Monday, 20 December 2010

The big bad basic exam

I've been a bit slack on the old blog front recently but what with the end of term and begining of Christmas I think I should be forgiven. Over the last few weeks we havent had all that much school, what with the exams looming. We did manage to fit in a rather fun lesson on truffles which took a somewhat childish turn towards chocolate face painting, well on my part at least. But with the exception of a quick spell as the chocolate cat I've been spending my time reading up on theory, learning recipes and, of course, baking.

The written exam went pretty well, somehow all the recipes stayed in my head and most of the technichal questions were easy enough. To be honest, there isnt all that much else to say about it. I got 90%.

The practical exam is a bit of a different tale. Much to my dismay, the recipe I pulled out the hat was the genoise. Strangely, although I had practised the sponge and made it well at home, it was still the one I felt the most unconfortable with because there is quite a lot of space for error. Space which I managed to squeeze myself into during my exam. I've ben putting off writing this for a while because, to be honest, I felt a bit disappointed in myself after the exam. Everything went okay, except my butercream. I didnt whisk my eggs enough and I knew as soon as I had done it that it had gone wrong. Other than that, I made my sponge and jam well, covered my cake in dodgy buttercream and left feeling a bit glum. Although after spending the rest of my morning drinking champagne and eating cheese with my classmates I felt a bit perkier. I got my results the next day and, as expected, most of my comments revolved around the buttercream. My mark, considering, was okay at 73.

Overall for the year I got 79.2 which is annoyingly close to the 80% merit boundary but we'll get there next time. Maybe.

The rest of my class had some really great results and we had a lovely time at graduation, firstly being a bit posh at the Dorchester and then spending the rest of the evening guzzling beer and cocktails in an american style diner in Angel. Good times indeed.

What an attractive bunch

Its been a really great term all round and has truly flown by. Quite looking forward to a couple of weeks  enjoying the countryside snow before heading back to it to face intermediate. 

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A bad workman?

Im sat pondering that old phrase about a bad workman blaming his tools and begining to feel a bit sorry for the old chap. Perhaps this workman was infact a fellow LCB student trying to recreate his recipes at home? Well if he was, I for one feel sorry for him (and myself for that matter). At school we have an endless supply of bowls and pans of assorted sizes, top quality ingredients at our disposal, lovely pre-heated temperature controlled big ovens, blast chillers to cool things rapidly and blow torches to heat them up. In short we have everything that you need and more. At home I have this:


and a lot of this

Saying that, practise today didnt go too badly so perhaps I should stop complaining and keep baking. The exam is looming.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Friends and Fours

Without getting too soppy, this weeks blog is going to have to be a bit of a shout out to my fellow budding pastry chefs in group D. Since that momentous day when we met in the Boulangerie in the beginnings of October we have become quite a close knit group and they are certainly the cherry on the top of my LCB days. Anyway, enough of that for now, time to talk about the matter at hand: petit fours.  Petit four or ‘small oven’ are miniture treats served with your coffee at the end of a hefty meal, and should be no more than 2-bite sized. They can be quite a variety of things from meringues and biscuits to pastries, chocolates and fudges but the one thing they must be is small. I do quite like the idea of miniture food, mostly because it looks cute and so with a whole variety to cover I was looking forward to the lessons on the topic.

We began on Thursday with a demo that covered sables hollandais, meringue a l'amande and tuiles a l'orange. Sables biscuits are named so because of their sand-like texture, They are like a french shortbread and come in many varieties. The aim of our sable game was to make both a chocolate and a plain mix and use them together to make patterened biscuits. For the almond meringues we were shown three different ways of piping and finishing off the mixture and the tuille was an alternative to the plain batter we first covered way back in October. Because petit fours are so small, even low quantity recipes produce enough to feed the masses so there was more than enough to go round after class, all served up on a mirrored platter.


