Gilded, burnished and studded with flowers; Poppy Smadja
makes pastries of utter beauty. Custards infused with blossoms or herbs, hiding marshmallow or pate de fruit, encased in domes of caramel or glossy ganache -they taste even better than they look
. I can vouch for this, I've sampled quite a few. Recently, Poppy started giving workshops from her kitchen in Bermondsey Spa, a light and airy converted lock-up in the centre of a food haven. Intrigued to find out more and learn about the techniques she uses, I attended one of her fruit and blossom workshops. Relaxed and friendly; we covered a lot and realised just how much work goes into each of her creations.
A beautiful day in late March, we worked in pairs, but made our own tartes. We started by infusing handfuls of cherry blossom in scalded cream, dotted with vanilla seeds. After setting this aside for an hour or so, we used it to make an egg enriched custard. Whisked thoroughly and then blended, the thick custard was allowed to chill in the fridge whilst we worked on.
Next, a white chocolate and mint cream. Torn roughly from their stalks, we added mint leaves to scalded double cream and once again left it to infuse. Taking care not to split the molten mixture, white chocolate beads were allowed to melt in a pan, stirring regularly until smooth. A leaf of gelatine and a little crème patisserie was added to the white chocolate and the mixture allowed to cool. In the meantime, the mint infused cream was beaten to a soft whip and then eventually spooned into the white chocolate mixture and folded in using a figure of eight.
Whilst the custard and cream chilled in the fridge, Poppy showed us how to line a pastry ring using a disc of sweet short crust she'd prepared for us earlier. Lining the case with parchment, we filled them until brimming with dried beans, and baked them blind. They were then allowed to cool, before turning them out.
We moved on to making pate de fruit; two types, using passion fruit and raspberry coulis that Poppy had prepared in advance to save time. Granulated sugar, glucose syrup and pectin were added; the secret to handling the glucose, cold wet hands to avoid a sticky mess. On a low heat, the mixture was allowed to dissolve and then slowly brought up to 110o
C, whisking thoroughly before pouring out into a cling film lined dish, a layer a couple of centimetres thick.
Whilst the dishes were placed into the fridge to allow the pate de fruit to set, we drank tea and paused to chat. Beautiful, fragrant Oolong from Postcard Teas
was most welcome, whilst we quizzed Poppy about her work. Self taught, it was living in France for a number of years that inspired her to make patisserie. With a lack of preconceived ideas and constraints that formal training might bring, she is happy to experiment with flavour combinations, textures and techniques which make her creations so unique.
Coulis inserts followed after tea. Frozen domes of passion fruit coulis were popped out of silicon moulds and dipped briefly into hot agar-agar. So simple, a dull, thin membrane formed around the now liquid coulis, ready to ooze fragrantly at one bite. Finally we cut the pate de fruit into cubes and rolled them in granulated sugar, shaking off any excess.
With great excitement, we assembled our tartes. First, the blossom infused custard was poured into the now cool pastry case. Poppy then gave us a disc of tempered white chocolate to place over the top. Coulis inserts were arranged on top of this and the mint, white chocolate cream piped around them. Pate de fruit, raspberries and segments of garnet coloured blood orange scattered over the top. A fruit glaze was applied to the coulis inserts and raspberries, which were gilded with some gold leaf.
One bright eyed, regal viola later; the most beautiful tarte I have ever made.
For a relaxed and inspiring afternoon, I'd thoroughly recommend one of Poppy's workshops. She is generous with her knowledge and I learnt an awful lot, although I probably wouldn't use all of the techniques at the same time for home baking. Encouraged to be imaginative and remain curious, baking will no longer be the same.
A word to the wise; after spending four hours creating such a delicate confection, do not try to negotiate the Central Line at rush hour to make your way home. Thankfully the tarte survived -a little skew-whiff but intact.