Hello Employment: Laminated Pastry


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.


A Month of Financiers: Autumnal Matcha Financiers


HELLO WORLD! So I’m briefly back to blog this recipe because I sort of disappeared off the radar for a bit, just to get a few things in my life sorted. I’m not quite ready to share with you the direction that my life is heading at the moment but there are good things afoot! So at the moment I’m just hanging out, waiting, baking a lot of croissants and pastries (and leaving them out for my new neighbours, which has been going down very well! Hurrah for Random Acts of Pastry Kindness! More on that another time!) and catching up with friends.

This particular recipe came about because the lovely chaps over at Lalani & Co. very kindly sent me some matcha green tea to play with (no reason, just because they’re lovely and they thought I might like some! On a side note they recently launched their online shop – previously you could only get their teas through the restaurants and hotels they supply – and they genuinely have amazing teas, all from artisan family run tea gardens whom they personally work with. If you like tea go check them out because I can’t rave about these guys enough). I actually developed the recipe over a month and fed financiers to every single person who came to visit me (TS had to eat quite a few for me and he doesn’t even like matcha!), tweaking it every time, adjusting the fruit (at one point I was using white chocolate but it was just too sweet), adjusting the sugar, adjusting the matcha and now… now it’s perfect. Financiers are actually named so because their traditional shape makes them look like gold bars but obviously these ones are green because of the matcha and, due to the shape of my mould, oval. So less gold bar, more… green… oval?

Regardless, this recipe is delicious and I’ve got about 10 or so people who would fight you if you said otherwise! So this is for everybody who came over, tried them and then begged for the recipe, and enormous thanks to all of my taste testers! Without you I’d be much fatter than I already am.


The Taste of My Childhood: Nig Nags


When I was a little girl, around 4 or 5 years old, my family moved from our little end-terrace house to a beautiful big house with a huge garden in a very posh area of West London. The new house was everything a young family could’ve wanted – the garden had a pond (!) which over the years we filled with all sorts of creatures (goldfish which were gradually eaten one-by-one by the heron who lived in the park next door; at one point koi who were too big for the pond; and terrapins who killed all the goldfish the heron didn’t eat until one escaped and my father and I “released” the other into the park, whoops – we may be responsible for the family of terrapins who now live there), my brother and I had our own bedrooms which were much bigger than those in the old house, a huge kitchen where my mother dreamed of starting Chinese cookery lessons and two guest bedrooms, one of which became our live-in-nanny’s room then a TV room when she eventually left us, and the other which was later turned into a study for my parents.

About a fifteen minute walk away there was a huge church in the middle of the green by the High Street which my parents decided we should start attending, especially as it was so close by. Both my brother and I were baptised and confirmed there and for the next 13 years or so we spent almost every Sunday there. This church is also where I met my oldest friend Cathy and whilst I have my own issues with religion now, I will forever be thankful that it brought her into my life.


Pie 101: Cherry Pie + Peach & Raspberry Pie


I’m pretty sure that I’ve discovered total baking zen lately: that glorious moment when you are completely and utterly in the zone, when everything comes together smoothly and calmly and, above all, you are at peace with the world. Yep, my baking happy place is pie. Fruit pie. Summer fruit pie. Cherry pie. Peach pie. Raspberry pie. Pie, pie, pie. My God, I love baking pies. If I had a pie shop I’d call it What Pies Ahead. Or maybe Pies From The Sky. Or Pie It Forward.

Something about making beautiful pate brisee (shortcrust pastry) from scratch, followed by blanching fruit, stoning fruit, sitting fruit in a mixture of sugar and cornflour is just total baking bliss for me. And then eating pie… y’know, as much as I love the eating of the pie, I think I like the making of the pie a little more. Which is both weird and good – weird because who doesn’t love eating pie?! Good because I need to stop eating pie. Stop Jackie. Stop it now.

But that’s okay because I’m going to pass my pie torch to you (tee-hee, pie torch) and you can make pie and then I can stop being so fat. Okay? Got it? Good.


Dear Queenie: Happy Diamond Jubilee


Jubilee Coffee Cupcakes by Bruce.

My heritage and accent are a great source of puzzlement to everybody who meets me. Born in London but possessing a rather international family (both blood relations and friends whom I now consider family), ten to fifteen minutes of conversation pass before I’m inevitably asked, “where are you from?” or, the (strangely) rather more common, “are you Australian?” Let’s get this straight – I’m British, through and through. I’m not English, I’m not Aussie, I’m not Canadian or American: I am British.

My “British-ness” is something that has taken me a while to embrace – my family are Hong Kong Chinese, with a smidgen of Japanese and Russian blood, my parents both born in Hong Kong and possessing a tinge of an accent (my mother’s a natural slight American drawl, which is where I’ve picked up my own), so that aspect of who I am has always been celebrated and recognised, but this country in which I live has never felt quite where I belong, London too busy, too anonymous, too A-to-B for my liking. It wasn’t until I lived in America that I suddenly felt that this, my “British-ness”, made me stand out a little more, made me special, and at that point I fully started to appreciate the country I was born in, the little points of interest like our (relatively) fantastic public transport, our education system, history and culture, and our Royal family.

As many of you will know, this past weekend was set aside to rejoice everything Royal because we’ve been celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the throne. I’m not one to go particularly nuts over the Royals (during the recent Royal Wedding I skipped the telly watching and flag waving and nipped off to the hairdresser’s to chop off my long locks for The Little Princess Trust) but I fully admit that I love good ol’ Lizzie – she’s a real gem and it will be a sad day indeed when she’s no longer Queen of England.

