Some Serious Thoughts, a Hectic Holiday Season and a Memorable French Experience

I know, my blog posts are getting more and more sporadic each time. And in a way, it is pointless to apologize for being so quiet around here, so I will not begin my post with an apology 🙂

It is not as if I did not have anything to say, I had loads. It is not even because I wasn’t baking, I was dishing out tons. In fact, I was processing a whole lot of emotions in my head and I was finding the right words to express myself too. And although one the easiest things to do is express, I dislike venting on social media. Because I don’t want to transfer my negativity (even if momentary) to my dear readers. Anyway, I was running a lot of things over in my head
exercising restraint all the time and then it hit me – Christmas baking! And after a whole lot of processing of both the edible kind and the other kind, I am ready to share a long list of baked goodies and indulgences in the days to come.

About six months ago, a photographer friend introduced me to another baker in my city, she is French and has a similar ethos about her baking business as I do. Both of us are very unconditional about not including colors and that extra sugar that comes from using fondant or even those elaborately themed cakes (with an overload of butter-cream frosting). While I am in no way suggesting that baked goods are healthy, there are way of dropping off those extra sugar and butter-cream which interfere with the joy of eating a perfectly baked goodie (with the right texture and taste). Unfortunately, decorative and themed cakes are the popular choice in the current world of baking consumers. In fact, I think they qualify as decorative cakes more than baked ones, because the emphasis is on the themes / artwork captured on the cake, while baking is pushed to the background. I understand that this is a market trend and one has to respect the choices of the people who want these kind of cakes. Interestingly, most decorators themselves choose to eat a simple piece of cake over a heavily butter-creamed or fondant-covered one. My baking ethos is very simple – I will never bake for you anything I wouldn’t eat myself. It is a straightforward promise, but also a very steep ideal to live by in a world obsessed with everything fancy and colorful. So, my new baker friend and I exchanged a few messages on our ethos and the challenges we face and how despite all of it we are trying to promote our work. Not through aggressive social media marketing, but through our work itself. (My take on sustainable marketing is that you let your work speak for itself.) Thankfully for me, my clients are a discerning lot and they know what they want when they come to me. No one has ever made requests that have been against my ethos so far. A couple of times when new people have come to me for colored cupcakes, I have politely explained to them what I do and don’t and have also told them that I’ll be happy to refer them to other baker friends who might bake what they want. Surprisingly, these people chose to go with my baking. It is a slow process and will never turn into an overnight hit or even a money-spinning venture that some successful bakers have managed to make of it. In all sincerity, I am happy for them and wish them well. But for me, I have decided on my stance. And at any time if I feel the need for money, I will go back to a job and happily (maybe not so happily 🙂 ) put my home-baking on hold.

One friend recently prophesied grimly, “You start off with all this snobbery and then when you stop making money, you bow down to market pressure and will start doing the things you turn up your nose against.” This is precisely what I have been guarding against, so the words were quite hurtful and harsh to hear. They came with such a force that I was too taken aback to clarify and explain my stance. They stayed with me and disturbed me, because they came at a time when I was feeling vulnerable wrt market relevance.  After a few discussions with some good friends and my husband, I finally saw things in perspective. I have always been passionate about baking and after I quit my job I see home baking as one of the ways of funding my passion. So as of now, it is a self-sustaining hobby and I am not looking at it as an avenue of making a great amount of money. If money was what I was after, it would have been better and easy for me to stick to my consulting job (with perks and international travel, albeit with no time for myself or things I loved). When I do open a store in future, I will surely look at making profits (hopefully do it my way). My passion for baking drives me. If I started chasing financial numbers and the number of FB friends or followers, it is going to make me miserable (and it wouldn’t be me). I bake because it makes me happy. As a MarCom Professional, I understand how much value those Social Media stats hold and how you can achieve those in a short time. I have nothing against people who employ those measures as long as they don’t try to thrust their business styles on me. I’ve had people call me out of the blue and tell me that the number of FB friends I have ‘JUST WON’T DO’ for business. The one request I have of these folks  who offer these one-size-fits-all (very often unsolicited) advice is: please read up about my business and vision before you advise me. That way, you might customize your advice for me  and minimize the chances of me not taking up some generic advice about riding market waves. It will help everyone concerned and conserve our respective energies. Phew!  Now that I am done, saying this, I will breathe easy.

