This week has certainly been the most mentally and physically draining week so far with three practical sessions in three consecutive days. Of course it could have been worse – we could have had two sessions in the same day. What made these sessions more intense was the fact that two of them were for potential exam dishes, the gateau Fraisier and the gateau Alhambra.
We started off with the Fraisier first. On paper I think this might be the ‘easiest’ of the three exam dishes. There is only one baked component, the Genoise sponge and you don’t have to faff about with getting it level as it’s baked in a cake ring. You also need to make a creme patissiere, which then gets turned into a creme mousseline by gradually adding butter to it, and a soaking syrup. The tricky part with this dish is colouring the marzipan, making the marzipan rose and the piping of the word ‘Fraisier’ on the top with a tasteful border design in royal icing. Oh yes, and there’s also the small business of assembling the whole cake without any gaping holes, stray crumbs and smeared sides. As this is a ‘naked’ cake, there isn’t really anywhere to hide with the presentation. The practical started quite well with most of us getting our sponges in the oven fairly quickly. It was then on to making the creme patissiere so that we could let it cool to room temperature before adding the butter, and this was done in fairly good time too. We started to slow down once we hit the marzipan work. I reckon I actually got my rose completed within a reasonable length of time and I didn’t get too hung up on it not being perfect. The extra practice over the weekend appeared to have paid off and the end result was passable, although chef did say that the end of my petals were a bit on the thin side so there’s still something to work on. The other main comment that I got from chef was that my border was a bit too busy, but he seemed happy enough with everything else. I had a bit of cake once I returned home and it would benefit from a bit more soaking syrup in the sponge so I will remember to do that in my practice run and if I get it for the exam.
With the Fraisier done, next up was the gateau Opera – a coffee and chocolate delight. So delicious to eat this immediately got the seal of approval from the Chief Tasting Officer, although he got a bit confused by the writing as apparently the ‘r’ on my cake looked a bit like a ‘z’. The gateau Opera is built up with layers of joconde sponge generously soaked in a coffee-infused imbibage, ganache and coffee-flavoured French buttercream and finished with a chocolate glaze. Making a joconde sponge differs from a genoise in that you actually want to work the batter and fold it more to build up a bit of elasticity and making it a bit more dense. It pretty much goes against my instincts when making sponges and I was in danger of under-folding my batter for once. But with chef’s guidance my joconde sponge turned out alright. The thickness of my ganache and buttercream layers were fine, but the spreading wasn’t quite even enough and this has been something I’ve struggled with before. And my rectangle was slightly irregular, being a bit wider on one side. The glaze on the other hand… oh dear. This wasn’t quite a disaster but nowhere near as smooth as I would have liked it to be and there were a couple of bare patches, which thankfully I could trim off, mostly. I think where I went wrong is I was applying too much pressure on the palette knife – I should have just lightly guided the glaze along and used all of the glaze to be on the safe side. The gateau Opera has been an exam dish in the past, and I’m not quite sure if I’m pleased that it’s not one of ours for this year. I would definitely be happier eating this instead of the gateau Sabrina and the Fraisier, but it is a tricky one to do.
Wednesday was a tough day for us. The day started at 8 a.m. with a technical demonstration – tortes and tarts. The difference between them is a tart is just a pastry case with a filling but a torte has a pastry case, filling and a lid. Chef demonstrated a selection of one tart (the gallette des rois) and two tortes (Linzer torte and engadiner nuss torte). I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t entirely pleased to be there so early in the morning with a very long day ahead but I’m not missing classes unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. My view is that there will always be something for me to learn so I should make the most of it. I doubt I will be making any of the tarts for myself as they weren’t really to my taste but they looked nice.
After a 4 and a half hour break, we had the demonstration for our final exam dish, the gateau Alhambra. As the name suggests, the cake originates from the Alhambra region. The cake consists of two layers of sachertorte aux noisettes, a chocolate and hazelnut sponge, that have been soaked in a coffee and rum syrup. Sandwiched between the layers is a dark chocolate ganache and the cake is then masked with the same ganache and finally a chocolate glacage is poured over the top. The cake is decorated with chocolate decorations made using tempered chocolate and a marzipan rose. During the practical session, only maybe 5 out of the 16 of us managed to finish on time or not too far from it. The rest of us were woefully late, myself included. My only saving grace is that chef said it was a good effort. He did point out that my leaves were a bit too chunky (the more delicate ones I made initially broke, as chef had correctly predicted) and the piping could be a bit more elegant. Chef commented that as a group we took too long preparing the sachertorte and we needed to get our technique right to ensure we don’t end up with flat cakes.
I feel that I wasted time trying to get the chocolate tempered. We did this in pairs and I find it’s always a bit trickier as you’re bound to get a difference in opinion as to whether you’ve reached the correct temperature with the chocolate. The first attempt was unsuccessful but I was determined to get it right so spent an extra 10 minutes doing it again once I had made my marzipan rose and waiting for my sponge to cool. Luckily it worked second time around and my partner and I managed to quickly pipe some leaves. I don’t tend to test the temperature with my finger but instead I rely on sight alone, which isn’t quite the way that we’ve been taught in school. All I know is that the way I do it does seem to work most of the time so I think I’ll stick with it. The cake is scrumptious but a small slice is definitely enough as it’s very rich. With practice I think I should be able to get this done within the time limit and at least I had better luck with the glacage application for the Alhambra compared to the gateau Opera.
Next week is going to be far less intense, with just a boulangerie demonstration and practical plus one technical demonstration. We also have our mid-term tutorial when we find out how we’ve been doing so far and have the opportunity to chat with chef about how we think we’ve progressed, what we think we need to work on and go over the SMART objectives that we’ve set for ourselves. I’ll need to work on my self-review and action plan this weekend between the pre-Chinese New Year get-togethers with friends that we have planned. Gong Xi Fa Cai by the way to all who are celebrating. I must admit that I haven’t really been in much of a festive mood and we have absolutely no decorations up in the flat but I have at least bought some oranges. Perhaps next week I’ll feel inspired to make some Chinese New Year treats, but right now I’m all caked out.