Saturday, 30 October 2010

Sweet Success

Friday was day two off puff pastry. In demo there was a distinct air of nerves around the room with the crucial will they/won't they (rise) question being bandied around. Whilst we sat contemplating our puff pastry futures, chef used her perfectly made example to create a fresh fruit puff pastry tart and a stack of delicous crisp puff pastry biscuits called palmiers. For those of you who havent ever had the joy of trying a palmier the only advice I can give you is - eat one as soon as physically possible. Furthermore, make sure you buy more than one because they are extremely moreish. Palmiers are infact so good that chef didnt dare leave it till the end of class to let us taste them, passing them round in our break.

I think I'm in love.

In comparision to recent behaviour, I'm going to class this as a 'light breakfast'. So light infact that one slice didnt suffice..

Moving swiftly onto practical. Not much of an intro because I'm far to excitable to tell you: it worked! I made a tasty puff pastry from scratch and managed to turn it into one tasty tart and many, many palmiers. Revelling in our shared success there was quite a 'friday feeling' in class and everyone left in high spirits. Even managed to sneak in a cheeky pint before heading home. Even better, I had a big box of palmiers for the journey. Not sure how quickly I will be attempting to re-create the puff pastry recipe, although the combined end results of taste and satisfaction do make it more likely.

Slice, packed and ready to go home.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Professional Puff

Today we took what I felt was quite a large step away from amateur baking with the challenge of pâte feuilletée. Don't get me wrong, the recipes we have cooked so far have been delicous but its not often you come across a home chef with puff pastry in their repertoire. Puff pastry is made in 2 parts, the paste and the butter. The butter is folded and rolled into the paste to create a fine layered pastry ,and thus creating the puffed up effect as the butter cooks. Doesnt sound too bad so far. However, in order to achieve optimum 'puff' there must be around about 1000 layers of butter and paste. Thats right - the millenium pastry. In demo today we were taught how to incorporate the butter and 'turn' the pastry to create these layers. Its quite a tricky thing because as the layers get thinner the chances of the butter seaping its way through increase, so it requires a fair amount of tlc, and plently of time to rest and cool between folds. After making  the dough it is left to cool, in our case overnight, before using it. So for the rest of class chef made a puff pastry tart called a jalousie which is a puff pastry lattice filled with almond creme and poached fruit. Taste sensation.

On to practical. As you may of guessed, we were making our own puff pastry, or at least attempting to do so. We were also making our version of the tasty almond treat above but with a bit of a cheat. As our puff pastry wouldnt be ready till the next day, we were given a batch of ready made puff pastry to use. Cheeky. I wasnt on my top form today and had a few small mishaps. My attempt at rolling out the pre-made puff pastry to the desired rectangle resulted in more of an x-marks-the-spot treasure map. Luckily chef saved the day. Im also not 100% confident about my puff pastry but I will get to see the result of that tomorrow when I actually cook with it. Chef assured me it was fine but some of the layers looked a bit dubious to me so fingers crossed! The take-home treat for today turned out to be just that. We poached our pears, whipped up out almond creme and constructed our fine pastry. Done.

The final event of the day was our first one on one tutorial with our mentor chefs. We had to have a chat about where were were doing well/badly, what we wanted to improve etc and most importantly we got our marks for our first batch of practicals! So far I am averaging a 4.1 our of 5 which is a merit. Very happy baker. However, its still very early days and I still have that pesky puff pastry to face tomorrow..

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

In the loop

Yesterday we had a lesson all about exams and assessments to tap into our fears of impending failure. I'm sure there are some of you out there pondering how we get graded so I thought I'd post a quick break down.  Our overall mark for each term is broken down into three parts.

Weighing in at 45% of the overall mark is our day to day practicals at school. For each of our practicals we are marked on four criteria: hygiene, organisation, presentation and preparation. Hopefully I will find out some of my marks in this weeks tutorial

A written theory exam worth 10%. At the start of December there is a one hour written exam consisting of multiple choice questions, short answer questions and true or false questions. Hopefully a chance to get some scores on doors.

The main event, stacking up 45% in one fell swoop is the practical cooking exam. Heres the gist of it. We are told the 3 potentially recipes (in this case Lemon meringue pie, choux pastry buns and swans, genoise sponge with raspberry jam). We then have till the day of our exam to learn the recipes and practise to perfection. On the day we pick a number out of a hat and produce the recipe from memory. We are then judged firstly during the exam by a chef on our recipe, technique and organisation and secondly, by jury of chefs on presentation and taste. Think masterchef. We have 2 and a half hours and for every minute (up to 10 mins) over we lose 2% from our overall mark, any time after that is a fail.

