Superior patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Weeks 6 – 10 and beyond

Talk about blogging fail. I had every intention of writing up each week properly after I had finished my exams but life got in the way. In the 4 months since my last post I’ve graduated from Le Cordon Bleu London, went back to Malaysia for a 2-week holiday to visit our families (and of course eat a LOT of food) and had an imposed 4-week rest due to wrist injury called De Quervains, which is a form of tendonitis and affects mainly gripping and twisting motion with my right hand. Seeing as I’m right-handed this has proved quite inconvenient when it comes to baking and just general cooking. For now I’m taking strong anti-inflammatory medication, which are thankfully working and wearing a splint when I’m doing activities that tend to cause pain. I’ve been soldiering on with the pain for about 3 months now but it reached a stage where I could barely hold a pen so I thought it was really time to see a specialist. The last resort if things don’t get better after the drugs and possibly a steroid injection is surgery, but I’m really really hoping that it won’t come to that. A major consequence of this injury is I’m having to put my job search on hold until I’m fully recovered. Fingers crossed that it won’t be too much longer as I’m getting stir crazy and I really need more direction and purpose with my day-to-day life.

But enough moping! The second half of the superior patisserie course was a lot of fun. Week 6 was Modern Entremet week and it was our first chance to attempt making the entremet that we had designed ourselves based on a list of ingredients. My entremet consisted of a joconde imprime casing, white chocolate feuilletine crisp layer, light strawberry mousse, lemon cremeux insert with a layer of poached rhubarb topped with a glaze made with the poaching syrup and grenadine, with cinnamon tuile and dark chocolate decorations. Overall chef seemed quite happy with what I had made although he didn’t think that the white chocolate feuilletine layer was a good match with the fruity flavours. His suggestion was to have a pate sable base instead and I told him that I would take his feedback into consideration. His other main comments were on the aesthetics of the entremet – he thought that the glaze was a bit too bright (which to be fair, it was) and that white chocolate would be a better choice for the decorations as the contrast with dark chocolate was a bit too harsh. He did think that the chocolate decorations themselves were nice but the tuile needed some work.

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Overall view of my entremet

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Cross-section of the entremet showing the lovely layers

The following week it was time for some sugarwork and we would be working with sugar for the next two weeks! First up was creating a poured sugar centrepiece, which had to include at least 5 different elements/techniques. My centrepiece wasn’t going to win any awards but it wasn’t bad. I went for the easier option of just having gradients of a single colour rather than messing about with two or more pans of sugar. And my sugar didn’t crystallise, which was what I had feared the most.

We then had a practice run at making pulled sugar roses and leaves. Oh, pulled sugar. I both love and hate working with you in equal measures. The actual construction of the pulled sugar rose is pretty much the same as for a marzipan rose, but the main difference is pulled sugar is hot! And I mean HOT! I had on cotton gloves and two layers of latex gloves over it and it was still hot. I have no idea how some of the chefs at school can get away with just one pair of gloves (or even none sometimes). And it’s not just your fingers that get hot. The sugar lamp makes sure that you’re sweating (or perspiring/glowing if you’re a lady) all over. Getting the sugar at the correct temperature and consistency was tricky. Too hot and it’s difficult to shape and you won’t get a good sheen, too cold and it becomes very brittle and snaps. And you can’t remove petals once they’re stuck on so you just have to go with the flow and hope that the end result vaguely resembles a rose. My first couple of attempts weren’t great. They didn’t look like cabbages but the sheen wasn’t consistent on all of the petals.

Week 2 of sugarwork saw us constucting a croquembouche, the traditional French wedding cake – a tower of small choux pastry buns filled with cream and dipped in caramel to hold them together in a pyramid shape, and decorated with almond nougatine and royal icing. We also had a second chance to redeem ourselves with the sugar roses as we would be making one to adorn the top of our croquembouche. I managed to not burn my fingers in the hot caramel but trying to stick the buns together to build up the pyramid is harder than it looks. We only made little towers so we used the inside of a stainless steel measuring jug. In an ideal world all the choux buns would be the same size and shape and they would all slot together nicely. In reality though, most of us struggled with odd sizes and shapes and the buns had to be squished or trimmed to fit. You also had to make sure that the caramel wasn’t too thick as the buns wouldn’t adhere together very well, but if you keep heating the caramel you risk it getting too dark. So working fast is really important to avoid a collapsing, burnt caramel mess. My croquembouche turned out fairly alright, but I was actually proud of the rose I made – it had a lovely satin shine to it and even chef was pleased with it. I think what made the difference this time around was I ditched the cotton gloves and only used two pairs of latex gloves. Yes, I ended up with a small blister at the end from the heat but having the added dexterity and feel really helped with the shaping.

SP Poured sugar centrepiece

Poured sugar centrepiece

SP Croquembouche

Finished croquembouche

SP Pulled sugar rose and leaves

Close-up of the pulled sugar rose and leaves

Next up after the decorative sugar unit was our last graded practical session – the Modern Tart. The nice thing about the Modern Tart unit is it gives us a chance to practice quite a few of the techniques that we may be using for our final entremet exam. A modern tart at Le Cordon Bleu comprises of a pate sucree case onto which a soft layer is spread followed by a thin crispy, crunchy layer. A brightly glazed set mousse with a sponge base, which is smaller in size than the pastry case, is then placed on top of the sponge layer so that it looks like a little castle surrounded by a moat. For decoration we place cut fruit so that it fills the ‘moat’ and some on the top as well, together with some decorative pulled sugar work.

I struggled a little with the glaze. The first issue arose when I couldn’t properly dissolve the white powder colouring that I added to make the glaze more luminous. Then because of the white colouring it was quite difficult to get a bright shade of colour for the glaze. And finally I let the glaze cool down too much so it was too thick when I started to pour it over the cold mousse, making it lumpy. Sigh… they always make glazing look so simple in videos but it’s actually quite tricky getting the correct temperature and consistency. Too thin and it all just runs off and you get a very thin coating, too thick and it’s lumpy. It just needs more practice and with experience I’ll be able to judge when the glaze is ready to be used. All of us had different combinations of flavours for our modern tart, which were assigned by the teaching chef. The combination that I had was quite nice – raspberry jam, dark chocolate blackcurrant crisp layer, coconut dacquoise and a mango-lime mousse. Compared with some of the other combinations this was definitely one of the easiest and quickest to do and I was pretty grateful for that as we had the head teaching chef and she is quite frugal with the grading. As it was our last ‘proper’ practical the atmosphere was quite relaxed and even a little melancholy as we all knew that we were coming to the end of the course and would be leaving the relative safety of school.

