• Mock the week

    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.

  • All puffed up

    This week was dominated by puff pastry. Our third attempt at laminated dough – first came croissants, then danishes and now puff pastry; the most difficult of them all. With no yeast in the dough, the rise is all in the layers of butter and dough (729 layers in all). To get puff, you need to get the lamination right.

    With a large block of puff pastry at the ready, we divided the block into five, unequal portions (as instructed) – each of which were magically transformed into a different delicacy. We made natas (custard tarts); vol au vents with a wild mushroom sauce; Parmesan cheese straws; arlette biscuits; strawberry mille-feuille and chocolate mille-feuille triangle biscuits. In a nutshell, ‘death by sugar and fat’. I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when I baked my vol au vent cases and they rose as they should have – I could even see the lamination in the rise. Not as spectacular a rise as chef’s, but a rise nevertheless.

    If this wasn’t enough, this week also saw us produce a wholemeal baguette and mini baguettes; almond biscotti; amaretti biscuits; steamed sponge pudding with sauce anglaise; Saint Emilion aux Chocolat and Arnhem biscuits. I think of everything that we made the biscotti and amaretti biscuits were my favourite, although I have to say, I was also quite partial to the Arnhem biscuits, apparently a recipe which came from Roald Dahl himself.

    All in all, the week wasn’t a bad one. That is, until Friday when all the tiny steps I had taken forward took a giant leap backwards. Chocolate tempering or more accurately, the lack thereof in my case, was my undoing again. In addition to baking the Arnhem biscuits, our only other job on Friday was to temper some 70% chocolate and make a base for our chocolate centre piece, which we are supposed to be making on Thursday this week. The more I tried to temper the chocolate, the more I got myself into a state and a mess. So with the frustration came the tears. With the tears came the pep talk from the chef. With the pep talk from the chef came embarrassment and humiliation and the desire once again to ‘run away’. I haven’t yet. We will see what next week brings, although it is likely to be a tough week as we are going through the recipes that we are going to be doing in our week 13 exams, which I am still not sure I will be up to doing. I will have to hold that thought for a moment as I have more pressing things to do like revise my recipes for tomorrow, so I had better stop writing my blog and get back to my studies.

  • What a week

    I am not sure where to start. It was such a busy week. We started with a great day of bread making on Monday, brioche and zopf. Very decadent and highly enriched loaves of bread, which went down a treat that night with some honey and fig cheese. Best not to think about the calories.

    Tuesday was choux pastry day, which we formed into eclairs and profiteroles, filled with creme diplomat and decorated with peach fondant icing and chocolate piping. I was commended on my choux, but my piping left a lot to be desired. I was also left with a slightly limp eclair as a result of faffing about with the oven too much during the bake.

    Chocolate piping was my downfall again on Wednesday, when we made a Sacher Torte. All was going well – I had a well-risen mousse cake, a relatively even apricot glaze, a shiny mirror glaze and then we got to the chocolate piping and everything went tits up. My inadequacies as a chocolate piper was evident and all the hard work from the previous stages of the baking process were somewhat destroyed by my piping attempt. An uncontrollably, shaky hand didn’t help matters. On a positive side, the Sacher Torte tasted delicious.

    Thursday was a day of hot and cold plated desserts. We made a raft of components for our iced lemon souffle (lemon compote, marshmallow and lemon souffle) and caramelised orange rice pudding (armagnac prunes, buttercake) and raspberry sorbet for our raspberry sorbet truffles, which we finished off on Friday. Unlike my Sacher Torte and eclairs, which were definitely not the finished articles, the lemon souffle, rice pudding and raspberry sorbet truffles came out largely as intended.

    Friday was a relatively quiet day with my tempering of chocolate attempt resulting in shiny chocolate – a definite triumph. Now I just need to learn how to temper without making a mess.

    Although I have settled into the course a bit more, I am still not quite there. My nerves still get the better of me, but I am trying to take one day and one task at a time. The week was however successful in that I submitted all my written assignments in time for the weekend, which Jo and I spent at the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock and dinner at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, our belated Christmas gift to one another. It was well worth the wait. Off to bed now as another busy week in the kitchen awaits.

  • Getting your fingers burnt

    Another week on the Diploma of Patisserie has just flown by. I started off a bit wobbly, but got a little more settled during the week, except for Friday, when chocolate tempering got the better of me again – I couldn’t get the chocolate to 49 degree Celsius to start the tempering process and it went downhill thereafter. I did, however, manage to dip my ‘three brothers’, hazelnuts in caramel, which I had risked life and limb for earlier in the week when we had to mould 4 hazelnuts into petit fours from freshly made hazelnut praline when they were still hot (cooked to a temperature of 156 degree Celsius). I still have the blisters on my fingers to show for it. No pain, no gain, as they say.

    Having an absent partner in crime (we are paired up with a different person each week) on Friday, didn’t help matters as I had to do the paired activity on my own – passion fruit pate de fruit, which was deemed too dangerous by chef for 10 students to be making in the kitchen at the same time, on account of the high temperatures we were working at (109 degree Celsius), so we were supposed to be making it in pairs, except of course little ol’ me, who had to make it on my own despite the dangers. I managed to finish the task in the allocated time and it set and looked as it should, so all in all not too unhappy with my effort.

    The most technical challenge of the week (except for the chocolate tempering) was making a Gateau Fraisier on Wednesday – a multi layered cake consisting of layers of genoise sponge, strawberries, strawberry creme diplomat, topped off with a green marzipan disc, decorated with chocolate. While my gateau required a little bit more care and attention to the finer details, all in all it wasn’t too bad (chef said it tasted good) except for the overly green marzipan disc (a little too much MSK green colour – more Shrek-like than strawberry leaves) and chocolate writing (at least I managed to temper the chocolate this time) could have been a little more refined.

    Other delicacies this week included a cheese and spring onion quiche (absolutely delicious); Danish pastries (four varieties in all); orange and hazelnut ice cream; chocolate mousse in a chocolate band; hot chocolate soup with a chocolate, almond crumb and sugar cups.

    When I am not in the kitchen, I am spending my time doing write ups; reading patisserie theory; generally living and breathing patisserie. I did manage to treat myself this weekend with a back massage at Blush and a quick lunch at Number 14 in Ashburton followed by some carrot cake from Taylors in Ashburton. It wasn’t just relaxing though as we ran 8 miles yesterday and 6.5 miles today with a quick upper body session at the gym yesterday. Today has been study and more study so with that in mind I am off to bed. Another day dawns.