Now for the grading:

50-79.99% = pass
80-89.99% = credit
90-100% = distinction

Basically to get anything above a pass you have to be pretty much flawless. Hense, I am off to bake a lemon meringue pie.

For now I leave you with some quick fire true or false questions. Answers on a postcard.

True or False....

1. The term imbibage means to spread
2. The main component of egg white is water
3. Pastry cream is cooked till is coats the base of the spoon
4. Dark chocolate is melted at a maximum of 74˚C

Bonne chance.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sunday Sessions

Practising the old pâte brisée. Slightly salty pastry, bitter chocolate filling, sweet raspberry topping. Not half bad.

N.B. See "start with a tart" for professional version.

Tarte Aux Pommes

The voyage into pastry continued on Friday with our lesson on pâte sucrée, a sweet pastry crust. So far we have been mothered a bit at school and have had the same chef for all our demos. This lesson marked the end of our newbie era with a new chef for demo and a much faster pace. My notes this week are full of asterisks and arrows, which somehow form a 12 step plan to a sweet crust. Once we had the pastry crust in order, chef taughts us three potential fillings: pastry cream & fresh fruit, almond cream and the classic french apple tart

Feeling fruity

Almond and poached pear


Once the tarts were finished, presented and photographed, I waited with moderate patience to collect my now standard 3-piece-of-pie breakfast. Nom nom.

Seven hours and a brief nap in Starbucks later, it was time to make a tarte aux pommes. And this is what it consists of: a sweet pastry crust, blinded baked and egg glazed, filled with a layer of apple compote and topped with a decoration of fine sliced apples glazed with butter and sugar. At the start of class chef reminded us that this dish was simple and in his words could be made by a 4 year old, blindfolded, in the dark. No excuses then. Highlights included using the slightly vicious looking slicing device that is a mandoline and a classmate accidentaly snorting a vat of cinnamon. In other chef news, I managed to cut myself for the first time this lesson with my wielding chefs knife resulting in a few rejected blood soaked apples. Tasty. Et voila, before you knew it, we each had our very own apple tart.

Not sure if I can call myself a chef yet, but after this, I'm definately ready to take on the pre-school kids. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Start with a tart

Before I begin, I appologise in advance if this blog is a little lacking. For some reason school has truly exhausted me today, I'm going to blame the early morning sugar rush. After my second helping of chocolate tart, I definately peaked a little too early - well worth it though. Anyway, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Today we started a new topic: Pastry. We began our new adventure by making tarts with a shortcrust base (pâte brisée) and will continue by making sweet, puff and choux pastry. Shortcrust pastry is great because it can be filled with sweet and savory so if, god forbid, I tire of sugar, I can adapt the recipe accordingly. Chef taught us two examples of tarts using this pastry: lemon meringue and chocolate. After our three hour demo my savlation glands had had a pretty hearty work out, so I lept from my seat to grab a slice of each. And yes, I went back for seconds. Hopefully after you see them this will seem a bit less greedy:

 Lemon Meringue goodness

Chocolate actual heaven

After an extended lunch break with my group,we made our way back to school to make our very own lemon meringue pie. Lesson today was pretty hectic because the group before us was running late due to a mid-lesson fire alarm. This meant the precious time we had to make our pastry crust, lemon curd, italian meringue, candied lemon as well as put it all together was cut short. One pie in two hours? Surely not! But dont worry guys, I pulled myself together and tried to keep my piping as neat as possible. It has turned out a right zesty treay. Surely one more slice of pie today can't hurt too much?

Feedback was good overall. Again negatives focused on improving my piping to neaten the whole thing up a bit. Looks like I'll have to make myself another pie. For practise reasons only of course..

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The finishing touches

Yesterday we had our demonstration and practicals to finish off our creme deserts. In demo we were shown some decorations means and methods such as shaping out tuilles, sugar spinning and piping sauces and choclate using fine paper cone bags. We also had our first fire drill, which happened convieniently whilst I was mid- wee. We filed out like good boys and girls, had our register, and then went back in to see the chef complete her plates and tuck into a mid morning creme brulee.