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My modern tart, with the lumpy glaze

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Cross-section of the tart

All that was left for us was the mock practical exam, the theory exam and our last ever practical exam, as well as finishing and handing in the dreaded portfolio which was due the day after our mock exam. The mock exam was a pretty tense affair as we had to fit in making the large entremet and two mini entremets as well as plating up the minis in an identical way in 4 hours. To put this into some context, when we had our first entremet lesson we had 5-6 hours to do just the large entremet. Time management and organisation has never been more crucial. In addition to the actual practical aspect, we had to submit a detailed timeplan and drawings of the entremet (whole and cross-section) and the plated minis. In the interest of saving time I decided against following the chef’s suggestion to swap out the feuilletine crunch layer with a pate sable base but I did omit the praline, which I think was the main problem with regards to taste clash. Other than some minor tweaks with the decoration and the glaze my entremet was basically the same as the first time I made it, so there shouldn’t be any surprises with the production and assembly of the entremet.

Only a couple of people in my group managed to finish more or less in time. The rest of us were between 5-25 minutes late. I think I was about 10-12 minutes over time and this was in spite of almost forgetting to make my poached rhubarb, which was an additional insert layer and burning my left hand pretty badly on a hot tray during the last 30 minutes. We were warned beforehand though that this was normal and that if you finished within about 20 minutes over the 4 hours you should be able to finish on time during the actual exam. This turned out to be pretty accurate as all but one person in my group finished within the 4 hours on exam day. You could sense the relief that everyone felt after it was all over. The start times were staggered and because it’s in alphabetical order I was the last person to start. My friends very kindly waited for me to finish to go for a well-deserved meal to celebrate/commiserate the end, although they did have a bit of a moan about being absolutely starving.

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Mock exam done! Large entremet and plated mini entremet

Completing the portfolio seemed to be taking me forever. It was like a never ending stream of work – inserting and labelling photos, writing methods, completing the sugar research project. Arrgh! And the printer decided to go all crazy on me at the last minute so it was a bit touch and go as to whether I would make the deadline. Note to self, I really must stop leaving things until the last minute. But I made it with about 10 minutes to spare. Hah! I was praying all the way that there would be no delays on the tube.

After handing in the portfolio we then had a whole weekend to prepare for the theory exam. The final theory exam was tough! I came out of it thinking there’s no way that I’m going to get a good score. The short answer section was tougher than I thought it would be and no amount of studying would have prepared me for it. In the end I didn’t do quite as badly as I thought and scored a decent 76.6% for the theory exam. My final practical exam was 76% and I ended the Superior term with a final result of 76.82%, which was the lowest out of all three parts but I’m still happy with it. I’ve passed and I have a Diplome de Patisserie!! Whoop! Whoop!

The week between the final exam and graduation went by very quickly. I helped out for the last time with the cake decorating and boulangerie courses for a few days and with one of the Pattisserie Technique Essentials classes and then it was time for graduation. Trying not to get emotional while saying goodbye and thank you to some of the chefs was tough. At graduation a couple of the chefs had some very kind and encouraging words for me and I’m trying to hold on to those words while I’m recovering from my injury and wondering when I can move forward with my career. I miss the school, the chefs and my friends. Our shared experience has created a special bond that will last a lifetime, even if we’re on different continents, hundreds of miles apart.

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My girls!

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My Le Cordon Bleu graduation medal

So that’s it, really. The end of a journey that started more than 12 months ago. But it’s really only the beginning and I’m hoping that I will be building many more good memories and experiences that I can share with you in the years to come. Thank you for taking the time to read this little blog and I hope that I’ve provided some helpful information and/or entertainment along the way. I plan to go back to posting more recipes in the not too distant future as I have a bit more time now to experiment so look out for updates in the next few weeks.

 

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Superior patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 5

This week was the week when we hosted out Afternoon Tea Event – THE event that all superior students both look forward to and fear in equal measure. It was a chance for us to invite family and friends into school and to cook for them on a large scale. And when I say large, I do mean large. With about 40-45 different varieties of cakes and pastries and about 30-40 portions of each, there was a lot of food being produced in approximately 9-10 hours over two days by 45 students. For most of the students it was their first time working in such large volumes and getting each portion to look vaguely similar was a challenge when you’re used to only making a couple of items at a time.

The whole afternoon tea even was an exercise in organisation, time management, precision and consistency, all essential skills to have as a pastry chef. I didn’t get to do that much actual cooking myself, as my main role was to oversee the production by each sub-team, along with the teaching chef and to jump in and help whenever required. I found myself running around answering questions, gathering missing items and managing the ovens most of the time. One sub-team in particular required more help compared to the others so I had to divert my focus to that team a little bit more. I will be honest and say that I was very worried at the start of first workshop that our group would not be able to finish on time but in the end we were done with time to spare and I was incredibly proud of everyone in the group for working really hard and pulling together in a way that I had not witnessed before. As a group we made the following items for the event: pistachio cake, soleil vert, mirabel chibouste tartlet, chocolate and coffee bean macaronade, chocolate fudge cake, citrus garden, chocolate and salt caramel choux buns, sable Breton with passion fruit cremeux, marble cake, chocolate and hazelnut mille feuille, pistachio eclair, rose and lemon Battenburg cake, poirier, banana chocolate tart and apple scones with mixed berry jam and clotted cream. Some of the recipes were fairly complicated and the instructions and quantities were not always very accurate or clear – but I guess that’s what we will have to face once we’re out in the professional world.

Group F cakes 1

Group F cakes 2

The different cakes and pastries we made as a group for the afternoon tea party

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The beautiful display table – Groups D, E and F did an amazing job. Hats off to everyone!

