• Nougat

    I really should be calling the title of this post, bread, bread and more bread, rather than nougat, but as the nougat was the highlight of my week, not necessarily to make, but to eat, I thought I would give my nougat the honour.

    The week started with bread: rye bread, soda bread, corn bread and ciabatta, and a few pain au chocolat thrown in for good measure as we clearly didn’t have enough to take home or eat.

    Tuesday was sugar-day and the beginning of a three-day process to make a banana assiete on Thursday. We made spun sugar (a wonderful, wispy ball of sugar strands), honeycomb and what was to become my favourite of the week, Nougat Montelimar. We also made filo pastry, the most wonderfully silky pastry which was a bugger to stretch into the required thin sheets – I did manage to produce something that resembled filo pastry, albeit that it was not even in thickness.

    Wednesday was the start of death by banana: banana and walnut cake, banana sorbet and banana crisps. Before I went nuts by having to temper chocolate again to make chocolate bands for our banana assiete, we made caramelised walnuts after painstakingly blanching and removing the skins from 10 walnuts with a small paring knife. I was supposed to make four chocolate bands and a chocolate bow. After another poor attempt at chocolate tempering and re-tempering, I managed to make two rather clumsy looking chocolate bands and a sort-of bow. I was delighted on Thursday at the unveiling of the dessert that the chocolate band remained largely intact and it made the required crack of tempered chocolate when hit with the spoon.

    Thursday, saw us complete our banana assiete by making banana caramel sauce, caramelised bananas, caramelised filo, banana mousse and chocolate sauce and plating up all our banana components from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday into a highly elaborate dessert. Although I should most probably make my banana assiete the photo of the week because of its complexity and it was, after all, a labour of love, my nougat has to take centre stage on account of the fact that I loved it so much. You can see a photo of my banana assiete on my Instagram page.

    And then there was Friday …. chocolate tempering day. I approached the day with trepidation but also with the intention of mastering the art of chocolate tempering, finally. My fellow class mate and I had requested that chef was on hand to point out where we may have been going wrong. I tried my first temper and everything seemed to be going to plan. Chef said that it all looked good having watched me temper my chocolate so I dutifully coated my chocolate egg moulds with chocolate and placed them in the fridge to set. Diligently keeping my chocolate at a working temperature of 32 degree Celsius, while I waited to release my first egg from the chocolate mould, when I went to release my first egg I was informed by chef that my egg was not tempered and had bloomed and that I would have to re-temper my chocolate – so all that time maintaining my working temperature was a waste. So back to the drawing board or, more accurately, marble food preparation surface I went and tempered my chocolate again, this time more successfully than the last. Despite my ordeal, I finished the day with two chocolate eggs. Not good enough to give to anyone as gifts for Easter but at least they ended up in one piece and the wrapping hid a multitude of sins.

    After my challenging day in the kitchen and a trip down to Amesbury to spend the night with my sister and brother-in-law, I had to take the edge off with a glass or two of red wine, despite the fact that Jo and I were competing in the Battle of Lansdown on Sunday and really should have been abstaining from alcohol. You will be glad to hear that we did abstain on Saturday night, despite staying with my Mother and Father-in-Law in Bath on the Saturday night. The semi-abstenance was worthwhile as I managed to place 2nd out of the women (412) and 47 out of the 1055 competitors overall. A good end to the week after all.

  • Knife skills

    This is going to have to be quick as it is just gone 10pm and I have been up since 5am this morning so I need to go to bed shortly. Jo had to leave at 3.30am for the airport and while I decided not to get up quite then, I set my alarm for 5am so that I could do some of my course work. So now I am fading fast. However no rest for the wicked yet as I realised that I didn’t write my blog for last week. So here goes….

    It was decided that as patisserie chefs that we still needed to develop our knife skills, so for the first three days that we were back last week, we emersed ourselves in the world of savoury food.

    Monday saw us cut a range of vegetables into a number of different shapes to make a vegetable broth, as well as braise some beef for our suet puddings, which we made on Tuesday. We also made suet pastry, hot water pastry and pasty pastry – death by pastry.

