Diary · UK

A much belated update (and pancakes)

It’s already been a month since I finished the patisserie course. I know I passed the last practical exam, but still haven’t heard about my final marks taking into account the written assignments. I guess it’s just a matter of waiting, like everything else in the UK.

My favorite exam: raspberry bavarois!

In the meantime, I’ve kept busy with my ABA home programs, which make up my full-time job. The fact that it’s so enjoyable to work with the kids makes it that much harder to dip into patisserie when the time comes to actually try it out. Change is so scary, I totally see how it can be a cause of problem behaviour. 

After months of bringing back loads of sugary treats and buttery goods, my baking time is now devoted to more practical things, like muffins or pancakes. I’ve worked out how to do a single serving of a German pancake (the first couple of times I’d just eat the whole thing…), I’m still working on my muffins, trying to find the balance between treat and healthy (my last batch was bad; protein powder made them very dry and expired baking powder didn’t help matters).

However, I’ve struck gold with pancakes. A couple of weeks ago it suddenly struck me how nice it’d be to mix yogurt into pancake mix. A Google search confirmed this with lots of different recipes for yogurt pancakes. Using the first link as a base, I now have a second foolproof pancake recipe under my belt.

Fluffy tower of pancakes

Today, for instance, I had a hankering for chocolate banana pancakes. Yogurt pancakes are so much fluffier than the original recipe I follow, so it’s a good candidate if you’re putting toppings in the pancakes. I’ve always halved the recipe on Taste of Home, which yields 6 pancakes, which I then separate into portions and freeze.

This is what I’ve used:

  • 1 cup plain flour (-2 tbsp), about 96g
  • 30g chocolate protein powder (I just used the scoop that comes with it)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt (I used a mix of skyr and Alpro vanilla soy yogurt, 4oz of each one)
  • 1/4 cup water (this I kept the same because I assumed the mix would become quite stiff, I even had to add a little bit extra)

Making pancakes is pretty straightforward: mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls, then add wet to dry, mix and cook. Easy peasy.

I was going to top them with bananas, as I’ve had success with raspberries and blueberries. Alas, bananas have a mind of their own. Maybe if I had mixed them directly into the mix they would have cooperated. Since I just placed them on the top of each pancake, they stuck to the pan after I flipped the first pancake. The second one’s bananas came straight off the pancake, so the rest of the batch was banana-less. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have keep the banana as a garnish and let the pancakes do the talking.

Breakfast sorted

A full circle

For a few days now I’ve had a hankering for a German pancake and despite the surprising wave of heat we’re having now, I decided to bake one. Together with a super iced coffee, it should make a nice afternoon treat.

The first time I ever had a German pancake was during a family visit to the USA.  My aunt and uncle were living in Albuquerque at that time with my great-aunt Irma. She was the one who, closer to the German side of the family, had a recipe which she made for us once. It was like nothing my sister and I had ever had before: gloriously puffy, golden and crispy all at the same time. Served simply with icing sugar, it was one of those things you love straight away.

Since then, I’ve only tried to make it once before.  Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what recipe great-aunt Irma used at the time and it’s too late to find out now. But the Internet is resourceful; recipes for German pancakes (or Dutch babies, as they’re called, as well) can be found easily. The one I’ve used is this one, and it produces the puffiest pancake you can imagine.

In making this pancake, newfound curiosity for my family’s background led me to ask my mother a few questions. I thought I knew the story, but actually I missed a few details. I always thought it was my great grandfather who settled in Honduras, but it was actually a generation further than that. Both my great grandfather’s parents were German while he was born in southern Honduras. And while I know my great great grandfather was a consul in Amapala, that just raises more questions than it answers.

I find it interesting how a few generations later, my family has done a full circle. Specifically, my sister in Germany and me in England; each living in a country that contributed to our existence today (funnily enough, my English great great grandfather used to live in south London).

Back to the pancake… In my anticipation, I miscalculated how hot the oven should be and probably raised it a bit higher than recommended, as the pancake got quite brown too quickly. The pancake then had a second stage of baking where the temperature was lowered and left to bake a further 13-15min. I, thinking it must be quite done, took it out a couple of minutes early (mistake number 2). So, because of my impatience, I was left with both an overdone and underdone pancake! Too brown outside and slightly doughy in the middle. Oh well. I still enjoyed it; iced coffee goes well with anything, even the sad version of a German pancake.


Practice buns

It’s been some time since my last post, quite a bit has happened since then: I finished the Level 1 course with a Distinction (super happy about it!) and got an additional tutor role to fill out my work days. From here on until August, my days are set.


