Baking 911: an on-set emergency
(and my first quatre-quarts)

Something about living in another country has made me more open to stepping outside my comfort zone, whether out of necessity or proclivity I can’t be sure. So when I came across the following post on Craigslist during our first week in Paris, I found myself reacting somewhat out of character. The internal dialogue went something like this:

Always wanted to be part of a film shoot but never had the required skills?

Well to be honest, I’ve never given it a second’s thought. But now that you mention it, I do like movies.

Here's the chance you've been waiting for! Job: The film crew's official caterer!

Did someone say food? Sign me up.


Two meetings and a week and a half later, in the middle of a grad student's short film thesis project, I found myself...

…commuting clear across Paris to stand in a kitchen for 10 hours each day.

…wheeling shopping carts full of discount groceries between Ed l’Epicier and a stranger’s apartment/the film’s set.

…preparing cheap, cafeteria-style meals in a foreign, poorly equipped kitchen filled with lighting, cords, filming equipment, people or (most often) all of the above.

…pausing mid-slice/dice/bake in response to calls for filming: On va tourner! Silence, s’il vous plaît!

(Did I mention this was a volunteer gig?)

…doing my best to keep 20+ cast and crew fully caffeinated, sugared and salted.

…making baguette sandwiches outdoors on a windy day across the street from the Arc de Triomphe, with only a single camping knife.

...wondering about the food you see in movies and how edible it really is, after being asked by the art director to find something green to put in the soup for the dinner scene.

...getting to know an incredibly neat (and international) cast and crew.

...learning what really goes on behind the scenes.

Several days into the shoot, I faced my biggest test yet: an on-set birthday. A fellow Canadian, no less, was turning 20 and it was unanimously agreed that we should mark the occasion with cake. And so it was that I came to bake my first quatre-quarts, the French equivalent of a pound cake with roughly equal weights of butter, sugar, eggs and flour.

The recipe, dictated by my craft services partner (that’s what they call us in the biz) on her way to work and scribbled frantically by me in franglais on my way out the door, worked like a charm with a few minor *ahem* adjustments. In an effort to boost the festivity factor of the cake (who has pound cake for their birthday?), I added some melted chocolate to half of the batter and made un gâteau marbré. Plus, at the urging of the North Americans and to the chagrin (but ultimate enjoyment) of les français, I whipped up a simple chocolate butter icing.

Basic Quatre-Quarts (More or Less)*

5 eggs
300 grams sugar
250 grams butter
300 grams flour

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar and mix well. Ease the melted butter slowly into the eggs and sugar mixture, stirring as you go. Add the flour and stir to combine.

Pour into a 9-inch (ish) square pan and bake at about 375 degrees Fahrenheit until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (I’d love to give you a sense of how long this might take, but I couldn’t really say since I had to turn the oven off several times during baking to prevent the sound of the oven's fan from being picked up in the film’s audio!)

*I say more or less since the butter measurement is suspiciously not 300 grams. Because I didn't have my measuring cups along to work out the cup equivalencies, I'm afraid you'll have to pull out that dusty kitchen scale from the back cupboard. C'est la vie!