During the afternoon tea party itself, I was tasked with overseeing the front of house service, ensuring that the students serving the tables were conducting themselves in a professional manner, keeping an eye on the cake stands so that the guests were never low on cake and just making sure that the guests were being well taken care of. I was definitely more nervous about this part than leading in the kitchen. At least in the kitchen I pretty much know what I’m doing, but front of house service was completely new territory. With chef’s help I think I just about did an alright job. Overall I did enjoy my role as team captain, and happily the other students seemed to think I was a competent leader. I certainly surprised myself with the amount of patience I showed, as truthfully it’s not usually one of my strongest traits. I do think that my time assisting chefs helped with this increased patience and being able to juggle multiple questions at the same time.

The week ended with our final mid-term tutorial. I’m doing slightly better than at a similar point in intermediate, so I’m quite chuffed about that. I just hope that I can at least keep it up or improve on it, especially since the progressive assessment accounts for 60% of our final marks this term. During the tutorial I had a chat with chef about life after LCB and he mentioned that if I’m still looking for a job by the end of term to speak to him as he may have something for me to consider. Exciting? Yes! Terrifying? Very!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superior patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Weeks 3 and 4

I’ve been really behind with updating my blog as it’s been crazy the last month and a half. In reality, I’ve almost finished the course as I’m typing this. Between classes, course work and going on a couple of short holidays trying to find the time to summarise each week as it happens has proved too much of a challenge for me. So instead I’m going to try to write all the posts in one day!

Week 3 was when we had our Boulangerie unit and as usual it was the most laid back and chilled week. During the first practical we made ciabatta, fougasse (in the shape of rolls) and cheese bread (in the shape of a fougasse – confusing much?). In typical LCB style, the recipe we used for the ciabatta is not terribly authentic but the techniques used to produce and shape the bread are what you would expect for a ciabatta. It was still very tasty though, as was all of the other breads we made. I don’t think I gave any bread away this time from either of the practical lessons – I just portioned most of it out and froze them down. I believe I still have a few bits and pieces left in the freezer, a month and a half later, but most of it is gone now. The second practical was dedicated to making a pain de campagne (country style bread), 5 cereal bread (that turned out to be 7 cereals), pate blanche (white dough bread) and grissini (bread sticks). We shaped the pate blanche into baguettes and epis, or wheat stalk shapes as they look like, surprise surprise, wheat stalks! Getting the scoring right on a baguette is not as easy as it looks – it has to be at the correct angle, distance and depth. My scoring was alright for one of the two baguettes and the epi shaping was fairly regular. I’m going to miss our bread teaching chef and his dry humour, which not everyone picks up on and appreciates.

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Boulangerie unit day 1: 1 = Olive and sun dried tomato ciabatta, 2 = filled fougasse, 3 = fougasse-shaped cheese bread

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Boulangerie unit day 2: 1 = 5 cereal bread, 2 = pain de campagne, 3 = pate blanche, 4 = grissini

Week 4 was Restaurant Dessert week and what that means is doing a lot of plated desserts. It was time to unleash our creativity (or lack of) again with three different desserts – a delice au chocolat amer et romarin, creme a l’Amaretto® (bitter chocolate chalice with rosemary and Amaretto® cream), a bavarois de ricotta avec une compote aux framboises (ricotta cheese bavarian cream with fresh raspberry compote) and a parfait creme au citron et sauce caramel, coulis de mangue (creamed lemon parfait with caramel sauce and mango coulis). The chocolate delice had a vanilla brulee centre surrounded by chocolate mousse and encased in a tempered chocolate collar with frosted sugar decorations, chocolate sauce, raspberry coulis and chocolate sable for garnishing. The frosted sugar decorations looked very pretty and was a new technique for us to learn. My plating for it was inspired by something I had seen on Instagram and it turns out that a friend was also inspired by the same photo as our plated dessert looked quite similar. The trickiest part of the dessert was the chocolate mousse – if the chocolate mixture is too cold when you’re folding in the cream or if you don’t work quickly enough you’ll end up with lumps in your mousse. If that happens I would recommend passing it off as intentional and re-naming it a chocolate chip mousse. For the ricotta bavarois we had to create two identical plates as practice for our final practical exam and it had to incorporate a free flowing piped design in tempered dark chocolate. I had a rough idea of what design I wanted to do on the plate, but when it came to actually plating up my mind was drawing a blank so I had to just let my hands go and hope for the best. The end result turned out alright – it was quite simple and clean, and most importantly I managed to produce to (almost) identical plates. I didn’t quite manage to execute what I had in mind for the plating of the lemon parfait – the blobs of sauces were too large in comparison but if they were smaller I think the plate would look quite nice. In addition to the three plated desserts we finally got to make a souffle – my first time making a souffle ever! I was nervous that it would be an epic fail but all four of the souffles I made with my partner rose majestically and although chef said it could have been cooked for 30-60 seconds less, I think we did a pretty decent job. We made a good mix and the ramekins were prepared very well so the rise was very even.

SP Chocolate delice

Chocolate delice with rosemary and Amaretto cream, chocolate sauce, raspberry coulis and decorated with frosted sugar, tuile, chocolate sable crumbs and chocolate

SP ricotta bavarois

Ricotta bavarois with raspberry compote

SP Lemon parfait

Creamed lemon parfait with vanilla sable base, caramel sauce and mango coulis

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Pistachio souffle

Week 4 ended with our planning for the afternoon tea party which we would be hosting the following week. I was due to fly off to New York that afternoon so I was hoping that it would finish on time. I had just settle into my seat in class when chef called my name, along with two others, which only meant one thing – we would be team captains for our individual groups. It did come as a surprise to me, as I was convinced that one of the other girls in my group, who is super organised and very fast in the kitchen would be chosen. Each of the three groups that would be hosting the afternoon tea together were divided into four sub-teams of between 3-4 people, and each sub-team had a sub-team leader who would be in charge of putting together a misse en place, time plan, ingredients list and equipment list for their team and sending it on to the team captain. The team captain has to co-ordinate the lists from each sub-team and compile it into a single list or time plan to send to the teaching chef in charge of the group. Sounds simple, but it really involved a lot of work as I was about to discover. It didn’t help that I was going to be away that whole weekend and in a different time zone, but we all made it work and I managed to get the lists and time plan to the teaching chef just in time. The fun part was about to begin next week and we all couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

 

 

Superior patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 2

This week marked the end of the chocolate unit for our group and it’s safe to say that most of us are happy to see the back of it. Personally I love working with chocolate and because tempering chocolate has not really been an issue for me so far I enjoyed trying out the new techniques that were shown to us in the demonstrations. In the first demonstration for the week chef showed us what key elements we would need to incorporate in our chocolate box centre piece plus a few optional extras. The lesson did not start smoothly as the fire alarm went off almost as soon as chef finished the roll call, which meant that chef lost about 15-20 minutes from the lesson and considering he only had 3 hours to prepare the various components AND assemble the box that’s a significant loss. But finish on time he did and it was of course beautiful. I was quite excited to begin and had originally planned on constructing a lotus flower as the main focus for the lid. We had to wait until the next day for our first practical session, for which we were required to bring in the templates for the base/lid and the overlay piece as well as produce a time plan and equipment list.

