Our start to the week was a little novel. We had a guest tutor in to teach us how to make cheese. Quite a change from our normal day, which is quite frenetic, as cheese making is a calm and measured process in comparison. It was interesting to learn something different and our day resulted in the making of a number of products, largely using organic milk and a range of cultures i.e. ricotta, yoghurt, buttermilk, crème fraiche and a ripening Manchego cheese. The Manchego cheese will be ready to take home at the end of our course (4 weeks’ time) but it is best to leave it to ripen for a few months before tasting it. Other than cheese making, the only other thing we did on Monday was awaken our stiff dough starters for the making of two sour dough breads on Tuesday and baking some lychee tuiles for the culinary class’ dining event. Something we had to do Monday through to Thursday.
On Tuesday, we finally got to make two loaves of sour dough bread (Pain au levain and Pain polaineTM) from the stiff dough starters which we had been nurturing for the last two weeks. All was looking good until the final prove, when my breads were nestled into their respective bannetons, waiting to rise up over the top of the banneton before they were baked. Chef came in just before the final proving time was over to inform us that some of our doughs had worked while others had not. Without being told, I knew my dough was one of those which hadn’t risen the way it should have. Not put off, but slightly disappointed by my limp dough, I placed my breads in the oven to bake, or so I thought. My partner in crime this week, the lovely Annie, and I discovered quite far into the bake that our oven was not on properly and as a result any chance that our breads had of rising during the bake were thwarted. Not to be defeated, I took the required photos of my end products (angled in such a way so as not to look like a complete flop) and took them home to try, along with the classic French baguette, we also made on Tuesday, with some cheese, pickles and salad. Despite their less than perfect appearance, the breads were very tasty and were eaten over the next few days as toast. On Thursday, I decided enough was enough (I had given them a fair shot) and threw the remainder of my breads away. I should say that the classic French baguette, aided by a bit of cultured yeast, was much more successful, albeit that according to my feedback from chef could have been more consistently shaped with better slashes on the top (I was awarded a credit for my efforts). Tuesday also saw us make meringue and carrot top granite for our carrot parfait dessert.
Wednesday was a busy and productive day. Not only did we complete all the items on our mis en plas for Wednesday, but we also made four of the components of our chocolate box dessert, which we were making on Thursday i.e. jaconde sponge, chocolate mousse, chocolate gelee and feuilletine. Our Wednesday mis en plas included making the brioche dough for our apple doughnuts; apple and yuzu sorbet; caramelised apple puree, carrot parfait and pickled carrots. We were treated to making the brioche dough in the electric mixer, rather than by hand, so this certainly cut off some time. For anyone who has made brioche dough, you will know it is a labour of love. That being said, I sort of missed making the dough by hand as it is one of my favourite doughs to work – the enriched dough is very pleasant to the touch. Irrespective, by the end of the day, our brioche dough was tucked up in a protective layer of cling film in the fridge to rest overnight.
Despite getting ahead on Wednesday, Thursday ended up being a long day. We finished around 6pm, which is largely unheard of. We made our chocolate boxes under pressure i.e. chef giving us a specific amount of time (I can’t recall exactly, but somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour) and then ‘shouting’ out how many minutes we had left every five minutes. This was our first foray into chocolate tempering since the exams in Week 13 and also for something which we have to make in our forthcoming exams, which are next week, so my nerves were on edge. The pressure being placed on us (chef counting down the time and the impending exams) meant that my chocolate boxes were made with a very shaky hand. I am surprised they came together at all. My chocolate was tempered (although it could have been shinier) and I made four boxes (albeit not quite circular in shape), which we later filled with layers of chocolate gelee, jaconde sponge, fueilletine, chocolate mousse and ganache. During the kitchen scrub down, we had to present two of our chocolate boxes to chef for assessment. One of which had to be cut in two so that chef could assess how well we had layered up our chocolate boxes. I was pleasantly surprised to be given a distinction for my chocolate boxes. Here’s hoping that I can repeat this in my exams. Other than the chocolate boxes, we also plated up our carrot parfait (along with carrot top granita, buttermilk sauce and pickled carrots) and deep fried our brioche doughnuts, which we filled with caramelised apple puree and served with apple & yuzu sorbet. As per usual, my stress got the better of me and the day ended in tears, mainly because of the long day and the knowledge that Montague, our dog had been left alone in the house all day as both Jo and the dog walker were away – as the day got longer, my stress got worse. Eventually I resorted to enquiring whether the neighbour (and our landlord) would be willing to let Montague out. He was, and with his willingness, my stress subsided, unfortunately a little too late to have avoided my fellow students seeing me in tears again.
Friday was a calmer and more relaxed day. Chef was in a good mood and it buoyed everyone up. We made twice baked cheese souffles, chutney, sea salt water biscuits and a cheese pithivier. The nicest thing about making the souffles and cheese pithivier is that I got to garnish them with salad leaves and edible flowers (so I used this opportunity to give a nod to my late day by using violas, his favourite flower). It was an early end to the day which was a good thing as I had to brave the motorways and very inclement weather with Montague to make our way to Gloucestershire for what was supposed to be a weekend of Spartan obstacle racing. A weekend turned into a day as Jo’s calf injury played up during the race on Saturday and we decided not to race on Sunday. This was most probably a good thing as I am not in tip top fitness at the moment (the longer the course has gone on, my fitness has declined with it) and it was a tough race on Saturday i.e. a Spartan Super race filled with heavy carries (logs, sandbags, atlas stones etc.) and upper body obstacles (rings, monkey bars etc.). After a quick bite to eat at Lynwood and Co. in Lechlade, my favourite haunt when in the area, we made our way back to Liverton. After a two hour snooze in the car I was refreshed enough to attempt to do my mis en plas for the exams, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had raced both days. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining.