If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you may have noticed I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently. Specifically, croissants. Why? You may have asked, Why are you making so many croissants? Where are they all going? Are you just eating them all and getting really, really fat? How do you have time to keep making so many croissants?!
I’m a big believer in practice makes perfect and patience. I spent a week at the end of October working at Le Manoir in their pastry section. It was great experience and I learned loads but as I hadn’t worked for about a month and a half and this Stage came right at the tail-end of my radio-iodine treatment, I was a mess. My body felt slow and old and my brain was struggling to remember how to get my body to do what I wanted it to. At the end of my first day I drove back to the B&B I was staying in and collapsed onto my bed, still fully dressed, trying to remember why I was putting myself through this. On the second day I found myself sitting in my car during my break, on the phone to my boyfriend and crying with frustration, having spent around 2 hours that morning failing to segment grapefruit properly.
Such a small thing, right? But I wasted 9 grapefruit before anybody stopped me and it was the most awful feeling, a sense of sinking despair, right in the pit of my stomach. The excellent Chef Benoit Blin, the Head Pastry Chef, ended up giving me his knife and spending 10 minutes teaching me how to actually cut away the rind and segment properly, but even then I couldn’t do it. So when I finally went on my break, I ended up sobbing with frustration in my car – why couldn’t my brain kick into gear? Why was my body not doing what I wanted it to do? Time and time again I’ve been told that I need to give myself a break – I had just come off a month of convalescing at home by myself – and thankfully, from that point onwards I started to find my feet again as my body got back into the swing of things, remembered how to function and how it felt to work long hours and stand for most of the day – all I needed was a bit of time. It was another lesson in patience that needed to be learnt.
Needless to say, I wasn’t given the grapefruit again to segment whilst at Le Manoir, but when I came back home to London I went out, bought 20 grapefruit and spent around an hour practising until I could produce a perfect globe for segmenting. The first one looked like I had “cut it with a spoon”, according to one of my friends, but the last few? They were bloody beautiful.
So recently I found myself in limbo, waiting to hear back about jobs, jumping through HR hoops and killing time in-between interviews. I had mastered grapefruit… it was time to move on to shaping croissants. And so every day for the past couple of weeks I made a batch of croissant dough and left it to prove overnight, then, the following day, laminated it (lamination is the process of incorporating butter into dough, then rolling and folding to make layered pastries), rested, shaped, baked and put the results into a pastry box which I left outside our front door. It was a great experiment – I got to practice making pastries, the neighbours got to eat them and we even started to meet them as they popped over for a chat, or slipped a little thank you note through the door. Practice really does make perfect and a solid couple of weeks doing the same thing, over and over, just yielded better and better results.
And as for patience? Well, that’s paid off too because after waiting and holding out for a month, as of next Monday I’ll be starting my dream job, as a pastry chef at Claridge’s.