The first practical lesson started well for me, as I was the first to have both of my chocolates tempered BUT I had a small setback when I let my tempered white chocolate get a bit too hot. I had left the chocolate over a bowl filled with hot water to keep it at a workable temperature but unfortunately either I had put too much water in the bowl or the water was too hot and subsequently it took my chocolate out of temper. Having to temper the white chocolate for a second time threw me right off my time plan, which was already pretty tight to begin with. As a result I had to abandon my lotus flower attempt as I wanted to focus on ensuring that I had all of the compulsory elements made in the first lesson. The thing I was most disappointed about was the woodgraining element on my side piece. My first mistake was choosing to do white on dark instead of the other way around. Chef did mention in the demonstration that dark on white would be the better option as the effect is generally nicer and it’s also more forgiving. I had wanted to do dark on white but I was getting impatient waiting for the correct woodgraining tool to become available and I was starting to run out of time. I really should have been more patient as I was very unhappy with my end result. My second mistake was not asking chef to show me how to use the woodgraining tool properly. I noticed that quite a few of my classmates had asked chef for help and actually ended up with chef more of less doing the woodgraining for them. Obviously the end result looked good, but I do have to wonder if everyone was honest about whether they had done it themselves when it came to presenting the following day as we had a different chef for our second practical session. I’m probably just a bit annoyed at myself that mine turned out way below expectation. I tried to rectify this by making some ribbon pieces using the woodgraining tool during the second practical session and these turned out better than my side piece, but it’s a case of too little too late I think.

Overall I was just not happy with my chocolate box and I told chef as much when I presented it to him. There were too many mistakes and I know that I can and should have done much better. The pieces made using the textured honeycomb mat did not come off cleanly so I was missing the honeycomb in some parts, I had one small break with my overlay piece, and because I was rushing to finish (sort of) on time my shell piping around the cut edges was not consistent and the free flow piping on the lid was appalling. The only things that I was happy with were the butterfly I made and the two-toned striped ribbon pieces. I was satisfied with my lid as well, which had a stippling effect, but chef was less impressed and said that the strokes should have been lighter so that you can see the brush effect and that mine was verging on looking more like dots. Hey ho, can’t please everyone. I’m dreading finding out how badly I’ve scored for this when we have our mid-term tutorial in less than a month’s time. I’m hoping that this will spur me on to do better for the other modules.

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Finished chocolate box centre piece – can’t believe that it took me 5 hours to make this

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Close-up of the slightly more acceptable woodgraining element

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Close-up of the butterfly and heart

I will definitely utilise some of these techniques for my chocolate decorations on my final entremets for the exam, most likely the tendrils and who knows, I may practice the chocolate flower at home and make a small one for my entremets.

The only other class we had for the week was a lecture on food costing. For our final exam entremets we will need to produce a food costing sheet to work out how much the ingredients for the large entremets and two plated desserts would cost. It’s pretty straight forward really and we were given some formulas to calculate food cost %, selling price and monthly food cost. In general a food business such as a restaurant will spend about 30% on ingredients, 30% on labour and 30% on overheads leaving you with a 10% profit if you’re lucky. These are estimates and every business will be different, for example a patisserie may spend less on ingredients but more on labour and overheads. When you’re first starting a business it’s vital to have an idea of what your food cost % should be as you will need to to calculate how much to sell your products for. For example, if you’re making cupcakes and it costs you £0.60 for all the ingredients and you estimate that your food cost is 30% then you need to sell your cupcakes at £2.00 each. In reality though, you’re unlikely to have a different selling price for every single type of cupcake or cake but it’s still important to have a food costing sheet for each item, and this should be kept with the recipe so that it’s easy to find and refer to.

Next week we will have our boulangerie unit and I’m very happy about that. Lots and lots of bread to go with some lovely cheeses that I’ve bought recently – a half log of Sainte-Maure de Touraine purchased from a stall at Broadway Market and a Lancashire black bomb bought from Waitrose. That’s my lunch sorted for the next week then!

 

Superior patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 1

First week back as the ‘big kids’ in school and it’s already been a step up from the intermediate course. For our first lesson we had a briefing on the examination and assessment procedures. I’ve spoken to past students before so I had an inkling of what we would be expected to do, but after our briefing I realised it was a lot more work that I had anticipated. The portfolio is certainly more complicated than I had thought it would be but as long as I keep on top of it and ensure I complete the relevant sections as soon as we have completed each unit it will be absolutely fine.

The most exciting part of the briefing was receiving our ingredients list for our final summative exam to be used in designing our own entremets. I have quite a lot of ideas buzzing around in my head already and I’m sure I’m going to end up changing my mind about what I’m going to do a hundred times before we have our first session in four weeks’ time. We will have two chances to practice and perfect our final entremets and accompanying mini-entremets as plated desserts, one of these chances being our mock exam, before the real thing and we’ll be getting feedback from the chefs so that we can tweak our design and flavours.

As superior students we’re expected to be more independent and creative with our work. A big difference with our course folder this term is we have actually been given the methods to the recipes! I was not expecting that at all, but it does make sense as the chefs would not be demonstrating every single item that we would be making. Instead we will be shown key skills and techniques from some of the items and for the rest we would be expected to be able to interpret the methods on our own, although the chefs would still be available and willing to help during the practical/ workshop sessions.

