Monday, June 13, 2011

Things I will miss

Walking along the Pont Marie bridge and seeing the Notre-Dame from behind..

The hustle and bustle of people walking and queueing in the narrow streets of rue des Rosier and rue Veille du Temple..

The smell of melted butter and viennoisseries on the way to the metro at 5.30 every work day morning..

The aroma of honey, spice and tea from making pain d'epice..

This week marks the end of my stay at the Biscuit (cake production) station, which means that I have completed 4.5 out of 6 months of the internship. Last stop (up next) is Petits Gateaux, the assembly of individual-portioned cakes and tarts. I can't help but feel slightly sad. For the move at work but also for the foreshadow of leaving Paris soon. Like adapting to the lifestyle, I've grown to enjoy working in this station.

It wasn't always so. I remember not being able to sleep over my first few days at Biscuit. The station's notorious for requiring the fastest pace and accepting the least mistakes. Logically, it's sound. They have to make big batches of genoise, joconde, biscuit a cuilliere, choux or whatever cake type is required for the bi-weekly, weekly or daily stock of the shop. Every weekday morning, their sure task is to fill and glaze 20 or so eclairs (per flavor, we have two), several round choux and glaze a dozen trays of tarts with white or red glaze. On weekends, the number of eclairs spikes up to between 30-40 per flavor and there's the addition of a dozen or so bigger round choux for religieuse. This, of course, excludes the special orders of mini eclairs and round choux. "If you don't run throughout the day, you don't finish.." so my chef de partie likes to say. In practice, it's a lot to take on in the beginning for a fresh graduate. I remember my confusion of what goes where, what comes next, where is what and how do you tell when...I've also had some really bad being sent to another station or messing things up one after another in front of the Head Chef in just one day.

You kind of get the hang of it after three weeks or so..Hahaha..and it's shortly after this time that I have to leave. Hence my reluctance. I've just learnt how to assemble the millefeuille, received fewer critiques on my pate a choux glazing and gotten the chance to fold/spread the genoise or make some whole cake recipes on my own (when required in a smaller scale). I want to practice them more. But well, I am grateful for the chance to at least see the processes. 

One of those cakes that I've made on my own before is the Pain d'Epice (french spice bread). Pain d'epice is not your typical american ginger bread. The spice can be anything that you want and the bread is usually denser. It's not very sweet and some places serve foie gras on slices of them. It makes a great afternoon tea cake.

The ingredients scaling of this cake at work is troublesome - a couple from the storage downstairs, a few from the Traiteur on the other side, the flour from the Boulangers downstairs on the other side and biscuits that I sometimes have to grind in the food processor first (it's supposed to be the job of another person, but the biscuits always run out of stock when he has a day off). To top it off, 80% of the time, the recipe falls short of the requirements - so begins the whole collection process again. Even so, I always look forward to making it. The mixture smells wonderful when the spice is added to the boiling honey, tea and milk and very well worth the trouble.

Luckily when you make it at home, you get the aroma and all the ingredients are within 2 sq meters (or so in my case). I didn't have the exact ingredients as at work and so changed the whole recipe. The cake came out lighter and tasted more nutty, something which I prefer. It tastes better after several hours.

Pain d'Epice
makes a 28cm x 22cm x 2.5cm cake

125ml milk
207g honey
Tea leaves from one bag of Twinnings orange-cinnamon tea (can be any tea you want)
40g sugar
5g baking soda
3g chilli powder
20g unsalted butter
125ml milk
50g chestnut spread
207g buckwheat flour (any wholemeal flour really)
5g baking powder
105g biscuits, ground to fine powder (I used speculoos but they can be anything; I've seen ice cream cones, eclairs, sponge fingers and even macaron shells being used)


  1. Preheat oven to 180C, butter and flour your mold.
  2. Prepare your mise en place:
    1. Whisk and sieve the flour, baking powder and biscuits into a medium bowl. 
    2. Mix the sugar, baking soda and chilli powder in a small bowl.
    3. Weigh your butter.
    4. Put 125ml of milk and the chestnut spread in another small bowl.
  3. Bring the other 125ml of milk, honey and tea leaves to a boil in a saucepan.
  4. Sieve the mixture and bring it to a boil again.
  5. When the mixture is bubbling and boiling, take off from the heat and whisk in the sugar-chilli mixture.
  6. Whisk in the butter.
  7. After the butter has fully melted, whisk in the milk and chestnut spread until fully incorporated.
  8. Pour the hot liquid mixture over the dry ingredients in the bowl.
  9. Incorporate the liquid into the flour in a slow folding motion but using a whisk. Stop as soon as all the flour has been incorporated. You don't want to overbeat the mixture/ whisk vigorously as this will make the cake tougher. 
  10. Pour the batter into the mold and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted to the center comes out clean.
  11. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before unmolding and cooling the cake to room temperature on a rack.

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