Our wedding was a wonderful ruckus. I’m not sure if that was necessarily the theme we had in mind but it suited us. Our relationship has always been sound-tracked by a certain stridency, like the ebb and advance of a swarm of errant bees.
Nowadays it manifests itself primarily in the cacophonous din of two very, very spirited (read rowdy) children but before it was the popping of corks, the drive of guitars and the raucous laughter of our dear friends. Our wedding was just that.
It began with a barrel of homemade vin de mariage that went a bit awry and had to be fortified to 18%. It ended with our guests trundling their way home through the vines, singing Bohemian Rhapsody with joyous abandon, each grandioso phrase expertly conducted by one reveler with a smuggled saucisson. In amongst this roisterous throng stood one element so perfect I wanted to preserve it behind glass forever: our wedding cake.
As we made merry, staining our teeth purple and dancing our legs sore, a stealth team noiselessly entered the venue and constructed our very own tower of Babel, spiraling precariously towards the skies. It comprised my two very favourite things: food and art.
A base of kaleidoscopic macarons and sponge gave rise to wine bottles, vine leaves, painters’ palettes: all realised in chocolate. It was a chocolate interpretation of our lives. Who doesn’t need one of those? It was as mesmeric as it was magnificent. I’m not sure Willy Wonka himself could have done better. Nor Gaudi nor Gehry for that matter. It silenced our guests for the time being.
The man behind the team and behind the design of the cake was Olivier Bajard. Bajard is a patissier who in his career has obtained the titles of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (National Government Award for Best Craftsman in France) and World Champion in the Dessert Making World Craft Championship. I don’t believe I will taste a better macaron than his. Not even Ladurée could test my loyalty….but I’m open to temptation.
He now runs an international pastry school in Perpignan and various shops in the department, including one in Collioure. He hosts both short and long term courses for the zealous student and hapless home baker. This year I received the golden ticket: an afternoon’s course of cake baking. I was off to Cake School.
French Cake School
I fully anticipated meeting a fate similar to Augustus Gloop, hurtling towards the fudge room drunk on chocolate torrents. And I was ok with that.
There were 30 of us on the course, all eager to witness some form of sugary wizardry and hopefully glean some secrets from the great master himself. Bajard did not disappoint. He led the class with that quiet, comfortable authority of someone who has true prowess and which is a pleasure to behold. His whisk rested so deftly in his hand it appeared to be a natural appendage.
With humour and with patience he demonstrated the process for a basic cake mixture and the importance of temperature control. From then on we began that curious practice of culinary alchemy whereby the most primary of ingredients are transformed into something beautiful which nourishes the eyes, belly and soul.
After three hours of whisking, measuring, some more whisking and unnecessary flourishing we produced six cakes: three savoury and three sweet. They were dunked in syrupy concoctions and studded with various confections. We had run the flavour gamut from boozy cake aux fruits confits to toothsome chicken and tarragon. There were zippy lemon cakes and body stirring chocolate cakes. There were even oh so delicate salmon and dill cakes. I’ve never seen so many cakes.
I felt triumphant. I also felt strangely maternal. I ferried them home with all the care and speed of a military convoy. There they were dispensed to family and neighbours. I watched them eat with appetent delight.
It reminded me of that noisy, happy day, my wedding day, and that in itself gave me a sense of quiet joy.
For course information visit Oliver Bajard’s website
Kirsten Mackintosh is from Scotland. She lives in Collioure with her husband , a winemaker and two children. She has an art studio and a very keen interest in food including a baking complusion/addiction. Kirsten’s website: www.ateliermackintosh.com