Photo by Claire Emmaline
Today we visit the Versailles kitchen of Molly Wilkinson. Molly, originally from Dallas, Texas graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. After briefly returning home to the US, Molly always knew she wanted to return to France, and in 2013 she made the move to follow her dream.
Molly now lives in Versailles just outside of Paris where she makes the delicious pastries she shares both on Instagram and her website. Want to learn how to bake French pastries while in France? Molly offers workshops both in her home and online.
In this interview, Molly shares a highlight from her time at Le Cordon Bleu, her favorite pastries to create, and the importance of fundamentals when creating the perfect macaron.
Your love of baking began early on in your childhood. Share with us a bit about when your interest in baking began.
It did! For me and my sisters, it was a fun pastime that we would do with my mom. I always loved it- maybe it was because I was sneaking bites of dough? As I got older, my sisters would read and I would bake. I was memorizing recipes from the age of 8 during school vacations. I loved the process of making something and the creativity that was involved.
After studying advertising/public relations and working full-time in a digital marketing agency, you did a 180 and decided to follow your passion by studying French pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. What was the one of the most memorable experiences from your time there?
The entire year I spent at the Cordon Bleu was absolutely incredible. It was my first time living abroad and the classes were just 15 hours a week, so I was combining studying my passion with discovering a city I loved. Probably one of the most memorable moments from school was a class where we constructed a croquembouche, a very famous French dessert. We had just five hours to make and fill tons of cream puffs, put together a nougatine base, and then construct a tower that had to be a certain height using hot caramel as glue. It was such a high for me that at the end of the class, I looked at my classmate (the only French girl in the class) and said wow, I LOVED that and then we started plotting a bakery to open together where we’d just make croquembouche. Such fun! Even now, it’s my favorite thing to make in special classes or for events.
How much of the French language had you mastered before moving to France to study at Le Cordon Bleu?
I barely knew any French when I moved to Paris. I’d taken a tourist class at a local college before I left, but I just knew the bare minimum. The classes were in French, but live translated into English. So if you knew both languages it was very helpful. During my time there, I started studying French at the Sorbonne as we had to know French to do our internship at the end of the program. I love the language and am still studying it. As my knowledge has grown, I’ve noticed so many doors open to me. It also allows for better integration into society for obvious reasons.
Following your graduation from Le Cordon Bleu, you had a three month internship at La Fabrique á Gateaux with two female chefs who had worked under one the top pastry chefs in Paris. What was the biggest take away from your internship?
It was an amazing internship as it was just me and the chefs in the kitchen so I was able to learn how they do all of their recipes. I also learned how production works in a bakery/patisserie, which is so important for continuing to work in the field, even when you are making a recipe at home. Organization was key and breaking each dessert into its components so at the beginning of each day we could create lots of different pastries from the components we had on stock (lemon curd, pastry cream, tart shells..). For me this has translated into recipe development and creation, once you have key recipes for each base component, you can work on different variations and combine them into new and delicious desserts.
How long after you returned to the US did you know that you wanted to return to France?
I knew about a month before I left France that I wanted to return. I started looking into options then and for several months after I arrived back in the States. For me, it was just a matter of time before I made my way back.
Following your return, you had the opportunity to teach classes etc at the gorgeous Chateau de Gudanes. What did you enjoy the most about working at the chateau?
The Chateau is an incredibly inspiring location to work. I had my first “out of body” experience there when I was creating a dessert for the opening night of a workshop. The hustle and bustle of making dinner faded to a hum behind me in the kitchen and all my attention was on finishing and decorating the two desserts I had planned: a lemon lavender tart and a rustic arrangement of caramel cream puffs.
You live with your boyfriend, Francois, and adorable dog Peanut in the city of Versailles, just outside of Paris. What are some of your favorite places to visit during your free time?
We love walking around the city and exploring. It’s a lot like Paris in its architecture but much quieter. We visit our favorite pastry shop, Au Chant du Coq and go for walks around the lake nearby, Piece d’Eau Suisse. We also love driving out into the country to visit other places like Chateau de Maintenon.
After moving to Versailles, you started offering pastry workshops, including workshops in your apartment. What are some of your favorite pastries to create in your classes?
One of my favorite classes is Mille Feuille. Each student creates their own puff pastry, from scratch! The creations at the end are spectacular.
My classes really focus on introducing bakers to different techniques, offering lots of helpful tips, and breaking down a seemingly complicated dessert into something anyone can make.
In addition to your pastry classes, you also offer a market cooking class that includes a visit the local farmers market. What do you enjoy the most about the farmers market experience and talking with the different vendors?
We have a beautiful farmer’s market around the corner from us where there are just 10 vendors and the Saint Louis Cathedral serves as the backdrop. I love going there regularly as it is such a great way to see what is in season but also to get excited about the change in seasons. In a world where we can get practically any produce we like at any given moment, it’s precious to celebrate the produce when it’s at its peak (this is when it tastes best too!), support farmers, and eat locally. I am so lucky to be able to do this where we live with easy access to farm produce so we try to center all our shopping to support them as much as we can.
What are a few of the essential things to remember when creating macarons?
There are so many factors to making a good macaron. For each problem you run into, you could have 3-5 different factors that could have caused it. This starts to get extremely overwhelming. The better approach is to focus on the fundamentals. A good macaron comes down to: a successful meringue, mixing the batter to the right texture, and oven temperature. Focus on those three and then find what works best for your kitchen. Maybe your macarons need to bake a minute longer, maybe you should bake just one tray at a time…. start there and then adjust. And don’t get frustrated! Celebrate your successes and try, try again! Once you find what works, write it down, and stick to it each time.
Out of all the pastries you make, what are a few personal favorites?
Hands down- the croquembouche. It’s the traditional French wedding cake and is quite complicated to construct. You use hot caramel as a glue to stack and form a beautiful golden tower. The creation is ethereal too- you can only make it on the day it’s served, and it will only last a day before the caramel starts to soften from the humidity in the air and it begins to topple.
I love making St Honore as well. Another very traditional dessert named after the patron saint of patissieres. It is made up of several different components and it’s easy to make in different shapes, with elaborate or simple decor, and to change out the flavors, making it your own.
What are your words of advice for someone who is considering moving abroad at some point, but just haven’t taken the leap yet?
Go for it! Prepare in advance. Make a planning trip where you go to the city where you want to move and rent an apartment for a couple of weeks to see if you like it. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Follow along with Molly via her website and or via Instagram @mollyjwilk
All photos provided by Molly J Wilk