Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Pastry Chef

I've been neglecting my blog a bit lately, trying to get myself ready for the big end of school exam. I handed my portfolio in the other day and have been practising in odds and ends trying to perfect my sable/ brioche/mousse/ganache/etc. The exam is just over a week away and I've started having those classic panic dreams about turning up late/ burning my macarons/ general disasters but hopefully it will be okay on the day. Fingers crossed all round. In light of the end of school rapidly approaching I thought I better start hunting for a job in order that my perfect pastry bubble didnt suddenly burst, leaving me no chioce but to turn to serving up soggy sausage rolls in Greggs. Fortunately, and wonderfully, I have actually managed to land myself a great job! So ladies and gentlemen, I am officially (well soon to start) a Commis Pastry Chef!

Its very surreal that this time last year I was finishing up a degree in social sciences and now my career dreams seem to be unfolding right before my eyes. I'm going to be working at an amazing 5 star luxury hotel in London, The Mandarin Oriental, in the pastry kitchen. The pastry kitchen covers everything from breakfast to room service, afternoon tea to one off trial menus so its an amazing opportunity to keep on training and learning with some fantastic chefs. I had a trail shift last week, had a really great day and managed to keep my mess levels low enough and my enthusiam high enough to land a job! The hotel has two amazing restaurants in it, one is Heston Blumenthals latest venture - Dinner and the other is by Daniel Boulud. Basically the place is crawling with amazing food and chefs.

I'm starting on the 27th June giving me 20 days to finish school, find myself somewhere to live and move! Reminds me a bit of when I started school, at least I already have my knives and shoes this time round..

Monday, 23 May 2011

Afternoon Tea

Last week it was time to host our superior patisserie afternoon tea. Its strange to think it was only a few months ago, back in september, that the prospect of producing it seemed mind-boggling and now its been prepped, baked and eaten! Here are the vital stats. We made everything over 2 days, 14 hours of kitchen time. There were 16 of us in total, working in two teams. We made 21 different types of cakes as well as 3 types of scones and preserves.  There was at least 30 tea sized versions of every cake as well as their larger counterparts. The scones numbered in the 200+. We hosted the event for about 70 people. Okay, so thats the fact and figures out the way, here's a picture before the wordy bit.

Although we did have to work quite hard to get everything ready in time, doing solid seven hour stints in the kitchen was quite enjoyable. Sometimes I think its better to work right through because its not until you have a break that you realise you are tired. Its also much more realistic as to what will be expected of us in the real big bad world once we finish. On the first day we had a briefing, split into groups, allocated jobs and then set about doing all our mis-en-place. By the end of the first day we had pretty much everthing made up ready to be put together and be pretty-fied the next day. I also had a raging appetite for something savory and ate perhaps the largest bowl of pasta that I have ever laid my eyes on.  Thanks very much to bonne bouche and their abmormally large portions, a carb overload was definately required. On the second day we finished everthing off by glazing, piping and decorating with various fruit, chocolate and sugar charms. In our team we also had to make up all the scones so that they were still hot for service. We had a nice little system going and, before we knew it, a kitchen overrun by scones!

Scones as big as your head!

Normally the tea party is done in bigger groups (the last one had 30) and although we got everything done in time, the main rush was getting it all across to the hotel. In the end we had to recruit stray students to grab trays and run them across. Dispite the last minute panic we got everthing set up in time, ready to host. Through the event we served the various tables, explaining what was what and topping up the supplies. My mum, dad and aunt all came so I enjoyed playing the role of chef, hairnet and all.

Overall it was really enjoyable, its nice getting into bed at night feeling both exhausted and excited. I'll try and scan the menu in at some point but here are the last of the few pictures I managed to take. There were also some press about so I might try and scout down some reviews too. 

Under a month left now! 

Monday, 16 May 2011

Bake dreams

Plated desserts are quite literally taking over my life. Not only do I now have to carry around an emergency note pad incase of exam inspiration/desperation, but we have spent the last week in school having demos and practicals entirely based on plated desserts. It all came to a head the other night when I had a very long, rather distressing dream, entirely based on plating up desserts. Thats what 8 months in culinary school will do to a girl. Anyway, I thought I'd share the burden a bit and post some pictures of the plates I made last week. Included is an apple parfait, a bijoux box filled with chocolate brûlée and a lemon ricotta mousse. 

