The size of a £2 coin

With my mis en place in place, except my macaron shells and chocolate ganache for my chocolate boxes, as these had to be made on the day, I should have started Thursday with a ‘spring in my step’ (okay, maybe that may have been a step too far) but again the exam nerves got the better of me. This time, however, I managed to go for a run with Montague – it was a lovely day, weather-wise, so ‘we’ decided to go for a run to Stover Park, a lovely local park, a 6 mile return trip from our accommodation. The run was most probably a good thing as it broke up the morning and I had less of a continuous period to worry.

As normal, 1pm came around too quickly and I found myself back at Ashburton Cookery School, waiting for the final day of the exams to start. Not, however, before I had dug out a £2 coin, the alleged size of the macarons we had to produce. At 2.84cm in diameter, I knew this wasn’t quite accurate despite chef saying that this was the approximate size that we should pipe our macarons to. To be honest, given my inability to pipe consistently, no matter how hard I try to regulate my piping, it wouldn’t really matter what size chef suggested as I am lucky if half of my macarons come out the right size.

Anyway, back to the final day of our exams. I started by baking my pate a brick cigares (carefully placed between two pieces of silicone paper and two baking trays, with the seam facing downwards) and then turned my attention to weighing up my two remaining recipes, chocolate ganache and macaron shells. Given that the pate a brick cigares only took 10 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius, I had to make best use of the 10 minutes while ensuring that I was in the vicinity of the oven when the timer went off.

Things didn’t start well in that poorly opened packaging meant that a couple of the ingredients I was measuring spilled and I had to clean them up before progressing with my measuring. A five minute job took 10 minutes and as a result I only got back into the kitchen just as the pate a brick cigares were due out of the oven, rather than having the planned time to get together the components for my chocolate boxes. No major damage other than being a bit behind.

Taking the now cooked pate a brick cigares out of the oven and knowing that I only had a short window of opportunity to remove the pate a brick cigares from the pipe moulds, I attempted to remove the cigares as soon as I could. A difficult task, given that the pipes are metal and have been in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Risking life an limb, okay the risk of a few blisters, I steeled myself and removed the pate a brick cigares before they stuck to the pipes. Three out of the five cigares were in good nick, so I was relatively happy.

With the cigares cooked, I turned my attention to filling my chocolate boxes with layers of chocolate gelee (which I had blended earlier and placed in a piping bag), jaconde sponge, fueilletine and chocolate mousse and placing them in the fridge to set up before I added the final layer i.e. chocolate ganache, which was the next job on my list to make.

With the chocolate ganache made and cooling, I made the macaron shells – a careful balancing act between making a paste out of almonds, icing sugar and egg whites and an Italian meringue from caster sugar and water heated to 114 degree Celsius, which is then added to whisked egg whites – the whisking of the eggs has to be balanced against the heating of the water and sugar as both have to be at the right stage at the same time. The Italian meringue mixture is then carefully folded into the paste and the placed in a piping bag before piping equally sized macaron shells on a tray.

As mentioned earlier, piping is a trial for me, but I did manage to pipe out 24 similarly sized shells which I later paired together, filled with Kirsch ganache and presented as required. Our brief was to present 12, equally sized macarons.

Before I leave the macarons, I need to mention the colouring of the macarons. In my previous attempts at making macarons (a whole two times during my Diplomae) I have struggled to mix in the colour so before the exam, I asked the other chef tutor what the best way was to blend in the colour properly. Both of his suggestions were different to chefs i.e. the other chef tutor suggested mixing the colour into the Italian meringue mixture or into the paste, whereas chef suggested mixing in the colour when folding the Italian meringue mixture into the paste. Nervous that I would be taken to task by chef for using a different method to his, I advised him that the other chef tutor had suggested a couple of different approaches. Chef’s response was that I had been shown the method that he used, which was short-hand for this was the method which I needed to follow. Follow, I largely did, with the result that as predicted some of my meringues had streaks of colour which had not been fully mixed in. My macarons were also a little on the light side as I was concerned that I had weighed out a little more than 1g of food colouring so I held a bit back. I shouldn’t have. I am sure that my slightly lightly coloured macarons will be mentioned in the exams.

Whilst the macaron shells were cooling, I assembled and presented my praline cigares. This involved piping praline Chantilly into pate a brick cigares, which were lightly coated with cocoa and green tea powder and topped with copeau and shiso leaves. The challenge with assembling the praline cigares is maintaining the fine coating of cocoa and green tea powder, while assembling the rest of the product. I was largely pleased with the result, except that I put too much ‘affixing’ chocolate on the top of the praline cigare, which meant that I had to add more shiso leaves than I would have liked (and more than required) to cover the excess. I dutifully took my products through to be examined and there they sat for what seemed like 5-10 minutes before anyone went to look at them. I found this disappointing and frustrating as praline Chantilly does not stay firm for long, especially on a hot day. When they were eventually brought back into the kitchen to be examined, they looked nothing like the product that I had left for examining all those minutes ago. I was gutted to say the least. I will see how this delay is reflected in the results.

Once I had presented my praline cigares and macarons, the last thing I had to do was present my chocolate boxes – which I had completed with the chocolate ganache when I was making the meringue. This involved presenting one whole chocolate box and one chocolate box, cut in half. My first attempt at cutting a chocolate box resulted in a cracked top, so I cut a second one. With my anxiety building because I had ‘destroyed’ one of my chocolate boxes and because I had recently let myself down by stupidly cutting the end of a piping bag on the food preparation surface rather than a chopping board (I am still not sure why I did this other than my nerves clouding my judgement) I accidentally plated two halves of different chocolate boxes on my serving plate. Chef saw me do this, although I had not registered my mistake myself so my final act of the day was rectifying another stupid mistake.

With the final day of the exams over, we did a deep clean of the kitchen and went home to refresh ourselves before going out for a couple of drinks to celebrate the end of the exams. Our celebrations were a bit of a non event as everyone was quite tired and we also had to retain some energy for the following day when we were due to have our portfolios signed off by the Internal Verifier. My portfolio was signed off without a hitch and chef has asked me for a copy of my portfolio so that he can use it as an example for future Patisserie students. I am quietly pleased by this recognition and also his request for a copy of my project for the same purpose. I just need to trawl through all my write-ups and photos to get everything together for him.

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