Our first introduction into life as a superior patisserie student was the chocolate unit. This week was the start of back to back practical or workshops sessions. I feel that the assisting that I did during the two week break between terms actually helped me to prepare for this as I didn’t feel that tired as I was used to spending more than 12 hours on my feet pretty much non-stop. Chef demonstrated 6 different truffles and confectioneries out of a possible 28, which means we would have to make four or five items that we have not been shown before. Eek! Time to show chef what we’re made of then! We were split into five groups of three and each group was assigned a different selection of chocolates and confectioneries. My group was tasked with making coffee truffles, framboise (raspberry) truffles, spice logs, passion fruit ganache slabs, mango pate de fruits (fruit jelly) and caramel mou. Even though I hadn’t met the other two members of my group before we worked really well as a team. We were very organised and efficient, and divided out the tasks quite evenly. Two out of the three of us are very comfortable with tempering chocolate so that was quite a good advantage as some people are still struggling a little bit with that aspect. Despite a small hiccough with the caramel mou (when I attempted to make a caramel without sugar!) we still managed to finish ahead of time and we could even afford to have one of our group members help out another group as they were running slightly behind on the first day. In total we worked for 10 and a half hours and produced hundreds of chocolates and confectioneries. And I must say that everything looked and tasted really great so we were all extremely proud of what we had achieved.

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Chocolates and confectioneries made by my mini-group

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Close-up of everything made

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A lovely group shot taken by chef. We couldn’t even fit everything that was made into the picture!

We also had our last ever cheese lecture at the school. Tom Badcock, cheese lecturer extraodinaire, was as effusive about his favourite subject as ever. His aim today was to get us thinking about where a cheese has come from and understanding the history behind it as well as recognising the craftsmen behind the cheeses. We tasted 12 cheese in total and every single one of them was delicious. It wasn’t easy picking my favourite but I think it’s between the cave aged gruyere from the Geneva high Alps and the Brillat Savarin en Truffe from Burgundy, a type of triple-creme cheese. It’s a bit sad to think that some of these cheeses, for example the Lancashire Bomb made by Andy Shorrock, might be in danger of being lost in the not too distant future. It’s made me realise the importance of supporting the small cheese makers, many of whom do not make much profit and are not well known despite having amazing products. It would be a shame if all we had available were commercial, boring cheeses lacking in flavour and character.

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My final wheel of cheese!

Next week we will be tackling the chocolate box, our chocolate show piece, which will be the final element in the chocolate unit. So there will be a lot more chocolate tempering to do next week and having tempered more than 5kgs of chocolate in total last week I think I’m more than ready. The harder part will be designing the box and creating the decorative ornaments that will go on top.

 

Intermediate Patisserie Course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 10

This post is really late as I’ve been busy and exhausted since the last day of class on the 18th of March. I’ve actually just started the Superior Patisserie term but I’ll cover that in a separate post.

The last week of Intermediate Patisserie was fun, apart from the theory exam, which unexpectedly turned out to be a mini French exam. We had 40 multiple choice questions and 2 short answer questions. Typically almost everything that I had studied for did not come out. They really expected us to have read through EVERYTHING that we had ever done in the last two terms. For one of the short answer questions we had to describe how to make a chocolate truffle using polycarbonate moulds. What?? I came out of the exam not feeling very confident at all.

Our final practical task was to decorate the fruit cake we made back in week 6. We were allowed to have creative free reign and rather surprisingly almost everyone chose to make wired flowers in some shape or form. As I had mentioned in a previous post I wanted to make a peony for my cake. I was initially going to opt for an open peony as I personally think that it looks nicer, but the I decided against it as I was worried that I would not have enough time to get it done properly. A closed peony was the easier option by comparison as I would not have to make any stamens and only the outermost petals required wiring. The main issue that I had was the inner ball not adhering properly to the wire. The school did not have the 18 gauge wire that I needed for the central ball so I made do by doubling up an 20 gauge wire as it’s pretty heavy once you start sticking petals to it. In the end it didn’t matter so much that the flower was starting to fall apart as I laid it on it’s side rather than standing upright. I think I could have done a lot better, especially with the colouring of the petals but in the end the overall cake looked decent. I made two additional non-wired roses with some rolled fondant mixed with Tylo powder as I needed to hide the wires.

I was reasonably happy with how I had covered my cake, although there were some slight stretch marks around the edges as I had rolled my fondant a little too small. We had to create straight edges rather than bevelled edges so it was a new technique for me to learn. The rolled fondant ended up a little bit more pink than I had intended but at least it wasn’t too in-your-face and the brush embroidery that I did around the sides softened it up slightly. I did regret not bringing in my turntable as it would have made my life a bit easier when I was applying the brush embroidery. I ended up creating a make-shift turntable using an overturned flat-bottomed bowl.

cake dec pic1

Cake dec pic 2

The finished cake

I think I showed enough technique for chef to be happy enough with the finished product. It’s still sitting in the cake box, wrapped in cling film waiting to be eaten. We don’t really like fruit cake as a household but I’ll bring it round to a friend’s house in a few weeks time so it won’t go to waste.

We had a two week break between the end of intermediate and the start of superior, however I volunteered to assist in both the Cake Decorating and Boulangerie courses that were running throughout that period. For the first week I only helped out with one course per day, but during the second week I did both courses every day, which means I was at school from about 7 a.m. till almost 9.30 p.m. for 5 days straight. It was hard work but a lot of fun too, especially when you have someone crazy and with great energy assisting alongside you. Getting to know the chefs a bit better was an added bonus and the most important thing that I learnt was how to cling film a steel trolley without getting zapped by static electricity! It might seem like something trivial but trust me, if you’re wrapping up trolleys every day this is a vital skill to acquire.

The end of term also brought with it our results and I was absolutely over the moon when I got mine. I did much better than I had dared to hope for, especially in the practical exam.  Having narrowly lost out on a Mention Bien in basic, it was an amazing feeling seeing the little ‘Mention Bien’ sticker when I pulled my certificate out of the envelope. I just managed to scrape through with an overall mark of 80.06%, but I don’t care! It doesn’t really mean anything in the real world but it’s more for my own self-satisfaction knowing that I have improved from the previous term.

