I’ve always wanted to be a pastry chef mainly because my father was a baker. As a child I used to lick the spoons and mixing bowls once he had finished baking his sweet delicacies!
I did my apprenticeship aged 16 in Auxerre, France, which was a challenging experience as I was getting up 4am and working 6 days a week for 12-16 hours a day. I lodged above the pastry shop with my fellow apprentice – in winter the temperature often dropped below 7°C as the heating was so poor. It all seems rather Dickensian now but being in charge of the pastry kitchen at such a young age enabled me to learn skills that I still use today.
If our boss, or “patron” as we used to call him, wasn’t happy with the way we had cleaned the floor at the end of the day, he would wait until we had changed to leave, then empty a bucket of water all over the floor and make us clean it again. We used to have “casse croute” at 8am each day, which was a morning break consisting of baguettes, pâté, saucisson and red wine, which left my colleagues a little tipsy to say the least.
Chris Corbin and Jeremy King have had an enormous influence on my career. From the overall management of their restaurants to how they visualise the journey of a cake or dessert from conception to the plate to the customer, everything is done with absolute care and attention to detail, even though they are not pastry chefs themselves.
A typical day means I need to rise at 3am and catch the 4am night bus to central London in order to ensure everything is ready when The Delaunay Counter opens at 7am. After that we continue with the preparations for lunch and dinner service at The Delaunay. The afternoon is usually filled with paperwork – mainly ordering goods for the following day, catch up sessions with staff, answering e-mails and various meetings. I rarely get home before 5pm.
Christmas is looming, which is always a fun time in the pastry kitchen as we become very creative. This year we’ll be selling gingerbread houses, white chocolate snowmen, festive biscuits (the recipe for our cinnamon stars is below) and truffles and a train made of gingerbread that runs around on a track, complete with icing sugar for snow!
Occasionally we receive requests for one-off celebration cakes, which are always difficult to master as the clients tend to have very distinct ideas about what they want. When I was working in Asia, a lady asked me to make her a Leaning Tower of Pisa wedding cake. I didn’t anticipate the weight of the different layers and the effect of the humid weather – the cake collapsed before the ceremony had even started!
People often ask me if I have any baking tips. I would say it’s crucial to read the recipe from top to bottom once, twice, even three times before you start, even with my recipe for cinnamon stars below! It’s amazing how many things we misinterpret.
It’s a job that definitely keeps me on my toes. It’s hard work but rewarding and I love it!
Cinnamon stars (Zimtsterne)
Makes about 30 stars
For the dough: 100g icing sugar, 60g of orange peel, 120g marzipan, 150g ground almond, 4g cinnamon powder, 4g vanilla essence, 20g egg whites
For the Royal icing: 150g sugar, 15g egg whites, 10g freshly squeezed lemon juice
To make the dough, use a food processor to blend together the icing sugar, orange peel, marzipan, ground almond, cinnamon powder, vanilla essence and egg whites. Be careful not to over-blend, the orange peels must still be visible in the mixture.
Take out of the food processor and roll out onto a work surface with a rolling pin (about 0.5cm thick).
Place in the fridge to rest.
Meanwhile, prepare the royal icing by manually mixing together the icing sugar with the egg whites and freshly squeezed lemon juice until it looks smooth and glossy.
Take the dough out the fridge and using a spatula spread the royal icing evenly out on top of the dough.
With a star cutter (around 4.5cm) cut out the cinnamon stars. Place the stars onto a lined baking tray.
Let the stars dry at room temperature for approx. 2 hours
Bake in the pre-heated oven at 150c for 5 to 6 minutes or until the tips of the stars start to colour.