Week 2 has been a roller coaster ride. The week did not get off to a particularly good start. On Monday we were asked to make a fruit coulis, the batter for sable biscuits, six creme caramels and six creme brulees in pairs, as well as some creme anglaise individually. The creme caramels and creme brulees turned out fine, but unfortunately I managed to overcook my creme anglaise, which resulted in a slightly lumpy cream. Not ideal as creme anglaise is not difficult to make so I will need to practice this at home in my own time to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
We kept everything in the fridge to chill overnight and on Tuesday we shaped and baked our sable biscuits, finished off the creme brulee by burning some sugar over the top and plated up one example each of the creme caramel and creme brulee. It was time to get over Monday’s minor setback and I really had a lot of fun designing the plates and putting everything together. We were also given the opportunity to make some sugar cages using isomalt – a sugar substitute that’s ideal for sugar work as it doesn’t crystallise and is less hygroscopic compared to normal sugar. This means that you can keep reheating your pot of isomalt without worrying about crystals forming and your finished product can be kept for longer even at higher humidity. This was the first time I had worked with isomalt and I must say I found it easier to handle than normal sugar. It’s not cheap though, so you don’t want to be wasteful with it. Overall I was very happy coming out of the practical session on Tuesday. My sable biscuits were thin, baked well and had a good snap, my sugar cages were thin and airy and the sugar crust on my creme brulee had a good crack and nice colour. The main lesson for me to take home was the use of negative space when plating up – less is more. On both my plates if I had one less element they would have been fine.
On Wednesday we had the demonstration and practical for the first of three possible exam dishes – tarte aux citron. To say that we all had a wake-up call is an understatement. The chef in charge of our practical was not happy with our organisation as a team and we were given a stern talking to about making sure if he’s asked us to do something that we actually do it, especially if we’ve acknowledge hearing him. My final tart was actually pretty decent for a first attempt, even the piping of the Italian meringue with the Saint Honore tip (a ‘V’ shaped tip). My lining of the shortcrust pastry could have been a bit more even and the lemon curd should have been stirred a bit more vigorously to prevent lumps of albumin from forming but it wasn’t a disaster. Due to our lack of organisation and time management we finished about an hour later than the scheduled time of 9.30 p.m. and this meant that with the tube strike quite a few people only reached home after midnight. Thankfully my own journey was only extended by about 20-25 minutes having power walked my way to Monument station to jump on the DLR carrying my lemon tart while reflecting on the day’s events.
We all learnt our lesson after this practical session and our organisation as a group vastly improved in the following session on Friday when we made our tarte aux pommes. Things went much more smoothly and I really feel that we’re starting to come together as a team now. There was more communication and we were not running around like headless chickens grabbing equipment just for themselves. As a result we finished on time, although the apple tart was less challenging compared to the lemon tart as there were fewer tricky components. The main things to watch out for were working quickly with the pate sucree (sweet dough) as it’s much softer compared to shortcrust pastry (pate brisee), not overcooking the apple compote and not cutting yourself on the mandolin while slicing the apples for the top layer. Again the lining of my tart could have been neater and more even, but the contrast in texture between the bottom layer of apple compote and the crisper sliced apples on top was really lovely. It was nice to end the week on a bit of a high and we felt we had redeemed ourselves after Wednesday’s poor showing.
A couple of general things I’ve learnt this week is that I really need to improve on working fast whilst still maintaining neatness, as well as to occasionally stop and take a breath to calm down. Baking at school under the watchful eye of Master Chef’s is so different from doing it at home. The time pressure really gets to you but it’s amazing having someone on hand to guide you and pass on some of their knowledge and experience. So that was my second week in a nutshell. Stay tuned for an update on my third week at pastry school and thanks for taking the time to read this!