I’ve met some brilliant people in my group and I’m a little sad that I won’t be in the same group with some of them for Superior, however I’m sure I’ll see them around between classes. The last three months have flown by pretty quickly and I have a feeling that the final months will go by even faster. Blink and you’ll miss it!

 

 

Intermediate patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 9

It’s done! I had my practical exam for intermediate patisserie yesterday and it wasn’t a complete train wreck! My group got very lucky as we had the Fraisier, which is the one almost everyone in the group wanted. When we flipped the paper over to do the bon d’economat section I could almost hear a sigh of relief spreading throughout the class. I know I certainly did a little happy dance internally, no wait, I might have actually done it externally too when the chefs weren’t looking. I had been telling myself that we were almost certain to the the gateau Sabrina but the pastry gods were smiling down on us yesterday. Unfortunately for the other 2 groups who had their exams earlier in the day things didn’t go as well. Both groups got the Alhambra and from what I’ve heard quite a few people did not finish on time. There was also a bit of drama in one of those groups when someone used another person’s sponge and had already started to assemble the cake when the mistake was spotted. The exam is already a pretty stressful situation so I can’t imagine what it must be like when things go wrong, especially when it’s not because of something you’ve done. Timing is pretty tight even on a good day so to waste time searching for your cake is certainly not ideal. A case of mistaken-identity-cake almost happened with my group as well but the people involved managed to sort things out before it was too late.

As for my own cake, the genoise probably could have been a bit fluffier. I got a bit impatient with whisking the eggs and sugar and could have got it a bit more aerated before folding in the flour, but the rise was decent enough and in the end my cake was about the right height. The strawberry halves weren’t all cut to the same height and there were a few holes in my creme mousseline. But the colouring of my marzipan was pretty good as the pink and green weren’t too dark and I was reasonably happy with my rose. The writing and border piping with the royal icing didn’t go too badly either. So overall I would say that I did about as well as I could have done under pressure and really I’m just glad that it’s over now. I spent the whole morning yesterday pacing around the house then did some stretching and breathing to calm my nerves. I’m lucky that if I repeat something enough I can usually remember it so memorising all three recipes and methods comes a bit more easily to me than to some others, so I wasn’t frantically looking at my papers and notes just before the exam. I’m going to have to do a lot more revision over the next 5 days as we have our theory exam on Tuesday next week and a lot of topics to get through. And as it’s not all multiple choice questions, I can’t just rely on educated guessing either. I’m sure it will be fine, at least that’s what I have to keep telling myself to stay sane.

Earlier in the week we had our last ‘cooking’ practical – the last of the plated desserts for this term. We made a delices aux fruits exotiques (exotic fruit mousse), which was a mini entremet, a taster of what we would be making next term in Superior. The mousse that we made this time used Italian meringue as a base, giving it a different texture compared to the mousses that we had made previously – it was a bit firmer. This sort of mousse would be ideal for acidic fruits, for example passion fruit as the sweetness of the meringue balances out the acidity. Our exotic fruit mousse did not use an acidic fruit but instead we used mango and coconut purees. A red currant jelly insert was used instead to add a bit of tanginess. It was our first time using a pate decor (decorating paste) in class. There was a demonstration on it during basic patisserie but this time around we actually got to play around with the stencils ourselves. As you can imagine it’s quite easy to use and the only trick is to make sure that you really press down firmly on the stencil or template when you’re applying the pate decor to get a neat finish. We made a biscuit joconde (almond sponge) again, the first time was when we made the Opera cake. My partner and I had an issue with our oven so it took ages for our sponge to cook, and I think it made it a bit drier than it should have been so the lining of the moulds was a bit more tricky as the sponge wasn’t as flexible. We also made some tuiles for decoration using the same pate decor and the mousse was accompanied by a tropical fruit salsa. I kept the plating fairly simple this time as the plate was very colourful and I didn’t want to overdo it.

FullSizeRender

Delices aux fruits exotiques (Exotic fruit mousse)

Our other classes for the week were a chocolate tasting session (Yes!) and an introduction to sugar work. During the chocolate tasting session we were given 12 different chocolates to try, noting down mainly the taste/flavour, aroma and texture for each. The main take home message from the class was to never believe what is written on the packet and to trust your own palate, and also that everyone has different tastes so what might be nice to you might taste horrible to someone else. I already know that I prefer darker, more bitter chocolates and had no problems eating the cocoa nibs that were handed out but some of my classmates could not stand them.

The sugar work demonstration showed us a few different techniques using sucre coule (poured sugar), sucre souffle (blown sugar) and sucre tire (pulled sugar). We will be trying these techniques ourselves in Superior when we have to make roses and produce a sugar sculpture/ centre piece. Exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

Next week is the last week of term and it’s going to be a lot more laid back, after the theory exam of course. We have four sessions on cake decorating so it should be good fun! And there’s also the small matter of the debrief session when we find out how we did in our practical exam.

 

Intermediate patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 8

This week has been all about plated desserts (both hot and cold) and practicing for my practical exam, which is happening next week.

I would not say that I have a natural artistic flair so plating up isn’t really my forte. I’m always in awe when I see such beautifully presented plates and have a lot of respect for people who have the vision and talent to come up with them. With practice it does get easier, but the fact is some people just have an eye for this sort of thing. I use images from the internet as inspiration for my designs but try to put my own little twist on them so that it’s not blatant copying. As chef says the best thing to do when you’re starting out is to replicate things that you’ve seen to get a feel for it until you’re ready to come up with your own designs.

We made two hot desserts and one cold dessert this week. The first hot dessert was a fondant au chocolat avec sirup d’orange et gingembre (chocolate fondant with orange and ginger syrup). The fondant was rich and indulgent, and a recipe I would make again for my chocolate loving Chief Tasting Officer. My partner and I managed to cook the fondants to perfection, with a lovely gooey centre that flowed out when you cut into it. We also did a tiny bit of sugar work using isomalt. I was a little disappointed as during our demo chef said that we would not be doing sugar cages and spirals for this particular practical as we would be doing them in the next one so I only did some basic shapes on a mat, but as it turned out that was our only opportunity to work with the isomalt. Ah well, I do have some isomalt at home so I can play about with shapes in my own time. I was delighted with my plating for the chocolate fondant. The design was simple but I think quite effective. The only down side was my sugar design was a bit too chunky and horror of horrors, my plate was deemed to be not clean enough by chef. A rookie mistake that has surely cost me a point!

