Let Them Eat Cake: An Interview With Head Pastry Chef Loic Carbonnet

We talk afternoon tea and all things delicious with Loic Carbonnet, head pastry chef at Corinthia London.

LET THEM eat cake!

Or perhaps afternoon tea? Around 800 servings are savoured at Corinthia London every week

It was in 1840 that Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, noticed she felt a ‘sinking feeling’ around midafternoon. Once served with a pot of Darjeeling tea, some bread, butter and biscuits, she felt decidedly better. The afternoon tea was born.

Meet Chef Loic Carbonnet, captain of the ship that is the Corinthia pastry kitchen. Pastry, cakes and sweets are Loic’s passion, and his calling was fostered while watching his grandmother cooking and baking in her kitchen as a small boy growing up in France. As Loic explains, you are either a baker or a cook, and if you are a baker, after years of training, apprenticeship and working in the kitchen, you become a pastry chef. His childhood sweet tooth helped! And it’s this natural passion that inspires some of his most creative inventions. For the past three years, Loic has been working at Corinthia London, leading a team of 11 pastry chefs responsible for the main hotel. The team’s skill is demonstrated every day at afternoon tea. Each week, the team prepares 800 afternoon teas for the hotel’s lucky guests, the preparation for which starts 12 hours before the guests take their seats.

 

Have you always wanted to be a pastry chef?

Well, I spent a year of my school life feeling a bit lost, not knowing what to do. My mum told me to think about what I would really like to do, and I recalled that I used to like baking basic things with my Grandmother, so I decided to do an apprenticeship as a pastry chef. I found a local pastry shop in France and worked there as an apprentice for two years.

What was the first pastry you ever made?

Probably a tart of some kind like apple; or I might have done éclairs or coffee religieuses (my favourite!).

Are you always in the kitchen or do you get to come out to meet guests?

I do go and see guests on occasion, especially when I’ve worked on something bespoke for them. But I love being in the kitchen – I want to be with the team and ensure everything is as perfect as possible for our guests to enjoy.

What makes the perfect afternoon tea?

Well, we worked very hard to get our offering just right, and it took 6-8 tastings for managing director, Thomas Kochs. However, you can create very nice pastry and sandwiches, but 50% of it is the service – the setting, the glasses, the china, the human contact.

What’s special about Corinthia London’s afternoon tea?

The way we showcase our afternoon tea is extra special – particularly with the afternoon tea trolley that’s filled with cakes that gets presented to all of our guests.

How often do you change the menu?

Seasonally. The menu updates at least four times a year. We also change certain items for special occasions or events like Wimbledon or The Chelsea Flower Show.

 

What do you love most about your job?

The ingredients – we source the very best in season, which are always of excellent quality. It’s amazing to work with such beautiful creations – I have certainly tasted some of the best fruits and chocolate! I really enjoy making Easter eggs, it’s a new challenge to make something new and different each year.

What does a typical day look like?

It’s not all about making cakes! I meet with the team in the morning to check bookings and what they will be working on during the day. Then I might take a look at menus – organising seasonal changes or deciding on what items we could evolve. I then oversee the afternoon tea service and give the sous chefs guidance when they need it.

What’s your favourite thing to bake at home?

I tend to cook more savoury dishes at home, but I have two girls, so I do need to do a bit of baking – I’ve made cupcakes and cookies. I also made my eldest daughter a birthday cake recently.

What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever made?

Well, I don’t know about a particular thing, but I have baked for 1,300 people at a large Equestrian event in Qatar. The number is un-real and it proved to be a big challenge with the quantities. It was also an amazing experience to bake for the likes of Guy Savoy and Pierre Hermé.

What’s your all-time favourite dessert?

A chocolate fondant is a classic, but I also really like pistachio ice cream.

 

Loic's Christmas Cake Recipe

There’s nothing like a slice of rich Christmas cake to get you feeling festive. Here we share Loic’s special Christmas cake recipe so you can make your own Corinthia-standard cake at home.


Ingredients

  • 200g currants
  • 78g sultanas
  • 78g raisins
  • 22g cherries
  • 22g mixed peel
  • 100g nibbed almonds
  • Half an orange zested
  • Half a lemon zested
  • 75ml Armagnac
  • A pinch of salt, nutmeg and mixed spices
  • 100g strong flour
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 7.5g black treacle
  • 10g butter
  • 2 eggs


Baking

  1. Weigh out the fruit quantities and soak in armagnac overnight
  2. Pre-heat your fan-assisted oven at 130c
  3. Cream the butter with sugar and black treacle
  4. Add the eggs gradually into the mix
  5. Mix the flour with the soaked fruit
    Combine the two mixtures together and mix well, without breaking down the fruit too much
  6. Fill the cake tin, spread the mix out and make a slight indent in the middle
  7. Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes
  8. Once baked, brush some Armagnac on the top and bottom and leave to cool


Decorating

  1. After a few hours, the cake will be cool and ready for you to cover with a layer of almond paste/marzipan which could be
  2. Then cover again with a layer of fondant icing
  3. Decorate with dried fruit, cinnamon sticks and star anise

 

And there you have it, a delicious fruit cake bursting with Christmas flavour for the whole family to enjoy.

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