Saturday, 31 December 2011

Last desserts of 2011

Plaisirs Gourmandes - indulgent choux puffs with crème pâtissière, fresh fruit and crème Chantilly

Roasted pineapple and coconut cream tart

Friday, 23 December 2011

2011 - last day trading

Things were not looking good for my last day of trading - all week, the weather forecast had been predicting heavy rain and wind which sounded ominous. I also tried to chat to the market manager last week because deep down, I just wanted to get a clear answer on why I was dumped out of the farmer's market a few weeks ago, as well as wanting to enquire on the possibility of going back perhaps in the New Year. He had promised that we could chat about it on the last day and even suggested that we stay trading for later since he said that he would be bringing outdoor lights so it would be possible to stay out in the dark. Because of this, I turned up to set up around lunchtime - when I asked about the light situation, he just fobbed me off with the fact that he only had enough lights for his own stall (which wasn't the tone the previous week when he mentioned that I could share). 

No matter, I figured......the weather was looking pretty grim so it might just be better to have a shorter trading day. As I feared, it was a quiet day, partly because it was a Friday as opposed to a Saturday and most folk were still at work. Having said that, there were a few highlights including "banana bread" man who popped along and bought my large Christmas cake from me. I have to say that he is not my favourite customer because he is always trying to get a bargain off me and I'm pretty shit at not backing down. As you guessed, he bought the cake at a cheaper price than I intended but seeing as it was Christmas, I figured why not? Aside from this minor gripe, he is a nice guy and always pops along with his bike and pet dog. We always have a little chat and I found out this time that he's a bus driver and doesn't get a huge break over Chrimbo. The funny thing was he had a slice of cake from my sample Xmas cake only after he had bought the large one AND after telling me that he didn't like marzipan, a bit of a problem since my Christmas cake is covered with toasted almond paste, aka. marzipan (albeit homemade with a dash of whiskey)!! Despite all this, he loved the cake after tasting it (toasted home-made whiskey spiked almond paste is guaranteed to convert those who hate commercial marzipan!!) and was genuinely happy that he had bagged the large one :)

The couple who had come back to get a large chocolate salt caramel pecan tart from a few weeks back wandered past and the guy ended up buying another one! I am confident that my product looks and tastes good but it's still a nice (no, it's actually a great) feeling to see folk coming back and buying your cakes again :)

Despite a few rain showers during the course of the day, I felt pretty lucky that the prospect of heavy rain and high winds didn't surface.......well, I spoke too soon cos the weather turned into a shitstorm come around 4pm. I guess I was lucky that I had already started to pack up but that still didn't prevent me from getting generally soaked and battered! The stall next to me only held for a bit longer than me - there were 2 of them and they were literally clinging on to the tent for dear life in case, the whole thing decided to blow away!! 

I never did manage to pin down the market manager for the chat I wanted and was promised. It's just become increasingly clear that he is not good at making decisions and more importantly, dealing with uncomfortable situations head on. I did wish him a Happy Christmas and said that I would try and chat to him in the New Year but hand on heart, this is unlikely to happen. A bit of a duff end to the year but as JD keeps telling me, it's all experience. I'm looking forward to heading home and seeing family and friends and putting the ol feet up for a while :)
Looking grim!

 Nothing like a bit of sparkly stuff to get in the mood for Chrimbo!!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

New opening - Sugar Sin

If you happen to be in and around the Covent Garden area, you need to check out this funky new sweet shop called Sugar Sin. There's a bewildering array of sweets and treats all of which come from Sweden, where they are fanatical about pick 'n' mix (so I am told). The shop was originally due to open in mid-November but problems with the renovation meant that it didn't open until the week before Xmas. No matter, everything is up and running now which is good news and the sweets taste pretty good too! :)

Monday, 19 December 2011

New trading venue - part 3

Week 3 and I am slowly getting into the swing of things.....I have figured that no-one is really an early riser in this neck of the woods so decided to set up a bit later this week. Its just as well I didn't leave it any later as no sooner had the tent gone up, it started to pee it down with rain :(

