Ella Walker meets Ravneet Gill, author of new cookbook, The Pastry Chef’s Guide.
Terrified of split custards and the precision involved in pastry and patisserie? “Hopefully this is going to help people chill out about it,” says Ravneet Gill of her debut cookbook, The Pastry Chef’s Guide. “I wanted to break it down for people.”
The collection is pretty much perfect timing. Stuck at home with hundreds of lockdown hours to fill, now could be the moment you finally master custard, nail creme pat and bake the ultimate lemon loaf.
Supremely practical and filled with step-by-step recipes the 27-year-old pastry chef relies on – for cookies and puddings, sponges and ice creams, and much more – the book is also designed as a “pocket guide for people who can’t afford [pastry school]”. Gill went to Le Cordon Bleu but could only afford two terms.
You don’t need to be a trainee pro-chef though – and don’t be alarmed by the lack of images. Gill is trying to make your dessert life easier, not tougher. “My favourite books are the ones that don’t have pictures in,” she explains. “The ones that are A5, you can quickly pull them out, go to the recipe you want, look at a list of ingredients and then make it.”
And while Gill is quite meticulous – we turn her lemon loaf into a tray of mini loaves, and she weighs the batter out so each is impeccable and identical – mistakes can lead to ingenious concoctions, like her tiramisu ice cream. The result of “a stupid mistake, and it came out so brilliantly.”
In the foreword, Gill’s former boss, legendary restaurateur Fergus Henderson, writes that a “happy chef makes happy food” and Gill is fully onboard with that. “My mum says the same thing, she thinks if she’s angry or upset, it will ruin the rice,” she says. “If the rice turns out badly, it’s because of her mood.”
But a mistake doesn’t have to ruin dinner. “With the tiramisu ice cream, I was a bit annoyed,” Gill admits, “but I’m very passionate about my food, and I think that comes across. I’m not going to be completely happy all the time when I’m in the kitchen, but I’m passionate about it.” And it’s that quality that can make cooking an amazing, transporting distraction – especially during a difficult time. “As soon as I go in the kitchen I can relax,” says Gill. “It’s like second nature; it feels good.”
The Londoner is also a co-founder of pop-up bakery Puff and launched Countertalk (countertalk.co.uk)– a community for people in hospitality that aims to “highlight good cultures in the industry to stamp out the bad ones”.
She has “always had a massive sweet tooth,” so much so she got a hole in one of her milk teeth from all the sugary treats she ate as a child (including a lot of chocolate raisins). She was a “very fussy savoury eater” though, until she hit her teens. The Indian food Gill grew up eating, plus chicken and chips, were acceptable – anything else, no. “If I went to someone’s house and they served me a quiche, I would freak out, not eat it. I just didn’t know what it was,” she remembers.
Then she joined the food industry, and “there was so much I didn’t understand about food. I didn’t know what celeriac was until I was 20.” She spent the first years of her career wanting to work in the fanciest restaurants, where the fruit purees are insanely glossy, and the additives and e-numbers free-flowing. “You go to fine patisserie shops and get these flawless looking desserts,” she explains, “[but] if it looks unnatural, it probably is.
“You’ll get ingredients that make things shiny or malleable or melt at a certain temperature – they’re all white powders. I used to want to do that until I was like, ‘Hold on, where is this stuff coming from?’
“I like things that taste good and look good – but I would rather it taste good than look good.”
How to make the lemon loaf from The Pastry Chef’s Guide by Ravneet Gill…
(Makes 1 loaf)
225g caster sugar
75g unsalted butter, softened
100ml double cream
180g self-raising flour
Pinch of fine salt
Grated zest of 3 lemons
For the syrup:
75g caster (superfine) sugar
100ml plus 1 tbsp water
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
For the icing:
200g icing sugar, plus more to taste
Freshly squeezed juice of 1–2 lemons, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan/180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and line a 900g/2lb loaf pan with baking parchment.
2. Put the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or a mixing bowl. Beat together at a medium speed for three to five minutes until pale using the paddle attachment or a hand-held electric whisk. Don’t go mad and overwhip as this will affect the rise of the cake.
3. Melt the butter completely in a saucepan, then remove from the heat and stir in the cream.
4. Pour the cream and butter mixture slowly into the egg mixture and stir to by hand or at a low speed combine.
5. Sift the flour and salt together, add to the egg mixture and fold through. Finally, fold in the lemon zest.
6. Pour into the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 45–50 minutes until risen and golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
7. Meanwhile, to make the syrup, put the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring a little, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Allow to cool slightly.
8. Allow the cake to cool in the pan until it’s no longer hot to the touch but is still slightly warm. Poke multiple holes in the top of the loaf with a skewer and then pour over the warm syrup evenly. Allow to cool completely in the pan.
9. Make the icing by whisking together the icing sugar and lemon juice, adding more of less of each to taste. Brush this over the cooled cake and leave to set for 10 minutes. Turn out and serve! Store the loaf in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days or freeze for up to one month.
The Pastry Chef’s Guide by Ravneet Gill is published by Pavilion Books, priced £18.99. Photography Jessica Griffiths. Available April 2.