Moving on to the good stuff…

My French baker friend invited us and another couple friends over for a Christmas Eve dinner and what a treat it was after a very hectic and hard-working pre-Christmas days spent baking and delivering stuff. We were treated to the whole nine-yards of French hospitality. I was so taken by the dinner that I couldn’t help raving about it to the hostess, who finally said that I had to stop because I was making her blush. So here I am sharing my experience, new learning and thoughts with you:

A typical French meal, I am told,  comprises 4-5 parts:
  • ApĂ©ritif (drinks and snacks)
  • EntrĂ©e
  • Plat Principal (main dish)
  • Fromage (a platter with different cheeses and bread, dry fruits and nuts)
  • Dessert
Entree

Us with the Entree and our gracious hosts (one friend had to play photographer, so is missing from the picture). The person with the chubbiest cheeks is me …

As an ApĂ©ritif we had  X’Mas Tree shaped Savory Jeera (Cumin) Biscuits and Sparkling Wine. The biscuits were so tasty that I ate far too many of them, without any thought to the heavy course that lay ahead of us. The table was set even before we got there and so we took our seats. First came the EntrĂ©e: Millefeuille de Betterave et fromage frais auxherbes (Napoleon of beetroots with herbed cream cheese) and Tarte Ă  l’oignon (onion tart). I had never imagined that a simple dish made of boiled beetroot sandwiched with herbed cream cheese could taste that good. The Onion tart was simply delectable, carmelized onions on a bed of savory custard on a tart crust. Then came the main course: Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Gratin), Ratatouille and Poulet grillĂ© au pesto (pesto grilled chicken) and pesto grilled Paneer for the only vegetarian there, me. All three dishes complemented each other very well, the heavy Cheesy Potato Gratin was paired with the light Ratatouille and the Paneer/Chicken provided the requisite protein. I was feeling too stuffed from the Aperitif and Entree to do justice to the main course, I managed by sharing my food with others and not eating the home-baked bread. Then came the Fromage: Slices of Indian Gouda with more sparkling wine, I skipped the cheese to make space for dessert. We took some time to space our dessert by chatting and engaging in gift exchanging. Then came the dessert: Trianon (an entremet with a layer of almond biscuit, almond cream called PralinĂ© and chocolate mousse), essentially three desserts combined into one :). It was heavenly and I was so exhausted by the end of the meal, I needed time to recover. Our baker friend’s motto that evening was to make us ROLL out of her house. And roll we did. You think the meal ended with that, no, no, no! To cap it all, we had a Digectif (digestive), which we concluded was just another excuse to drink more. Our hostess served us Poire William (strong alcohol made from pear) in shot glasses, which we had to sip. The strong drink blazed a trail down my throat, and I am sure is perfect for that the cold weather in France. I wasn’t going to give up on any part of the French experience, so I sipped my entire shot-glass slowly to complete the French experience. We had exchanged gifts earlier on in the evening and each one of us was pretty delighted by what we received. It was a lovely evening with warm hospitality, amazing food (every dish was a gem and made so well).

Dessert

Trianon – The very elegant looking dessert made from a layer of almond biscuit, almond cream called PralinĂ© and chocolate mousse.

More often than not, in my social circle, I am the person who makes those elaborate meals. We bakers love to cook, bake and feed people dear to us, we get our kicks from it. So, to be at the receiving end of that hospitality was luxurious. Getting introduced to an entire French meal was a great way to start the Christmas season. I am very grateful and enriched by the experience. I was also so touched by the effort and lengths she went to, no short-cuts, no skimping on effort. Our French hostess mentioned how they treat their families this way on Christmas and since we were the closest to family they had here so pampered us that way. As if the food and hospitality weren’t heartwarming enough, these words just melted my heart. Here’s to meeting more genuine people driven by passion and a desire to create something special in the New Year! Happy New Year everybody.

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2 thoughts on “Some Serious Thoughts, a Hectic Holiday Season and a Memorable French Experience

  1. Happy New Year! I learn something new almost every day from people’s posts. I had no idea that entree was not the main dish! And bread and cheese come after?!?!? I would be a happy camper if I were French. My stance on the extremely decorated cakes: While I do love them, I think some of them are just outright beautiful, in my experience the cake itself always tastes just, blah. And I don’t even like fondant. So if I don’t eat fondant, and the cake isn’t even good…then what do I eat? =(

    • Happy New Year to you too :). I agree there’s so much to learn about cuisines and cultures. The bread came with the main dish too, but you can have it along with the cheese (interesting to learn it comes after the main dish). Happy to know your take on decorated cakes. Frankly, I like my art on walls and flowers in the vase or plants. I can admire the effort and finesse that went into making them. In fact, on a baker’s guild that I am a member of, most decorators and bakers admitted to how much they hated the taste of fondant, some even caution their customers from taking it off after the cake-cutting is over, some spoke about it being so unhygienic what with the decorated having used various ways to shape it. Most of them agree that they love what they can do with them, but if they had to eat cake then a good-old naked cake (yeah that’s actually a term :)) is what they preferred over anything.

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