Luckily, the rain didn't last and it did manage to clear up a bit which was nice. Trading not as good last week but I sold all my banana breads for the first time and even had someone walk by asking where they were afterwards. Mince pies also seem to be going down a treat too :)

One more week to go before Chrimbo and am still as undecided as ever as to what to do in the New hoping that the break will bring me some new inspiration and clarity, maybe?
Lousy weather in the big smoke :(

Saturday, 17 December 2011

New trading venue - part 2

Week 2 at new pitch was yet another new experience for me - JD was away on a much deserved hollier in the sun so it looked like that I would be on my own for setting up and packing up this week. Luckily, my good friend T offered to help out which was a godsend! I felt kinda bad cos the weather was FREEZING - she popped over to mine early and then I drove us to the venue (we even had the challenge of clearing ice on the windscreen sans scraper, aaagh!). After all of that, she insisted on hanging around to keep me company for a despite the fact that her feet were like ice blocks! A friend of hers who lived nearby then popped down to check out the stall so I urged the 2 of them to head into the warmth so off they went to grab a coffee. Even though last week wasn't so cold, I had learnt my lesson and this week, had armed myself with 4 layers of clothing, 2 layers of legwear and extra thick socks, as well as cracking out what I call my "McNulty" hat (see The Wire, Season 2, episode 1 for an example!!!) Despite all this, it wasn't enough to keep my toes warm but I've come to the conclusion that nothing really does if you are standing around and not moving much......

So this week, I decided against pitching in front of the large Christmas tree and asked the stall next to me if there was any possibility of being next to them somewhere. When I was given no straight answer on this, I then had to go to plan B and decided to go to the other side of the Christmas tree instead. My fear had been that if I was not within eyesight of the other stall trading in this area, no-one would notice that I would be around as well. In reality, this week actually turned out better for smelly water overflow from the other stall and not much of a battle with the winds either since one of  my sides was protected by the wall of a building. Again like last week, trading felt slow but each purchase was "sizeable" which was quite encouraging :)

T and her friend came back later and both bought some cakes to try which was lovely - I did try to offer a discount but was told off and scolded that this was not the way to do business. They had a point but at the same time, that's what you do for friends, right? There were a couple of highlights today and they were right at the end of the trading day. Firstly, a guy walks past and says that he likes what he sees and goes off to the hole in the wall to get some cash. T is begging me to wait for him but since it was a long day, I began to pack up anyway and figured that he wasn't going to come back. He proves me wrong and does come back and proceeds to buy a whole cheesecake, some Oreos and even wanted a small Christmas cake??!! I had to tell him that the Chrimbo cakes had to be ordered a week in advance and the ones that I had were actually just for display. He had wanted to buy the cake because he thought it would be a nice present for his babysitter so seeing as it was so close to Christmas, I relented and let him have the small display cake. After a bit more chat (and a quick taste of my sample cake), he said that he would be back closer to Christmas to buy the large display cake if no-one wanted it which was pretty cool! My final cool story of the day was about a couple who raced back to the stall right at the very end of the day. I was literally about to close the boot to the car and head home only to have them enquire about whether I had any more large chocolate salt caramel pecan tarts left; they had bought a small one earlier and had loved it so much that they decided to come back and buy a larger one!! So, all in all, not a bad day with a few big sales at the end and for that, I think I have to thank T for being my luck charm for the day, thanks again for all your help! :)   
Dry and sunny but bloody Baltic!!

Chef - vous avez raison, comme d'hab.....c'est meilleur avec nappage! :)

Friday, 9 December 2011

Market - a spanner in the works

So after my 2nd week at the market, I had a quick chat with the market manager who told me that he was getting complaints from another stall holder about me. I didn't find out the exact reason during this first conversation; I told him that all I was doing was setting up my stall the best way possible (as advised by him), not giving away any samples and letting the customers come to me and buy stuff if they chose to do so. We left it like that, he said that he was going to go away and have another chat with this other woman and I was to call him at the beginning of the following week.

