• Acclimatisation

    I think I have had to acclimatise more to my Diploma in Patisserie than I had to the altitude when I climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago.

    I have come to the conclusion that I don’t do well under pressure. The question is whether I let my stress levels get the better of me or whether I get the better of them. Only time will tell.

    I set up this blog to document my trials, tribulations and triumphs. So far there have definitely been more trials and tribulations than triumphs. Leaky lemon tarts (my lining of the pastry rings with sweet pastry, definitely left a lot to be desired), dense croissants with a dull crust (apparently, this comes from incorporating too much flour in the croissant dough during preparation and not removing it off the surface of your croissants before adding two coats of egg wash), chocolate truffles with insufficiently textured ‘coats’ and an absolutely abortive attempt and chocolate tempering where everything that could go wrong did.

    On the bright side, my lemon tarts had a good colour (despite being thin and leaky, the cooking of the sweet pastry was apparently good); the lemon filling was tasty; my ganache for my chocolate truffles was smooth and didn’t split; my panna cotta set and had the required wobble and my apple streusel with sauce anglaise looked as it should and apparently tasted good, according to the ladies on reception, who sampled my offerings.

    Long days in the kitchen and the classroom and write ups in the evening and morning are limiting the time I have to do the things that make me happy and keep me sane i.e. running, going to the gym, spending time with my family etc. I am not defeated yet, but like my panna cotta, I have certainly had the odd wobble this week and like my lemon tarts my eyes have been a little leaky.

    I love being in the kitchen and baking things, but at the moment I am fearful that the thing that I thought would fuel my passion is the very thing that may put it out.

  • Teaching old dogs old tricks

    Okay, so it has been a a very long first week.  We started the week with a one day general induction, followed by three days of food safety and hygiene training.

    While I found the training very interesting, albeit that it has instilled in me a newfound fear of contaminating and cross-contaminating food through negligence, thereby rendering food unsafe; the week was somewhat tainted by the knowledge that on Friday that I was going to have to sit an exam; the first exam that I have had to sit in about a decade.

    It was definitely a baptism of fire, relatively long days in the classroom, followed by five or six hours at night studying for the exam, as well as a bit of early morning studying for good measure.

    So intense was the week that my OCR Scotland, 1000 mile challenge, had to be put on the back burner for a couple of days – no running on Wednesday and Thursday.  The latter was set to right after the exam on Friday, with a run from home to Ashburton to meet my fellow students on the course at a local pub to celebrate completion of the exam.  One, rather large glass of wine later and my stomach began to twist in pain (the aftermath of a week of stress, I presume), so rather than going out with my husband, Jo for a meal at No. 14, we went home for simple meal and an attempt at a bit more wine.  A week of abstinence and exhaustion from the week’s activities meant that alcohol was of little interest and I fell asleep quite promptly at 9pm.

    We have a long two week wait until we receive the results of the course.  Apparently we can be awarded a fail, pass or merit.  Here is hoping for a pass or preferably a merit, but only time will tell.  Let’s hope that teaching old dogs old tricks will help them achieve even at this late stage in life.   There was no rest for the wicked this weekend either as I had to complete course work, which I want to submit tomorrow.  Three to four hours this morning and the deed was done.

    With the food safety and hygiene behind me, the cooking can finally begin.  Tomorrow is the day that I finally get to don my chef whites and start baking.

  • Don’t get me started

    Okay, so here is a truth.  I love sourdough bread and although I have sampled many a sourdough bread (my favourite being from Lynwood & Co. in Lechlade); other than trying a ‘cheat’s sourdough’ from BBC Good Food, I have never attempted to make sourdough bread in the true sense of the word.  Well, that is until recently.  Just over a week ago, on the 08 January 2017, to be precise, I took the plunge and decided to make my own sourdough starter.  So armed with one of my favourite recipe books, Roger Saul’s ‘Spelt’ and a couple of bags of Sharpham spelt flour (one white and one wholemeal), I started the painstaking process of making my own starter.

    According to Emma Christensen from The Kitchn, ‘making a fresh batch of starter is as easy as stirring together some flour and water and letting it sit.  That’s right!  No expensive heirloom starters, mashed up grapes or mysterious rituals required – just flour, water, and a little bit of patience’.   My starter recipe suggested a variation of ‘mashed up grapes’ in the form of two teaspoons of raisins, as well as a couple of teaspoons of natural bio yogurt plus Emma’s ingredients of flour, water and a little bit of patience.  And as you know from my croissant episode, patience is not my strong point.

    I diligently followed the recipe for five days and on the six day was excited that my starter should have been ready for use.

    According to the recipe I was using, ‘On Day 6, the mixture should be bubbling and ready for use’.  I think I must have just read ‘On Day 6, the mixture should be ready for use’ as while there were definitely a few bubbles in the mixture, it was definitely not as active as it should have been, nor did it have the ‘acidic tang’ that it was supposed to have on Day 5.