Today, after seven solid hours of prepping for our afternoon tea tomorrow, I felt like I had somewhat neglected my dessert daydreams. I managed to resolve this by buying some shiny new plates ready for my exam and writing this. Heading to bed soon so who knows what recipes may await me.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

School Dinners

The time in the term has come again when the superior students are hosting their dinners, and I, in return, am scoffing it down.  Its nice to see how some of the cuisine kids in my year are getting on and try out some of their food for once, instead of being taunted by the aromas wafting into the boulangerie whilst in the middle of a seemingly endless 8pm piping session.  This time the theme was 'Le Printemps' (Spring), calling for a good dose of baby animals and sprouting veg. Yum yum.

After an Aperitif of Melon Bellini and a foie gras canape or two the menu was as follows

Rock Oyster ceviche with chilli, lime and cold gin

This was my first ever Oyster and, after a slight panic that a may have an anaphylactic shock, I slurped the slimy creature right up. Not only did I manage to keep it down, but it was also pretty delicious all round.

To follow we had asparagus, poached quail eggs & pancetta with a tarragon vinaigrette. Nice, light dish with eggs poached to perfection.

Main was a stuffed lion of lamb with yuca frites, shredded lamb shank on a sweet plantain puree. The shredded lamb was a real winner, I think it was my favourite dish of the night. Infact, just the memory of it is making me salvate.

The cheese course included a bosworth ash goats cheese and bleu d'Auvergne. It was probably best that it was all nicely plated up, avoiding the normally inevitable calorie splurge brought on by cheese.

For dessert we had a vanilla cheesecake on a chocolate sable base with a rhubarb glaze, served with a rhubarb and raspberry sorbet, tuille and rhubarb crisp. The cheesecake suffered slightly from excess time in the blast chiller but overall it worked well. My favourite bit was the unassuming rhubarb crisp which was surprisingly tasty.

We finished off the evening with some petit fours and a good ol' brew. The pastry chefs did a really good job of the petit fours making chocolate coffee cups, lavander macarons and chocolate praline. After just finishing my chocolate module I was pretty staggered by how seemless the cute chocolate cups were. Triumph indeed.

Overall the evening was really good, not only was I fed with all sorts of treats that would never be lurking in my fridge, but the wine was good and I managed to keep my conversation to the head of school suitably polite.

Photos are slightly hit and miss, but the best my poor camera could do.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Chocolate Picket Fence

As promised, here are the last of my chocolate creations. Ladies and gentlemen I give to you a chocolate windmill and a choo choo chocolate train.

For the windmill I chose to finish my decoration with a piped chocolate picket fence which opens up to the garden path of my happy chocolate couple. Awwh.

My train is sporting a personalised LLG 24 number plate in light of it becoming a rather handy birthday present for my housemate. It was a little worse for wear after my cycle home but what boy doesn't want a chocolate train wreck for his birthday?

In other pastry news, I am starting to get somewhere with my plans for my plated dessert final and have done a few home trials. Still many, many tweeks and changes to be done. I'm also starting to get quite excited about our impending tea party on the 17th May.  Its being held at the Mandeville hotel and should be rather good. A few of the other groups held theirs last week and everything they made looked wonderful. Here is the lovely Sarju on his way down with a tray of tasty treats to wet your appetite! Very nice indeed.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Temper temper

We are well on our way in our second module of the term: Chocolate. This means that I am both as happy and as dirty as a pig in mud. The exam dish from this module is the moulded chocolates so we have been making those in the bulk load in order to perfect our moulding skills and try out potential ganache flavours. As well as these we have been making lots of other ganache filled treats and trying out some tasty confectionary recipes. I got to make these adorable rose flavoured marshmallows that were pretty delightful  and surprisingly easy to make. Just to top it off, when you piped the marshmallows out, the still unset sticky mixture did a little bunny hop as it released from the bag.

Bunny hop

Sweet treats


After a few lessons making normal bite sized chocolates we moved onto slightly more elaborate chocolate work. We have a few more pieces to go to complete the set but here is a preview of some of the chocolate show pieces that have graced us so far.

Firstly, the chocolate box. This is a tear drop shapes box, made 100% of chocolate, that can be used for decoration or to house some smaller treats. Once all the individual pieces are made, you have to put them all together and decorate with some piping and some more chocolate work in order to create a chocolate box, slighlty more eleaborate that the normal milk tray. Mine took about 5 hours to make all in all and lasted all of 2 minutes before it was a pile of broken chocolate. Oh dear.