    We completed our suet pudding on the Tuesday, which was accompanied with creamy mash potato and Koffmann cabbage for lunch. As a vegetarian/fish eater, I didn’t eat the suet pudding, but the mash and cabbage was delicious. We also lined (with the hot water crust pastry) and cooked pork pies for finishing on Wednesday. To finish the day, we made a brioche dough for our salmon coulbiac, which was to be rested overnight and a beef pasty to take home.

    Wednesday, saw us complete our pork pie (which Jo tucked into on the Friday after his travels), make a salmon coulbiac (encased in the brioche dough), saffron potatoes and fennel coleslaw with homemade mayonnaise (which I tucked into for dinner on Wednesday night, along with Montague as Jo was away).

    Thursday, we returned our attention back to patisserie, making a jaconde sponge, chocolate ganache and a caramel rectangle, which we painstakingly crafted into a Dobos torte. Possibly my finest creation to date – am I allowed to say this? To balance the day, we also made pineapple carpaccio, pineapple crisps and a basil sorbet for our plated dessert on Friday. To top off the day, we made sable biscuits – a feat in their own right as trying to squeeze stiff paste through a star nozzle into dutch biscuit shape is not the easiest of task. Somehow after my first attempt, which chef said looked like a cat’s pooh, I miraculously turned my sable paste into respectable looking biscuits, even if I say so myself.

    And then there was Friday. My favourite day of the week, not i.e. chocolate day. We had two things to make (well three, but we never got to the third), some moulded chocolate pralines and a chocolate bow. We, or should I say I, made a pig’s ear of it. We took a lot longer that expected, much to chef’s dismay (he makes everything look so easy), which meant that it ate into our theory time in the afternoon – details pertaining to our project (more of this later next time). All was not lost – I did manage to make some pralines (fewer and less glossy than others – allegedly, I did not clean my chocolate tray well enough which made my chocolates less shiny than they should be and I made the chocolate of my pralines too thin, which meant a number of them broke when I tried to demould them) and a sort of bow. Something at least to photograph and put in my workbook. One day, one day, I might master this chocolate thing. But until then, I will bid you farewell and night night.

  • On a break

    Well, it was supposed to be a week off last week. It was definitely a week off in so far as I had a break from my Diploma in Patisserie – our ‘half term’ so to speak, but definitely not in terms of what we tried to pack into one week.

    We completed a return car journey to Aberdeen from Liverton, Devon in just over a week. When I say ‘we’, I mean Jo, my husband, who as always was the designated driver. Okay, so we did have a stop or two on the way there and back (Swindon on the way up to see family and Westmorland and Swindon on the way back).

    During our week in Aberdeen, I fitted in a visit to my hairdresser, Alannah (it is amazing how much grey hair can show itself during 10 weeks in the absence of a hairdresser and of course, because of my age); my wonderful beautician, Amy who gives the most relaxing facial and refreshed my skin (I realise that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but it certainly helped my skin, even if temporarily); a couple of lunches with friends; a couple of coffees with friends; two gruelling sessions with Gregor, our personal trainer; two eight mile runs and a six mile run along the Deeside line; a clean out of our ‘scullery’ as while we have been away, the mice decided to play so I had to rid our scullery of anything the wee mice may have got into and our first obstacle course race of the season, the Devil Mud Run near Cheltenham on our way back to Devon. Oh, I should mention that I did do one bit of work for my Diploma of Patisserie when I was on my break. I had to come up with a Winter and Summer dessert menu for our Term 2 project. The lovely people at Design and Code designed a wonderful template for my project. They say that there is no risk for the wicked, so I must be very wicked.

    The Devil Mud Run lived up to its name – mud, mud and more mud with man made and natural objects thrown in. Other than the weather which was cold, wet and windy, the race itself was great and it was an excellent start to our OCR season. Our next race is in a week’s time in Bath – the Battle of Lansdowne.

    I should mention that while on our break, we enjoyed the culinary delights at Lynwood & Co. in Lechlade, which serves the best sourdough bread and granola and the Wheatsheaf in Northleach, where we had a lovely lunch with family.

    It was back to Devon with a bump on Sunday night at around 8pm, ready for Term 2 on the Monday.