Choc fondant 1

choc fondant 2

Chocolate fondant with orange & ginger syrup – shame about the slightly out of focus photo!

The second hot dessert was a tarte tatin, which is an upside-down caramelised apple tart. I wasn’t happy with this dessert at all. Our caramel had gone too far so the apples ended up with a slight bitter taste and as I was turning the tart out from the mould and transferring it across onto my plate it broke apart slightly so it was no longer neat. I tried to push it back together but the damage had already been done. The plating up was so-so, nothing to shout about. I underestimated the size of the tart so part of the design I had piped was covered up.

tarte tatin

Tarte tatin

The cold dessert was a delices aux bananes (banana mousse), which was made up of flourless chocolate sponge and banana bavarian cream with a salt caramel cremeux centre. I like bananas so this was quite a nice dessert for me although I think that the cremeux could have been a bit more salty to balance out the sweetness and creaminess. We could have piped the mousse into the mould with a bit more care to eliminate gaps so that the surface was perfectly smooth. Bavarian cream uses creme anglaise as a base, and I will be perfectly honest and say that making a creme anglaise is something that scares me. I have had a couple of experiences with turning it into scrambled eggs so I’m always apprehensive. Thankfully this time I managed to just about catch it in time before disaster struck. This near miss was playing on the back of my mind when I had to make a creme anglaise again for plating up and I erred too much on the side of caution that my sauce was too runny. So I tried to ‘fix’ it by heating it up again to thicken it and it sort of worked, or at least it was just about holding its shape on the plate. We also did some messing about with pulled sugar, the first time I’ve worked with it and it’s hot! It will definitely take some getting used to and a tip that chef gave us was to purchase some cotton gloves to wear underneath the latex gloves to give some added protection. I made a couple of spirals and but they were very thin and didn’t show up in the photos that well. We will be working a lot more with pulled sugar in superior so this was just a small taster session.

I had something in mind for the plating up of the banana mousse based on a photo I had seen on Pinterest, but my execution was a bit lacking so it didn’t turn out quite how I wanted it. I think chef was happy enough with it but he got distracted by one of my classmates so he didn’t quite finish his sentence and when he came back he went over to my partner. This has happened before with another chef and I do get slightly annoyed as unless it’s something really important that can’t wait (for example if something is on fire) there should be a bit more respect and you shouldn’t interrupt, and I’m sure it hasn’t only happened to me.

banana mousse

Delices aux bananes (Banana mousse)

Anyway, I have more important things to concern myself with such as practicing for my impending exams. I made the gateau Sabrina and gateau Alhambra for the second time this week. I’m definitely happier with how both cakes turned out this time around and with the timings. I’m still about 20 minutes over for both but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things will run a bit more smoothly during the exam so I should be able to get it down to under 2 hours and 30 minutes. Hopefully. The worse case scenario is my finishing is a  bit more slap dash and I lose some points for that but at least the cake will be finished and the base elements will have been correctly made. I don’t think I will be practicing the whole cakes anymore, but I may work on certain aspects like making the marzipan rose and the piping in the next few days. The cakes have gone, or are going to good homes so there’s no wastage and I have some happy friends. Please wish me luck for next week as I do think that I will need it!

sabrina practice 2 top

Gateau Sabrina – practice run number 2

Alhambra practice side

Alhambra practice top

Gateau Alhambra – practice run number 2

 

 

Intermediate patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 7

Yay! It’s chocolate week! This week saw us making a variety of chocolate truffles and our piece de resistance, a 2D chocolate picture centrepiece. Both practicals were quite fun and everyone seemed in quite a light-hearted mood, even the chefs. The main focus was of course on tempering chocolate. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we use the direct method of tempering at school. Using dark chocolate as an example, we heat it to 45°C, cool it down to 26-27°C, then warm it up again to 31-32°C. Other ways you can temper chocolate include the seeding method, tabling method and using a microwave. For the microwave method, if you get the settings just right you can gently heat your chocolate to the correct stage without having to go through the heating, cooling and re-heating process as chocolate is sold in an already tempered state. Tempering 200g of chocolate is quite a quick process, however tempering 1.2kg of white chocolate is a different beast. Patience is key as you don’t want to cool the chocolate too much resulting in crystals that will make your chocolate lumpy, and you don’t want to re-heat it too much as you’ll have to start the process all over again. When we think that we have the chocolate at the right stage, we do a quick test by applying a few thin lines of chocolate onto a knife blade or palette knife to see if it sets within 5-10 minutes, depending on the temperature of the room. I’m pleased to say that my partner and I managed to successfully temper the dark and white chocolates for both practical sessions.

So on to the truffles. As a class we made four different types of truffles. Each pair had to make a moulded chocolate (chocolate moules) and either the white chocolate truffles using pre-made white chocolate spherical shells, the malakoff (chocolate slab with praline, almonds and pistachios) or the caramel cups using pre-made snobinette chocolate cups. My pair had to make the white chocolate truffles, which had a Malibu and raspberry flavoured white chocolate ganache centre, rolled in tempered with chocolate and raspberry sugar. The moulded chocolates had a dark chocolate shell with a milk chocolate ganache centre flavoured with rum. The moulded chocolates were really messy to make as you had to flood the polycarbonate moulds with tempered dark chocolate and then vigorously tap the excess out so that you don’t end up with a very thick shell. The chocolate just went everywhere, even though I tried hard to do the tapping over a large bowl. I was quite happy with how these turned out – there were very few air bubbles, my white chocolate design was quite neat and the shells were beautifully glossy.

