The good thing is that I survived our ‘mock’ exam week. The bad thing is that I had a bit of a wobble on Day 3 when time pressure and failing to achieve what I was trying to achieve got the better of me, AGAIN. Although it was technically a revision week, except for Day 4, when we were working under strict exam conditions, we were not allowed to help each other out or really communicate with one another when we were in the kitchen – our focus was supposed to be entirely on what we were doing. It felt a little unnatural at first but after a while we acclimatised.
Day 1 was a ‘mis en place’ day. We made a genoise sponge for a Gateau Fraisier on Day 3; croissant dough for Day 2 (a labour of love if ever there was one with the folding and all the turning); made and balled ganache for chocolate truffles on Day 2 and made sweet pastry and lemon tart mix for our lemon tarts on Day 2. These were all critical tasks which had to be completed on Day 1. In between these critical tasks, we were encouraged (and managed to complete) other essential tasks for the rest of the week: fondant icing and Gateau Fraisier stock syrups; strawberry pastry cream for our creme diplomat (another component for the Gateau Fraisier); lining our pastry tins with sweet pastry for Day 2. The only problem with the revision days, which still involve demonstrations from chef, is that there is quite a lot of stop/start activities and a full day in the kitchen, which makes it difficult to work out exactly how long each task took – something which was critical for us to establish for our exam week as in exam week we only have 3.5 hours in the kitchen, not 6. All in all Day 1 went okay, other than my near ‘elementary’ mistake of going to place my completed croissant dough in the fridge rather than the freezer. While chef corrected my faux pax (something which he wouldn’t be able to do in the exam) I need to learn from this potential mistake as making the same mistake in the exam would have ruined my croissant dough and there would be no time on Day 2 to have corrected my mistake.
Day 2 was ‘temperature control’ and baking day in the main – a fine balancing act between blind baking sweet pastry cases at 180 degree Celsius; lemon tarts at 95 degree Celsius; croissants at 220 and the down to 200 degree Celsius and wholemeal baguettes at 220 degree Celsius, after we had made, kneaded, proved, shaped and proved the dough in the first place. Not to mention melting the chocolate for and coating truffles in chocolate and a light dusting of cocoa powder. If this wasn’t enough, we weighed up our ingredients for our choux pastry; prepared our Gateau Fraisier tray, which included colouring our marzipan for the top of our Gateau Fraisier with a rather vibrant green colour; made chocolate mousse to fill our profiteroles and eclairs and weighed out our fondant for Day 3. Our final act of the day was being graded on our products – we had to come up with a grade for each of our products and then chef told us what she thought we deserved. I was pleasantly surprised when she said that my truffles deserved a distinction and my croissants, lemon tarts and wholemeal baguettes deserved a merit. This was definitely progress from my first attempts at these products, except possibly the croissants, which at chef’s behest I had rolled a little too tightly which affected their shape and rise.
Day 3 was ‘finishing day’. Other than making, piping and shaping choux pastry into profiteroles and eclairs and making and chilling the creme diplomat, most of the day was spent finishing the profiteroles and eclairs (filling with chocolate mousse and decorating with fondant icing and tempered chocolate piping) and constructing and finishing the Gateau Fraisier. You would have already seen the words that strike fear into my very core i.e. chocolate, tempering and piping. And yes, my fears came true. Chocolate got the better of me again. Day 3 was definitely a day of moving forward in some areas (my marzipan was the right hue this time and my fondant icing was shinier and neater than my last attempt) and backwards in others (a dense genoise and poorly cut cake layers resulted in a Gateau Fraisier lacking in structural integrity; trying to create more substantial profiteroles and eclairs with choux pastry which required more eggs than last time resulted in over-inflated and slightly unsightly profiteroles and eclairs). My piping, as per usual, left a lot to be desired. It is not surprising therefore that when it came to being graded my efforts were given a strong pass. A fair assessment if ever there was one, given that yet again, I let my nerves get the better of me at a critical time, resulting in unattractive piping and a messy work space. I was heartened however, that despite being advised that my profiteroles and eclairs only achieved a strong pass, with ever so slight tweaks, they should achieve a distinction in the exams.
With a firm note to self at then end of Day 3, I decided that a new approach was required for Day 4 (chocolate tempering and chocolate centre piece day under exam conditions) as I was frustrated that I had let my nerves get the better of me and that this was affecting the potential quality of my work. Armed with a couple of drops of Rescue Remedy under my tongue and an attitude that I had to approach challenging situations in the same way that I did when I was an HR Director (i.e. no matter how I felt, I would internalise the angst to appear professional externally) I went into Day 4 with a different mindset. Was I the neatest chef in the room? No. Did I create the best chocolate centrepiece? No. I did however manage to temper my chocolate; work more neatly and get the semblance of a chocolate centrepiece together. Could I do better? Undoubtedly. Fewer grubby fingerprints on my centrepiece would help for starters but all-in-all Day 4 went a lot better than expected.
The week ended with a one-to-one with chef about progress this term and a chat with the IV about my work book. The IV was happy with my progress and chef suggested that despite possibly getting off on the wrong foot, he thought we had turned a corner. I am still not the model student as others have been told, but hopefully next term will see me move more in the right direction. On a positive note, I did get a Merit on my CIEH Certificate in Food Safety and Hygiene – three possible grades: fail, pass or merit.
We are on a break for a week now and other than starting on our Term 2 project, I am going to try to recuperate from a very intensive 6 weeks by catching up with friends and a bit of pampering in Aberdeen.