I had a very shaky start to Wednesday. Unusual for me, I really couldn’t face getting out of bed or going for a run. Eventually I mustered up the energy to get out of bed but really couldn’t do anything other than mill around for the 4 to 5 hours before the exams, every so often making a cursory look at my mis en place and recipes for the day but really not taking anything in.
After some consideration and a lot of soul searching (and a few tears), I decided that I couldn’t let my anxiety get the better of me and made my way into cookery school for Day 3 of the exams. It didn’t start particularly well as I couldn’t have brushed my white chocolate mousse moulds well enough on the bottom, despite every effort on Tuesday (or I was too ruthless when I tried to remove the white chocolate mousse squares from the moulds) as the chocolate cracked when I tried to remove them from the moulds. No amount of white chocolate spray (especially as we had to cover the white chocolate mousses with only a fine spray) could have covered the uneven surface of my white chocolate mousse squares. I had to present them anyway – I just hope that the mousse and the blackcurrant gel were as they should have been i.e. the right flavour and consistency and in the right place. I will find out when we have our exam feedback a week on Monday. I decided that I needed to put my mousse experience behind me and focus on the other jobs of the day, putting my cracked chocolate down to the fact that I had brushed my mousse moulds on the fateful Tuesday.
I turned my attention to the other product that I had to produce for the day, my nashi pear cakes and my mis en place for Thursday i.e chocolate gelee, chocolate mousse, praline Chantilly, Kirsch ganache and chocolate boxes and copeau, which involved my other nemesis, chocolate tempering.
I started with my nashi pear cakes, the other product that had to be presented on Wednesday. I carefully cut my pastry squares from the sweet pastry I had rolled on the Monday and pressed down the corners of the pastry in an attempt to prevent them from curling up when baking. I then piped in my frangipane, again taking care to pipe into the corners to help prevent the pastry from curling up when baking and not piping in too much frangipane, given that too much frangipane can result in an ‘exploding’ nashi pear tart. Finally, I placed my two carefully chosen and cut nashi pear slices (two 1/8ths affixed together with toothpicks) on the top of my frangipane and placed my cakes in the oven. After a check and a turn of my cakes after 20 minutes, a further 10 minutes in the oven and a prod to check that the sponge was bouncing back, I removed my cakes from the oven. After leaving them to cool for a few minutes, I demoulded them so that I could complete the final part of the cakes, blow torching one of my less than perfect caramel squares, which I had made the day before, over the top of my cake. At this point chef came over and said, ‘do you think that the cakes are cooked?’, which is code for ‘I think you need to cook your cakes for longer’. Under non-exam conditions, this sort of statement wouldn’t really phase me now, but in an exam situation, it puts you on edge as you are damned if you do and you are damned if you don’t take heed of chef’s advice – ignoring his advice is not acceptable, but taking it means that you have potentially been helped in the exam, which can be reflected in the results. An extra 10 minutes of baking later and still not sure if my nashi pear cakes were adequately cooked, I bit the bullet and blow-torched my caramel squares over the top of the cakes, not before having the same debate in my head as I had on Tuesday about which caramel squares to use. Once again, I went with the thinner, more irregular squares so ensure that chef’s tasting of my cakes didn’t result in the loss of any teeth. While I am definitely not an expert in nashi pear cakes or frangipane, all I can say is that they tasted mighty fine when I finally got to try them when I got home on Wednesday evening. Let’s hope that this counts for something.
After the nashi pear cakes, I focused on my ganache, mousse, Chantilly and gelee as chef suggested that if we started Thursday without these, we would be in a ‘world of pain’. I didn’t want to add any pain to my anxiety. I also wanted to ensure that I had everything that I needed done for Thursday before I tackled my next nemesis, chocolate tempering. I had already decided that I was going to take a measured approach to my chocolate tempering – slow and steady rather than frenetic and frantic. I am not sure if my chocolate was perfectly tempered as it could have been shinier, but it certainly had snap and retraction. I managed to make four chocolate boxes of sorts (possibly not the roundest of chocolate boxes, but chocolate boxes nevertheless) and for the first time ever, my copeau went as planned (again, not the prettiest, but my end result definitely resembled what copeau should look like). Carefully wrapping my chocolate boxes and decanting my copeau into a tub out of harms way, lest I had to repeat the pain of making chocolate boxes and copeau again (I wouldn’t have had time anyway), I undertook the last task of the day, cutting and rolling my pate a brick in preparation of making praline cigares on Thursday. The only thing that I didn’t manage to do was to weigh up my chocolate ganache and macaron recipes for Thursday. Although never perfectly happy with anything I have done, at least I left the kitchen on Wednesday evening in not too bad a place.