Week 3 turned out to be mega-stressful as I only managed to catch snippets of conversation on the phone with him and things were taking a very long time to get resolved. At one point, the main issue was product overlap. I had offered to read the email that was sent to him by this other stall and see if indeed, there was overlap (having checked this stall's website, it was clear that she was talking bollocks). After much to-ing and fro-ing and not getting anywhere, I decided to send the market manager a frank email explaining my situation since all I was hearing was him talking about how the other party was giving him hassle over the whole situation.

When I finally managed to track him down, it was not good news. He had made the decision that I was not allowed to go back to the market and as far as I can tell, it was because this woman was kicking up such a massive fuss. The fact that she had been there for over 6 years also meant that she had leverage for whatever reason and I was to bear the brunt of the decision. Like I said, the product overlap just sounded like an excuse so I came to the conclusion that she was basically scared of the competition and wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible. Looking on the positive side of things, I guess you can say that she is paying me the highest compliment that a newbie pastry chef can be affecting her sales (and her 6 year reputation) after a meagre 2 weeks! :)

The market manager then offered me a pitch at another location where he was also running a stall. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get the chance to go back to the market and tell my customers that I would be moving on but at the time, it was a case of going to the other location or not trading at all so I decided to take that it on the chin.

Week 3 was like going to back to week 1 at the market where there was a big unknown in terms of how much you can sell and if anybody would be interested. It was much more difficult in this case, because I was no longer a part of the market. It was just me and the other stall - challenging but I had to keep my spirits up. Again, customers who walked past did compliment me on my product and I made enough to cover costs so I'm just going to have to tough it out and hope that the next few weeks will bring me better luck. Its not ideal but if it was easy, everyone would be out doing it, non? :)
New location :)

 View from my stall, my neighbour opposite

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Market part 2

After the high that was week 1 at the market, week 2 was slightly muted but still not bad. Since I am still the newbie, I again had to wait for the market manager to arrive before I could set up - space was at a premium this week (not helped by a jeep being parked in a space that could've been used as a pitch but no matter) so I had no choice but to be in a corner towards the back of the market (effectively a non-space), squished in between the bacon people and another stall selling Middle Eastern food. Unfortunately, I didn't get to talk to my neighbours much this week because I was fighting with the wind and trying desperately not to have half my stall blown away!! (stupidly forgot to bring my weights). 

There were a couple of things that I played around with this week in terms of menu. The carrot  cake wasn't too popular so I decided not to make these this week. I opted for an experimental almond praline cake which attracted a fair amount of interest and some people even bought a few slices which was encouraging. The banana bread had not shifted very well last week so I thought that perhaps I could sell some by the slice this week but alas, that idea didn't turn out too great. The highlights this week were the fact that all my lemon drizzle cakes went as whole cakes, yay! I had even managed to spot a few regulars (after 2 weeks!) which was very heartwarming; the man with the buggy who had developed a taste for my macarons, a well-mannered couple who always have a conversation in a foreign language (not one that I recognise!) before proceeding to buy a few cakes from me and lastly, a lovely lady who buys a large bag of stuff and is the only person who pays me by cheque :)

I managed to remember the bits and bobs that I forgot last week including bags (!) and price labels for my cakes so things are continuing to look more polished, yay!! Trade was not as good as the previous week but it's early days and I am encouraged by the feedback from my customers as well commenting on how everything looks so pretty and for those who have tried my cakes, well, the fact that they are coming back for more must mean that I am on the right track!!! 
 Barn Bacon to my right, who were cooking up a storm with their bacon rolls.

View from my stall, week 2 :)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Market part 1

Apologies to all for keeping schtum on what's been going on regarding the work front of late. As mentioned before, I left the job I had back in November and the weeks since then have been filled up with my first foray into working for myself! 

After much persuasion, I managed to secure a place at a farmers market near where I live, allowing me to sell cakes and pastries made by yours truly! Even though its a relatively small venture, there was a whole bunch of stuff to organise and sort out before my first trading day. Then there was the baking itself which on the first go, took much longer than I expected (interrupted by trip to haggisland at the beginning of the week)! I ended up getting to bed at 2am (!!) the night before trading and having to get up again at 6am to prep stuff before heading to market! :( 

On a more positive note, I was blessed with a lovely day on my first day of trading and luckily, JD was also around to help me drive to market which was a lifesaver. We had got to the venue much earlier than expected and waited for a couple of hours for the market manager to turn up before I could set up. The waiting was a little nervewracking but I was rewarded with a pitch at the front of the market (a regular was not there that week) which was unexpected and fantastic. I landed my first sale (a banana bread) before I had even managed to set up properly which was great! To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect for my first day and was just hoping that I would bag a few sales and keeping my fingers crossed that people would not hate my product!

During the quiet periods, I managed to have a few chats with the stall next to me, Antonius Oils which is run by Antonio, a lovely guy originally from Puglia. He sells mainly olive oil (which is imported from his home region) as well as other goodies and recently, has been looking into the development of spelt flour and products which can be made from it. He has managed to develop a flour which is good for pizza and breadmaking and the next challenge is to find a mix which will be more suitable for pastry. One of the things which I forgot to bring along was bags and I was very grateful when Antonio very graciously gave me one of his for one of my customers who got rather haughty when I didn't have any - grazie mille Antonio! :)

Despite my lack of sleep, I really did get a great buzz from my first day at the market and was over the moon by the reception of my products from the customers. I didn't manage to sell out but more than two thirds of what I made was sold so was happy out.....a very good start all things considered! :)
Beautiful blue skies for first day of trading!

Glorious cakes! Not as perfect as I would've liked but I was 100% confident that they all tasted yummy!

View from my stall - olive oil from Antonious Oils on the left :) 

Queue for one of the most popular stalls in the market - Weanie Beans coffee :)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Paris day trip

Whilst JD was away on a much needed break in the sun, I decided to take a "mini" break myself and head over to Paris for a day :) 

It was really lovely and just what I needed - a proper break from the kitchen, heading to some of my favourite haunts and reliving some happy memories from when I lived really is a great city and great to be back albeit for just a brief moment....
Was surprised to see that they are finally getting rid of the monstrosity that is Les Halles, woohoo!! :)

           On line 4 on the metro, it looked like someone has tagged the seat with the name of Michael Fassbender's latest film, "Shame", non?!

It's been almost 3 years (!!!) since I started my course at Ferrandi and almost that long since I last went back to see chef so popped into say Hello to him and the new class :)
Chef looking busy as usual in amidst all the organised chaos!!

Things have changed a wee bit since I was there - the Anglo students have their own dedicated labs (the former ones used for PH workshops) and there are 2 classes each semester instead of just 1. Chef's current class is predominantly female and mainly hailing from the US (I suddenly felt very smug about our 10 students from 10 different countries class, haha!!). I was lucky enough to chat to a few of the new students and get a feel of how they were getting on. It really is great to see other people following their passion for pastry! :)
Going back to school really brought back some great memories and I was even half hoping to see some of my chums around; sadly not as they are now re-scattered across the globe but thanks to the wonder of WhatsApp, we are reconnected again!!

 A visit to my old workplace - less bittersweet than previous visits :)
Living on the other side the Manche, I really do miss having access pastries of this quality so was a bit overzealous with my purchases!! 

 The latest creation, Mahogany which is a combo of caramel, coconut and mango. On paper, it sounds delish but in practice, it was a little bit sweet and sickly. Not a good idea to use dessicated coconut which can taste a but too like sawdust. Also, the mango was nowhere near ripe or fragrant enough (no Pakistani yummy ones being used here sadly)

.....and finally, a trusted favourite, tarte au vanille - yums!

 Pho Mui - had to drop in for a massive bowl of Pho Special (filled with goodies), still as comforting as it was 3 years ago :)

Trip to Patisserie de Reves to get my viennoisserie fix, "Brioche Feuilletine"!

Paris, tu me manque :(