shift, one of the patissiers drops a large bucket of pistachio paste (not cheap!) directly upside down on the floor, creating a dark muddy green looking puddle.  Just last week, a fellow stagiare realized after pushing frozen coulis pieces into the rose cupcakes, that they were using Strawberry instead of the Raspberry that is supposed to be in there.  I quickly helped remove the Strawberry flavored ones and then helped redo the Raspberry.  

As you can see from the photo above, I have made my own messes as well.  Back when I was working on my cupcakes for cupcake camp I had a little mishap with my handheld mixer.  The container I was mixing in was not heavy enough to stay in one place as I mixed.  I had to keep one hand on the container and use the other hand to hold the mixer.  In a momentary lapse of concentration, my hand holding the container released it while I had the mixer on high speed.  The container spun wildly around, sending Chocolate cake batter in a 360 degree splatter pattern- on the floor, the door, the cabinets, the wall, the stove, the clean dishes, and me!  I'm still amazed none got on my shirt, my apron protected me well, but I felt like such an idiot.

This is why I am not a doctor.  I loved how one of my instructors at school always said, "there is no open heart on the table, it's just pastry".  The chef at Crema had another great saying, "you're allowed to make mistakes, just don't repeat the same one over and over".  This is another reason why I love what I do.  The stress is really only the stress you put on yourself. Yes, I want to produce beautiful and flawless pastries all the time, but it's nice to know I can still be human.  And in this business, sometimes you get to eat your mistakes and they can be quite delicious!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Laduree Week 4&5- Decor

After finishing my 2 weeks on the night shift, I had just one weekend to try to flip my sleeping schedule to accommodate a 7am start time.  On the first Monday of my new post, after much tossing and turning and difficulty trying to sleep, I got up and headed off to the Champs-Elysees once again.  It was strange walking into the kitchen bleary eyed and meeting with my coworkers of the past two weeks just as they were finishing work, and I was now just starting.

I've been meaning to write this post since I started my two week stint in the Decor department.  In my mind as the two weeks progressed my idea for this post changed, and now I am glad I waited to write it.  This is what Decor is:  If you go to the Laduree website the first thing you see as the page loads is what looks like a Christmas tree that has flying macarons attaching themselves to it.  When the animation finishes, it morphs into a photo of the famous Laduree Macaron pyramid.  Decor is the dept at Laduree responsible for making these, The whole thing (except the macarons, more on that later).  I remember my first day, just a few weeks ago, I walked past one of the smaller labs and caught a glimpse of one over 3 feet tall, covered in multitude of macarons, with a beautiful Etiquette made of White Chocolate place on it, and then another White Chocolate plaque with elegant looking writing saying "Catherine & Francois" and a date- it was going to be someone's wedding cake.  I stared wide-eyed and wide mouthed for a minute.  It was another one of those, oh my, I AM working at Laduree moments. Decor also makes several other Piece Montees (name for the large cake, macaron and cream puff creations) and as I was soon to find out, display pieces for the windows of the all the stores, including the ones outside of Paris.

If I hadn't known better, when I first started Decor, I would have thought I was being punished for bad behavior/performance.  It seemed like the place were you would send employees who you didn't trust to touch the real pastries yet.  I found the work tedious and boring from the start, but I was working with a staff of just 3 so, it was nice to be part of a small and much better organized group, then the seeming craziness of the larger kitchens.

My biggest problem with Decor, was really an issue with myself.  On the first day I was handed a bag of Glace Royal (Royal icing) and instructed to take a styrofoam form and practice piping a border for the base of the pyramids.  Ever wonder why you don't see elaborate hand-decorated cakes on my blog?  Because its not my strong point, and I have little patience with myself when trying to do these things.  I've never been good at playing video games, I can't draw a straight line to save my life, and if I were an artist, well my work would be of the abstract kind.

Decor quickly became my hell.  Piping the border is one thing, but then after I had emptied a bag of icing and told maybe tomorrow I could actually pipe on a base that we would keep, I was given another bag with a smaller tip and then it got worse.  Now I had to do stringwork. (this page here will show you the items I was working on in decor).  I had to pipe 3 little thing lines of icing,one at a time, letting them hang just so, and then attach them to the cake to look like a pretty little swag.  AND they have to be evenly spaced.  I wanted to cry.  They wouldn't let me quit.  I kept piping and wiping away the icing, and then doing it again.  Then finally my punishment for one day was fulfilled and I was given other less intricate tasks to do.

In Decor communication was a little easier working with the same 2-3 people each day and I learned the routine very quickly.  Going to the storage space to get the styrofoam cones and circles, making the Glace Royal, the process of covering the cones and circles quickly and then making sure the coating was not to thick and then setting them to dry.  Finally on Thursday of my first week, I got to start making the macaron pyramids.  On Friday when I arrived, I notice a familar set-up of two heat lamps over a silpat and a large pot boiling sugar syrup on a portable induction cook top.  The head chef of the dept was going to do sugarwork. 

I've mentioned before that I work with a lot of young men, practically boys to me.  It is because most of them start working in the pastry field as apprentices at the young age of 14.  Guilliame, the head chef of Decor, is only 18.  On my first day of working with him, I found it odd that someone so young was in charge of a dept already and so serious.  By later on in the week he had relaxed and stopped being so serious and started joking with me.  When I watched him move quickly with the sugar and pull perfect sugar ribbons (which I cannot do), I started to understand why he was the chef.  At the end of my two weeks I saw him complete all the decorating and the string work on a 6 tier wedding cake.  It was practically flawless.

My sleep schedule finally adjusted back to nights and I started to enjoy getting out of work by 4pm and having a good amount of time afterwork to do stuff.  My string work improved and by the end of my time in Decor I was allowed to pipe on the actual bases, but I still feel I need some work on it.  I think my counting in French improved during these two weeks as well.  I also learned a new word, "Factice" or artificial in English.  In Decor we made many Factice display pieces that were used in the window displays at the store and sent to other stores as well.  I made an entire pyramid of Factice pistachio macarons for a display.  A week later I discovered it in the Printemps window display on Rue Lafayette.

 Look closely behind my left shoulder

Factice macarons use the same meringue shell as the edible ones, but they are filled with Royal icing colored to make the normal filling so that they do not go bad.  You could technically eat one, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I have now passed another two weeks with the Entremets morning team, and will be starting in Bandes tomorrow morning. Time is flying by. I'll be playing catch up on my blog here soon.  Stay tuned!