Now for those of you who think that the chocolate box is a bit over the top, prepare yourself for the butterfly show piece. This is that can only be described as a solid chocolate totem pole covered, in a rather surrealist way, with butterflies, leaves and slightly more abstract orbs, eggs and a bar of chocolate. Again, we made all the pieces first and then constructed it. Although perhaps a bit strange, the finished piece was pretty impressive, and certainly attracted alot of attention on the tube.


We still have a chocolate train and a windmill to make so watch this space. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Rules of the Game

Somehow, we have reached our final term at school and are now the big kids on Superior that put fear in my heart on day one. The thought of this is both very exciting and terrifying, but there is still a way to go.

This term is a totally different ball game from the last two. We no longer have demonstrations and spend 90% of our time in the kitchen. If we are learning any new techniques the Chef shows us them in class just before we copy. Its good to see things so close up and is much more one-on-one learning than before. Another diffence is that we are now learning in modules, meaning that everyone in the year isnt doing the same thing at the same time. For example, I am now on my chocolate module whilst others are doing sugar work. This means we get a good few solid weeks focused on one thing, trying to perfect specific skills, before moving on.

The other big difference is the exam. The final, final exam. Scary. The exam this term has gone from 2 and a half hours to 6. Although, in light of what we have to produce, six hours seems like a minascule time slot.  During the term we have to build up a portfolio of specific dishes which we have to make in our exam. For our portfolio we have been given a list of what we need to make and a list of ingredients. Writing the recipes, methods and time plans is down to us. So from out list we have to make:

1. Two identical plated desserts.

These must include a filled and encased mousse, a glaze, two sauces, chocolate and tuille decoration.

2. Six idential moulded chocolates

These must contain a ganache, but the flaouring is left to us. They must also be decorated in both white and dark chocolate.

3. Six idential sable biscuits

These must have an identical pattern made up of two flavours

4. A sugar sculpture

This is to present the chocolate and sable. It has to have at least 5 different techniques on it.

5. A brioche

Fortunately this has a standard recipe.

We get marked on all of the dishes individially in different criteria (taste, texture, apperance, method etc) as well as being marked on our portfolio and, importantly, our time plan.

As we go through our modules we get a chance to focus on individual elements of the portfolio so hopefully it will become less scary as time goes on.

Live, Eat, Sleep: Bread

The first week back at school we were in the boulangerie making bread like it was going out of fashion. We made bagettes, ciabattas, sour doughs, brioche, rye doughs and many many more. My kitchen at home looked like the beginings of a small bakery and I have to hand it to my housemates who managed to work their way through a respectable quantity of bread, whilst successfully avoiding a carb induced coma. Kudos indeed.

Bread making is really wonderful. As the Chef highlighted, even if homemade bread isnt quite as perfect or pristine as shop bought, nothing quite beats making it yourself. Not only is it satisfying, but it can be quite theraputic too. Anyone who hasnt tried making bread at home should really give it a go, even if its using one of those handy ready to go bread mixes. Just make sure you knead it well.

The first time we made bread in school the recipes were quite simple, and we did all the work by hand. This time, the recipes are more professional and its been great to learn a bit about some of the science behind them. Bread making really is a precise art and the recipes and methods need to be altered depending on the conditions of the flour, the humidity and temperature. Basically to be a great baker you really need to know your stuff and have years of practise under your belt in order to gain the type of instinct and knowledge you can't teach. For now, we are just honing our shaping techniques and learning as we go.

Here's a few snaps to break up the waffle

The other thing we practised a fair amount last week was brioche. Brioche is one of our portfolio dishes that, ultimately, we have to make in our final exam. I will explain the portfolio in a different post but basically, perfecting the brioche is pretty important. The feedback so far this term has been so much more detailed than before and it is really useful to hear. We have a group feedback session so the Chef can show us the higher scoring products, as well as those that show classic mistakes. I am fairly pleased with my brioche overall, the main thing I need to work on is careful handling post prooving/ during egg wash. 