Creme caramels from Level 1 exam


I also started the Level 2 Patisserie course a few weeks ago and this Friday will be the first practical assessment. We will be tested on bread and it will be much more intense than Level 1 ever was. We will need to produce and present brown plaited rolls and Belgian buns (4 of each). Both of these will be tasted and assessed as products in a proper bakery would be.


Brown plaited rolls from class which failed to be recreated at home


Since today I had the morning off, naturally I decided to practice. The Belgian buns were easy enough since I had frozen the dough leftover from class. I only had to defrost it, let it rise and shape the buns. I did have to improvise, however, due to having no sultanas or raisins in the house (also no fondant for glazing). I did without the dried fruit and decided to try a chocolate glaze since that’s what I had in the cupboard. The only thing I cared about in terms of the glaze was the actual skill (getting it as even as possible), otherwise I’d have done without it too.


Pre-glaze Belgian buns


The buns looked great straight out of the oven and brushed with bun wash (sugar syrup). The chocolate glaze was a tad thick so the buns’ spirals got a bit lost.  Hopefully I can manage a thinner, even coating of fondant on Friday’s test.


Chocolate glazed buns


I had no wholemeal at home, so decided to just make plain white dough to practice the shaping of the plaited rolls… Big fail! I still haven’t quite got the conversion of fresh to dry yeast so whenever I try to recreate the course’s bread recipes they almost never work out. And today was no different… I guess the fact that I halved the recipe didn’t help either. The end dough was too soft; I tried plaiting one roll and gave up. The dough was too soft to hold the shape (I was also running out of time as I had to leave for work), so the rest of the dough ended up as plain rolls. Not even good rolls…they were over proofed in my makeshift prover. I can only hope that Friday will see better rolls (very likely given the proper ingredients and the professional equipment). Wish me luck!


A month of changes 

I never really subscribed to the whole “new year, new me” idea, but for me 2017 has certainly brought many changes (and it’s only been a month!). Not only have I started the patisserie course, but I’ve also moved to a different flat (there’s only so much you can take from an agency which doesn’t really give a crap about the residents it gives service to). On top of that I’ve also changed jobs, giving me more flexibility with my time. Except for one or two bumps in the road, it’s been great. 

At the very beginning of the course, I felt like I couldn’t catch up; everybody else seemed to be much more experienced in baking. I could hear people kneading and pounding their doughs while I was still mixing my ingredients. I was the first to cut my finger while slicing our sweet buns (who knew professional knives were that sharp). I also cracked my sweet shorcrust pastry shell while transferring it to a cooling rack (only a bit, but still…in pastry-making the quest is for perfection). Not to mention almost grating my finger with the cheese the other day. 

Cracked pastry shell hidden under pastry cream and apricots

With each day, however, I learn to focus on the things I’m doing well  and just make a mental note of what I need to practice more. I could use more practice shaping bread and piping in general, but my choux pastry is not bad. Same for my rolling: rolling out sweet dough to cover with cinnamon sugar and raisins and then roll up into a roll to make Chelsea buns was fun and not as hard as I thought. 

Chelsea/sticky buns, a step away from cinnamon rolls

I think my favourite lesson so far has been making profiteroles, eclairs and one Paris-Brest; all simple enough but with different components each. Choux pastry is so versatile; I wish we had a deep fryer to make churros. 

Heaven in a puff

Besides the pastry, we also learned to make creme patissiere for the eclairs, chantilly cream and chocolate sauce for the profiteroles, and a praline cream for the Paris-Brest. Very handy things to keep in my arsenal of recipes. 

A lone Paris-Brest 

A useful tip I learned for filling eclairs: make two small holes on the bottom of each eclair, one on either end. Pipe the pastry cream in one hole and check when it peeps through the other hole; there’s nothing sadder than a half-full eclair. 

During the last class we made rough puff pastry and to be honest, mine looked really bad by comparison. In the end though, it became gloriously flaky and crispy around some sausage meat and twisted around lots of cheese. 

Cheese straws

Each week brings something new and exciting, keeping me on my toes. I still want to continue my project now that I’m more settled in my schedule. I still need to make something Honduran, probably semitas or rosquillas,  if I find a cheese that resembles the original. It’s something to look forward to, especially since half-term is coming up. Plenty of time to mess around in the kitchen… 


Say goodbye, goodbye

The time to say goodbye to my job at school is here and it’s one of the hardest things I think I’ll ever have to do. It’s not just about leaving the job, though I think it’s a darn good one. It’s about leaving children who are amazing in their own ways, whose smiles just light up the corridors, who will flourish beyond society’s expectations for them and whose cheeky personalities will keep every tutor on their toes.