Choc truffles

Clockwise from top right: Caramel cups, moulded chocolates, malakoff and white chocolate truffles

As a dog lover, it made sense to pay homage to one of my favourite dog breeds for my 2D chocolate picture centrepiece so I looked on the internet for cartoon images of corgis. I found one that I liked but it was a bit plain so I added a neckerchief and a dog bowl. The lesson went well and both my partner and I got a ‘pretty good’ from chef, which in my books is the equivalent to a ‘well done’! Haha! You need to take all the compliments you can get from the chefs. He also thought that the dog bowl was a good idea. The colours were done by dissolving liposoluble (fat-soluble) powdered colours in cocoa butter then painting a layer onto a sheet of acetate, allowing it to set then flooding with white chocolate. I was very pleased with how the paw prints turned out on the base. I missed out some parts with the colours but it wasn’t too bad and I could have cleaned the over-flooded parts a bit better. I was happy that there were no air bubbles and I managed to apply the colours at the right point so there was no bleeding of the colours.

Choc 2D centrepiece

2D chocolate picture centrepiece – A corgi made out of chocolate!

We also had a technical demonstration on soufflés this week. Chef demonstrated two different types of soufflés: a hot soufflé (soufflé chaud) and a pudding soufflé. The difference between the two are a hot soufflé is served in the mould with the sauce in a jug on the side whereas a pudding soufflé is served de-moulded with the sauce on the plate. We will be making soufflés in superior so I was paying close attention as chef was explaining the important points to pay attention to in order to produce a good soufflé. One of the key things for a good soufflé is starting off with a good base mixture or panade. It’s also vital to grease the moulds well to prevent sticking and ensuring you get an even rise. As chef says, don’t trust your commis chef to grease your soufflé moulds – you must do it yourself!

I managed to fit in a practice run for the gateau Sabrina this week. Oh dear, I needed just over 3 hours to complete this cake, which is not good. I need to figure out how I’m going to work faster and figure out a better workflow. The end result itself wasn’t too bad. The main thing that I wasn’t happy about was the spreading of the tempered chocolate and application of the design using a serrated knife on to the marzipan disc. It worked much better when I did it in class but with one or two more practice runs it will hopefully improve. As my baking tray is a bit deeper than the one we use in school, the sponge is a bit thicker than it should be so I’ll need to spread the batter a bit more thinly next time around. More practice is needed for this cake before I’m confident that I will be fine if we get this for our exam.

Sabrina practice 1

Gateau Sabrina – practice run number 1

Sabrina practice XsectionJPG

Cross-section of the gateau Sabrina

For the next week and a half we will be tackling hot and cold plated desserts, then it’s exam time! I am looking forward to doing some plating up as we haven’t done any since the fourth practical in Basic Patisserie. And we will be making chocolate fondants! Yum!

 

Intermediate patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu: Week 6

This week was an important week as it was our introduction to entremets and for our practical exam in superior patisserie we will have to make an entremet of our own creation based on a list of ingredients provided by the school. We should be starting to  think ahead and making notes about what type of sponge bases and fillings we like. An entremet is described as a multi-layered, multi-textured and multi-flavoured mousse-based cake.

The first entremet we made was the poires au caramel religieuses, or pears in caramel, layered with chocolate sponge and chocolate mousse. Working in pairs we made a flourless sponge, soaking syrup, dark chocolate mousse, dark chocolate glaze and poached pears in caramel. We also had to temper white and dark chocolate to make little pear decorations to adorn our cakes. Overall I was happy with my cake – both in terms of appearance and taste. Chef did comment when he tasted it that the dark chocolate was a bit out of temper, although it seemed alright to me. Obviously chef knows better so we will just have to try harder next time.

Pears & choc entremet

Poires au caramel religieuses

Pear & choc Xsection

Cross-section to show the layers

The next entremet, entremets au chocolat blanc et pistachio avec sa gelee aux fruits rouges, (white chocolate and pistachio entremet with red fruit jelly centre) was slightly more complicated. Working in pairs again we produced a pistachio dacquioise, which is like a nutty meringue similar to a macaron, a white chocolate mousse using a creme anglaise base, a red fruit jelly and a white chocolate glaze. We got to work on tempering again to create dark chocolate squares to surround the cake. I wanted to pipe out some extra decorations for the top as well but I didn’t have the time. The tempered dark chocolate was spread quite thinly across a textured acetate sheet to which we had applied edible glitter or dust. Not for the first time, chef commented that I needed to work on my spreading technique as the thickness was not even, resulting in squares of uneven thickness. It’s not a big difference but enough for chef to notice. At least I can take comfort in the fact that my cutting was quite neat and even. The thickness of my chocolate piping on the glaze was a bit on the thick side and unfortunately the chocolate was too cold so it set before I could do the feathering. Normally I’m not a fan of white chocolate but this mousse was not cloyingly sweet and the pistachio dacquoise and red fruit jelly gave a lovely contrast and dampened down the white chocolatey-ness. To be perfectly honest when I tried this cake after the demonstration I wasn’t keen but the one that I made tasted nicer to me, perhaps because the dacquoise and jelly had time to soften slightly with the mousse.

White choc & pistachio entremet

White chocolate and pistachio entremet with red fruit jelly centre

White choc & pistachio Xsection

Cross-section showing the beautifully contrasting layers – very eye-catching

The other lesson that we had this week was a technical demonstration on wired gum paste flowers. Chef demonstrated how to make a rose, an oriental lily and a calla lily. I’ve never tried making wired flowers before and have always been a bit scared of them as they seem rather complicated and fiddly. Our final two practical sessions are on celebration cake decorating. We have free reign over the design and after watching the technical demonstration I’ve decided that I’m going for a shabby chic or vintage theme. To tackle my fear of wired flowers and to gain some practice under the watchful eyes of chef I want to try to make a peony for my cake. I may regret this decision but I really do have to push myself and try new things. I can predict that a lot of You-Tube videos will be watched between now and then.

Fraisier practice

Fraisier cake practice with Chinese New Year themed decorations

A friend asked me if I could bake a cake for her to celebrate Chinese New Year last week and she kindly agreed to let me make one of my exam dishes for her. The practice run went reasonably well and I’m confident enough that I will be able to finish the gateau Fraisier to a decent standard within 2 and a half hours. I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that we will get this for our exam, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I actually did a practice run for the Alhambra the week before but that didn’t go very well. I was way over time and I managed to split both the ganache and the glaze, which made me a very unhappy bunny. I will need to practice the Alhambra again and next week it will be the gateau Sabrina. The weeks are starting to race by and it’s crunch time now. No more slacking off on the days when I have no class.