Last time I wrote I was waiting for Day 2 of my exams and I had a butterfly farm in my stomach. As it turned out, having received my exam results last Friday, Day 2 was not my best day but definitely better than Day 4.
Day 1 was a mis en place day i.e. getting everything in place for Day 2, which was ‘oven management’ day. We made croissant dough; sweet pastry; lemon tart mix; a genoise sponge; strawberry pastry cream etc. On Tuesday, we had to present 20 truffles; 6 wholemeal baguettini and 1 wholemeal baguette; 4 lemon tarts and 8 croissants. I also had to make a chocolate mousse for my profiteroles and eclairs for Wednesday. As I suggested, a day of oven juggling. The good thing is that I managed to present everything on time. The bad thing is that I started to second guess myself, as well as rush certain things, which meant that my end-products were not as refined as they should have been. My lemon tarts were given a distinction, but all the other products I produced on Tuesday, were given a credit. Not that I am upset with being given credits for these products, but I think with a slightly different and less frenetic approach, I could have produced better products. Chef took me aside at the end of Day 2 and told me that I could be more ergonomic in my approach. His kind way of telling me that I was being a ‘headless chicken’. Although I was upset by his observation, I knew he was telling me as it was, as I knew that at times, I had been panicky and unfocused, which obviously translated into my end-products.
On reflection i.e. receiving my results on Friday, Day 3 was definitely my best day as I received distinctions for my eclairs and profiteroles and Gateau Fraisier, despite the fact that they were not perfect. My piping skills, despite being better on the Gateau Fraisier compared to my previous attempts, were definitely not anywhere near perfect on my eclairs – I did managed to create some fine flicks on my profiteroles however. Allegedly, by choux was very good and fully filled with chocolate mousse as it should have been, albeit that my chocolate mousse was only credit worthy i.e. part way through making my mousse, I started to second guess myself and as a result, failed to mix in the chocolate enough before folding in the cream. The end result was a mousse with a little bit of unmixed chocolate in it rather than completely smooth in texture. Not a complete disaster, but it really shouldn’t have happened. My previous attempts had been better.
While Days 1-3 may have been considered okay, Day 4 was an absolute disaster. I prepared myself as best as I could i.e. I had my acetate, my balloons, my straws, my floral shapes and my design and over the last few weeks had been able to temper chocolate to acceptable level, but not long after I started the Day 4 exam, things started to unravel. In retrospect, I should have just gone with my initially tempered chocolate, before it got too hot and became untempered, but I didn’t. Little did I know that my first attempt would be my best attempt and that my plinth and base would be the only two items of my design which would end up properly tempered. I tried three times after my initial attempt to temper my chocolate and make my component parts but with limited success. I eventually threw together a centre piece of some sorts, but having spent close to three hours out of a three and a half hours in tears, I just wanted to put the day behind me. I was frustrated and embarrassed at my attempt and my inability to keep things together. Despite this, I managed to pull myself together enough to join my fellow pastry chefs for a drink after first having a meal at The Library in Ashburton with my husband, son, sister and nephew.
I thought that Friday would be relatively relaxed, despite it being results day, but as I was 6th to receive my results and things did not necessarily go swimmingly for my fellow pastry students, I got increasingly concerned during the day. After nipping out for a coffee and a small bite to eat (as the butterfly farm returned during the morning), I finally got my results just after lunch. Despite my anxiety, I managed to get three distinctions, four credits and a pass for my dreaded chocolate centre piece. While I was delighted at first, my annoyance at myself has since set in as I feel that I could have done better if I had kept my nerves at bay. As chef said to me when I realised that I made a mistake with my mousse, look forward, not backwards, so this is what I plan to do. In the meantime however, I plan to try to enjoy my time off before our last term in the kitchen.
An afterthought. I ran before my exams on Monday and Wednesday, but not Tuesday and Thursday and I did better on Monday and Wednesday. Something to think about for next time.
And finally, I hope the image I have chosen says it all.