So whilst the country engaged in street parties left, right and centre and a good 1.2m people showed up in Central London to watch the Royal Parade on the Thames (and in the pouring rain, typical bloody England; Liz did not look particularly happy as she was rowed up the river), I headed over to my good friends Mowie & Bruce’s around the corner for a Right Royal (Indoor) Picnic. Raaaather.


I Am A Feeder Meets Anecdotes & Apple Cores


Last year I was lucky to be able to spend the first few months travelling around the world and meeting various bloggers and friends, staying with them when they generously opened up their homes (and kitchens) to me, eating out all over their cities and generally having a blast. It was the most wonderful experience and the sheer generosity and kindness that I was shown was overwhelming – friendships that had before this point been only electronic blossomed, Twitter handles became real people and those real people had a wicked sense of humour, amazing creative ideas and fantastic friends and families whom I was introduced to. It really was a fantastic trip and my inner nomad was deeply satisfied (my wallet, not so much).

When in Austin I was supposed to be staying with and meeting the fabulous Monet and Ryan of Anecdotes & Apple Cores, an amazing and talented woman who was my first ever blog friend (!), but due to circumstances out of their control last minute plans changed (as they do), they were no longer able to accommodate me and I instead spent those few days with the lovely Megan of Stetted. Sadly, just as I was leaving Austin with my friend Andres to visit his part of Texas, San Antonio, I had a text message from Monet asking me if I was free to meet that day but alas, it was not to be, we were already an hour outside of town and I promised her that at some point, somewhere in the world we’d connect.

Clearly I have prophetic qualities because this spring Monet and Ryan travelled to Paris for their 3rd anniversary and whilst they were there decided to hop across to London on the Eurostar and stay with me for a couple of days. Even better, London decided to cease its grey, wet weather (apparently it’s supposed to be May over here – somebody must’ve pissed off Mother Earth recently…) and give us a little sunshine so I got to show them my city at its best! Wonderful few days – come back and see me again soon!


On Simplifying Life: PB&J Brownies


I don’t think of myself as a particularly dramatic person and yet drama seems to follow me unnecessarily. Over the past couple of years I’ve faced more difficulties in my life than it seems any one person should have on their plate at any given time. From my health which took a sudden downward turn last summer to the stresses of being a freelance writer, it’s not been a particularly easy path to tread, certainly not helped along by a significant amount of sadness which has dragged on for over a year and a half.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve felt exhausted by it all, to the point where I’ve considered giving up on, well, everything. This blog – which has always been my escape, my refuge – has lately seemed a chore. Writing, which is for me an extremely cathartic process, has not helped me begin to unravel the tangled mess in my mind as it normally would and I’ve even started to consider a career away from food, away from the things that I love and away from my dreams. A hard thing for a person as proud as I am to admit, but at one point I hadn’t been able to afford groceries for two months and so had been living off frozen vegetables and lentils and literally lying awake until the wee hours of the morning, mentally calculating how much money I’d need to save up before I could pay off all of my debts. Needless to say, it’s been a tough start to the year.

But amongst all of the drama, all of the stresses, worries and difficulties, there have been small glimmers of hope and success, from the catering job I recently completed for 150 people, to the wonderfully supportive friends, family and particularly special person who entered my life a few months ago; and they’ve made me realise that all I really need is to drop the drama and simplify: rid my life of the things that make me unhappy and focus only on the ones that put a smile on my face. It’s so easy – I don’t know why I haven’t realised it before this point.


Dealing with Conflict: Kiwi Pavlova


Photo credit: David Mason.

We deal with conflict everywhere. Whether it’s at work, with our friends and family, or simply with a complete stranger, it just can’t be avoided, no matter how hard we try; stubbornness is a part of human nature.

I’m not a fan of conflict. I usually try to run away from it and am always the first to apologise in an argument, even if I’m not in the wrong, purely because I find the tension of disagreement deeply distressing. To be so anti-confrontational is not one of my best qualities and in these situations I usually find myself bottling everything up inside and then inexplicably bursting into tears of frustration and anger. This was my week.


When Life Gives You Bananas: Banana Bread


Though I am, on the whole, a fairly easy-going person, on occasion an event will occur that leaves my blood boiling. For about an hour I will fume quietly, my insides churning, head throbbing and stomach twisting into knots that’d baffle even the best boy scout and I’ll assume the expression of a “black cloud,” as my mother always used to say. All I can think about when these events occur is just how angry and upset I feel, and how, no matter how hard I try, I simply can’t shake it. I know it’s ridiculous, completely melodramatic and, well, childish, but dammit, that’s the way I feel and I’m entitled to it.

What can one do in such situations? Very little, usually, as when I’m in such a state I don’t want a hug, I don’t want to see or talk to anybody, all I want is to be left alone and to bake the stress away. The methodical measuring of ingredients, of following a recipe to the ‘T’ and (more importantly) the time spent away from the thing that has angered me, helps me to ease it all away. Baking is my meditation.


Oh Paula, You Crazy Beeatch: Savannah High Apple Pie


It started, as many good things do, with a Tweet.

“SERIOUSLY PAULA?! Are you kidding me?! http://bit.ly/QZY7N

Whilst recipe editing I had come across this gem, courtesy of Paula Deen: a monstrosity of a pie she was calling the Savannah High Apple Pie.

My first reaction was one of absolute disgust – a pie a foot high and looking like it could’ve been expelled from either end of your body?! No thanks. But then disgust gave way to fascination (as it’s so wont to do with me) and I knew that I simply had to make this beast. Throw in another Jackie, all the way in Seattle who, too, felt the urge to birth this creation and Thanksgiving Paula Deen style was on, because Paula? She’s one crazy beeatch.


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