How a Formula 1 Engineer Created One of the World’s Most Coveted Pastries

How a Formula 1 Engineer Created One of the World’s Most Coveted Pastries

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As a young child growing up in Melbourne, Kate Reid spent many late nights with her father watching auto racing. Fascinated by the speed and adrenaline of the sport, she knew from an early age that she was destined for a career in aerodynamics. However, she never imagined that dream would ultimately lead to her pursuing the slow, methodical craft of croissant-making.

After finishing a long-sought degree in aerospace engineering, a 23-year-old Kate landed her dream job in Formula 1 racing and moved to London. It was 2005, and Formula 1 was very much still a male-dominated sport. She found herself the only woman on a team of 120 people working to engineer the esteemed Williams Racing team, which had already won multiple Grand Prix titles. She was living her childhood fantasy, yet often found herself sitting at a computer for up to 16 hours a day. Eventually, she developed symptoms of burnout, depression, and an eating disorder. In an effort to combat the grind and stress of her high-pressure job, Kate found comfort in coming home each night and baking. Working with her hands to meticulously mold, shape, and knead pastry became her method of self-care.

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Three years into her Formula 1 career, Kate realized that the physical toll of this adrenaline-fueled world was not for her. As her health worsened, she made the tough decision to leave London and her career behind. She returned to Melbourne to be near family and to heal herself, mentally and physically.

In treatment for her eating disorder, Kate began to appreciate a sense of normalcy in her life. “I was a regular coffee drinker at a tiny, but perfect, café named Ousia,” she said. “I worked up the courage to ask the owner if I could help with her daily baking. She taught me to love food again. Not just the enjoyment in the eating but the pleasure in the preparation, respect for ingredients, and their transformation into something so much more than the sum of their parts.” Slowly, Kate built up her knowledge of baking and started to develop a fascination for more complex pâtisserie. Over the next year, her obsession with pastry consumed her life. By day, her hands were covered in dough, and at night, she buried herself in her favorite book on the topic, Cuisine et Patisserie au Gaz, written in 1950 by Paul Roinat. Realizing that perhaps another destiny awaited her, she booked a one-way ticket to Paris to learn everything she could about pastry.

Within weeks of her arrival, she found herself staging at Du Pain et des Idees, a boulangerie in the city’s trendy 10th arrondissement. Dating back to 1875, it’s a spot that both locals and tourists have on their must-visit list not only for the famed pastries, but for its rich history and hand-painted glass ceiling.

For the next three months, Kate immersed herself in learning the artisanal craft of traditional French pastry. Excited to put her newfound culinary education to work, she returned to Melbourne and began reverse engineering what she had learned in Paris, obsessively trying to recreate the ideal French croissant. “I repeatedly tested every recipe and each time, I would change one variable,” she told me. “I realized that I could not simply take the croissant dough recipe and adapt the lamination process for the home kitchen. I had to completely change the dough itself. It is not the classic French method and it is not for the faint-hearted. It requires time, preparation, and an unyielding commitment to follow the process.”

When I asked her about the moment she fell in love with the croissant, she said: “It was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. When I came back to Melbourne, I searched and searched for the perfect Parisian croissant, but it didn’t exist. I had a lightbulb moment where I thought, ‘I know everything there is to know about croissants, so maybe I can start my own business.’”

In 2012, after months of recipe testing, she opened Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie. Her commitment to technique and ingredients—or perhaps it is her true love for the pastry—paid off. In 2016, The New York Times declared that her croissants “may be the finest you will find anywhere in the world.”

Kate found that there’s much more to making the perfect croissant than technique—using the right ingredients is key. “I only use butter from a farm in Normandy,” she said. “You need to honor the process and buy the very best butter you can. I use [the] French butter Beurre d’Isigny. At Lune, we make the croissant dough with Laucke Euro, a flour developed specifically for viennoiserie (Austrian breakfast pastries).”

Lune has now grown to five bakeries in Melbourne and Brisbane, and Sydney’s first location is slated to open soon. Croissants are the foundational product, but Kate also creates morning buns, Danish, torsades (twists), and special-occasion cruffins.

Photo by Hardie Grant, February 2023

I asked her how she eats her croissants, whether she delicately peels each layer or if she simply takes a big, pillowy bite. “The experience of eating a proper butter croissant fresh from the oven is sublime,” she said. “In Paris, I discovered the kouign-amann. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten—sweet, salty, caramelized to the point just before bitter, crunchy, and chewy, pretty much everything you could ever want in a pastry.”

In February 2023, Kate released the U.S. edition of her debut cookbook, Lune: Eating Croissants All Day, Every Day, a visually stunning, mouth-watering journey through pastry. The book was a true baking labor of love. “When I signed on to write this book for home cooks, I assumed the recipe for the plain croissant would be straightforward—I mean I’d been making croissants for almost 10 years at Lune. What ensued was weeks of frustration, endless testing, moments of self doubt, and really questioning whether I actually had the capacity to deliver these recipes,” she said. Yet she persevered in her quest to demystify the croissant and make it a more approachable project for home cooks.

Her Chocolate-Dipped Croissant ‘Biscotti’ is an homage to Italy’s tradition of serving morning coffee paired with a confection. Kate’s version is double-baked like a traditional biscotti, but by using flaky, thin croissant dough, she achieves a crunchier texture perfect for dipping in coffee. If you’re yearning to try her recipe but don’t have the fortitude to attempt a homemade croissant, know that the store-bought version will work just fine.

Will you be trying Kate Reid’s croissant ‘biscotti’? Let us know in the comments!

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