Saturday, 7 June 2014

Pear Frangipane at Rochelle Canteen

So I found myself in London a couple of months ago walking over the Thames to work. What began as a slightly farfetched idea for a spot of kitchen experience had become reality and here I was about to start a week’s work at Rochelle Canteen, a lovely little place just off Arnold Circus, E2. It’s a canteen, open for breakfast and lunch, based in the old bike shed of a former Victorian school, now home to Shoreditch creative types. They also cater for events large and small, with an often high end client list, and are owned and run by Margot Henderson, whose husband Fergus is responsible for St John group and her business partner Melanie Arnold. The pair have been part of the London culinary scene for 20 years and more, initially starting out above The French House in Soho, one of my favourite spots for a glass of wine...


I arrived to some confusion, but once everyone realised who everyone was, I was given uniform and set to work. Washing nettles being the first task, but a good one to begin with as I could settle down and survey my surroundings. A simple, open, bright white shed space that is half kitchen, half dining room, with a lean to open air kitchen prep area out the back. They have their own little garden of raised beds growing salad and herbs and with the sun shining, the breeze blowing through and plants growing around you it was a lovely place to work. I was pretty happy standing there washing the nettles and smiled to myself that I was actually doing this.

Standing in Rochelle Canteen kitchen surrounded by their team of chefs it was easy to feel that I knew very little at all. I was there to learn though, how they did everything, even simple tasks like making mayonnaise or dressings. Everyone has their own method and I wanted to see how other people work. How they organised themselves (very well), how long they kept things, when they ordered stuff, how they reused leftovers, recipes, ideas, presentation; I wanted to know everything. So I set to it... Cut, chop, prep, observe, clean, watch, learn...

Anna Tobias is the head chef at Rochelle Canteen, she runs a tight little ship there, confidently and efficiently sending out tasty, interesting dishes everyday as well as catering for events. While I was there, there was a day long feeding of some fashion folk - which had an afternoon tea, picnic feel, all prawn cocktail, quails eggs, sausage rolls, poached chicken and cucumber sandwiches - and an elegant birthday party for thirty.

My first day’s work over, we all sat down for staff lunch, which included leftover rabbit faggots, (so good) mash, salad, lemony roast chicken, followed by some leftover blood orange sorbet and golden syrup biscotti. Well you don’t get much better than that in my books. I was (nervously) having a wonderful time.


The following days brought scone making, mango chutney to go with ham or kedgeree, pickled prunes, a ham and parsley terrine, a delicious deep onion, thyme and Lancashire cheese quiche and sausage rolls. I learnt new things with all of my jobs; techniques, recipes and new ideas.

One day a delicious looking roast chicken with crème fraiche and tarragon stuffed under its skin, roast to golden wonderfulness, a rib of amazing pink beef with horseradish and beetroot salad the next. They have a friendly, interesting and enthusiastic team, who were always chatting away about how they did things, no steadfast rules and always keen to hear each other’s ideas. They had collectively worked in some pretty prestigious kitchens around London from The River Cafe to Quo Vadis and St John.

Each day I left and found an interesting spot to write about my day. My memory is definitely not the best so it was important to note it all down before it slipped away. We were usually done by about 4.30pm and it was lovely to sit in the sun with a glass of wine or a coffee. I frequented all the Shoreditch spots, Allpress Coffee one day, Albion Cafe another and the Ace Hotel the next. I was the only one without a macbook in the Ace Hotel, I wrote with a pen in a book and people looked at me; but on my way out of the super cool lobby looking over their shoulders I realised they were all just on Facebook anyway...


The kitchen turned out some delicious food over the week, a rich black cuttlefish stew, a lovely chicken salad with lovage, capers and soft leeks; witch sole with a tartar sauce that is better than any tartar sauce I’ve ever had... full of tarragon, capers, chopped eggs, rich homemade mayo; and this lovely pear frangipane tart which I’ve had a go at myself...



Make your own pastry to start, it is very simple and so much tastier... In a food processor blitz 175g of plain flour with 115g of cold butter cut into cubes until you get a fine breadcrumb, then add 50g of icing sugar, 2 egg yolks and a pinch of salt and blend until it comes together in a ball, it’ll only be a few seconds, be careful not to overwork it. Then form it into a ball, wrap in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest. This might be more pastry than you need for one tart, but it will keep for a week in the fridge and also freezes well.

Peel two pears, something firm like a conference pear, and add them to a pan with 100g of caster sugar and 750ml water and simmer for about 20 minutes until soft. Leave them to cool in the syrup. Keep this and use it in cocktails! Delicious...



For the tart itself heat your oven to 220°C. Roll out your pastry, and gently line your tart tin, pressing the pastry into the edges. Leave it to rest in the fridge for half an hour, then line with baking paper and blind bake for 20 minutes, remove the beans (I use dried chickpeas) and leave to cool.



Using a food processor cream 250g of softened butter with 250g of caster sugar until light and fluffy, then add 250g of ground almonds, I like to grind these myself so you can keep some a bit chunkier, keep a handful back if you’re doing this to add texture. Then add 5 eggs one at a time, incorporating each one before you add the next so you don’t curdle, then add 50g of plain flour and mix thoroughly, adding in the courser almonds at the end. Fill the pastry case with the frangipane mixture. Then core the pears and cut into quarters, arranging them evenly over the mixture, so every slice gets a bit... Bake for 40 minutes at 180°C until golden and firm to touch.


I have tried a few different versions of this, some are very cake like and light, others use more of a dense almond paste, this recipe was the most consistent for me, but I’m still experimenting. It is delicious and almondy with sweet pears and buttery pastry, serve with crème fraiche...

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