Standing in front of everyone and acknowledge my leaving was something I did not look forward to. It hadn’t really sunk in until then. It was hard to sit through the after-school meeting without breaking down, listening to everyone else’s favourite memories about their time in the school…and then it was time to sing the goodbye song we sing at every Leavers’ assembly. It was like opening a pair of floodgates. 

This last week has been surreal. There have been small successes, other little things that made me smile, and a big performance at the end…what a way to go.

I’ve never been what you’d consider ‘outgoing’. My way of letting people know I appreciate them is to do stuff for them. So I decided to make some special cookies from my childhood for my colleagues. The recipe is from my mom’s recipe drawer, written on an old card titled simply ‘Hungarian cookies’. I now realize they’re a kind of shortbread. Making these cookies for my class reminded me how much I like making things for people to enjoy and why I’m going off to do a patisserie course.

So I know I have to leave and why, but it’s still hard. After all, how do you say goodbye to someone you care about who can’t say goodbye back? It’s that last moment that I’m dreading.


An escape to Budapest

Photo credit: J. Khokhar

The great thing about working in education is having holidays strewn throughout the year, giving lots of opportunities to get a change of scene. Sometimes I get the travel bug, which can’t be helped when friends post amazing photos all over the place.

Budapest was a city I had missed visiting due to a lack of planning; while I was in Vienna a couple of years ago and I could have gone to Budapest if I had made a thorough plan for the whole trip. The what-if stayed on my mind, which is why Budapest was among the top choices for this half-term.

Just as many others had described, Budapest was amazing; a beautiful city boasting gorgeous bridges, classy architecture and lush parks (the parks in autumn are a true gift). No matter which side of the Danube you’re on, there’s always a breathtaking view. Same goes for daylight vs nighttime. Budapest is just all-around beautiful; were she a person she’d be like Natalie Portman.

View from the Citadella

Food-wise, it was great; I just love trying new things. I got to try a kind of strudel different to what I’ve eaten before. Hungarian strudel (or rétes) uses pastry very similar to filo pastry (as opposed to puff pastry) and fillings of choice include sweet cottage cheese and sour cherry. There are also savory strudels, with fillings like cabbage. The bakery we went to was called Rétesvár and it was the tiniest place dedicated to strudel located within the walls of a medieval archway in the Castle district. I tried the classic sweet cheese strudel, while my boyfriend tried the sour cherry with poppy seeds. Both were served with powdered sugar on top. Humble-looking but great flavor.

Sour cherry and poppy seed strudel. Photo credit: J. Khokhar

Then, while on a walking tour of Pest, we stopped  to get lángos (fried dough stretched like a pizza) from a Fritú stall in a market hall near the Soviet War Memorial. The great thing about traveling with someone is you can always eat more stuff simply by sharing everything. The lángos is definitely something you might want to share, unless you’re starving. The one I got was massive and loaded with cheese. It was listed under the more traditional ones which can have garlic, sour cream or a combination of these. There are lots of other choices when it comes to toppings, however, so there’s definitely room to experiment.

Lángos in the market hall. Photo credit:J. Khokhar

For something sweeter, we tried the funnel cake (kürtőskalács), which originated in the Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania as a festive treat. It was very cool to see the way they are baked wrapped around a spit over charcoal. The end result is a hollow cake, fluffy on the inside with a shiny, caramelized crust.It is further coated in sugar.

Funnel cake/chimney cake. Photo credit: J. Khokhar

Not all food experiences were that great though. The one major let-down was dinner one day while we walked around the shopping street near Deák Ferenc metro station. There were lots of stalls selling food so we figured we’d just try them. My boyfriend chose first since he was hungrier. And good thing he did. We ended up sharing a monstrous plate consisting of overpriced fried potato pancake topped with a chicken sauce and bowl of goulash soup. It was gross on every level: oily, bland potato which was too hard around the edges, the soup was watered down and needed seasoning. The chicken saved it to some extent.  All this blandness for the whopping price of HUF 8,800 (£25), which is outrageous for a meal in Budapest (even in London, £25 from one food stall alone is a bit much). We asked about the price and apparently they sell everything according to weight. But still, 8,800? I definitely feel like we were scammed, especially since none of the prices were listed anywhere. We didn’t take any photos of this dismal meal, it was just too depressing. The offending stall’s name was Fashion Street Food. Just stay away. Also, lesson learned: always ask for a price first if it’s not listed.