In class our task was to make the sables and meringues and if there was anytime we could make the tuiles as a class as an added bonus. The sables can be quite time consuming because there is alot of cutting and fiddly work to get the patterns and they need to be chilled inbetween layers, but the end result is satisfying enough to justify the time spent. At the end of class we found ourselves with a miraculous half an hour left to frantically make some tuilles. The result was a lot of mad dashes up and down the stairs to the stockroom to get the ingredients that hadnt been accounted for and alot of hands around one bowl zesting, mixing & piping. Without enough time to chill the batter it spread a fair amount across the tray in the oven and we ended up with what chef called 'road kill tuile'! Nothing a bit of artistic liscence and a bagette rack couldnt solve though. They were an added bonus not only because they make a tasty take home treat but also because we seemed to be the only group who managed to make them.

Selection of sables

Almond Meringues

Best roadkill I ever did see

On Friday it was time to be shown another multitude of sweet treats. Class covered two types of fudge, florentines, financiers and macarons. Macarons have, much like cupcakes, become very fashionable over the past few years with a lot of shops stocking all sorts of brightly coloured and different flavoured styles and so are potentially quite important for the budding pastry chef, but do require a bit of time to fully master. Heres the end platter from demo, my favourite were the financiers topped with fresh raspberries.

With alot to get done in class we worked together as a group in practical this week. I quite enjoyed it as it was a bit like being in a real kitchen. We each had to make our own macarons because that was where we were being marked but the rest was a group effort all round. The end results of everything were really good and dispite everyone being a bit tired and ill we worked well as a group. Anyway, before I start getting soppy again, here are the pictures

Petit Fours a la group D

Very bright macarons

We are heading into our last weeks of the first term, which has well and truly flown by. First exams start on Tuesday with our theory exam so a weekend of revision awaits me. So if anyone need to know egg coagulation temperatures in the near furture then I'm definately your gal.. 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A lovely lady named Charlotte

This week our efforts have been focused around the pleasently named Charlotte cake. This is a cake lined with sponge or bread and then filled, hot or cold with a custard/cream/mousse/puree. The sponge lining in this case is classed as a biscuit because it is cooked spread out flat rather than as a cake. So, for the first time since writing, this week, I quite literally have been whisking it for a biscuit. Who knew the day would come? Other highlight this week have been having a chance to play with all kinds of new things, namely gelatin, but also more chocolate work, using cake rings and glazing. This week I've decided to throw it all into one blog so prepare yourselves to see a whole lot of Charlotte.

On Thursday we were introduced to charlottes number 1 and 2, these consisted of a piped biscuit lining and base, constructed into a cake in a ring and filled with bavarian creams. As any good basic patisserie student will tell you, a bavarian cream is a custard set with gelatin and lightened with whipped cream. The end result is basically a dairy based mousse. In demo the bavarian creams used were chocolate and passion fruit. These were put together in appropriate sponge cases and decorated accordingly and, as expected, beautifully.

Bavarian chocolate charlotte

Passion fruit

Having been introduced, it was time to take things a step further and make a Charlotte. Here is a quick break down of class. Make a chocolate genoise sponge mix, do not over fold. Pipe mixture into firstly a long strip of fingers and secondly a spiral circle. Bake. Make a chocolate custard, add in gelatin and more chocolate whilst hot, leave to cool. Whip up some cream and fold into cooled, setting, custard. Take cooked sponge and line firstly the sides and secondly the base of a cake ring. Fill with mousse and level. Chill in fridge. Make chocolate decorations and put it all together. The only slight problem I had in class was I forgot to weigh down my baking sheet in the oven resulting in it folding in on itself  and half of my sponge being unusable. Fortuately there was enough sponge about to salvage the situation. Making the chocolate decorations was the definate highlight. Good, messy, fun and I was pleased with the resulting flower. 

Moving on to the third Charlotte. This was still a cold cake, but filled this time with a mousse. The key difference from the baravian cream is that the base of a mousse isnt dairy based. This week I have discovered I really love mousse. Its not something I would of usually considered much in life before, but I have definately been missing out. The mousse of the moment was a vibrant blackcurrant, topped off with a shiny blackcurrant glaze and here are the examples from demo.

Practical for this cake was really enjoyable. The cake ring near enough ensures a neat finish, there was plenty of time so no rushing about, the blackcurrant meant that everything was super bright and we were in a warm kitchen away from the cold. If I was to be asked again, I'd have a date with Charlotte every saturday afternoon! The main tricky bit was the lining. To get that striped effect you have to construct a kind of jam- sponge tower, slice it up and squeeze it tight round the edge of the ring. The glaze also requires a bit of accuracy with temperature, and of course there was the dreaded piping but I think that is gradually starting to improve. 