One of the more exciting loaves we worked on this week is the pain surprise. The basic concept is to take a loaf, remove the middle dough in one piece, cut it into sandwiches and put it back, hidden, inside the crust - hense the surprise. To make ours, we started by shaping our dough into what the chef claimed was a hedgehog. However, when you see the critter I'm sure you will probably take the more popular view that it looks more like turtle. When we had made and baked our doughy monster, we removed the top 'shell', made an incision between his legs, removed the middle (not an easy task), sliced it up, made layers of sandwiches, popped them back in, put the lid on top and viola - pain surprise!

So far, as you can probably tell, superior is great. Its satisfying to see the skills we have learnt over the past 6 months coming together and I'm really enjoying the new schedule. We finished off our bread module by polishing off the chefs sandwiches along with a class of Kir. So dispite our new busy schedules, there is always time for a cheeky 11am cocktail to kickstart the day.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Since working at Artisan my brain has been more than a little pre occupied with chocolate. I have been day dreaming about making chocolate, travelling the cocoa growing regions of the world and (mostly) moving to France to keep on training.

Watch this video of chocolatier Patick Rogers at work and I'm sure you will be left with a glimpse of the excitement chocolate can bring. Who knows, maybe there will be a whole hoard of us uprooting to Paris.

Magical chocolate factory video .Click away.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Une semaine à Artisan du Chocolat

My brief spell at Artisan du Chocolat has come to an end so I thought I'd write a brief post. To be honest the only negative point I can raise is that I had to get up super early every morning (5am) to get there in time, alas, such is the life of pastry chef, so I guess I had better get used to it. And it did mean I saw some rather lovely sunrises on the M25 along the way.  Apart from that I had a truly wonderful time. Firstly, all the staff were so nice to work with and tried to show me as much as possible. Secondly, I got to see basically every stage of the process from chocolate making right the way to packaging, and thirdly, I was quite literally surrounded by incredible chocolate all day long.

Although I was aware of a lot of the products Artisan make before arriving, I was shocked to see quite how much variety they were producing and also didn't realise that Fortnum and Mason chocolate was also made there. It was nice to be in the factory during the Easter buzz and see all the easter collection getting made, the place was rife with eggs and bunnies. It also made me think more about the importance of packaging. Although the chocolate made there is really very delicious, all the packaging itself is so nice and well considered that it truly is the cherry on top.

Here are some of my Easter picks:

1. Creme de la Creme Eggs

These bite sized treats are a bit of a take on the classic cream egg. My favourite is the milk chocolate shell filled with a white chocolate ganache and passion fruit filling. Absolutely brilliant.  Having said that, these may be a bit more that marmite than your classic Easter treat. Whilst two of my housemates gobbled these down with glee, the third handed it back after one bite. I, however, would strongly recommend them and at £1.50 its definatley worth the gamble. The other flavour is dark chocolate apricot and mandarin. yum yum.

2. Pastel Plush Bunny
These are milk chocolate, sprayed with cocoa butter and incredibly cute. What more could  girl want at Easter?

3. The Artichoke Egg
I spent a day and a half making these and, even though a bit pricier than the rest, they really are a labour of love. So much so that I didn't even make half a dozen on day one. I managed to speed up significantly on day two, but even so one of these bad boys needs a good 40 minutes of TLC before it is ready to be sprayed. This egg really packs in the chocolate with a dark chocolate shell and base, covered in chocolate squares and filled with chocolate pearls. Its just a bit special.

Anyway, that's enough Artisan love. As you can probably tell, I had a rather nice time and my fascination with chocolate seems to be growing by the day.

Back to school tomorrow and I really can't wait. La vie est belle.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Choc-a-bloc chocalate.

We start back for the grand final of our course in April and so have a short holiday break inbetween before the maddness begins. I've managaed to get myself a bit of work experience with the wonderful Artisan du Chocolat to learn a bit more about chocolates from a slightly more industrial point of view. The company makes luxury and innovative chocolates with lots of exciting flavours and textures ranging from basil and lime to liquid salted caramels. I've only been there a few days but so far its been great to see a whole new world, literally full of chocolates. I've been making lots of moulded eggs and rabbits in the build up for Easter as well as seeing some of the exciting industry equipment. The rabbits are sprayed with coloured cocoa butter to give them an adorable furry effect. Being shown the in's and out's of a steam pressured heater might not be everyones cup of tea but watching that cream cook away truly makes my day. Another week to go so hopefully I'll get to see (and eat) lots more.