Poppyseed tuille

Obligatory sugar swan

Spun sugar candy floss

Seven hours and a quick trip to the cinema later we began our wild friday night of shaping, piping and presenting. This is the first time we have had a proper dish to present to the chef to be marked and the only instruction was that our designs must include a tuille. Other than that we had fruit, sugar, chocolate and sauces to play with. At the end of class we took it in turns to present our plates to the chef and get our feedback. And now, here they are for you to pass judgement on:

And the feedback? Okay, here we go:

Creme Caramel: "Good colour, nice custard, well cooked" 
Presentation: "Very good, good use of 2 colours and height. Good idea. Need to work on chocolate piping to be finer and smoother" and, I promise, "with work, almost a perfect dish"

Creme Brulee: "Good amount in dish, good glaze, could possibly go a shade darker"
Presentation: "Needs more height. Should make better use of tuille to give height"

Overall, I was pretty pleased. Really need to work on my general neatness and piping, but that was always going to be the case. Excluding the strange anomaly of an A in GCSE art, my creativity is generally blemished by my clumsy disposition. Piping, I have been told, is the crucial difference between a good and a great pastry chef. So, a weekend of piping a plenty. 

On the plus side, the desserts definately looked good enough to eat and really were delicious. 

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Stirred and Baked

Here begins our two part journey into the world of protein thickened custards both stirred and baked. On the 'stirred' agenda was your classic pour-on-apple-pie style custard (creme Anglaise) and representing the 'baked' were creme caramel, creme brulee and the big daddy of the custard world: pot au creme (pot of creme). This lesson has been split into two parts because the baked custards need to sit in the fridge for a good few hours (and preferably overnight) before they can be finished. To add to this, we were also being taught to make coulis and tuille biscuits to decorate our finished products tomorrow.

So, we spent our practical lesson time today cooking the creme Anglaise, caramel, brulee, coulis and a batter for the biscuits and tomorrow we get to do all the fun finishing touches (e.g. blowtorching our brulees). After spending a couple of hours cooking up these treats they were labelled, wrapped and put in the fridge. Painful as it was to to come home empty handed, the thought of tucking into them tomorrow is already making me drool slightly.

To add to this we even recieved what I am going to take as a compliment from the teaching chef. By which I mean he looked at the consistency of our creme anglaise and said "good". Perhaps not much to boast about, but a few other custards in the class had taken the unfortunate turn towards scrambled eggs. How our other custards will turn out tomorrow is yet to be seen. But, for now, I can sleep happy knowing that by some fluke I turned out a "good" creme Anglaise.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Does the lady have legs?

Today our grooming continued with the first of our wine tasting classes.  We were taught about the wine making process, various wine regions in France and their regulations and finally how to test and taste wine, spitting optional.

Several glasses of white and red later and I was still unable to recognise any of the 2000 possible smells, except of course alcohol, and became increasingly perplexed as students began to pick out supposed undercurrents of fresh leather and liquorice. On the plus side we got to drink some top wines and nibble on some bread for a few hours.  Perhaps with a little practise my conclusions will develop from "crisp and fruity" to the more poetic offerings from our teacher. Just need a steady supply of nice french wines..

By the end of the class, when asked "does the lady have legs?" (a test for a good Bordeaux) the answer was, surely, no. Well, not after an afternoon of taste testing.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Crèmes & Meringues

On friday we continued to learn le preparations patissieres de base (basics of patisserie to you and I) by learning about starch thickened custards and meringues. This lessons the chef got through a lot more covering: crème pâtissère and its derivites crème diplomate, crème mousseline, crème chibouste, as well as crème chantilly and three types of meringue, French, Swiss and Italian. The highlight of the lesson was tasting little drops of heaven otherwise known as swiss meringue filled with piped chantilly cream. Perhaps not the healthiest of breakfasts, but definately up there in the taste stakes. And here they are for your viewing pleasure:

They were honestly too cute for words.

Seven hours later and it was time for us to attempt to recreate them. In our practical we attempted the swiss meringes, crème chantilly, crème pâtissère, crème diplomate and crème mousseline. The lesson was great, less nervy, a lot to do and a chance to get our first goods in the oven. Although my piped meringues are no way as perfect as the treats above, I became quite protective of my little babies, especially on the tube home where my tubberware was held stable with two hands at all times. I think they passed the taste test, generously described by a friend as "angel poos", hmm, well not quite drops of heaven but its only week one...

So here are my little angel turds in all their glory:

Piping practise is this weekend agenda. Need to try to perfect a smooth finish and avoid the little spiked peaks. Off to the supermarket to buy some Smash to fill my piping bag. Yummy.