Sugared & Spiced

pâtissière in paris, now shanghai

[Pastry Diary] Un Dimanche à Paris

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As part of the Intensive Program in Professional Pastry at Ferrandi, all students are required to complete a 3~6-month internship. The school has contacts to some of the top pastry boutiques, hotels, and restaurants in Paris, and students have a certain degree of liberty in choosing the venue for his or her internship. I had set my mind on working at an independent boutique as opposed to a 5-star hotel or a 3 Michelin-star restaurants, and the place I eventually stumbled upon was Un Dimanche à Paris, a pastry shop tucked away in this cute passage in the stylish Saint-Germain-des-Pres neighborhood.

Actually,  let me rephrase. Un Dimanche à Paris is a lot more than just a pastry shop. On the first floor there is a spacious boutique for pastries and chocolates, an exhibition kitchen, a restaurant that also functions as a tea salon in the afternoon, and up on the second floor there is a sleek teaching kitchen and lounge area. You can find out more  through its official website (French only).

So why did I choose Un Dimanche à Paris? Well, I didn’t, really. The situation was like this: despite Un Dimanche à Paris being one of the top pastry shops in Paris, no one from my session wanted to go there because UDAP only signs 2-month unpaid internships (which is actually not an uncommon practice among pastry shops in Paris). This means that not only do students not get paid, they also need to find another internship at the end of 2 months in order to fulfill the minimum of 3 months required by Ferrandi. Despite this, I visited the shop and had a good feeling about it…so I went ahead and signed – and thank god I did. I ended up loving the work and the people I worked with, and (fortunately) my team appreciated me as well and kept me for an extended internship of 5 months. It all worked out perfectly.

All the beautiful pastries you saw above can be taken to go, or enjoyed in our tea salon along with a cup of tea or hot chocolate (which, as the intern, I was responsible for making…god knows how many kilos of hot chocolate I’ve made in those 5 months).

Here is the kitchen, and that’s where I spent my days.

I love working in this exhibition kitchen because the windows prevents that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped inside a dark, tucked away kitchen. To be able to see clients enjoying our products, or even just a glimpse of sunlight and street scenes from time to time, makes working here all the more enjoyable.

The thing about working in an exposed kitchen like this is that we are constantly being stared at/photographed/filmed by curious customers. Not unlike animals in a zoo, but we don’t mind all that much (for the most part).

So what’s a typical day in the life of a pâtissier at Un Dimanche à Paris? We start at 6 or 7am depending on the day (and this is already later than many other shops, perhaps because we don’t make bread which takes a long time to rise). This means taking the early metro when there is not many other people around, except on Saturdays and Sundays when party-goers go home on the first train of the day.

After changing into our chef jackets, we are ready to rock and roll.

The morning routine includes baking all the items that cannot be baked ahead of time, such as pâte-à-choux (e.g. éclairs and cream puffs), which must be baked the day of because they become soggy quickly after being filled with cream.

As the intern, one of my my morning tasks is to decorate all the cakes, which involves glazing and placing appropriate decorations on each type of cake. The task is simple enough – the orange hazelnut cake is topped with orange confit and crushed hazelnuts, the fruit confit cake goes with pâtes-de-fruits and fruit cubes, etc., but the trick is to do everything fast, and speed was a big challenge for me at the beginning.

I then join the rest of the team to do all the piping and garnishes for the petits gâteaux. One of my favorite things to do is the piping of meringue for tarte aux citron – it took me some practice to get the right gesture, but afterwards, I became addicted to producing these perfect white ribbons…left right left right left right…

The meringue is slightly torched, then finished with points of lemon glaze and silver leaves.

Voilà, an army of tarte au citron, ready to go into the boutique.

Here’s another petit gâteau in the making: sablés bretons being coated in pistachio powder.

Then decorated with wild strawberry confit and pistachio ganache montée.

Lastly, fresh strawberries, cherries, and gold leaves.

Cheesecake in the making: wrapping a belt of dark chocolate around the cheesecake, then fill the sides with streusels.

Some more morning shots.

Sundays are special, as we are also responsible for preparing the sweet parts of  Un Dimanche à Paris’ Sunday brunch. This means getting to work earlier than usual so we can finish assembling pastries for the boutique ahead of time, and start managing the brunch station.

After all the pastries have been sent to the boutique (and this usually happens before 10am since that’s when the boutique opens), we start attacking the “list”. This is a weekly planning for all the tasks we have to complete, and we cross each off as it’s finished (and that’s a pretty awesome feeling, I tell ya).

These tasks can include the making of different types of cream (e.g. chantilly, creameux, ganache montée), the baking of biscuits (e.g. pain de Gênes, dacquoise) and doughs (e.g. pâte sablée, pâte à choux), and the actual assembling of different pastries as shown in the pictures below.

The day ends at different times depending on how much there is to do, but we usually finish around 5pm. This means a work day of 10 hours, which is quite typical for pastry shops in Paris. There were a few times when I stayed later than usual – the latest was until 9:30pm – but that only happened because I was helping out at one of our pastry classes, which brings me to the next topic…

The second floor of Un Dimanche à Paris has a sleek teaching kitchen, where we hold pastry and chocolate courses open to the public. I attended quite a few times as the assistant/translator, and it’s always great fun.

The courses always start with a demo and detailed explanations from the chef.

Then, each student get a station to recreate whatever the chef just demonstrated.

Helping out at these classes was rather interesting because it reminds me of what it’s like to be an amateur in pastry. It brings back memories of feeling completely out of it, which was often the case when I first started out at Un Dimanche à Paris. Not only because I wasn’t used to working in a professional kitchen (and was constantly being told that I was too slow), I also had trouble understanding French (so I often felt stupid for not understanding simple instructions). I remember dreading being sent to the storage room to fetch ingredients, because I would often stare at the shelves and not find what I needed…

Over time, however, I learned my way around, gained on speed and organization, and French also came naturally. I became good friends with my colleagues, who are all young, passionate, and very fun to work with. Most importantly for me as an intern, they are happy to share their knowledge as long as I show my willingness and capability to do good work. Of course the internship wasn’t rosy all the way – I was, after all, at the bottom of the totem poll, and was expected to do things that others may not want to do (like zesting and juicing 20 kg of limes by hand, scrubbing the floor drain everyday, etc.). There were some cuts, some burns, and maybe even some tears, but in the end it was all ok.

So thank you, Un Dimanche à Paris, for the 5 months. It’s been a truly fulfilling and inspirational experience that has set the tone for my future pastry career. Now…onto the next!

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Written by sugarednspiced

August 24th, 2013 at 6:54 pm