Image Courtesy of Molly Wilkinson
Molly Wilkinson, baker extraordinaire, is an expat living and working in Paris. Originally from Dallas Texas, Molly is a pastry grad from the Le Cordon Bleu and enjoys documenting her baking experiments through her blog www.toffeebitsandchocolatechips.com
When did you know you wanted to work in the culinary industry? Did you fall into this career naturally or was it a goal you set out to achieve?
My love of baking started when I was really young. Some of my first memories are of baking cookies with my mom. I followed the traditional path that everyone typically does- going to school, graduating, and getting a full-time 9 to 5 job and no one in my family had ever been in the food business so it wasn’t something common to do. After being at my marketing job for several years I finally decided to really pursue my passion. I thought, I don’t have kids, I’m not married… now’s the time!
You studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, what was the most memorable account you have of your time there?
I remember doing the 5-hour sugar exam and being absolutely terrified. You wear dishwashing gloves as a protective layer from the piping hot molten sugar that you are literally shaping into flowers. I remember concentrating so hard on finishing the different elements- poured sugar and pulled sugar and making a sculpture. It was quite the balancing act because you had to have a certain height to it as well! I was holding my breath when I left the room.
Image Courtesy of Molly Wilkinson
Can you tell us a little about your creative process? How do you go about adapting a recipe?
I think about what flavors go together best- maybe I can switch one citrus out for another one – or how can I play around with different textures. It’s a lot of trial and error. When I was developing desserts for a restaurant, I had a sketchbook by my bedside table and I would wake up at the weirdest times to jot something down or draw an idea. It’s also important to remember that there are fundamental elements in a baking recipes that can’t be messed with- they provide the stabilization or rise that is needed for a successful dessert.
I had to get out of the strict play-by-the-rule-book mentality of following recipes that I had in the U.S. and it was only after going to the Cordon Bleu that I felt like I really achieved that. I knew what the textures should be and how to fix mistakes and my stricter viewpoint (which is actually pretty common in pastry) changed to something more laidback. I feel like my desserts are beautiful with a rustic elegance.
What advice would you give an aspiring young baker?
Have fun! Bake as much as you can. Try lots of different recipes. This is the only way to really learn. I made so many different recipes of chocolate chip cookies! If you want to get into the field I highly recommend talking with a lot of people in the industry and actually work a bit in a kitchen. It’s a difficult job with long hours and it’s very physically taxing.
Where’s your favorite place in Paris and why?
Currently for my job I have to be up a little bit earlier than most Parisians on a Saturday. I love the abandoned streets that you find around 9am. It’s a wonderful way to experience the city.
Can you tell us your favorite and least favorite part of being a culinary expert?
My favorite part is creating desserts for people and seeing the joy it brings them. Least favorite has got to be the hours. A lot of the time I’m working when other people aren’t, like weekends and holidays.
Finally, have you got any exciting plans in the works? What’s next for Molly Wilkinson?
I do! I’ll be going down to Chateau de Gudanes again this summer to help manage their workshops, teach cooking classes and of course make pastries!