At least the trip ended on a positive note. We traveled to Szentendre, a small town north of Budapest where we found the National Wine Museum. There we were offered a wine tasting for HUF 3000 each (£8.70!). Our wine master, Peter, led us through the tasting of six wines from five of the 22 different wine regions in the country (grape varieties are listed first, then the region in Hungary):

  1. A dry white wine (Irsai Olivér, from Ászár-Neszmély)
  2. A mild red wine (Kékfrankos, from Sopron)
  3. A collector’s full-bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, from Hajós-Baja)
  4. A fresh rosé (Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Kadarka blend, from Villány)
  5. An eiswein-type of Tokaji (Furmint, from Tokaj)
  6. A special selection Tokaji Aszu 3 puttonyos (Furmint, from Tokaj)
The wine squad. Photo credit: J. Khokhar

I definitely learned a lot from this wine-tasting, especially about Tokaji wine, which was my favorite one of the lot. The number of puttonyos simply refers to the degree of sweetness of the wine, so 6 puttonyos would be the sweetest you can go. I found out, however, that recent legislation has made 5 puttonyos the minimum for a Tokaji wine, so anything lower than that is hard to find (and may be very expensive if it was a good harvest year, like 1999…about 100 euros for one bottle!). What’s special about Tokaji wine is that no two wines taste exactly the same, given the varying weather conditions for a harvest year and the different technologies for making it. The one I tasted had very distinct honey tones, which I’ve never had in a wine. And to be honest, I usually can’t really tell when a wine has such and such undertones of fruit or florals or whatever. But this time, I actually could recognize the honey flavor (haha, I’m so proud of myself). Needless to say, I didn’t need any convincing at all to get a bottle (or two) from the airport.

All in all, it was a great trip. I wouldn’t hesitate going back for seconds (especially for more Tokaji). I’ll just stay away from the sketchy street food.




The plan…and some puffs


So after all the excitement of starting my blog and uploading my very first post, the next day I actually sat down to think about the mechanics of what I’ve set myself to do. Being home sick has its benefits, I guess. I also baked some choux puffs…talk about being productive! Though the puffs could’ve been better. The first time I made them a few months ago they turned out much puffier and rounder. I’m definitely investing in some piping bags for next time!

Anyway, I’ve devised a plan for the first round of bakes. I’m not sure when I will be able to start officially (these puffs don’t count, they’re just a warm-up), but when I do, I’ll begin with the UK and work my way backwards.

The first taste I ever had of British fare, was a pasty from one of those kiosks in Victoria Station. A steak and ale pasty, I believe (at the time, I just chose the most foreign-sounding filling). I know it’s savoury, but I love anything tasty and it doesn’t have to be sweet to be baked! I probably won’t recreate it exactly, but an English-style pasty is a good start. And if I play around with flavors I could hit two birds with one shot since back home in Honduras we have empanadas, which are basically pasties.

Following the UK, will be the land of fondue and watches, Switzerland. When I lived in Morges, the tiniest town next to the lake, I used to get brioche buns from the fancy supermarket’s bakery section as a complement to my lunch. I know brioche is French; it’s one of those things like when flatmates share the same fridge. There’s bound to be some food-sharing at some point. Anyway, I discovered brioche in Switzerland and fell in love with it there,so brioche for round one from Switzerland.

Next, will be the Netherlands with poffertjes. Mini pancakes! Trust the Dutch to come up with a great way to have your pancakes: in tiny morsels you can devour with almost no mess (unless you send icing sugar flying everywhere while you eat them). I don’t own a poffertjepan and I don’t think many people outside the Netherlands own one. But by this time I should have my own piping bags to make life easier and, hopefully, the end result will resemble poffertjes.

I’m leaving Honduras for the very end of round one since I’m really looking forward to trying my favorite Taiwanese treats. First of will be pineapple cake (鳳梨酥), considered by many to be the national pastry. I really hope I don’t mess this one up; I’d love to go back to Taiwan without feeling embarrassed. .

And finally, from my home country, where people just need a sweet bread to dunk in their coffee, semitas, a popular choice for coffee-dunking. They’re very sweet and tasty, definitely not something to have while on a diet (they’re made with both butter AND lard…oops).

I’m quite stoked about this project; there are so many things I want to learn and I just can’t wait until March for the course to begin. Trial and error are good teachers. And if in doubt, there’s always Youtube.