    Undeterred or more accurately, impatient to wait any longer (see reference to patience above), I decided to used some of my ‘well nurtured’ starter to make a loaf of sourdough bread, religiously following the recipe in my book.

    Although the quantity of lukewarm water stipulated, seemed disproportionately large to the quantity to flour required, especially given that my sourdough starter was still quite liquid compared to the images of sourdough starters on Google, I continued to follow the recipe, ignoring my gut feeling to reduce the amount of water significantly.   Although I did not use the full amount of the water stipulated, my end result was a rather sodden dough instead of soft dough as suggested in the recipe, even after 10 plus minutes of frenetic kneeding.  Not put off completely, I persevered and saw the recipe through to its completion.  After two hours of ‘proving’, and I use this word loosely, given that I don’t think my bread did an iota of rising during this time (it did a lot of lateral seeping instead), or the 25 minutes it was baking in the oven, I removed my sorry excuse for a sourdough loaf out of the oven, just in time for lunch.  Although my loaf resembled a dense, flat bread rather than a nicely risen loaf with the characteristic sour dough ‘holes’, it still tasted quite pleasant.  While it tasted quite pleasant, it certainly was a too embarrassing a result to photograph.

    Not entirely put off, but frustrated with my initial failure, I fed my sourdough starter with equal amounts of flour and water to that which I had removed; thinking to myself that I may try again.

    Spurred on by the fact that my newly replenished sourdough starter seemed to be rapidly developing its Day 5 ‘acidic tang’ and Day 6 bubbles, I decided to try to make my second sourdough loaf today.

    While not a perfect triumph, my second attempt at least resembles a loaf of bread and has the slightly acidic taste, characteristic of sourdough bread.  Despite these improvements, I still need to work out the right balance between water and flour to ensure that my sourdough loaf has the characteristic holes, which it is still somewhat lacking.  A little more perseverance and a lot more patience and next time I might just get there.

    In the meantime, my sourdough starter is bubbling quite nicely, thank you very much.

  • Less than three days and counting

    It is less than three days until I start my Diploma in Patisserie at Ashburton Cookery School and I have been trying to familiarise myself with the course content for the first term; working out what I know, or more to the point, what I don’t know.

    I have been scouring my patisserie cook books in a desperate attempt to improve my knowledge before Tuesday.  I fear it may be in vain as I have never been good at cramming information and my memory is certainly not as good as it used to be at retaining information – my advancing years and my penchant for the ‘odd’ glass of red wine have certainly taken a toll on my memory.  Despite these possible limitations to my ability to retain information, I have been determined to increase my knowledge, so much so, that I have resorted to practicing some of the areas in which my skills are quite limited.

    Thursday saw a rather abortive attempt at me trying to develop my icing skills – a skill which I have never tried to develop before.  I am not sure what was more difficult, me trying to make a piping bag out of grease proof paper that worked or me trying to pipe intricate designs from royal icing.  Hoping that it was more to do with the former than the latter, a quick visit to Amazon resulted in the purchase of a Thsinde 28 piece cake piping nozzles with 2 reusable piping bags.  If this can’t do the trick, then nothing will, unless of course, as they say, practice makes perfect.

    Not put off by my abortive attempt at piping on Thursday, I decided to tackle making croissant pastry on Friday, using a recipe from Will Torrent’s ‘Patisserie at home’.  I had made croissant pastry before on the Patisserie week and Puddings and Pastry Plus weekend at Ashburton Cookery School, but I had not made it since and to be honest it is one of those things that I am a little afraid of.  So, armed with Will Torrent’s recipe, I decided to give it a go again.

    All went well with rolling out and chilling the butter and making the dough and other than temporarily forgetting to add the second part of the butter to the dough at the early stages of the process; the turning, resting and ultimately shaping of the dough seemed to go relatively smoothly.

    Although my croissants and pain aux raisins were a little on the small side, the dough felt silky and smooth and I was quite pleased with how things were going.

    1.5 hours of proving later and the croissants and pain aux raisins definitely not doubling in size at a fast rate and now lubricated by a glass or two of red wine whilst entertaining our new neighbours, I thought that I could speed up the process by placing the proving croissants and pain aux raisins in front of the wood burning stove.  Well it certainly helped with the prove, but in the process (and of course, stating the obvious if I had thought things through without the aid of a glass or two of red wine) the butter in the dough melted slightly and the dough became somewhat more limp.  Not put off, I glazed the croissants and pain aux raisins and placed them in the oven to bake.

    Although not a complete disaster, rather than the end result being delightfully laminated and puffed up pastries, they were somewhat more dense and compact than I would have hoped, resembling more the mass produced croissants from supermarkets than croissants from a reputable patisserie.

    Although annoyed at myself for trying to hasten things during the final stages of the process, aided an abetted by alcohol, after a long and painstaking process during the day, it has not put me off.  I genuinely feel that if I had continued with my alcohol-free patience, the diligence that I put in earlier on in the day would have paid off and rather than having a rather flaccid outcome my result would have been far more perkier.  Here is to next time and more patience in the future.