I recently endeavored on one of the biggest learning experiences of my life.
I opened a coffee and pie bar.
At the end of August, my BAKAbar companions and I were given the opportunity to rent a small place in Ghent and make it ours for 3 months. We grabbed the chance with both hands and worked hard - and fast - to set up the BAKAbar pop-up coffee and pie bar. We opened our doors on September 17 and have been serving up coffee, cake and pie every weekend since. It's been crazy, it's been tiring and it's been nerve-wracking, but it's also been fulfilling and a lot of fun. Also, I've learned a ton of important stuff ... about baking, about starting a business, about life and about myself - as a person and a baker. No matter what the outcome of this adventure will be, I'm pretty sure that it will push me forward.
As for the things I've learned so far (or some of them, at least) ...
i can't do it all
I was struggling with this long before there was any talk of a pop-up and I thought I was slowly coming to terms with it. When BAKAbar came along, though, I suddenly had to let go of everything and find a way to accept it. Combining my day job with weekends at BAKAbar and all the planning and baking that is involved in it, is hard enough as is, so there really is no room for guilt or regret. And still, I had a hard time accepting that les filles de madeleine would be on hold for so long. I long cherished the thought that I'd write posts about our opening or the desserts I made ... Over two months in and close to the end of it all, this is the first time that I've been able to sit behind my computer and even open up my Wordpress account. It probably won't happen again until after the holidays. I'm trying hard to accept that.
planning is key ...
I'm sure you know all about the importance of reading through a recipe, buying the right ingredients and mise-en-place. When you're making an average of four or five desserts on a single night, though, you might want to prepare a little more. (If you also want to sleep, that is.) I use my lunch hour to map out my baking plans. I make a rundown of the different steps I need to take to finish all of my desserts. Then, taking into account waiting times, baking times and oven temperatures, I order them in what seems to be the most efficient way. Every baking session starts with butter - either cubing and freezing it for a pie crust, or leaving it out to come to room temperature for a cake - and ends with a quick clean-up while I'm waiting for the last cake/pie to bake. It's all pretty well thought out and it helps to get things done without bumping into too many problems and surprises.
... but there's a limit
When you find yourself cooking lemon curd when the oven timer goes off, you know you've taken it too far. You can't stop stirring the curd, but you really really need to check on those brownies?! That's a hard moment. So, yes, I quickly learned to incorporate breaks into my planning, to consider that some things take longer than expected and, most importantly, not to multi-task when I'm dealing with delicate things like caramel and lemon curd. (Although I do still brown butter while doing the dishes or roasting nuts.)
line the base of your pie/cake/tart tin with parchment paper
I have a love-hate relationship with parchment paper. I love that it keeps my cakes from sticking to the tin, but I hate when it creases around the corners or, worse, all along the border of a round cake tin. Batter always finds its way into the creases and it screws up my hopes for a clean edge. I've recently started to line only the base of my tins, though, while the sides simply get a good greasing. Whether I'm making cake or pie, this always does the trick for me. If anything, it has given me peace of mind.
upside down cakes require patience
Wait. Wait until your cake has cooled completely - yes, completely - before you remove the cake tin or springform pan. If not, chances are that the top of the cake will crack. This will ruin all the effort you put into neatly arranging the fruit on the bottom of the pan. Just wait. - Ok. Now that you've been warned, go ahead and make this Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake. It tastes like gingerbread.
i love pie
I've always considered myself a cake person, but I find myself turning more and more to pie, both for making and for eating. Maybe it's the challenge of making a perfect crust, the new crimping and lattice skills that I'm learning or the sight and smell of crispy, buttery pastry and bubbling fruit juices. The thought alone makes me want to run into the kitchen and start. Some of my favorites right now are Joy the Baker's Apple Cranberry Pie and Four & Twenty Blackbirds' Pear Bourbon Crumble Pie. Also: Chess Pie. I never knew it was a thing, but I'm pretty damn excited about it.
simple sweetness doesn't cut it anymore
I used to think that I was happy with a dessert that was simple and sweet. After making and tasting so many cakes and pies in such a short amount of time, though, I find that this is no longer the case. (Looking back, maybe it never was.) My palate is changing and I'm growing ever more critical. The things we've made in baking class the past couple of weeks suddenly taste bland and I get bored of sweet and sugary cakes after little more than a few bites. Don't get me wrong, I still like my desserts simple. Perhaps even more so than before. I still like my desserts sweet, for that matter, but I crave a little more depth of flavor. Give me berries, lemons, nuts, beurre noisette, salt, spices, herbs, liquor, buttermilk, ...
i'm a writer
Throughout this whole experience, one of the things that I've missed most is the writing. While I write for my job every single day, there hasn't been time for any personal writing, whether it be the blog or just writing down some thoughts. I knew writing was important to me, but I was surprised about just how much the lack of it affected me. I haven't felt grounded, I haven't felt at ease, I haven't felt whole ... like I just can't get the best out of myself. It sounds incredibly cliché, but I can't find any other way to explain it. I became very aware of this a little while ago and am now trying to set aside some time to write every day. It doesn't always happen, but every little bit helps. I'm very much looking forward to the day it becomes part of my everyday life again, though.
all that goodness you see?
classic apple tart . pomegranate pannacotta tart . fresh fig and lemon cream tart . almond chocolate cake . pear ginger upside down cake . apple cranberry pie . pear bourbon crumble pie . lemon almond and ricotta cake