On tasting the blackcurrant Charlotte gets my vote. Which lovely lady does it for you?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Black Forest Stress

On Friday a terrible thing happened. I was woken up by a text message only to find it was 8am. Class starts at 8. I am meant to be up way before 8. But there I was still snuggled up in my nest. A bit of a mad rush panic ensued and I managed to get to class in time to see most of demo but still late enough to get an absence mark. This kind of threw me off balance for the whole day so I dont have much to report to you about black forest gateaux except that it is really quite alcoholic and probably doesnt rate that high in my list of cakes. Nontheless it looked great and it was a good chance to do a bit of chocolate work and cover some more chocolate theory.

Dispite being a very naughty chef, fortunately I was allowed into practical. I think this was because the basis cake recipe was a chocolate version of the genoise so I didnt miss too much. Was a relatively stress free practical today and the masking was a lot easier because we were using chantilly cream. I was pleasantly pleased with my piping this week and my chocolate was okay, although the design was a bit 'Jaws' shark attack esque.

Still a bit hazy from my mornings mishap I managed to demolish half my cake on the tube home. Commuters looked on in horror as my cake headed for the tube floor. Fortunately I caught half of it in the tupperware. Oh dear indeed.

Supreme Cuisine

Just as we through a tea-party in our third and final term at school, the cuisine chefs host a dinner evening. Its held in the school and is a chance for them to create a menu to show off their skills and, more importantly, for us to eat it. We had canapes, amuse bouche, starter, main, cheese course, pudding and petit fours and champagne flowing. It was really great to have a chance to try some of the cuisine and see what they get up to in their kitchens. Here are a few, fairly low quality, pictures of the delight of the night, themed la Belle Époque

One of many glorious canapes - tuna tartar


Amuse Bouche - Espresso Trompette

Starter - Menage a Foie Gras; parfait, confit & Seared

Main - Confit belly of pork & stuffed pigs trotter with black truffle tian & madeira jus

Cheese - Parfait of roquefort with poached pears

Dessert - Praline glace & caramalised apple, pain d'epice mousse with spiced wine syrup

Tea & Petit fours

We left the meal tipsy, happy and stuffed right to the brim.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Classy Victoria Sponge

Continuing on the theme of cakes, mixing and aeration methods, this week we turned our hands at the genoise sponge.  Although in home cooking, most cakes are classified as some type of sponge, this is not the case for pâtissiers. The genoise is a super light  and is described as a sponge due to its resemblance to the natural under-the-sea type sponge when cooked.  There are a few easy mistakes to be made when making this cake. Firstly the aeration of the eggs (by hand of course) is done at 40˚C over a bain-marie. This means keeping a close eye on the temperature because if it sneaks up those pesky egg proteins begin to coagulate. The second chance for error is folding in the flour. A light touch is definitely required to achieve the desired effect of coating the air pockets in flour rather than bursting them altogether. In demo, once chef had her perfect sponge in the oven she showed us how to make a true buttercream to coat it and  a fresh jam filling. All of this was then put together in a classic Victoria sponge sandwich style and rolled into a roulade as an added class bonus.

Before turning to demo, I want to take a brief interlude to tell you how well I have been fed this week - so very well. The two main events of feeding both happened on Thursday, firstly with a beautiful homecooked Finnish lunch cooked up by the lovely Henrika - a girl from class - and secondly by the Superior chefs in school who put on a great evening to show off their now honed skills, which probably deserves a post of its own. Anyway, inbetween demo and practical this week we truly feasted and rolled up to class with a full set of food babies.


Anyway, stuffed as we were, we had a cake to bake! This is the last of our potential exam pieces and is a real tricky one. Again the masking of the cake is a tricky one as the more attempt you have to get a smooth finish the more likely the butercream is to become overworked. There is then the great risk of ruining your cake at the last hurdle with the dreaded chocolate piping. Although mine was a bit smoother this week, my design ended up being somewhat smaller and lopsided than it was in my head.